Tech Tips: Big-Wall Tactics

Illustration by Jamie Givens

Illustration by Jamie Givens

Eight pitches the 1988 first ascent of Waterfall Wall—a dry-season-only Grade VI A4+ that follows the line of Upper Yosemite Falls—Rick Sylvester and I were eager to get to the first good crack of any length we had seen in four pitches. A slanting dihedral began about 15 feet to right, but a pendulum would leave us too low. There were no features for bashies, horizontal edges for hooks, nor angled edges for opposing hooks on the steep, blank wall.

I did find vertical edges, however, and eventually devised a plan to hook across using tension from the rope: a hooksion traverse. I placed the first hook, attached an aider, then had Rick lock off the belay as I leaned right against the rope. Then, very gingerly, I placed my left foot into the aider and pressed it straight out to the left. Holding my body nearly horizontal against the rope’s tension, I reached out right to hook another edge. As I pressed my right foot into an aider clipped to this second hook, Rick slowly let out some rope. It took several more placements to gain the crack in the dihedral—about as much as I could handle of the incredibly strenuous horizontal position needed to keep the hooks in place on vertical edges—but I managed to reach the next crack without drilling.