I’ve climbed a lot of walls with people who were either novice big wall climbers or simply novice climbers so I really understand where you’re at. When I climbed the Nose last March with three novices (one had only ever climbed a single multi-pitch route before), i saw that really people need very little experience as long as the basics are understood and the whole team can sustain a positive attitude (the ‘fun bubble’ : ). These guys lead every pitch up to the Great route, and although not fast (it took us 10 days to get to the top!), we were mostly safe.
I’m sure there’s tons of stuff I’ve written already on the subject, but here are a few thoughts on the subject.
- Number one rule is: ALWAYS STAY ATTACHED TO TWO POINTS AT ALL TIME when at the belay or jumaring or abseiling. Do this and there’s not too much that can go wrong.
- One of the most important skills to master is being able to jumar, as this is what will trip you up, slow you down, exhaust you, and maybe even kill you if you don’t get it right. Jumaring needs to be learnt using two-handled jumars, not the Frog (SRT) system, with your system ideally including a Petzl Grigri as a back up (working as a running knot as you move). This system has to be mastered on all types of terrain, from slabs (stand high in an aider of each jumar), to vertical (one aider), to overhanging (foot higher in aider often works best). You also need to throw in fixed ropes (where you’ll have no way of being backed up beyond your jumars), passing knots (going up and down), and improvised jumaring when you don’t have jumars. The best place to master this to start with is at the climbing wall, just going up hanging lines on a slab or vertical wall. Once you’ve mastered this start clipping off the rope at acute angles, so you’re forced to remove your top jumar to pass gear. Make these angles crazy, with the rope going down to the next clip so you’re forced to lower off pieces (vital skill). Now have someone do a pendulum off one route to another, then try following that (in all this maintain 100% safety, using top ropes, back up knots, and a ‘what if’ attitude). Now you’ve mastered it indoors get out and start seconding routes on jumars (the grade is not important). Learn how to move without causing the rope to rub over edges, how to use the Grigri, back up knots etc. Having the leader set up belays you can jug helps to foster trust in the anchor and how power points work as well. Very often a lack of jumaring skill or practice is what leads to major trouble on a wall. If you can stick it out you’ll soon learn on the job, but doing so is risky and most bail long before the lesson ends.
- The putting in of gear is easy, but moving well on it is not so simple so again practice your aid technique down the wall. You need to be able to move with the least amount of effort, and fluidly, getting up high in order o make the next step. Having taught a few hundred people how to aid most people to end up hanging off their arms too much and a lazy attitude is needed if you’re going to get to the top. The correct use of the fifi hook and daisy chains is vital, and again this comes down to practice. One good way to build up a solid groove in your technique is to take turns doing timed climbs at the wall, that little competitive element often establishing that fluid technique.
- Aid climbing, although cheating, can be very scary, so it’s worth doing enough outside to feel some level of comfort. Avoid limestone and go for granite or grit or sandstone, but only aid off cams of wires, not pegs. Again you’re not learning to place gear but move on gear. On the Nose every single piece is A1.
- Many people seem to fail due to the strain of hauling, so again practice, practice, practice. You need a bag that weighs at least 100kg, and practice 1:1 and 2:1 hauling, as well as space hauling (vital on lower pitches). Also, learn how to pass knots when hauling (with three ropes you can haul in a one from the ground to Sickle*)
One of the major cluster fucks on the Nose is the wind, so I’d invest in two rope bags and learn how to use them. They will save your bacon!
Learn how to French free, meaning pulling on gear, resting, getting tension etc, as this will allow you to avoid full-on aid and instead keep it free.
- Climbing wise a Severe leader could climb the Nose, with the real crux being the Texas flake (make sure you’ve got good rock boots for that one!). But if you’re able to climb up to 5.10 you’ll be able to switch between aid and free (and french) much better.
- Practice climbing cracks with rubber hand jammies (good as you can take them on and off).
- Psychologically the more you can train as a team the better your chances of pulling off such a climb, the more you’re stressed in training the less you’ll be stressed on the wall. People never fail due to the climb as every single move on the Nose is easy. They fail for a lack of will or the combined negative energy of the group killing the dream. If one person can hold the line and keep everyone going up then no lack of skill or preparation or experience will stand in your way!
* If you do this make sure there is someone on the ground to guide it for the first 10 metres as there’s a small roof at the base that can snag it.