UK climbers wanting to climb a big wall : LUSENET : Mountaineering : One Thread

Hi folks,

Myself and a friend have decided next summer we want to have a crack at a Yosemite Big Wall. We are both experienced UK climbers with about twenty years of rock, ice, and alpine climbing between us mainly in the UK but also in various mountain regions round the world. Despite this our only aid experience is me clean aiding a few short crag routes (when its raining and there is nothing else to do!), and my partner who is a qualified roped access worker so makes a living by jumaring, passing knots, aiding on bridge girders etc etc.

Obviously from years of British trad climbing we can use pro from RPs to big cams, and we also have used pitons infrequently for Scottish winter climbing, but what other skills do we need before getting on El Cap? Other questions: do you really need to queue for three days to get on the Nose? What is the weather like in september? How much does a portaledge cost in the US (over here they are about the same as a small family house. well almost.)? Is it a problem that we only onsight up to HVS 5a (about 5.9 in your money, maybe 5.10 on a good day) when freeclimbing? After trying some of the shorter routes (everyone seems to suggest Washington Column for example) which of the El Cap routes would be good to go for?

Thanks very much, Toby. Manchester.

-- Toby Archer (, October 29, 2000


You guys definitely have all the experience you need to get up El Cap - you just need to figure out the basics of aid climbing and apply it to a big wall. Talk to your potholing mates who can show you better jugging systems than the standard Yosemite system. I use the Petzl Frog system on free hanging jugs. A little known and extremely useful trick is to clean a pitch using ONE jumar and your gri-gri. You put the gri-gri on your harness and pull the rope through. Sounds difficult, but it's not. Also amazingly easy when you come to a piece to clean with the rope diagonally through in tension. Just lift your jug over, tension up with your adjustable daisy or adjustable fifi, then you can back off the gri-gri to pass. No fighting a lower cam!

You need to figure out how to properly rig your aiders to your daisies, which someone can show you in Camp 4. You won't need ANY pitons on the clean routes, of which there are many, and even on the easy nailups like Zodiac or Mescalito or Shield or the Trip you won't need many. A pin rack that would get you up most "easier things" above (Lurking Fear goes clean) would be 2 each of #1, #2 and #3 LA (that's Lost Arrow, eh?) maybe 1 each #5 and #6 LA, plus a couple each 1/2" and 5/8" angles and one 3/4" angle. You might want a couple sawed-offs in the two smaller sizes (cut off 40% of the blade).

HVS 5a will get you up most any wall. (I retired from free climbing years ago....) The Nose is an exception (like Salathe and the more severe West Face) where being able to free climb is a huge benefit. But you can still aid the Stovelegs, or french free them. Yes, there can be a bitch of a queue on the Nose, but the smart way to avoid it is to start in the morning, climb to Sickle Ledge (at 4), then actually spend the night there instead of fixing to the ground like everyone else. Fix a couple pitches above, then get up EARLY and beat the crowds jugging up. Worked for me (years ago).

Weather is PERFECT in September through to mid-October. I hope it holds for me next week - I'm heading up Scorched Earth. Think it'll be the fourth ascent. I have my "hired gun" for the off-width!

South Face of Washington Column is supposed to be good (and crowded) though I haven't done it. West Face of the Leaning Tower is also an easy Grade V classic. Neither of the above requires a "ledge", nor does the Nose or Salathe. You'd better be able to climb a 5.9 offwidth (without dying) to get up Salathe. Or like me, have someone to lead it for you! My first Grade V was the Choinard-Herbert on Sentinel. You'll have the place to yourselves, and there is a sloping ledge at 8 you can bivi on. Bring a couple pads and a sleeping bag to throw over the two of you - it's a bit cramped but a super view. There are other walls you can do without a ledge, too. Somewhere on the web (check the links) you can find a guy who RENTS ledges on a per night basis, so you could rent a double. If you BUY a ledge, be CERTAIN to buy a double. I recommend Fish's double as a good value buy - you can order directly from him off the net. It's cheaper than A5's and I've spent I think 108 nights in mine on El Cap(!) It's still going fine.

Make sure you buy Chris Mac's new Yosemite Big Walls Supertopos book - it's got everything you'll need to know about the routes. You can order it off of his website, I think. He has free beta on the Nose you can grab. You should also buy Chongo's book from Chongo when you get to the Valley (expensive, like $70) but over five hundred pages I think with everything you ever (never?) wanted to know about climbing big walls. A bit wordy, but technically correct. Then, the way to GUARANTEE success is to get Chongo to give you a "tutorial" when you're racking up - he'll hang out and show you how to assemble the systems. I guess I could help too - if I'm in the Valley, ask for "Pass the Pitons" Pete, or try my other email .

Climbing big walls is fun and it's exciting, but it's not as hard as you might think. Perseverence (did I spell that right?) counts more than raw talent. But having your systems put together is most important. If you just hang in there, and keep on keepin' on, and NEVER fricking give up, you will eventually drag your sorry asses over the summit. You may be out of food and water (well, you shouldn't be if you're using Chongo technology - you should still have water left for a shower on the summit) but you'll be happy. Works for me. Cheers, Pete

-- Pass the Pitons Pete Zabrok (, October 29, 2000.

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