Big Wall Climbing

  • HPExtension102

    Learn This: Extension 102

    Learn these advanced techniques for safer and smoother extension on sport and trad routes.

  • HPOvergripping

    Learn This: The Over-Gripping Myth

    As you move ever higher above your last piece and further outside your comfort zone, you grip the rock for dear life, even though you know the route is well within your ability. Yet here you are, only halfway up and too pumped to continue—everything feels way harder than it should. Most climbers have experienced this unfortunate situation: When you get scared, you hold on too tight and waste precious energy. The perceived solution: Focus on relaxing your hands to stop over-gripping the rock, thus lasting longer. While this does seem to make logical sense, over-gripping is actually not a significant factor in this perceived fatigue. Studies in applied physiology, neuroscience, and sports medicine point to stress itself as the culprit for accelerated fatigue. Anxiety can trigger the release of a certain hormone that can make you feel more pumped and tired than you actually are. Here we’ve provided some tips and tricks to conquer your fears and prevent the dreaded pump.

  • HPAnchorShelfSm

    Learn This: Using the Anchor Shelf

    Efficiency is directly related to success on any multi-pitch climb, and being neat and tidy from the beginning is a key to efficiency. Keep your belay orderly with this effortless technique: using the “shelf.”

  • HPSqueeze

    Learn This: Conquer Chimneys (With Tips From Rob Pizem)

    Royal Arches, Yosemite. Kor-Ingalls Route, Castleton Tower. Durrance Route, Devil’s Tower. What do these super-classic moderates have in common? They each have a physically demanding chimney. This term refers to any fissure that your body fits inside, ranging from a squeeze chimney (one to two feet wide) to much wider, where you must stem the gap with a foot and hand on each side. Each width requires its own set of unique movements, so we talked with wide-crack wizard Rob Pizem (who points out that this was one of the earliest climbing techniques) to break it down into a step-by-step process.

  • Laybacks

    Learn This: Master Laybacks (With Tips From Cheyne Lempe)

  • HPAutoBlock

    Essential Skills: Auto-Blocking Belay Devices

    This setup, which is also called “guide mode,” automatically stops the rope from moving through the device—or “catches” the follower—if he falls. It’s a must-have tool and technique for anyone who wants to tackle multi-pitch climbs.

  • HPRope

    Learn This: Alpine Rope Management

    Managing the rope at belays and rappels on multi-pitch routes can be a smooth operation that leads to quick transitions and more climbing. Or it can be a headache-inducing rats’ nest of chaos that means wrestling with yourself every time you try to feed out slack. Instead of spending your summer alpine season untangling a rope, learn a few simple methods that will help you spend more time sending. Try out these tricks on shorter routes so that when you’re faced with 15 pitches or 10 long rappels, you’ll have these techniques dialed in and ready to put to use.

  • Rotator1at660

    Solo Toproping: Basic Self-Belay Techniques

    When Tommy Caldwell or Mayan Smith-Gobat work a free climb high on El Capitan, the crux may be finding a belayer willing to put in days of duty in an isolated and exposed location. Often, the solution is to go alone, rehearsing the key pitches by solo toproping. Whether you’re an active first ascensionist or just want to do some laps after work without a partner, solo toproping is a handy technique to add to your repertoire.

  • Figure-1-Single-Hitch-Escape-660

    Single-Hitch Belay Escape

    Keeping it straightforward is a good credo for rescue and almost anything climbing-related, and this particular skill is a good example of how to streamline the act of escaping a belay. It uses minimal steps, equipment, and hitches or knots, especially when compared to more complicated methods that require lesser-used hitches and additional know-how.

  • Big-Wall-Kit

    Big Wall Kit

    Depending on the type of pulling down you’re doing, climbing can vary from minimalist to “everything but the kitchen sink,” and big wall climbing is very much the latter. We asked Colorado climber Paul Gagner—who has done more than 50 wall routes around the world, including first ascents on Baffin Island and in Utah’s Fisher Towers—to detail his packing list and the experience-driven tricks that go along with it.

  • Feeding-Slack-Quickly-Grigri-158

    Learn Proper Techniques for Grigri Use

    Petzl has made an effort to educate users, but the bad habits of devotees are difficult to break, and with the release of the Grigri 2 in 2011, it's more important than ever to learn (and teach) proper techniques for this ubiquitous device.

  • How-to-Tyrol-Traverse-600

    How to Do the Tyrolean Traverse

    The Tyrol, short for Tyrolean traverse, involves using a fixed line to cross from one point to another, often over water. While wearing a harness, you clip onto the rope or cable to pull yourself across. Developed in the Dolomites of the former Tyrol region, this method was used to approach and descend from spires. Nowadays, it’s commonly used to negotiate rivers or reach a detached pillar. If the ropes or cables are already safely set up, these basic guidelines will make traversing a breeze.

  • tricams-101-660

    Tricams 101: A Guide to Using This Tool

    The Tricam is a puzzling piece: It’s delightfully simple, with no active—or moving—parts, yet it has more potential uses than either a spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) or a standard nut. They can be placed passively (like a nut) or actively (like a cam), depending on the orientation and features in the rock. While the original unit had two placements (one passive, one active), the newest generation has three: a cam, a nut, and a nut in broadside-out mode. The biggest benefit? The Tricam often fits where nothing else will.

  • Rappel-Without-Belay-Device

    Rappel Without a Belay Device

    You’re lying if you say you’ve never dropped your belay device and watched it go “tink, tink, tink” all the way down to the base of a route. It can happen to anyone. But have no fear: If you have four carabiners of any shape or gate type, plus a locking belay biner, you can make it to the ground. The double carabiner brake rappel is the best way to descend without a traditional rappel device.

  • How to haul a pack

    Haul Your Pack to Climb Faster and Harder

    Simple truth: Attempting to go "light and fast" often means heavy and lame. To avoid the stigma of hauling a bag, many climbers feel the need to have everything clipped right on their harnesses. Water bottles, approach shoes, bullet packs--you name it--jangling o gear loops, wrapped around waists, getting in the way. If this sounds like you, strip down and haul! Here are a few reasons to haul, tips on how to do it, and some cautions gleaned from years of experience.

  • Opposed-Nuts-Placement

    Nuts 101

    When many people start trad climbing, cams become their new best friend. They’re easy to use and contract to fit a variety of crack sizes. But don’t underestimate the benefits of their counterpart: the nut. With no moving parts (hence, “passive protection”), nuts are inexpensive, lightweight, sturdy, and it’s easy to judge a placement by eyeballing— many will fit a variety of spots because they can be positioned in four different orientations.

  • How-to-Poop-in-the-Woods

    Guide to Going Number Two

    Shit happens. The average person generates just more than one pound of poop every day, according to the World Health Organization. As the number of people visiting crags grows, so do the pounds of poo left behind. This requires some strategic practices. Few things are as foul as seeing a pile of feces topped with toilet paper hiding behind a rock—plus, poor crag etiquette can endanger access and pose public health concerns.

  • How-to-Cut-a-Climbing-Rope

    Cutting a Rope

    The first 15 feet on either end of your rope gets by far the most use, wear, and friction. You’re constantly tying into that section, and, more important, the rope absorbs the impact of most falls there, so that part gets a lot of abrasion from carabiners. These parts will get fat, frayed, fuzzy, and after time will generally look different from the rest of the cord. Even after one season with a rope, you can end up with bad ends and a near-new-looking middle portion.

  • Rappel-to-Ascend-Fig-3-660

    Rappel to Ascend

    The shadows are growing long across the desert as you rappel off the neo-classic Birdland (5.7+) in Red Rock, Nevada, after a successful ascent. In your haste to beat darkness (and avoid the resulting expensive ticket at the park gate), you forgot to grab the rack off the ledge before you started the rappel. Midway down the rappel, you realize your blunder. What to do? Time to go back up—and fast!

  • Save-Yourself-660

    Save Yourself! A Guide to Self-Rescue

    Climbing is dangerous. And that's part of the fun, isn't it? We learn many standard steps to manage risk and prevent bad things from happening: Double-check knots! Pack a headlamp! Back everything up! But someday the shit may hit the fan, and you’ll be faced with a scary and dangerous situation. Do you have the skills to get yourself and your partner back alive?

  • Wet-Rope Myths Debunked

    By the very nature of our sport, there will come a time when you’re faced with using a wet rope. Can you safely rappel on it? Can you lead on it? Will water permanently damage the rope? Instead of making an “educated guess” in the alpine, learn the basics here to guide your decisions in the field. We polled five leading rope companies to see what they had to say about the strength of a rope before, during, and after being exposed to water.

  • Long-Rappel-Short-Rope-158

    Long Rappel, Short Rope

    Do you always know the exact length of every rappel? At some point in your climbing career, you will probably encounter a rappel that is unknown but looks too long for your measly single line. Instead of tossing the rope, crossing your fingers, and getting to the ends of your rope only to discover that, yes, your rope is too short, there is a simple technique to deal with such a situation.

  • Illustration by Chris Philpot

    Improvised Rappel Anchors

    Getting off a cliff with no fixed anchors or big trees is a skill that every rock climber should have in his bag of tricks. It’s especially useful to do it with minimal loss of expensive hardware. Here’s one method.

  • The Butterfly Knot

    This is the preferred knot for tying into the middle of a climbing rope, as you’d do on a three-person rope team. (Clip into the loop with a locking carabiner.) This knot is also great for rappelling when your ropes are too short. (See Climbing's November issue, no. 310, for more on rappelling on too-short ropes.

  • Aid-and-Abet-660

    Aid and Abet

    We are all duly impressed when talented climbers make quick free ascents of long 5.12 and 5.13 routes, but just because you don’t climb at that standard doesn’t mean you can’t do those same climbs. A bit of aid climbing is the key to keeping difficulties within your grade and moving quickly up whatever terrain you encounter. Here are some tips to help you make short work of longer, harder climbs.

  • HPRapKnots

    Learn This: Preferred Knots for Rappelling

    The knot I use to tie together two ropes for a rappel—and one we commonly use in guides’ training at the AMGA—is the flat overhand. This knot has been called a number of things (including the Euro death knot) and has at times been unfairly demonized.

  • Steady Yourself

    Steady Yourself

    Along with a good pair of shoes and a positive attitude, balance is crucial for successful rock climbing. Without it, your body won’t move naturally on the rock, thus eliminating efficiency and style. We tapped into trainer and hardman Eric Hörst’s knowledge of climbing performance (How to Climb 5.12, trainingforclimbing.com), and he gave us three fun exercises to improve your balance.

  • HPAlpine

    Essential Skills: The Alpine Quickdraw

    You'll often carry several full-length, 24-inch slings on long rock routes or alpine climbs, to reduce rope drag, wrap around horns for protection or belays, or rig belay anchors. But draping multiple slings over your shoulders is cumbersome. The solution? The alpine draw.

  • Pamela-Pack-Calf-Lock-660

    The Calf Lock

    One of the most dreaded wide crack sizes is just bigger than your fists but too small for your knees. For most people, this means a four-inch crack. This size usually requires the hand/hand (“butterfly”) stack instead of a fist jam. Although hanging from such a stack feels quite secure, it’s difficult to make upward progress because a knee jam won’t fit.

  • Peewee-Tape-Gloves-660

    Better Tape Gloves

    A gnarly fissure will rip the skin off even the best crack climbers. Protect your hands with a layer of tape so you can keep trying hard until your strength gives out instead of failing from pain or blood loss. Here's how I make thin, reusable tape gloves, using two neat tricks to make the job easier.

  • 78815e4f837e7962a83a62b81a7

    Alpine Anchors

    In the mountains or on long rock routes, anchor efficiency can be the difference between a comfortable finish and a forced bivouac. Using a cordelette to equalize an anchor is easy and strong, but it takes a lot of extra time to set up, and even longer to break down. There is a faster, easier, and often equally safe solution: the "alpine anchor."

  • RappelHP

    Essential Skills: Pre-Rigging Rappels

    Imagine you're at the top of a multi-pitch climb and a few rappels are the only thing between you and a nice walk out. Usually what happens is the most experienced person rappels first to find the next station, position the ropes, and deal with any other issues that arise.

  • Two-Rope-Raps-Chopped-660

    Two-Rope Rappels With One Chopped Cord

    Rockfall happens, and sometimes ropes get chopped. If you're 1,000 feet up a route with one rope that's badly damaged, there's a trick you can use to keep doing full-length, double-rope rappels. It's sometimes called the Reepschnur rappel—I have no idea what that means, but I know from experience that it works.

  • northwest face half dome

    Your First Big Wall

    Don't embark on a wall climb until you have many long multi-pitch routes under your belt. There is obligatory free climbing on almost every wall—which usually feels quite difficult with the extra gear you're carrying—so you should be comfortable leading at least 5.9 trad.

  • Chilling Imagery

    The sunscreen is frozen in the tube. The toothpaste, too. Your hands freeze within seconds without gloves. The thermometer reads 35 deg F. It's colds -- really cold. But can you still photograph? You bet. Here are a few tips.

  • Short-Fixing

    Short-Fixing

    Short-fixing is an experts-only technique that essentially separates a climbing team into two roped soloists via a knot at an anchor, allowing the climbers to move simultaneously. It's most commonly used on one-day ascents of big walls, or to speed up the process during multi-day ascents.

  • Worth a Shot

    A digital camera can do more than capture memories of your climbs. Whether new routing in the mountains or redpointing at the crag, put your point-and-shoot to use with these tricks.

  • Escape Systems

    Escape Systems

    If you're climbing a little-traveled big wall, or venturing into soft-rock climbing areas like Utah's San Rafael Reef, you may want to carry an emergency bolt kit—and know how to use it. Here's the lowdown.

  • Thumbs Up!

    Climbing holds are like snowflakes—no two are identical—and clever use of the thumbs adds important diversity to your gripping arsenal. Here are four "thumb" techniques that could make the difference during your next tough climb.

  • Social Climbing

    You and two climbing partners have planned to climb the East Buttress of El Capitan (IV 5.10b). Now, at the top of pitch 10, the three of you are looking at climbing the final pitches in the dark and onsighting the descent by headlamp. Here are a few tips to speed up a threesome and finish your climb with plenty of daylight.

  • HPBelay

    Learn This: Belaying A Heavier Climber

    People whose partners outweigh them by 25 pounds or more routinely get yanked off the ground when catching sport-climbing leader falls. Although this phenomenon is disconcerting at first, it can be perfectly safe with a few simple precautions—and it provides a nice, soft catch for the climber.

  • PreThreadTR

    Learn This: Save Yourself An Ascent With The Pre-Threaded Toprope

    You're climbing outdoors with novice friends, and you want to rig a toprope from a fixed-chain anchor. You're the only one in the group who can safely install and clean a toprope setup, but you loath having to climb each route twice—once to hang the rope, and once to clean the anchor and rap from the chains.

  • No More Tangles

    No More Tangles

    Good rope management at belays saves time and headaches. When you belay on a ledge, feed the rope into a small pile, about two feet around, as you take it in. Compact the growing rope pile with your hands or feet to keep it stacking bottom to top, and to keep it from sliding off the ledge.

  • Cam-hooking 101

    Cam-hook technique has been honed to a fine edge by Yosemite's speed-aid climbers, but even if you prefer to climb walls slowly, as I do, cam hooking can save you a lot of hassle when aiding thin cracks, as well as protect the rock and win you "clean aid" points.

  • Better Boinking

    Better Boinking

    Boinking is a little trick that all sport climbers should know. When you�re working a very steep route, falls may leave you stranded in space, too far from the wall to regain the rock. Instead of lowering to the ground, you can often �boink� back up to your last quickdraw by pulling up on the rope, unweighting, and allowing your belayer to quickly take in slack.

  • Anchors Away

    Traditionally, climbers have anchored to the belay by tying in directly with the rope. Now, many prefer the convenience of personal anchor tethers specifically designed for this purpose for belays, as well as for cleaning the top anchor on a sport climb or anchoring during multi-pitch rappels. When used properly, these systems can be safe and strong, but when used improperly, they can lead to fatal accidents.

  • Climbing Video 101

    Climbing Video 101

    Just as digital photography opened up the world of image-making to the masses, so have the many gadgets that shoot video opened up the creative possibilities for amateur filmmakers.

  • Point and Shoot Cameras

    Today's compact digital cameras are slimmer, lighter, and more durable than their predecessors—and their image quality is much better. They're also a lot more portable and a lot less expensive than full-sized digital SLRs—meaning you're more likely to carry them on your climbs—and many have features that even the pros respect, including image stabilization and continuous-shooting modes.

  • Come to Papa

    It's been a long day on the rock. If your partner can just finish this pitch quickly, you can be down on the trail before dark. But he’s exhausted, and a crux overhang has stopped him. “Take!” he yells. You give him tension, with your belay device rigged in guide mode off a cordelette power point. He tries again. “Take!” Again and again.

  • The Safety Stick

    Many big-wall climbers see stick clips (aka cheater sticks) solely as emergency tools to use when they run across a broken rivet or missing copperhead. However, a stick clip also can greatly assist in retreating off overhanging walls like the right side of El Capitan or Leaning Tower.