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Andy Kirkpatrick
Learning the ropes - well aiders actually


Learning the ropes - well aiders actually

I was wondering if you could help. I am going to Yosemite in Sep (your fault as I got so inspired after one of your lectures!). I am a climber and feel comfortable on rock and with ropes etc but have never done any aid climbing. Unfortunately, I am not going to get my hands on any of the aid gear (apart from aiders) before I get out there as my friend, who I am climbing with, will be bringing most of it from Germany. He has been out once before and I am keen to not be too far behind, so I wondered if you did a one day’s aid intro and how much it would cost. I live in North Wales not far from Llanwrst, but am happy to travel to the peaks or wherever to meet up. Hope to hear from you soon



Hi James

First off although doing a bit of guiding is good for my bank balance (I almost took a full-time job last week!), it's probably worth giving you some tips first that may negate the need for coaching.

Below - and in no order - are some thoughts on going from a rock to an aid climber.

  • Pro is pro, and placing trad gear is the same when aiding or when free climbing.  The difference is you usually have more time to place it when aiding, which is good, as you also be 100% weighting it (unlike free climbing).  On El Cap a nut does what a nut does, a cam does what a cam does. When it comes to pegs there is nothing that technical really (maybe less than nut or cam craft), in that you get one that sort of fits, them hammer it in.  
  • If you want more insight into pegging them maybe buy my peg book <a href="">Driven</a> - which is exhaustive in its nerdiness!
  • Pegs and stuff are rarely used on any routes apart from Beaks, and I'd only take a few shorts standard pegs (baby angles, blades and Lost Arrows), and maybe some sawn offs if you're doing something like The Sheild.
  • Beaks of all sizes (buy Moses Tomahawks) are very handy (hammered or hand placed) and I'd not go on any route without 2 of each size (standard, medium and large).
  • Sky hooking is easy and always obvious on any well-trod route and all placements tend to be bomber.   Take two large BD grappling hooks (with tips filed to a rounded point) and two micro pointed hooks (bat hooks) - like a Moses Leeper pointed or Petzl pointed.  If it's a hard route then double up on hooks as they do get dropped or break when you fall on them!
  • Learn to use Leeper cam hooks.  Like a mixed climbing pick, you place them in cracks and twist them in.  They are super solid and fast to use.  On the Nipple pitch on Zodiac you can lead the whole thing on two leepers placed upwards as you leapfrog along a huge roof/flake crack (I usually use 3 leepers on 3 daisys, so I always have two in).  On all routes, these things will save your bacon.
  • Keep your nuts down and double up your cams, and triple or quadruple the smaller 1-inch cams (Red alien down).  Alien and Totem style cams are cheating (soft alloy helps them stick, plus you can place them in 'impossible places'.  TCU's are also good, but not as good, and if you've got standard cams (Friends and Camalots) then on most routes you may need to up your peg selection.
  • Link Cams are very good on El Cap - and although costly and heavy, will go anywhere and speed things up (carrying 2 big Link cams is the way to really climb walls fast).
  • Leading is pretty simple, but you need to develop your own style that is fluid and safe (one aider, 2 aiders, 3 aiders or 4).  For speed climbing, I use two adjustable Yates daisy chains and adapt my aiders to the situation.  I use the Russian system, but on El Cap tent to use two long yates speed aiders (long ladder-like aiders - rather than classic aiders) with a two-step self-tied aider attached to each.  This system is good as I can have two steps to stop step, but it's less heavy than having 4 aiders.  Getting comfy high stepping is the key to moving quickly - plus the less gear you place, the more time you have to place it, the lower the chance you will fall.
  • The key to fun big walling is testing.  To test the theory make a loop of 2mm cord.  Clip into it with your aider.  Stand on it.  It should take your weight.  Now bounce test it.  Now it will snap.  From now on when you give the gear a hard bounce test you should know it's solid.
  • To learn fluid leading go down the climbing wall and climb up the bolts.  Very soon you'll get into a groove.
  • There will always be tangles on a wall.  Always untangle as soon as you can.
  • There will always be chaos on the wall.  Always stop and reduce the chaos.
  • Rather than leader focus on learning to jug and clean fast.  Practice with a chest jammer and two hand jammers.  Two hand jammers are much better for walls and cleaning gear, while a chest jammer is better for cleaning windows.
  • Practice jugging and rapping past knots.
  • When you join fixed ropes always tie a figure of eight both rope strands. This will eliminate the chance of you rapping of the short tail of the knot, plus you can clip into it as a back up when passing the knot.
  • Practice putting up your portaledge while hanging on a vertical wall - and alone - and in the dark.  Work out how you'll sleep while staying tied in.
  • NEVER be attached to less than two points EVER unless you're tied directly to the rope when either leading or sleeping.  This rule is written in blood - jumars pop of the rope - karabiners come unclipped - and people get tired and make mistakes.  I once ended up hanging just by my fifi hook 300 metres off the deck (a fifi hook doesn't count as a belay point!).
  • Get a heavyweight and practice hauling it - and by heavy I mean heavier than you!
  • Learn how to handle such a load on a belay - how to dock and undock it from a belay (use a double strand of 7mm cord to attach it to the belay via a tied off munter hitch).
  • Dress for heat (keep covered) but be prepared for a winter storm (full shells, full fleeces, belay jacket, warm socks, gloves, balaclava etc).  Keep all your warm kit in dry bags.
  • Never take a down sleeping bag.
  • Always have a bivy bag.
  • Take some good tunes and lots of pics.
  • Climbing El Cap is easy, but only after you've done it.

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