Top Stepping

10 February 2011

Top Stepping

Category: Aid & Big wall

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 2020).

Hi Andy,

I am wondering if you could write a how-to for top-stepping in aiders? I’m having a hard time figuring it out on my own.



Hi Nick

Top stepping (getting as high as you can on the piece you’re on) is one of the harder and more scarier aiding techniques - and in the case of bleak aid - also one of the most hazardous!  It also plays a part on climbing fast, as getting high on a piece comfortably allows you to place less gear, as well as gear that may be poor.

As in rock climbing, just an extra inch of height can make a big difference, and so getting comfortable moving up out of your lower steps is crucial. 

The main technique used to move up with confidence and stability is tension, achieved by having a good connection between your waist and the gear you’re hanging from.  If you use a fifi, the this will be set to secure you comfortably in say the 3rd steps, being attached by a 30 cm loop.  In order to move up onto a higher step then simply pass the fifi hook through the karabiner at the top of your aiders (or the one attached to the gear) and hook it back into your belay loop, thereby shortening it. This shorter length loop (about 15cm), will allow you to step into the next steps, and create an upward pull on the gear/aider krab (one step below the fifi was pulling down).  Using your legs, core muscle, and the stretch/give of your harness you should be able to hold yourself in balance with your waist above the gear.

Of course the danger of this technique is that fifi hook is only held in place by tension, and a lack of concentration will see you fall - not good on hard aid, or your body (a big dasiy fall will hurt!).

And so on hard/speed aid I use a system that has my fifi tied with a loop of cord, that is tied off with a small loop at the belay loop.  Into this I clip a petzl spirit.  Now I can use the above technique, or clip in with the karabiner.  A 3rd option for more hight is to clip the karabiner into the fifi cord itself once pasted through the gear, giving an extra few inches. 

It’s worth making a note of footwork when doing this, and the best technique is to create a stable bipod with your feet, locking your heals together while splaying out your toes.

Getting into the very top steps or even grab loops is pretty rare, and is only possible on off angle routes, and is akin to climbing a slab. 

Some climbers use their chest harness’ to achieve more stability, and this may be a good idea on very steep ground, and probably best achieved by using a cam lock daisy, which would allow you to adjust height and tension.

When stepping high also make sure you have all the gear you need at hand, ready to place, as getting high can be very tiring, and you’ll want to plug in the gear, clip your aider/daisies into it, then climb back down to test | (don’t test when in your top steps!).

One final point, remembering that just an extra inch makes a differece, don’t overlook a placement a few inches higher than the one your one, as using this to connect your harness (aider remaining on the piece below), could be the difference between a blink crappy hook, and a bomber one.


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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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Books by Andy Kirkpatrick
Unknown Pleasures Higher Education
Me, Myself & I Nutcraft - The Climbing Nut Bible
Aid Basics 1000+ Tips for Climbers
Cold Wars Psychovertical
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