Big Wall Episode #6 - Placements
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.
Our courses are A-Z content in blog format, glued together with an overarching blog we call a textbook. A blog format is easy to read, easy to update, and easy to translate. Be sure to begin at the TEXTBOOK and at the end of each episode we'll point you to the next.
How do you place all that gear you are carrying? Do you need to have a trad climbing background where you already know how to place cams and nuts? It helps, but isn't that necessary since you rarely fall on the gear and therefore don't actually know if what you placed was good or not. Climbers also don't free climb placing the tiniest micro nut, two lobes of a totem, hooks or knife blades, so it's essential we start "from the ground up" on how to place gear.
STEEP LEARNING CURVE
Have your friend put you on belay and jump on lead for the first time doing an A4 right off the deck to see if you can figure it out. JUST KIDDING. You can ease into placing gear by doing C1s slow AF and then work your way up to an occasional hook OR you can top rope a hard aid pitch and really practice using the thin stuff or hooks. Try super sketchy stuff if you are on top
rope to see what holds and what doesn't. Once you understand the mechanics of the rack you are climbing with, do a pitch or a few on lead before heading to your first wall. If you are always grabbing gear 3x before you get the right piece, it could take you way too long to climb a wall. So like every part of big walling... PRACTICE.
Pro Tip: DON'T practice on the ground! You will land on the ground if it comes out and bust an ankle. You don't get cool kuddo points for your injury if you were just being dumb. Top rope or just rope up and lead something instead.
Don't Pound Your Pecker Into Just Any Crack
Clean climbing is placing gear without a hammer. If the route can be done clean, leave the hammer at home. The rock is already scarred from just 50 years of pitons being hammered into them, and then being knocked up and down to remove them. Think 200 or even 500 years from now and consider the impact of our collective actions. With better gear today, we can do a lot without a hammer. However, there are still plenty of routes that do require smashing something in and that's ok, just be mindful when and when you can't do it and don't be to eager to pound your pecker in just because it fits.
A double set of totems (exclude orange), aliens, offset aliens and C4s #0.75 to #3 will give you about 4 options for every placement. 2 sets of offset micro nuts, 1 set of offset normal nuts, 2 cam hooks, 1 grappel, 1 talon and a handful of rivet hangers is the special sauce to the hard spots. This is an amazing base rack that is surprisingly light for having about 60+ pieces of gear. All this can be purchased from Extreme Gear and is in our The Dream Big Wall Buying Guide. Then depending on the route you plan on doing, just add more of something or bring more specialized gear.
Something you'd whip on
These are the easiest to place but there are things to know. Don't cross the tips of the lobes or it is over-cammed. That doesn't make them less reliable, but you have to squeeze it more in order to get them to come out. If the cam doesn't sit well, try flipping it over. Set them in the direction they will be when you weight them or fall on them. Don't just stick them perpendicular to the wall or it will shift so much it may not longer be a good piece. "Walking" is when the cam wiggles back and forth as you move your rope up your climb. Flexible stems like Aliens really help prevent this but so do extending your clip in point with slings. Cams slip more often than break in our tests so if a crack constricts at all, it can be amazing to place it like a nut, but this can make "walking" even worse if you're not mindful. Offset cams is where two of the 4 lobes are smaller than the other two. Piton scars are rounded out and so the back of the hole is smaller than the front. Always place an offset with the small lobes in first.
Double axles give you a lot more range. Black Diamond Camalot C4s are the best cams for everything from small hands and up. Below the green #0.75, aliens and totems way out perform them. Single axle cams like Metolius or Trango is sub par and a waste of your money. Totems get away with single axles because their lobes are shaped uniquely.
Alien offsets have a soft metal to bite the rock better, a better shape of a lobe, and a more flexible stem which is essential to not lever the cam out of a pod. Metolius offset cams are cheaper but they sucked so badly I gave mine away to someone who didn't know better. We don't even sell them on ExtremeGear on purpose. Buying gear that doesn't work, means you have to buy it again later which costs more money in the long term. Take fewer better cams if you are strapped for cash.
Totems can be placed in a sketchier placements because only two lobes have to hold to clip to and get to your next placement. That might not hold a fall with just two lobes, but it's fine for an aid placement. The blue and black alien have a cult around them, but the biggest one (orange) isn't really any better than a #1/#2 Black Diamond C4.
Wow, it's holdin.... ahhhhh
Really small cams have a really small range. Black Aliens, Black Totems or #0 BD Z4 cams take the challenge out of thin cracks but there is no wiggle room. Put the cam against the rock and if it doesn't go in before squeezing it, that means it might be the right size. If you have to squeeze hard, your cam is too big. As comforting as a cam may feel, a cam hook might serve you better in a thin crack.
Only offsets should exist