I am no expert, I have not free climbed El Cap or been featured in climbing mags but my passion for the mountains took me from picking up hiking and gym climbing in 2010 to completing the Sierra Challenge, unguided summit of Mt. Denali a year later, soloing the Evolution Traverse onsight and car to car, high altitude technical routes in Cordillera Blanca, long First Ascents in the High Sierra and the Nose in a day on El Capitan. This article will have a variety of tips helpful for those doing routes or any multi-pitch free climb. Personally I break my own rules very often, so if you are a partner of mine and don't see me doing something I suggest, don't be too hard on me. Remember to know your limit and not get hurt while climbing, because if you do, the fun stops. Also, don't blame me if you get hurt, use your own brain, I am not responsible for decisions you make! I am arranging these tips in no particular order. :)
|Chacraraju. An inspiring goal for any climber.|
2) Learn to accept failure as a vital part of improving. Climb thing that kick your ass. What is the point of styling another lap up the hand crack you have wired? No one will be impressed watching you hang ten times on a 6 ft section of a route, but how else are you gonna learn to get through a similar crux? We all have weakness and working on them will improve things we are good at. When I asked a friend for advice on getting better at crack climbing he told me to boulder. How does that make sense? I was fine climbing most vertical splitters, but as cracks get harder, it is a bouldery sequence that is usually is the crux. "If you don't have the strength (to make a single hard move), there is nothing to endure."
IF YOU WANT TO IMPROVE, define your weaknesses. Don't be lazy - WRITE THEM DOWN. Pick a few ways to modify your training so that those weaknesses are worked on. If you can't think of a weakness, ask some of your climbing partners to provide honest feedback. Be willing to take it, no one is perfect. I don't know too many climbers who could send 5.13 sport, slab, offwidths, deal with A5 aid climbing and climb WI7/M11.
|Psyched partner and a good friend - WINNING|
4) Assess your motivations. Everyone has their motivations for picking a goal. Along the way I met more than a few people who failed on a big objective because their sole motivation was to impress peers. Problem with this approach is that when the going gets tough and your heart is not in it, you realize that you don't really give a shit. To succeed on a rock climb you do not have to train. You do not have to meet some universal standard, there is none. Beauty is that you get to pick your challenges and it universally does not matter if you climb the snake dike or free the Reg. NW Face of Half Dome. Hundreds of other climbers have done the same, no one but you is gonna get you a cookie! You have to have a passion for moving over rock, and if you do, you WILL find the time to dedicate to it. You will gain the needed skills and you will have many opportunities to explore new places. But first, you have to honestly assess where your heart is and what is it that you WILL dedicate your time for. There is a difference between wanting to do something and being willing to sacrifice time, money, sweat and tears for something. Some people make much larger sacrifices than time and money, follow your passion!
|We have no more water and I broke my tooth!?!? WE ARE NOT BAILING from the Ho Chi Minh Trail!|
|Both my partner and I were happy to approach this peak without assistance of pack mules or porters. Talk about the logistics prior to the trip.|
6) Make things as simple as possible. Maybe 5,000 ft of elevation gain, digging a snow cave, two hours of night photography and a first winter ascent the next morning is a little too much? Complicated itinerary and giant plans could lead to exhausting epics. At times less is more. I am not saying you should avoid going big and not do your planned link-ups, more than one party has linked up El Cap, Watkins and NW Face of HD by now! I am saying don't exhaust yourself in the beginning of your trip. Leave some energy for the second and the third objective if you are planning a long outing. Have a realistic understanding on how tired you are after you climb the first route or finish the approach.
6) Be creative! At times it is hard to find a climb that excites you to train. You need something outside the box to get you psyched for the next season.There are tons of ways to be creative. Check out the AAC database or older guidebooks for long lost classics. There is life outside *insert the new guidebook name here*! Think of a link up that will excite you. Do a first ascent - there are hundreds of walls in the High Sierra alone that have potential for new routes and adventure. Or hell, find a wall that you believe is inspiring and climb it without a topo/beta/knowledge of where do established routes go.
|Daniel before making a First Ascent of a 1,800 ft line on the Sphinx (Kings Canyon). As a day-hike with 5,000 ft of elevation gain on the approach. With a liter of water on the climb. Great day!!! Our line takes the right skyline.|
|Are you sure the conditions are right?|
My favorite way to perform well on back to back to back days is to start them all early enough to have time to recover before the next day.
10) Light shoes/headlamp/no extra clothes or gear, if possible. Make a list of things you will be required to take on your trip and see if it is possible to substitute heavier items with lighter ones. Make sure to substitute items you can afford to substitute. Climbing a three pitch route at Lovers Leap, most of the parties would only need a bar and a pair of light trail-runners for the descent, but usually I see a follower with an overnight backpack.... If you are climbing Chiaro Di Luna on St. Exupery, you may need to carry a pair of crampons, mountain boots and a heavier headlamp to assist you with finding the rap stations in the dark. Honestly estimate your speed and bring what is required but not more. The less you carry, the more enjoyable the climb will be for both - the leader and the follower. Do not carry your approach shoes and crampons up the route if you are rapelling it, unless they are required for the route itself. Do not bring a #4 camalot (0.64 lbs) if your route does not require it.
A little comparison...
Headlamp: BD Storm 111 g BD Ion 48 g
Approach Shoes: Guide Tennies 760 g, Vibram 5 fingers 115 g
Helmet: Petzl Elios 330 g Petzl Sirocco (sz 1) 145 g
Water container: Nalgene 179 g Empty pop bottle: 30g
Daypack: REI Lookout 40L 1110g REI Flash 18L 340 g
Jacket: Arcteryx Alpha 340g Patagonia Houdini 120 g
TOTAL: 2830 grams (6.23 lbs) 798 g (1.75 lbs)
So you could eliminate 4.5 pounds PER CLIMBER by substituting a few things! Ditch the #4 and that's over 5lbs of savings! TEAM OF TWO WILL LOSE TEN POUNDS OF GEAR AND CLUTTER!
If you want to brush it off and climb with extra weight, no problem, but prior to that go to your local gym, do a route at your limit, than put on a pack with 10 pound plate in it. Climb the route again, notice any change? When you are at your limit every pound matters. Ones on your abdomen and those in your pack.
|"Did you really bring a toy on a car to car climb of Half Dome?"|
11) Be in good shape yourself. Mark Hudon said that before the Yosemite Big Wall climbing season he likes to get into alligator-wrestling shape. You buy the lightest gear and it is nice, but make sure YOU are in top notch shape. The lighter you are the easier it will be to hold on to those little edges, or get into the Harding Slot. I won't get on it again unless I am under 170 lbs. You don't have to be a featherweight, but if you personally are passionate about climbing, know you have some weight to lose and are willing to, go for it! Weight loss has a variety of health benefits which are not going to be discussed in this post. Main point here is that climbing with less clutter and less weight allows you to move quicker. You will receive more joy from the movement and possibly get to the top of the climb before the light fades. Don't believe me? Go climbing in your local gym and find a route at your limit. Climb it. Than put a 10lb plate in your daypack and climb it again. Was it just as fun? I don't think so. But know when to stop, don't over-do it. Having a heavier shell is a good idea in case there is a chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. Having a headlamp that performs well could be vital for finding your way up or down when the light fades. Don't go below your lower BMI limit, it is also unhealthy. If you are having trouble with managing your weight see your primary care doctor and seek a referral to dietitian or read articles online. There is a ton of great info out there. Be smart, stay light!
12) KEEP IT MOVING! If not the most important thing to remember, this is one of the essential qualities of climbers who climb things quickly. Constant steady progress. Illustrated VERY well in the video of Honnold and Florine breaking the speed record on the Nose. You will not see them running up like the Hubers, but for some reason they took the record. Why? They both moved up the wall with a steady pace, without slowing down too much, but without climbing 70 mph. You do not have to simul-climb to keep things moving. Keep things moving means do useful tasks instead of staring at the leader racking up. Get the food out now, get the rope organized, put the leader on belay, find the topo, look for where the route goes and give your feedback to the leader. Do useful tasks in times when it is easy to zone out and do nothing. It saves time and time adds up.
13) If your bag is heavier than you want to wear on your back, haul your pack up the hard pitches with a mini or a microtraxion. Hauling does not mean bringing whatever you want up. Pack the minimum and go as light as possible. Since you are hauling by hand it will turn into a workout if your bag is heavy. I hauled on The Rostrum, Rainbow Wall, Astroman, Beggar's Buttress and many more. It made the climbs much more enjoyable for me and my partner. It works very well on routes where you need two ropes to rappell. To do this efficiently, belay your partner on an auto-blocking device while hauling the bag as he/she is cleaning the gear. Re-rig the set up for the leader while he/she is racking up. If you are efficient it will not add extra time or make things complicated, BUT if your bag is too heavy and your line is too thin, the hauling will be painful. So pick an appropriate diameter for the haul line, hauling device and an appropriate pack. If your line is 6mm, microtraxion will work with it. This size is usually perfect for long free routes like I mentioned above. Mini or a microtraxion with an 8mm line could be a good set up for doing Reg. NW Face of Half Dome over two days, with the follower climbing most pitches free and having a good time. For more of a realistic alpine set up, load a pack and have the follower jug the pitches that they can't follow free with a pack. Being a quick learner or having big wall experience is helpful to get this technique dialed. Following tough pitches with a pack sucks ass. Imagine squeezing through the Harding slot trailing a pack between your legs, than swinging into the next lead... Just shoot me! Or at least give me some aiders! After I followed that thing for the first time I felt like I just ran a marathon. Doing that with a pack? No, thank you. I know back in the day they carried 50lb rucksacks up that thing, but I am spoiled and want to have as much fun as possible while climbing the tough classics.
14) Rope management/anchors. A lot of time could be lost here. When I get to a belay stance I usually throw in a piece of gear and clove myself into it. Depending on the placement and the stance I will either continue making an anchor or call 'off belay' to give my partner a little more time to get ready to follow. With gear anchors I use a double length sling which I equalize with a sliding x. For bolted anchors I can also clove hitch the rope twice and equalize it, but I don't usually do that because rope anchor makes it hard to escape the belay and if my partner doesn't want to lead the next pitch it will be a cluster. Being cloved into my best piece allows me the flexibility of collecting the anchor (aside from the piece I am cloved into) prior to being put on belay. When my partner calls "ON BELAY!" all I have to do is remove a single cam, rack it and start climbing. That takes much less time than waiting till the last minute to put on the backpack, shoes and get to breaking the anchor. Likely the safest anchor on the market is an equalized 6-7mm cord. 7mm will make it easier to untie, and is stronger, but bulkier.
VERY GOOD video to watch to stay away from dyneema in your anchors. Personally I often use dyneema in my anchors.
|Sliding x with my rope backing me up to another bolt|
*When you are building an anchor look towards the next pitch. Think of where would be the best stance for the future leader. Do you want him on your left or on your right? Than organize the rope carefully flaking it on the end you are cloved with. It will be much easier to give the leader slack when he/she is cruxing out if your rope is organized.
*Eliminate clutter. You don't really need a noob leash aka PAS. Clove hitch your rope with a locker to the masterpoint. It makes for a much stronger connection and one less item to have on your harness. You can use a girth hitched sling as a PAS when you are rappelling.
15) Do the climb in strategically thought-out blocks. Like the guys on Southern Belle - "You do the crack pitches, I'll do the face pitches!" Hope for a better outcome than guy who got the face pitches :)
Honestly discuss the strengths you and your partner posses. Apply them on your climb. If you are climbing the Astroman in an equal partnership, one can get the Enduro corner and the other could get the Harding Slot. One could get the 5.10R and the other could get the Changing Corners (What a great pitch!). But do it in a wise way! Let the person who led the Enduro Corner lead the following 5.9 pitch, so the follower can relax a little after climbing the corner. He will likely be pumped out of his mind at the belay. Swing the lead and have the leader climb the next three pitches. 5.10c before the Harding Slot, Harding Slot and the pitch after. This way the leader and the follower get to rest and don't go into really hard leads after following the burl. By the time the follower is up through the slot, the leader is likely getting hypothermic. :) On the other hand, the follower, will want more time to rest, re-hydrate and praise the lord for getting through. This is just an example.
16) Link pitches: It helps a lot if the leader is able to link pitches in an efficient way. Pitches that are not longer than your rope length and those that do not traverse much are good candidates. As a leader do your best to prevent rope drag. Extend your pieces of protection even if the line is fairly straight. Rope drag could lead to precious time being burned for fighting the rope instead of climbing. In cases like that, it is better to built an anchor and belay wherever possible. Linking pitches may not be a good idea in case the communication with your partner is lost. Knowing how much rope is left and if the follower has to simul climb a few feet before you reach a spot to built an anchor is important, so check the topo when one is available, learn to read the topo on easier climbs. For advanced skills, use the Reid Yosemite guide on long routes. You will be ready for first ascents in no time. : )
To save more time, run it out on terrain you feel comfortable on. Use your best judgement though. Speed should not put you or your partner in danger. It is possible to run things out but stay safe enough to avoid danger. Practice with caution.
|Linking pitches helped Nick and I to climb the 35 pitch Salathe Wall (El Cap) with only one bivy on the wall|
17) Honestly evaluate your abilities and desires. Do you REALLY want to do the climb now? Are you physically rested and mentally prepared? You know yourself better than I know you. Too often do I see teams that say they are going to do a climb, even though their body language tells me they are going up to bail. So decide for yourself if it is a recon mission or a climb to the top of a route. Your partner will respect you if you tell them you are not ready instead of bailing from half point for a silly reason. There are good reasons to bail and there are lame reasons. So if you want to bail for a lame reason, ask yourself "did I really want to climb this thing in the first place?"
18) Rest and recover. Before a big climb resting is a good idea. At least a day of rest is my rule. My friends tell me to rest longer but I usually ignore them, but they are right - rest. Two days off after an intense training session is wise, especially if you are doing something big. Before I sent the Rostrum I had two days of rest from climbing. When I "got up" the West Face of El Cap, I had only a day of rest after a hard bouldering session. My forearms felt weak before I even touched the rock. Being fresh will give you more energy and excitement to stay on the wall. You will find fewer silly reasons to bail if you have enough energy.
19) Make a plan. It will eliminate some of the fear. Is the route run out? Is it safe? Can you deal with the present run-outs? Is the route finding complicated? Where can you bail from? How long will it take and what time should you start? Discuss these things with your partner and make sure to have a turn around time or a well though out plan for bailing. I usually challenge the difficulty or the runouts, not both, especially not on long backcountry routes. If I can't do a section due to the danger, I either pendulum to get around it, aid it or give up the lead to my partner. If neither of us are up for it, we bail. Bailing is much better than calling SAR, which should not be an option you want to rely on.
|Taking the time to enjoy the moment is vital for the experience.|
21) Safety - protect the belay. Place the first piece of gear aka Jesus Nut to prevent whippers onto the anchor. I usually clip the higher piece of gear in the anchor with a draw to prevent that if the first placement is not available for more than 10 ft of non trivial climbing off the belay stance.
No soft catch. Pay attention to slack. Most long routes are not as steep as one pitch sport climbs. Catching a little ledge with your foot can end your climbing season, so check your belayer, remind him to pay attention.
Protect the traverse for the follower. Back cleaning a bunch of gear could be great to keep you on top rope at all times, but think of your follower as well. He will have to take sideways whippers if you don't do a good job. On big walls either back clean all the gear between the lower outs, or place enough so that the follower can re-aid the traverse.
Know how to prusik with what you have available.
Know how to escape the belay.
Single rope raps are safer than double rope raps, when available. Much easier to get the rope stuck with double rope raps, especially when it is windy. Avoid long rap routes during windy days.
Wear a helmet. Oh the popular climbs are clean and don't require one? What if someone drops their nalgene from a few pitch above you? Popular routes could be as dangerous as chossy alpine outings. Chossy popular routes are the most dangerous! If you are climbing on Temple Crag or anywhere in Colorado, wear a helmet!
Know your knots - I was psyched to remember the Munter hitch when I dropped my ATC before doing a series of long rappells. Munter hitch could also be used to belay a leader.
22) Use less passive pro like nuts and tricams on straight forward pitches. I can see some people frowning, but it is much easier to get a cam out vs a nut. It takes less time for the follower. So if saving a particular piece is not a concern, don't be too creative and plug in a cam instead. Save the nuts for hard pitches on which you have to save the cams for the desperate quick clip at the crux.
|Climb with a sense of urgency. You are not out here to rest!|
23) Be quick during the change over. I see this too often - people taking forever hanging out at the belay. It is great to take it slow, but if you are on a long route with a complicated descent, it is much more vital to get to the top sooner than later. You can relax and enjoy the views from the top, they are likely better from there anyway. So have a system for organizing the gear while following and handing it over to the leader if you are leading in blocks. If you are the one taking over the lead, place it in an order that you want it to be in on the next lead. If we are climbing in blocks I place the gear on a shoulder length sling while following. Ideally I organize the cams from small to large on one, and slings/draws on the other side. I collect nuts and place them on one carabiner. If I am belaying from the top and we are swinging leads I do the same and hand off the gear to the leader when he/she is ready. While they are racking I can take out some food and water and offer it to them as well. I look at the topo and point out any beta I have to offer. I try to memorize the topo to know where my next pitch is going so I could take the gear and be out leading as soon as possible if terrain is easy. I may rest a few extra minutes before a hard lead to check out any beta I can gather before getting on the pitch. Seeing key holds and pre-planning first gear placements is easier from the belay. Tunnel vision may make this a much harder task if you jump the gun and start climbing. Oh yea - avoid tunnel vision! The holds ARE there! :)
24) Take the right gear on your lead. Yes, you should skip bringing the refrigerator on the climb, but don't be silly, bring those slings and little cams on a traversing finger crack pitch. Not bringing enough draws may lead to rope drag, walking pieces and big cluster fucks. Assess the pitch and bring the right gear. For long pitches I usually take all the draws and all the cams. If I know for a fact this is an OW that will only take a #5 camalot for the whole duration, I take the #5 cam and gear I need for the anchor. Everything else could be hauled or brought up by the follower. If you climbing something long in an area that is known for pin scars, bring a few small offsets to supplement the rack just in case. Do that on first ascents of long routes as well. A few extra small pieces will not weight you down, and will save 10 minutes of Elvis leg when the going gets tough.
25) Climb quickly when following. You are on a top rope. If time is a concern, be brave and follow the pitch as fast as you can safely manage. If you have some comments about the awesome moves you are doing, save them for the belay station - it is likely leader can't hear you anyway. Do your best to send, but if you are on a long route with a possibility to be benighted move with urgency. While leading, place less gear on terrain you feel very secure on. If you solo low 5th class on the regular, there is no reason to sew it up on a long route.
26) Enjoy the moment. Being quick doesn't mean ignoring the beautiful place you have a chance to experience. There is always time to look around and admire the natural wonders. Make sure to take it all in and bring some sort of a device to capture the moment!
|Climbing routes on peaks in the backcountry could be quite nice during the right weather. Especially when you are on top with plenty of daylight to spare. Bryan Bell on top of Prusik Peak (Enchantment lakes loop area)|
27) Be confident. You have a solid partner, the skills, agree on the style, have the right gear, it is the right time of the year to do the climb and you have a plan. Don't let the naysayer in you convince you the climb is over your head. Confidence is one of the most important qualities for a climber. If you are afraid of doing a multi-pitch route you been training for a year, remember there are guys from third world countries, with shit gear going out and climbing 6000 foot first ascents on high altitude peaks. Humans are capable of much more than we think. There are appropriate times to be scared, but don't let your insecurities drag you down before you face the enemy. Your insecurities will be obvious to your partner and he/she will be more timid as well. You guys are going for a send, not an execution, CHEER UP and get excited!
|Snail eye. Could be appropriate when faced with 5.12 R|
|Fear no one|
30) Treat yourself. If you have a big goal you are working towards, find a treat for yourself in case of a success. How about a spa and hour long massage?! You worked hard, take care of yourself.
32) Positive experience is success. What is life but a long journey? Along the way we have all sorts of experiences. Make sure to look at your climbing goals as an opportunity to explore the world, push personal limits, connect with new people and gain heartwarming memories for the future. At times conditions will not present a chance to safely complete a climb, you will not have the right partner, will not be in the required shape, will not have the right gear, get injured, or have another obstacle keeping you away from a good experience. But if you do not end up 'sending' remember that the opportunity to work towards the goal and making significant personal changes IS success. Giving your best attempt and reaching your limit IS success. As long as you stay safe, keep your friends and remember to enjoy the hills you have succeeded! Cherish what you can achieve.
Keywords: Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral, East Buttress Middle Cathedral, Silk Road, Calaveras Dome, Inti Watana, Epinephrine, Ho Chi Minh Trail, DNB, La Esfinge, Liberty Cap, Washington Column, The Rostrum, Astroman, Red Rock, Squamish, Bishop, Sierra, Alpine, The Diamond, Bugaboos, Patagonia, Cordillera Blanca, Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome (RNWFHD), Steck-Salathe, Rainbow Wall, The Nose In a Day (NIAD), Beckey Chouinard, Zion, Indian Creek