Big Wall Episode #11 - Ascending
Big Wall Bible
The lightest but most useful thing you can take up a big wall is knowledge. Welcome to a 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 your stuff as well. See HowNOT2 contribute your beta below.
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"Following" up after our leading episode, we show you from your partner yelling "off belay", releasing the bag, cleaning up the anchor and ascending the rope with a few easy lower out examples when the gear isn't plumb below the anchor. You get two demonstrations to see what's different but also what's similar between the two.
When you hear off belay, it's time to get back to work. If someone is crawling up a lead, you can be done eating, peeing and watching your favorite movie (half joking). Just make sure you don't do "house keeping" that could have been done already when they are ready for you. If you have a good partner at a good anchor, your line is fixed within 60 seconds and it's game on.
It takes a minute, or five, before the leader has pulled up the haul line, attached the protraxion, positioned themselves and started to take the weight of the bag. Use this time to take off the "Jesus Draw", put on your ascenders on your fixed line, put at least one personal anchor on it, manage whatever lead line they didn't pull up and be ready to go up that rope the moment the bag is free and on them. Hell, you can start jugging to pull the stretch out, just leave one personal anchor attached to the bolts so you don't swing away.
When Pigs Fly
The leader is going to start hauling and you need to release the pig. This is why having it on a MMO releasable knot is so awesome, even if the bag isn't going straight up, and there is still weight on the bolt, you can release the bag. Have all the backups removed and the lid closed and be ready. Nothing worse than having to wait the the follower to do something when they have been sitting there for 45 minutes.
I don't feel like I should say this, but CYA: don't release the bag unless you absolutely are certain the leader is hauling and it's going well and they don't try to change anything, or worse yet, it's not in the protraxion and they only pulled up the slack.
Clean up the anchor bits that couldn't be removed until the bag is off and start to blast up the rope.
There are 2 main ways of ascending: sitting in an ascender and raising up the other that has an aider to stand up and lift up your ascender you sit on, OR have your daisies loose and have a ladder in both ascenders and just lift one foot as you raise one hand and walk up the rope.
If it is low angle or vertical terrain and you are a 20 something year old stud muffin, you can just walk up the rope without ever sitting on the daisy attached to your top ascender. Once it starts getting over hanging, then you have to sit every single time.
Big wallers typically have two ascenders with a ladder on each on and a daisy attached to each one. This allows for the top one to be taken off, placed above a piece of gear so you can get plumb under the next piece and get all the weight off the bottom piece you are trying to remove. Ascenders don't just magically pop off ropes, but you are moving around a bunch and especially if the rope is going to not always be vertical in the device, you need to clip a carabiner in the eye at the top to keep the ascender on the rope in case it pops off, therefore keeping you attached to the rope.
Lets stop for just a moment and emphasize that you need to be connected to a rope two different ways at all times. If you have to take off an ascender, you don't want the other one to be your only way of being attached. You either slide up a grigri, micro traxion or tie yourself into the rope. If you don't have to ever remove an ascender, it is somewhat common for the two ascenders to be your only two attachment points.
A trick from cavers is the frog system, where you have a croll (handle-less ascender) right at the two hard points on your harness (next to your belay loop) and you sit in that lower ascender while you raise your top ascender which has your ladders. This gives you a better center of gravity and is a LOT less energy spent ascending up OVERHANGING ropes. This is best used for fixed ropes and where you don't have to clean gear FYI.
Going down to go up
Lower outs is when the rope doesn't go straight up and gravity wants to keep you directly below the next pro, plumb to the earth. Lets break this into 3 categories:
Super Close Enough
You have to get under the next pro and if it isn't too far away, you just put your ascender above it, tighten up that daisy or just push it high enough to sit on it and try not to let the bottom ascender get sucked up into the pro. Grab the rope below it so you can remove the teeth and open the ascender to lower yourself until you are plumb again. Reach back and remove the pro and slide your ascender up.
Kinda Not But Sorta Close
If the pro is further away after lowering out, you can move the lower ascender above the pro and ascend a few feet and then reach back to get the gear.
Far Out Dude
If your partner back cleaned a bunch of gear or did a penji to get way over to the side, you have to abandon the pro and rappel off it to the next plumb line. Typically this can be a dedicated bolt for it, or just fixed gear with a "wtf is that" sling with the saddest leaver biner the last 30 parties felt was worth abandoning. Either way you have to get your weight onto a temporary rappel system and lower yourself off and it is a good idea to push your ascenders up when it isn't too difficult so you travel sideways more than you go down. This isn't rocket science but you can practice this between two trees if you can get an anchor 10 feet up in one tree and then 20 feet up in the next tree... or ideally a rock. Just don't practice this on El Cap and for the love of god, don't do this for the first, second or the freaking third time ever in your life on The Nose.
You remove the gear the leader installed more or less by reversing what they did to put it in. If it rocked back and forth from the rope moving through it, or they bounce tested a nut a lot, or even took a whipper on it, it can be tricky. Often times, leaders over cam and make gear too tight because they placed it scared. Sometimes, YOU ascending the rope is forcing the gear in a different direction than it was placed making it stuck-ish.
A nut tool is important, not just for nuts but also to pick at cam lobes. And if the route is a hammer-less or clean route, it can be nice to have a tiny 6oz kitchen drawer hammer with a hole drilled in the handle for a keeper sling to lightly tap a nut out. Using a hammer to REMOVE gear is still considered clean climbing.
Do you leave the gear attached to the rope while trying to remove it? Well, that depends. If you aren't butter fingers and you don't have to wack anything, sometimes it is easier to just let the cam chill in the crack free solo style, sit on your top ascender daisy, and remove it. Sometimes, trying to leave it attached to the rope can be more clunky that it is worth, but sometimes it is valuable to do so. If you drop the cam you could be screwed later if it is an essential piece or you could kill someone hiking the base of El Cap without a helmet. Just don't fuck up and you can do it however you please.
Just Hanging Out
Don't get to an anchor and sit on your ascenders to catch your breath. Get off the rope as fast as you can so it can be flaked into the rope bag and keeps progress going. Not much else to say about that!
Don't just randomly put the gear you are removing on your harness. Are you the next leader, can you rack the gear where it will go? If you are going to pass it the gear to your partner so they can lead the next pitch, can you rack it in an order that helps them? If you put it on a shoulder length sling that can be taken off of you and clipped next to them so they can remove each piece without you handing them one at a time, you could be flaking the rope. Have a reason for everything you do, including removing the gear out of the rock.
I'll write more soon!!!
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