Aid & Big wall
08 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
If you’re climbing in hot weather then don’t bother with a stove, as invariably you won’t use it. In these situations, cold-canned food with a high water content are best, with either water or canned drinks far better than a cup of tea or coffee. In these situations, your stove is just another piece of junk you don’t need, plus having gas canisters knocking around your hot bags in 100-degree heat may not be good for your health. If you’re heading onto colder walls, or alpine or super alpine challenges then a stove will be vital. For cold walls you’ll be grateful for hot drinks and a warm meal, pus if your water bottles freeze you can melt the water (by first smashing the ice up with your hammer then cutting the bottle in half). On very cold Alpine walls you may have to haul ice to melt water, making the stove one of the most important pieces of gear you have.
When big wall cooking you’ll probably be cooking within your flysheet. Firstly I’m sure you can understand how important it is to avoid stove mishaps, as being surrounded by nylon on a big wall is not a good place for an exploding stove!!! The only stove you can use is a hanging one, and this will be hung from the ledges suspension. Firstly make sure there is no way it can touch either the fly or the suspension, as it will probably melt through it. Also, make sure the stove hangs as low as possible so that if it does happen to flair it won’t set fire to the ledge. Generally, when hanging the stove you can’t just hang it straight from the central suspension point as it risks hitting the side of the fly and also sits above the inside climber. Instead, using either a sling, or one of the suspension pullers, hang the stove a foot down the side suspension strap, extending the stoves own wire suspension with a wired nut, so it won’t matter if it gets hot. The whole lighting and switching off procedure should be carefully done, both to avoid flare-ups (make sure the canister is put on tight!), and gas poisoning. To avoid poisoning either remove the cartridge from the stove and store it outside in a haul bag or leave the cartridge on and just make sure that the stove is solidly turned off and the cartridge is on tight. Because you are often in an enclosed and non-breathable flysheet be very aware of CO poisoning, and never sleep with the stove running. In anything but full storm conditions make sure you vent the portaledge every few minutes.
Firstly avoid anything you need to boil, as doing so will raise the moisture level in your ledge that it’ll feel as if it’s raining, with water dripping down on you from the fly. Condensation is always a big problem, but cooking food that only needs to be heated (like noodles, cuscus etc) reduces this problem. Again venting helps, plus using a small sponge to mop up the worst bits also helps. When cooking make sure everything you want to stay dry is packed away in your personal bags, and your sleeping bags covered. One word of advice on cooking is that if you can avoid it then don’t cook in the morning, as the last night’s moisture, plus your own breath, will have formed on the fly in thick frozen sheets, meaning when you fire up the stove it’ll all melt and fall rain down on you. The best option is a cold breakfast (with water you melted the night before), and then after your ready and everything is put away, shake the fly to remove all the moisture. In some situations, you can out outside the ledge by hanging the stove off the belay parallel to the belay. In these situations just make sure you don’t lose your pans (if you do then use half a gas cartridge as a makeshift pan!).
Have a designated ‘personal bag’ that contains everything you need so that you don’t have to search through the haul bag each night, plus you know where everything is once stuck in the ledge. Here’s a list of the usual items: -
Book Spoon Spare films Spare Batteries Pencil Notebook Pan grip Lighters Spare socks Spare gloves Mug Spare clothes Mug Mini Can opener Finger tape Personal First stuff
All of this should be stored in a waterproof stuck sack that has a bomber clip-in loop attached.
• Always have lots of karabiners on hand, as there are always tons of things that need to be clipped in • Always have a piss bottle handy; otherwise, you’ll have a fitful sleep. • Keep a bottle of water close by as you’ll probably wake up in the night wanting a drink (just don’t mistake it for the piss bottle, or visa-versa!)
Bivvying on portaledges in Yosemite is fun; you don’t usually need a fly, the sun wakes you up in the morning, and you generally only need a nice thin sleeping bag, plus everything’s at hand. On an alpine wall, portaledge life is an exercise in suffering – damp, cramped, uncomfortable and cold. In order to make life bearable hear are a few tips: -
• Take two sleeping mats on cold walls, as you’re basically laying on top of a lot of cold space, meaning there is nothing for your body to warm. On many such walls, I usually take a full-length mat and a ¾ ultra-light Thermarest. Also, make sure all mats have clip-in loops! • Put your watch on the neck cord of your sleeping bag so you can hear it in the morning. • On a long route take the warmest sleeping bag you can find, as days and days of cold climbing will sap your strength, and it’s crucial that you have a warm nights sleep and escape the hardness of the wall. • Don’t go for a down bag no matter how cold, as the moisture level in a portaledge will dampen even the most well-protected bag. A good way to compromise is to pare a medium weight synthetic bag with a medium weight down bag – therefore reducing weight and bulk while providing a huge degree of warmth. You should also have a bivy bag, both to keep drips off your bag and as insurance just in case the fly rips apart. • Bring along a synthetic belay jacket to wear on the ledge for when you’re cooking. Again down probably won’t stand up too well to the dampness.