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
DMM brassies are made of soft brass so they bite the rock well and the non parallel sides, or "offset" shape, make them fit at the base of piton scars where it is smaller in the back of the crack/hole than the front. The tiniest one might make you pucker a little but the biggest one is something you could whip on.
Bring 2 blue nuts with every rack
Slot these in constrictions and you have a bomber placement. Cracks are rarely super parallel so offset nuts are awesome. Turn them sideways and you can get them to fit a larger crack. You can get a lot of bang for your buck having 10 pieces of gear on 1 carabiner and only costing about $150. Honestly, with cams being so awesome today, you only need 1 or 2 sets and you can skip the biggest ones. Don't bother with normal nuts that are the same sizes as the DMM brassy offsets. I carry 3x of the smallest BD offset #7 and 2x of #8 and 1 of #9 and that's it.
Don't waste your time, money or weight - Don't big wall with these.
Cliff Hanger & Grapple Hooks
Crimpers without tendons
Don't climb 5.13s? No problem, this hook can crimp that for you! You might be shocked how solid a hook placement can be and how much you can shift around and it doesn't pop off. Other times, you might not understand how it is staying on that round crystal you set it on. Most of the time, if a hook move is required, there is a place for that hook. You can file down the edges so its a bit more narrow allowing it to fit in more places. It's the base of the hook that gives it stability. If you are only going to carry 1 or 2, carry the medium or bigger one as they also can do smaller spots; but smaller hooks can't do bigger hook placements. Talons have 3 hooks sizes and offers a solid base, however it can't get over a "jug" like a bigger hook can. A single 5.6 jug on an ocean of 5.14 granite is often times just hooked so read the topo to see what you might need. Always carry at least 1 medium one and 1 talon.
Instead of drilling bolts, sometimes the first ascentionist just drilled a shallow angled hole for a small hook like the talon to fit in. It's pretty damn bomber for what it is but keep your eye out for what looks like a wood pecker hole if you don't see anything obvious.
Instead of placing "tiny" gear, you can go a lot faster if you just throw one of these in and a stand up. The camming leverage this creates on the sides of the crack makes it pretty difficult to just fall out. Inverted cam hooking is when you place them in cracks in a roof. If you take your pressure off these for even a second, they fall out. Practice placing these on top rope and while weighting them, try to push away from the rock to see if and when they come out. Knowing the limits of these will give you a lot more confidence when you use them in real life.
Smash them, passively place them, or just make jokes about them
You can hook a thin crack that bottoms out or gets very narrow very quickly. If it is a place many peckers have been before, you can just place yours in there without pounding it. These can be passively placed and therefore considered clean but if you are on hard routes, you hammer them in and you can tell if they sit well or never got secure and you can't smash them anymore. You would just try the next size up then.
There are left and right angled peckers in case the crack is in a corner and the swaged cable would get pinched if you were to use a straight pecker. it can help to pre-install webbing in the eye at the back of the pecker head so you can clip a funkness device to it to remove it later.
Metal tacos or big wall forks.
Mostly only useful for a heavy big wall fork. Cams replace the need for these but piton scars were formed by the exact same piton being used for decades, you could just cut one in half with an angle grinder called sawed offs and passively set them in there and can be super bomber enough.
Expensive Metal Wedges
Place these half way in, smash them almost to the eye. The pinging noise should get higher pitched as you go.
Sheet metal with eyelets
Same idea as a lost arrow, but thinner.
Metal postage stamps.
If you can't use peckers because the crack is too shallow, you might have to use these
Nuts you smash
Even if you never place one, you are likely to clip a head if you climb long enough. These get placed in pockets that can't take any other gear and if there is no constriction, just the friction of the metal to the rock is all that is holding you. If it doesn't have a cable anymore, as those can wear out first, place a pecker on top of the dead head to still use it. The circle shaped heads are for horizontal cracks.
Copper heads are a harder metal and therefore better for smaller cracks and aluminum heads are softer. #2s and #3s are the most commonly used sizes. Place the cable side of the head deeper inside the crack to avoid hitting the cable with the hammer. Smashing this on the rock with a chisel is called pasting because you hope it sticks! It might help to carry different size chisels and be sure to have them all tethered.
Practice, but do it on a shit boulder in the middle of no where and funk out what you put in. Don't smash these in on rocks people climb unless it's on an aid route that calls for it.
10% Supports HowNOT2
Get 90% of your big walling gear here. This leads you to a detailed buying guide.
Please send video, image, or words, that are respectful to other viewpoints and helpful to Big Wall education. Please be kind by delivering something ready to add and tell us where you think it best fits. We'd also like to link to anything you found helpful online. Maintaining the quality of this resource is important so please submit something worthy of 100,000 people seeing it. We reserve the right to not post what you send us.
BigWalls.com leads to our textbook and was donated by
John Middendorf who runs BigWalls.net.
This course is free but not free to make. If it really helped you, please consider SUPPORTING US.