Your Guide to Epic Big Walls Without Epics
The lightest, but most useful thing that you can take up a big wall is knowledge.
Welcome to a free resource that will help you be successful in getting up big rocks. Big walling is a big topic so we broke it into bite-size "pitches" with a video to START each one. The aim is to have lots of videos, photos, and written content in each section, not just of our stuff but from others as well. There are 14 chapters (blogs) that cover the topic A-Z and we will guide you to them in this "textbook".
Logistics can set you up for success.
What to take to live in a vertical world.
How to pack a giant one chamber bag.
Just living on a cliff face is a skill.
Look at people's racks and enjoy gear porn!
Placing gear is more an art than a science.
Tying together a foundation to send.
The process of climbing the ladder you installed
Setting up a great anchor is the foundation to being efficient and organized.
Getting to the top is cool, but dragging 200lbs of dead weight to the top is the real miracle.
Sometimes following can be just as tricky as leading.
Going up is only half the job.
The nuances to steep climbing.
Watch the whole process A-Z.
John Middendorf donated BigWalls.com to this project. Clicking and sharing it will bring you to this main blog which leads you to every other part of our big wall content. Did you know BigWalls.NET was one of the first climbing website in the world and John still operates it? Founder of A5 Adventures, John has been crushing walls since 1978 and has heavily influenced hammers, hauling pulleys, ball nuts, drill holders, solo devices, hooking pitons, haul bags, and portaledge designs for over 25 years. Today he sells the D4 portaledge. Middendorf has recently written two volumes of the history of tools. They include break tests going back 100 years, in addition to great stories of the folks first pushing the limits. The PDFs are free right at the top of BigWalls.NET or you can buy a print copy HERE.
You could die trying the stuff we talk about. Don't sue me because I showed you my rack and tell you how to poop in a bag, please. How's that for a disclaimer?
What I meant was, please seek professional advice on extreme sports techniques and follow the manufacturer's recommendations on your gear. Everything in this content is personal opinion and the break tests are not statistically significant to base your life on the results. Is that better?
Why The Bible Theme?
Well, Bible starts with B and so does Big Wall. Also because this is going to be a lot of sections with a lot of people adding to it and most of it will be right. It's also easier to make jokes as we go.
Playing on the Nipple
The cover image is by the one and only Tom Evans from the El Cap Report while I was leading the nipple pitch on the zodiac with my friend Justin Smestad. I was proud to have climbed that clean with inverted cam hooks and found out Tom captured the moment. When I got down to the bridge he yelled at me for wearing brown and white and I have walked around in yellow pants and bright-colored shirts ever since. The cover design is by Andrea Nicole.
The Bolting Bible was other people's content as I researched bolts, then we slowly added our content to fill in the gaps, and is now a whole lot of bolting information. The Big Wall Bible is the other way around. It starts with our content, hoping to stir up other people to contribute their content, but at the end is a whole lot of information about big walling.
It's a complex topic that can be approached so many ways, starting from different backgrounds and aiming for different goals. Some people like going up as slow as possible, others climb el cap with just a chalk bag and climbing shoes. Ok, so we won't' be covering how to free solo El Cap, but it's a great example of how extremely different you can approach the same climb. No course made by 2 people can cover everything you need to know, and no printed book can stay up to date, and I hate to tell you this, no information is going to replace just doing these things yourself. However, what if there was a place that could include dozens, and maybe even hundreds, of people's well-organized thoughts, regardless if they have a social media presence or not. Imagine if it was video or photo or written content, as it's easier to share some information in different formats. What if it was super free and able to be googled and translated into any language?
Books cost money to make, print, and ship. Courses on course-type platforms have to charge and are rarely updated. Forums require too much sifting through the weeds to find the flowers. PDFs are a PITA to maintain. Youtube videos + a highly managed blog with a few moderators to keep everyone's thoughts tidy and organized might be the answer. Blogs are the elixir of efficiency, searchability, translations, collaboration, embedded videos, and auto-formatting. Mix that with an established channel that can effectively share the best information that's added here and this could grow to be a very very helpful community-built resource.
The Power of Free
I value books, education, and courses but I'm cheap. I'll avoid buying them and just learn it another way if possible. Either they won't meet my expectations or I won't finish it before I get distracted by the next squirr...... Free and easy removes any barrier someone might have to start it, and if it meets their needs, they might just finish it.
I attempt to create the best videos I can with the resources I have available. I try to make them super entertaining enough so people who don't even care about the content still want to watch. It's also important that we don't even require an email to access the information. I hate when something is free to find out they want my email to spam me or charge me for the 2nd half of the course if it was advertised as free. 100% of what we make is 100% free.
Maybe 16-year-old girls doing makeup videos on youtube bring in 6 figures, but ad revenue on niche climbing videos won't pay the bills. Money is overrated and creating the best content to answer unanswered questions is the WHY we do this. You can do SO MUCH with very little and it seems to cost SO MUCH to take it to the next level, which honestly isn't that much of a difference. How often have you walked out of a movie theatre after watching 100million dollars smashed into 90 minutes only to bitch about how bad it was? On the flip side, a boot-strapped film can be so inspiring and change your life.
STOKE is our currency and it's the hack to creating what we have created so far. I have found if I am stoked about something and put an unreasonable amount of energy into it, other people join. That makes it better so it generates more stoke and more help and makes it even better. Which generates more stoke... and you get the point. I didn't build a lab, break thousands of tests, and make 500 episodes by myself and I can't even imagine what it would cost if I had to pay for all the help I got to have what we have so far.
So HowNOT2 went from being a hobby after painting houses all day to becoming a super big enough channel to make me think it was ok to quit a 6 figure income to do this full time. We break down on the donate page what money comes in and what goes out. If I ask for donations I think it's only fair to be fully transparent. What's great about HowNOT2 growing is that if only 1% of the people who consume it donate $1 per episode it is fully sustainable. If that's not you, that is OK! That's the point. If you don't want to donate $1 per episode, or just can't afford it, then enjoy it anyways, share it, and get stoked.
How NOT 2 Get Sponsored
If you can't tell by the salty bible themes; when I was in the church some things didn't sit with me well. One thing was how people lived on tithes or donations. I understand if you do something full time you should be paid for it. However, I don't want to live on donations, that feels weird. So how do I pay the bills?
I don't want to promote skillshare or some VPN for 30 seconds ruining the vibe in the middle of a video. I don't mind promoting something if it makes sense for my audience. I try to keep it relevant and make it funny, or at the very least, painless to watch. Getting a gear company to see the value in sponsoring HowNOT2 is a challenge as I'm searching for what's the weak point of gear outside of it's normal use case.
Rocky Talkie is one of my first real sponsors that I've chosen to promote for a fee. I have talked to the owners several times, they are climbers themselves, and they support underfunded SAR units. They work amazingly and I actually used them on all of my big projects since 2020. They line up with our values and I'm grateful that they supported this project. I honestly probably would have brought them up anyways because communication makes such a difference when you can't hear or even see your partner while you sit at a belay way too long. You get 10% off if you click RockyTalkie.com/HowNOT2 and 10% supports us. Thank you Rocky for investing in Breaking Gear Fear. See this deep dive EPISODE where I threw them off a cliff and drove over them with my car.
The 10 Big Wall Commandments
These are written for stone, NOT in stone
Thou shalt not big wall if rain is imminent
Thou shalt top step as high as you can
Thou shalt not carry too much or too little water
Thou shalt practice everything possible before doing your first wall
Thou shalt not eat too many mountain houses
Thou shalt not take heavy PVC pipe poop tubes
Thou shalt not hammer on clean routes
Thou shalt pee in thy bottles and poop in thy bags
Thou shalt take trash you see and not leave any
Thou shalt send your big wall tips for us to add
I grew up 2 hours away from Yosemite and started regularly going there when I was 21. I fell in love with the idea of big walling since learning people went straight up the face of the big rock called El Capitan. I ran up to the base and asked the first person I saw how I can learn to go up it and they said to go to a climbing gym, and so I did. I'm not sure how a year later I made it up leaning tower as I was severely under-prepared. I've been to Yosemite now over 200x as a weekend warrior and made 28 attempts at big walls, and made it to the top in one shape or another 18 times. Other than John Long's book and a few super topo posts, I was self-taught and got humbled many times. I hope this course will help ease your journey.
After a big wall scare in 2015, I stopped climbing to pursue a new passion called highlining. After years of complex highline rigging and breaking thousands of samples of gear, I learned big walling can be done safer than I realized, the gear is a bomber and better balance made it a lot easier. I hung my aiders up after doing Zodiac clean but 6 years later I, off the couch, lead an A3+ without adrenaline because I knew that micro gear was stronger than it looked and my rope was bomber. I'm not an expert but I bring enough real-life experience to the table to contribute something to this resource.
In 2019, I was a small channel with about 10,000 subscribers making exclusively slackline content. My slackline friend was at my house and going big walling the next day and wanted some beta. I told him I needed a video for Wednesday, as I never missed a Wednesday, and said "turn on the camera". I beta sprayed for 45 minutes and hardly had to edit it because I was confident in what didn't work and what did. I hesitated to post such a long video but found it was my first 250,000 view video!?!? I didn't make climbing content because I thought that subject was well known and well covered by now. Guess what! There's definitely room for more. That one accidental video made me realize there were a lot of people who would like to know more about this thing I originally loved doing before I started youtube. It's nice to go full circle and use this platform I've worked on all these years to give back to Big Walling.
Who knew planting such a little seed could turn into a giant tree? In 2020, a high school math teacher in the mid-west sent me a photo of himself from the back of the classroom while showing a break test episode to his students. Jeremiah LeTourneau is jacked on climbing and does it about 300 days a year. At the time, I had no idea my videos were being watched by non-slackliners, let alone by high school students. It was the main reason I started to make my videos (slightly) more family-friendly.
About a year later, he asked me to mentor him about big walling because I had a big wall video I made randomly in 2019 but I blew him off because I wasn't interested in teaching a new person since there is so much to cover. Later that summer, it worked out to climb for a few hours together in Yosemite while we were both there, and was a fun meet and greet. He trained for big walls for 5 years before doing his first one in 2021 and crushed it. He has not epiced or bailed off a wall after 8 successful top-outs as of 2022. He, in fact, is climbing all the routes I did in half the time. With such a vast "book knowledge" of the sport and practicing everything he could at his local crag, he crushed it when he showed up.
In the early part of 2022 he planted the seed of making more big wall content in some very ripe soil. I was very interested in A-Z content at the time and after breaking gear fear in my own mind, want to do more big walling myself. He spent months helping iron out the course content, and gave up a week of very good weather of his limited summer off to film these videos with me and helps me write this Big Wall Bible. He brought a very different experience to this course that really complimented my "learning the hard way" experience. Having NOT done a wall together really added a lot of variety for you, so you can see different ways of skinning the cat, instead of 1 homogenized system.
I do believe the seed he planted has sprouted with these core videos and will grow into a big resource over time if others also contribute. Every big project takes a village but it's pretty cool to acknowledge where the seed came from. I appreciate his level of engagement with this project and think it will help a lot of people.
Other Credits and Thank You's
It takes a village, these are the villagers.
Andrea Nicole is a very supportive girlfriend who helped film, make the cover plus other graphics, listen to me edit this for 2 months, and proofreads every brain fart I add in here. She also helped me create the taxonomy and design of this website you now enjoy. Her art is on all our swag. Watch her in Episode 13 leading her first roof.
Brent Roth let us use his house as a studio while he was out of town having fun. He built a beautiful plywood wall for climbing and canyon demos and you can watch him in our CANYON COURSE or all the episodes he is in by using this FILTER.
Guillermo Gutierrez Camargo is an audio engineer and spent days saving 5 episodes of this course from being barely watchable, to having even and leveled-out audio.
Ryan Sheridan re-sparked my interest in big walling after a 5-year sabbatical when we did the Dano Jump Project and freely shared many images you see in this course and on our course thumbnails.
Your name here - if you significantly contribute to making this a great resource for people.
Climbers shall not live by one source alone but by every word of advice available
John Middendorf has been crushing walls and creating content since the 80s. In fact, he started BigWalls.NET, the very first climbing website. Today it has tons of history and is the location where he sells the D4 portaledge. He donated BigWalls.COM to lead you to this main Big Wall Bible textbook. You can find his 1988 Big Wall Tech Manual in this PDF.
Pass the Piton Pete Zabrok and Fabio Elli have an amazing, huge, full-color book on every aspect of big walling. This is the biggest and most helpful big wall book in print today. Worth every penny! Here him muse in this short EPISODE.
Neil Chelton has a blog and 100+ short videos on the topic. He filmed most of his content on real rock, narrated a lot of it afterward for better and more concise audio, and also includes animations. It cost the price of 3 carabiners and his ebook is "pick your price" so make sure you go look at his stuff. See our interview with him in this VIDEO
John Godino has over over 50 blogs for tips and tricks on big walling. He also has an entire website with 400+ other useful blogs. It's all free and ad-free and full value. He posts his content also on Instagram @alpinesavvy
This falcon guide written by John Long and John Middendorf was the guide most big wallers read since 1994. It's classic and worth reading.
Andy Kirkpatricks detailed big wall book printed in 2018. He has done thirty+ ascents just of El Cap (including 5 solos, 2 one day ascents, 1 winter ascent), plus routes on the Troll Wall, Dru, Eiger, places like Patagonia, Zion, Alaska and Antarctica, This big wall book gets into the details you need.
Other helpful resources will be linked where relevant in the rest of the Big Wall Bible.