Aid & Big wall
How to avoid falling!
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 read the climbing books they all recommend that you test aid placements by standing in your aiders and jumping up and down. This is a great technique when the gear’s so good it’ll never rip, but what happens if it does?
Well there’s a good chance you’ll either rip out the piece below you – or more likely – avoid bouncing hard enough because you fear the consequences of taking that fall, only for it to rip once you’re on it. Hard bounce testing is by far the most important technique when it comes to dicey aiding, limiting the chance of ever falling – important when falling is unthinkable! So this is how I test gear. Personally I test 90% of hard aid placements via my sewn daisys. I find this means you can pull out junk without leaving the safety of your aiders clipped to the piece below. The force applied is much more controlled and measurable, and really aids your confidence, because you can feel the force jolting your hips. The high forces generated mean you need a tuff set of low stretch dymeema aiders, and having extra long aiders is a good idea. I’d avoid skinny aiders like the ones made by Wild Country (they’re great for alpine aid) as the forces involved in tested often results in broken bar tacks and unwanted scares! The same goes for adjustable daisys as they stretch and the cam tends to bight into the webbing (plus they freeze up which can be a problem on cold walls). If you’re a big fan of adjustables then having a dedicated testing daisy’s an option. The trick to testing is to understand how much force you can apply, and then you know that if you weigh 80kg and are generating 200kg then the gear’s solid! A good way to get to grips with testing is to get a loop of 2mm perlon and gently hang of it. It should hold your weight (even a beefy American) but if you bounce it it’ll break (A good A5+ piece). Next do the same with a piece of 3mm. This is far more solid and will easily take your weight - but it will only have the stopping power of…3mm cord (A4+ pro). Bounce this until you can break it – harder than it sounds. 4mm is way stronger, and may even stop a fall (about 3/4kn) and may prove hard to break in a bounce (A3). What does this tell you? Well unless your gear’s of the rare time bomb variety (see below) you know that if you apply the same amount of force you did when breaking that 3mm cord you know the pro will hold you - or it’ll take a fall! When you get this sorted in your head your on your way to soloing A5.
The answer is simple – if the outcome of a fall is terminal (or feels terminal) then test everything no matter how bomber! A few years ago I tried to make a winter ascent of the Grand Capucin, and ended up spending several hours frigging up a 6b pitch in my plastics, half free climbing half aiding. Near the top I did a very log stretch of hooking on chicken heads, with the only protection being a bolt about 50 feet below me (yes I was shitting myself). I finaly reached a horizontal crack and sunk a cam at full stretch and was about to jump straight on it, when I thought ‘hang on what if it rips?’ My senses said to just get on it and stop wasting time, but my spider senses tingled, so I gave it a hard bounce. The perfect came ripped straight out of the placement. So unless you’re speed climbing and so are willing to risk it then test everything, even if it’s just one big solid bounce.
The one piece of gear you shouldn’t overly aggressively bounce are heads. The reason is that if you really load the head you risk slowly pulling the wire through the head itself, meaning you think you’ve tested the head to destruction, only for the wire to rip straight out of the head once you’re on it! What I do is give the head a couple of really big bounces and call that it. Fragile flakes
When hooking, or when climbing seriously bad gear one thing that works is the just body weight test. For this you apply body weight, plus a bit more, until you’re confident the placement will take it, then carefully step up.