Tech Tip #33
Back-cleaning is a dangerous skill to master, but a skill – when big wall climbing – that allows you to cover long distances quickly, and with only a small rack. Sometimes, when back-cleaning, you will only be on a single piece, say on a long parallel crack. Here you’re plugging in one piece, standing on it, then taking the lower one out, placing it in above, then repeating. Another option is ‘crack jamming’. Here you push the top piece upwards, until it goes tight on your lanyard, then climb further on your lower aider pushing it further as you go. Now you sit back on your lanyard, move up the lower piece, and repeat. The best thing about this method is the amount of time hanging on one piece is reduced to a minimum. It’s best to never forget just what you’re doing when back-cleaning, because, if you get complacent, like sticking in a poor cam, then weigh it, taking out your good one, you risk a death fall. So focus, and precision is always vital. When you want to back clean a whole pitch, which is not uncommon, or when the climbing is not 100% safe, you need to adopt a moving belay approach. This means you always have two pieces in at all times, with the third piece – clipped into the rope – being moved up to progress. Having a triple rack of cams, allows you the option of placing one piece per pitch, or an effective moving belay, plus it also gives you a spare when a cam gets stuck or dropped.