Avoid the Big Ride

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Figure 2. If you’re looking to climb A3 or harder, be prepared to play the expando game.

The term “Expando” refers to any crack or flake that moves when pressured. These fissures can run the gamut from huge, creaky flakes to micro splitter cracks. On hard aid, carelessly nailing into expanding cracks might be the quickest way to send yourself for the big ride. When I’m on a nail-up, I look at every crack as if it’s potentially expanding.When you nail a piton into a crack, you’re exerting great pressure on the rock. Even if a crack appears splitter, you might actually be hanging on a huge exfoliated sheet of rock that can shift relative to the wall underneath. RPs and copperheads, used for the thinnest of thin, rely on precise surface contact. If that surface shifts even a fraction of a millimeter, and you are weighting that piece, it will rip. Here are a few tips that may help you the next time you encounter an expanding crack.

First of all, is the crack big enough to take TCUs? If so, you’re lucky, because unlike pitons, nuts, and heads, camming devices can expand with the crack. If you flex the crack open while standing on a cam, the cam probably won’t blow. Whenever possible, aid expando sections on cams.

If the crack is too thin for TCUs, more sophisticated trickery is required. I like to smack in the biggest pin possible at the start of any expando section. This helps take out some of flake’s expansion range and hopefully will also provide at least one piece of good protection.

Next, look at the crack and come up with a plan of attack. Are you going to nail it, nut it, copperhead it, or a combination of all three? Usually, if I start with pins, I like to stay with pins. I try not to overdrive or oversize, and I tilt the pins slightly upward (Figure 1), assuming that they will shift downwards a bit as the crack expands. Most importantly, I daisy in tight to the piece I’m placing, just in case the one I’m on pulls. If the piece I’m on really looks like it’s about to blow, I shift my weight onto the top piece and whale it in as hard and as far as I can (Figure 2).If you decide to go with copperheads and nuts, know that you’ll probably have to stay with this type of placement for the duration. The single most important thing to avoid is nailing a pin above a thin nut or head, since this is sure to expand the crack enough to cause your lower placement to blow. Be careful, too, because even a head can expand a crack, especially if you’re trying to slam in a #3 above a #1 or #2 head.

Say you’re on a dicey #2 copperhead in an expanding crack, and the next placement looks like it’s going to have to be a piton. First, consider a cam hook. Provided the flake is not horribly loose, body weight on the cam hook shouldn’t be enough to blow the piece you’re on. Another option is to find a hook placement on the face. Hooks are immune to expando because they’re not placed in the crack. From a sound hook, you can whale in a pin without compromising the placement supporting your weight.

If you must drive a pin above a delicate expando placement, daisy in tight to the pin you’re placing. Use free-climbing face holds, if possible, to help take some weight, and be ready to start swinging hard if the head suddenly blows.

Figure 1. Placing the pin with a slight upward angle can help keep it from rotating into a likely-to-blow downward orientation.

Avoid the Big Ride

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