Gear Up! Big Walls
All the gear you need to tackle the big stoneby Kevin Quaderer
Racking up for another El Cap ascent.
Big wall climbing is not fun. If someone tells you otherwise, they're lying. You'll spend most of your time baking in the sun, hauling heavy bags, cursing on the awkward pitches, whimpering on the hard pitches, jugging endlessly, eating cold canned food, and tossing and turning on cramped ledges. Topping out on a wall is one of the sweetest victories, partly because you just knocked off an impressive piece of climbing, but mostly because it's finally over.
Getting high on The Sheild, El Capitan.
But there's something weird about climbing walls. On the way down, suffering under the enormous load of a fully packed haul bag, I find myself stealing glimpses back over my shoulder, checking out other routes. After a good meal and a hot shower, I suddenly find the guidebook open in my lap, turned to something even harder than the route I just got off.
It's scary how fast doing another wall starts to sound like a good idea.
And it continues to sound like a good idea, right up to the moment I get winded hauling the first load to the base of my next climb. Then the familiar suffering comes back with a vengeance, and I'll spend the next few days wondering how I ever forgot that wall climbing sucks.
This article is not about how to climb big walls. That's a complicated subject, best learned slowly from books and experienced teachers. However, before you set off from the ground you're going to need the right gear. That's where I can be of some service.
First and foremost, you'll need a helmet. Between dropped gear and falling rock, it's not hard to see why. Just about any helmet designed for climbing will do, but be sure that it has clips to secure your headlamp.
Black Diamond Vectra IQ
Headlamps are required. You want something bright enough to spot anchors from half a pitch away, but easy on the batteries at the same time. I find the combination xenon/LED headlamps fit this bill perfectly. Check out the Black Diamond Vectra IQ, or the Petzl Myo series.
Water bottles: on this one, go cheap. 2 liter soda bottles are the tried and tested way of carrying water on any multi-day climb. They're free, surprisingly durable, and crush up when empty. Clove hitch some accessory cord around the neck for a clip-in.
ClothingSynthetic is the way to go. Even if you're climbing in sunny California in the middle of June, you can get pounded by a storm. The weather can turn quickly high up on a wall, and getting soaked is a distinct possibility. Therefore, avoid cotton. It takes forever to dry, and won't insulate when wet. Instead, go for synthetic layers. Here's what I took on my last wall:
North Face Apex Chalk Pant - Slight stretch, water resistance, and very
Mountain Hardwear Wicked Tee - Wicking for hot days.
Arc'teryx Delta LT Zip Pullover - Perfect for morning leads, or light wind.
Mountain Hardwear Windstopper Tech Jacket - The windstopper is crucial.
Patagonia Capilene Silkweight Boxers - It's hard to climb with wet underwear.
Marmot PreCip Jacket - Bomber rain jacket is a must.
Mountain Hardwear Epic Rain Pants - Same with the pants.
Sleeping bagYou'd be insane to take a down bag on any wall. If it gets soaked, that $500 refuge of warmth will become a $500 body bag. Look for a bag filled with Polargaurd Delta, the current best synthetic insulation. The North Face Cat's Meow is a great wall bag, as is the Mountain Hardwear 2nd Dimension.
ShoesIf there's even the chance of any free climbing on a pitch, it's nice to have a comfy pair of climbing shoes you can aid in. The odd free move, or even a smear just for balance, can go a long way towards speeding up a lead. Check out the La Sportiva Mythos, or the Scarpa Marathon.
HarnessKeep in mind you'll be living in your harness for a few days, and hanging in it for hours at a time. Be sure to find one with plenty of padding, lots of gear loops, and a haul loop. Check out the Black Diamond Focus AL.
Black Diamond Zodiac Gear Sling
Gear SlingAid climbing requires obscenely huge racks, so you'll need something to carry it all. I like Black Diamond's Zodiac sling, but for a lighter version, check out the Metolius Multi Loop Gear Sling.
CarabinersBring every single carabiner you can beg, borrow, or steal. My partner and I probably brought over eighty on our last El Cap climb, and that still wasn't enough. Locking biners are even more important. Oval biners are nice for aid climbing, so check out Black Diamond's Oval Wires. For lockers, the Black Diamond Positron Screwgate is key.
Black Diamond Touchstone
Haul BagUnless you're planning on spending a pretty long time on the wall (a week or more) I'd go with a mid-sized bag before a gargantuan. Personally, I have trouble managing any single bag that weighs more than I do, so I prefer to put the load in two medium sized bags. Also, I don't have the longest arms in the world, and I physically cannot reach to the bottom of some of the bigger haul bags out there. If you and your partner both have an upper-mid sized bag, you should be good to go for most sane wall routes. I like the Black Diamond Touchstone.
Other essential big wall gear
There's a bunch of specialized aid climbing stuff that you should check out, but talk to an experienced aid climber before you start getting into this stuff: angled pitons, Knifeblades, Lost Arrows, beaks, hammers, hooks, RURPS, brassies, and micro nuts.
Belay device: For a four hour belay, the Petzl Grigri is worth its weight in gold.
Ascenders: Petzl Ascension. Look no further.
Daisy Chains: I like the Black Diamond Dynex, go for the longer size.
Black Diamond Etrier
Etriers: If you speak American, call 'em "aiders." Some people like two, some people like four. Try both ways and decide for yourself. Check out Black Diamond's.
Gloves: Essential on multi-day aid climbs. Check out the fingerless Metolius Climbing Gloves.
Energy Gel: I get sick of energy bars after a day or two, so the gels go down smoother. Check out Carb Boom, which is actually made with real fruit and not just sugar.
Sure gear is important for wall climbing, but what's more important is a strong sense of adventure, a diminished sense of self preservation, and an unquenchable thirst for manual labor. If you possess these things, many ascents are in your future. So get the gear, quit your job, and start climbing walls.