Highstep with confidence, on walls big and small
After several seasons in Yosemite, tallying sloth-like aid lead after sloth-like aid lead — as does many a big-wall nOOb — I finally got it: if I efficiently highstepped in my aiders by using the top rung/s, aka topstepping, I could drastically reduce lead times and clip those oh-so-distant fixed pieces. (Revelation!)
In fact, by doing this, you, too, can shave hours off rivet and head ladders. Just don’t try harder aid leads until you’re confident with this technique — and keep in mind that it works best with bomber, multi-directional pro.
The Quickdraw Method
Unless you enjoy unexpected daisy-chain (read:a shock-loading) falls, never totally trust your fifi hook. Back it up with a quickdraw — a shock-free grab for sketchy moments — clipped to your belay loop and that you can clip into a free aider or daisy biner. For steep pitches, use a short draw to optimize reach; on slabs, extend your quickdraw with extra biners and/or slings to compensate for the low angle.
What About Fifi?
The fifi hook is crucial for quickly advancing/stabilizing your feet in your aiders. When efficiently bumped up your daisy loops — or hooked behind a wire or tat — the fifi improves torque and keeps your hips close to the wall. Your fifi should sit extremely close to the hip-and-leg-loop juncture, girth-hitched through both for maximum torque and easy postural adjustment.
Once standing/hanging from the quickdraw clipped to your daisy biner, you’re ready to topstep. First, grab the spine of an accessible aider biner for balance, advance your dominant leg up one step, and fifi into the daisy biner. Next, place your weaker leg into the next step up of the opposite aider and slide the fifi up the daisy biner until it hooks the top; straighten your legs almost entirely. Allow the leverage from the quickdraw to hold you in place — you may have to transfer the fifi onto your pro, be it a bolt hanger, cam sling, wire, or tat — or simply disengage it to lean back on the draw, for maximum reach. Repeat as necessary. Once at your desired height, free your hands by pushing your right heel into the arch of your left (in a “V” or “T”), simultaneously posting your toes against the wall. It’s possible to gain some extra reach by forcing the toe of your shoe into a grab loop. Alternately, you may keep one foot in the next step down.
Finally, place or clip the next piece, transfer your fifi to the lead daisy at hip level, and step down at least one step in your lower aiders (to decrease impact force in the event of a blown placement). Bounce-test. In many cases, moving one aider up to a loop in the advancing daisy chain helps increase force when testing — but keep a good grip on the quickdraw. Is the piece good? Keep going … unclip the draw and transfer your other aider to your daisy chain or biner, and advance the fifi. (In some awkward situations, say reaching over a bulge during a traverse, it’s best to clip the aiders to a daisy loop.) Finally, unclip the lower daisy and clip your rope to the last piece, now below your waist.
Feather the Edge
Topstepping is uncomfortable, so plan ahead to minimize your pain. While still in your second or third steps, pre-select your next piece and clip it to the end of your free daisy chain, which you can link to your gear loop or neck of your T-shirt for easy access. Carry a chalk bag — grabbing the rock provides quick stabilization — and wear stiff, approach-type shoes for foot protection.
Contributing Editor Chris Van Leuven now topsteps, highsteps, and steps correct wherever he might climb.The Topstepper’s Checklist• 2 140cm daisy chains with an oval biner at each end • 2 five- or six-step aiders with an oval biner clipped on top • 1 fifi hook • 1 15cm quickdraw