Big Wall Episode #2 - PREPARATION
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.
I know you are excited to get on the rock but you have a LOT of prep ahead of you in order to live in a vertical world for several days. This is your 2nd NON-SEXY big wall topic but if you get this wrong, you're coming down early. This might not be in a logical order but it's the order in which we pack things. How much water we take determines the hiking strategy which determines the haul bag prep etc.
Getting the gear to the base
Prepping Haul Bags
Spare car stuff
The first ascensionists up The Nose had rations of 1 quart/liter per person per day, and apparently weren't in great shape by the time they got to the top. These days we are getting soft and take 3x-4x that! But water is a double edge sword. Take too much, and you are not getting up the rock, and take too little and you're pissing blood at the top.
In nice weather, 3L per person per day. Hot is 4L or about a gallon per person per day. Some cold winter projects can be 2L per person per day. At about 2lbs per 2 liters (yes, mixing metric with freedom units is fun, try it), a 2 person x 3-day ascent at 3L rations is 18 liters or 36lbs. A 3-person x 5-day ascent at 4L rations is 60 liters or 120lbs!!! Don't forget you have to hike to the base and hike off the top, but it weighs a lot so only take what you need. If you climb The Nose in under two hours, just take a drink before starting, and you'll be fine. Also consider your meals, if every meal is freeze-dried, you may have to take more water for that. If you do Lurking Fear, El Cap in 2 nights 3 days with 2 people in 70F degrees with freeze-dried meals, 3L is a good ration (18 total liters) plus 2 extra liters for food and the hike down.
There are two main methods of transportation. 2-liter bottles or gallon jugs. 2-liter bottles are easier to pack without gaps at the bottom of your haul bag creating a solid base. They are also easier to clove hitch or barrel knot the neck for an attachment point. If you buy 10 bottles, get the generic tonic water for $1 each and it doesn't have syrup at the bottom that takes forever to rinse and wash out forever tasting like coke. Unless you like tonic water, pour it out, cut off the labels so you don't risk littering, and give it a paracord attachment point around the neck. If you want gallons, don't buy the milk jug-looking kind!!! The lids are NOT bomber and can break in your haul bag. Also, like any bottle, cut the labels off these before you go up - don't litter. Gallon jug necks are not prominent enough, especially for size and weight to just paracord under it. The safest way to make it so you can clip them in is to run webbing under the entire thing. Duct taping it in place can be nice because you have duct tape if you need it. Jeremiah's Nalgene he climbs with is also covered in duct tape so it's ready at a moment's notice. Just make sure your attachments are bomber or they could kill someone if you drop them.
Humping Your Loads
Are you a one-load wonder or do you like to do two loads over more time? If you are under a total of 120lbs, just carry 60lbs each up the wall. Above this, you got options. Carrying 60-90lbs each makes you slow and you have to decide if two "lighter" trips to the base are worth it. If you are carrying 100+lbs then you might get away with it if you are just hiking a short wall like the nose. Remember, you have to hike it all back down except for the water, so be careful not to take too much stuff if you do the two-load strategy.
1 Bag: If you do one load and one haul bag, one of you carries the pig (nickname for haul bag), and the other carries the two ropes mountaineer style and all the gear on their harness and chest harness. Without pitons, this could be approximately 45-55lbs. With water, the haul bag could be 60-80lbs. This can be nice if rappelling later to just be managing one haul bag without water, assuming there are no fixed lines, then each person could manage a bag, otherwise the first person down is generally bagless.
Multiple Bags: Each person having a haul bag can be nice for hiking or staying organized on the wall. This could be one large and one medium or just two mediums. Or 9 bags if you plan on doing something gnarly or silly. See our Hauling chapter on how to haul multiple bags and Rappel chapter on how to go down with multiple bags.
Multiple trips: Now with the permit system, you might as well run a load super early in the morning, come back to get the permit right at 8 am, grab some biscuits and gravy at Degnan's when you pass it, and then run back up with the rest of your shit. Another idea is to hike up with water and all your climbing gear and fix pitches. You can fix all the way to the Sickle Ledge on The Nose with two ropes knocking out 4 pitches. Leave your rack at the high point, your ropes can stay hanging there for 24 HOURS, and leave the stuff to haul at the base. Just don't yard sell like it's your dorm room, keep it tidy, and out of people's way. Since you are probably going to take your haul bag back down empty, take a weightless Ikea bag to leave your items in and put a note on the handle. DON'T LEAVE FOOD, bring that up the day you start.
A common strategy on Salathe/Free Rider is for climbers to go up the fixed lines up to the base of the heart, haul their bag(s) up there and come back down. The next day they start the Free Blast which is awful to haul and then meet their bags halfway through the day and keep going with them up to El Cap Tower.
Plan this part of the trip well for the best momentum on the launch day of your climb.
They don't come out of the bag ready to go, get it? Haul bags come in the mail in a bag... never mind. How will you dock it, where do you plan on storing the loose straps, and do you need a bottle to protect your knot? If your bag is new to you, practice pulling it all apart and putting it back together. Do it in the dark. Get good at it.
There is enough detail about this that Chapter 3 is literally dedicated to the topic.
Planning the Menu
Bag your bags. Have every meal pre-bagged so you know your ration and it stays organized. It's also easier to pull out your daily ration before you start climbing for the day so the stuff you don't need can live safe-r near the bottom/middle of the haul bag. Put those bagged bags in another bag for your haul bag - tripled-up grocery bags have bomber handles and you can place your trash in between layers keeping the core compartment clean. Put tape labels on the handles so you don't have to open the bags to see who's stuff or what stuff is inside. Don't bring rigid containers like round apple sauce packaging, but the squeezy baby food type packaging. Don't bring a large trail mix bag! Pre-bag it in zip locks.
Freeze some of your bottles of water to make a refrigerator in your haul bag. This can take days to freeze solid but keep in mind it could take that long to melt too. Plan accordingly so you don't have to bail because you are thirsty and then rappel with 80lbs of frozen water.
This isn't the time to experiment with new recipes, flavors, or ideas. Take what your body loves! If you are addicted to sugar, then take sugar. Don't go vegan for 4 days if you are a carnivore. You won't feel like eating so take really yummy stuff, some quick and easy, and something to cook. A hot meal is good for the soul. Don't take 8 cliff bars per person per day and think you're clever, believe me. I still can't eat them to this day. Do some math - how many calories do you need/normally eat? Figure on needing a few more calories and pack accordingly.
Prep your cooker for hanging. If you have a JET BOIL, holding some webbing on with a 4" hose clamp is the cheap option or you get the HANGING KIT. Don't cook IN the jet boil so you don't have to clean it, bring food you can pour hot water into like most freeze-dried packaging or oatmeal packets.
Ryan Jenks' Menu: 1 Oatmeal packet in morning, trail mix+bar+snickers for snack, PB&J (squeeze packets) on smashed bagel or tortilla for lunch. More junk type snacks. Freeze dried dinner, chocolate for dessert. Or you can take ingredients for fresh guacamole and a bbq for filet mignons like we did in this video.
Your Name Menu: Submit at firstname.lastname@example.org
You are going to live in a vertical world so make sure everything can be attached.
If you are using a portaledge, set it up on the ground first... A LOT. Can you do it in under 5 minutes WITHOUT moving your feet? Can you do it in the dark without a headlamp? It can help to write WALL and VIEW on the sides so you aren't guessing which is which when you are setting it up.
Don't sleep on a portaledge without a pad. There is a LOT of air under you to suck the heat right out of you. A foam mattress you put in your haul bag as a liner is super good enough but an air mattress is plush. Just figure out whatever method you are going to use to attach that air mattress to the cliff when you blow it up.
If down gets wet, you are coming down. It does compress better though. If you have great weather you can risk taking a down sleeping bag but synthetic is the safer option. Girth hitch your stuff sack string to your bottom sleeping bag loop so they stay together.
A bivy sack can be nice regardless of rain. At night, Lost Arrow Spire Direct has massive wind storms but El Capitan is usually calm (not during the day!). If it's a low chance of rain, the bivy sack could be more convenient than the hassle and weight of a fly.
You want good sleep and a pillow can help. If you want to stuff your jacket into your sleeping bag's stuff sack, that could work but a DE-STUFFED airplane pillow stuffed with your jacket is so nice!
If you never slept in the vertical world before and a trip to Yosemite/Zion is a special occasion for you, then go do a trial run on real rock where it's legal to camp just 100 feet off the ground. It's a great way to work out the kinks and honestly it's the best part of big walling.
Pooping and Peeing
This video is ironically the most viewed video on the entire channel. The number 1 question people have is how to number 2. It's not rocket science. Lower your pants just right below your junk, because that is where the hole is, and evenly squat staying balanced. Don't try to drop your pants to your ankles or you risk shitting literally in your pants. Don't try to lean backwards on your invisible toilet. Just go to the bathroom like we did in 99.99% of human history until toilets showed up. It lines your plumbing up better that way too.
Don't build a poop tube. So bulky. Shit isn't so scary you need a vault for it. Zip lock bags folded over 3 times have an easy to hold rigid top. Use wet wipes, not toilet paper. Trust me. Put 3, make that 6, wet wipes in one of the gallon size zip lock bags, and deposit your (enter joke here) in the other zip lock bag. Put your wet wipes as you use them in poo bag and you wont' even see it anymore. Now for the crux, pushing the air out. Seal it up and put your treasure in the 2nd zip lock bag and cut open one of your water bottles half way, shove it inside and duct tape it shut. Hang that as low as you want below your haul bag assuming your bottle connection is BOMBER.
You can use paper bags and then place them single bagged in a mesh bag and hang that (way) below your haul bag so it can all dry out, weighing less. Only do this if the route is overhanging, not popular and no chance of rain. Think about it.
Bringing gallon jugs for water can be nice to pee in when you are on a popular area. Don't pee in the stove legs if you are on Dolt Tower. You can smell piss 50 feet away from that ledge. If you bring a gatorade bottle, you can avoid getting out of your warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night to balance precariously on the edge of a portalege to half-awake-pee only to find out you just made a puddle where you have to now lay your head. That is if you are lucky to be hydrated enough to even have that problem.
Stay Charged When Unplugging From The World
Unless you are climbing in the far North during July, chances are you will have at least one electronic item with you. Do you have spare batteries for your headlamp? Are they convenient to get to??? 11 out of 10 people recommend you put fresh batteries in your headlamp before starting. 12 out of 10 people recommend bringing a 2nd headlamp. Ideally both headlamps use the same types of batteries. The STORM 450 is rechargeable but can take normal batteries too. Put your headlamp on your helmet and leave it there so you have it when you need it.
Solar panels are a hassle and if you are only on the wall for up to 5 days, just bring a BATTERY BANK. Or just turn off your phone if you aren't using it or keep it in airplane mode and skip all that extra crap. It's nice to have in case you have an emergency. Try to unplug for a few days.
Bring layers not changes of clothes. A long sleeve thin hooded shirt can really protect you from the sun. Nylon clothes absorbs water quickly but dries slowly, so avoid that. Layers on your leg are a real hassle because of your harness, so sometimes it's just worth over-layering the upper half. Toss your underwear in the garbage after 5 days if they are that bad.
Combing Your Teeth
If you brush your teeth, you won't have to comb them when you get down. Bring a travel size toothpaste and ideally a toothbrush that has a way to keep the part you put in your mouth clean. Put on deodorant before you leave and hope it lasts until you get off. Style your hair when you get back down to the car before you take your stereotypical El Cap meadow photo. Think about your daily routine, what you can cut out and just take the bare bones - get it?
Connecting the Dots
Yes, this gets its own category. If you don't have a big chain of free carabiners, you will be combining entire racks of cams onto just one biner in order to have a way to clip the things you take out of the haul bag. Do you really want your shoes and your food bag and your sleeping bag leash all clipped to the same carabiner at night? You can lose so much momentum shuffling things around just to get a usable carabiner. This is where the tiny light weight carabiners can be handy but CAMP PHOTONS weigh the same and are full size. Unless your shoes are taking whippers, you don't need a locking carabiner for them. PRE-INSTALL a carabiner to each item in your haul bag with the exception of the water at the bottom. Those you are just using 1 at a time or leaving at the bottom. THEN, AFTER DOING THAT, bring a dozen free non lockers and a dozen free lockers.
Create a Safe Haven
Spare stuff for your car
Coming back to your car thirsty, and not having water is awful. Make your car the end of your journey. Have some flip flops to get out of your shoes, a gallon of water to drink or rinse your face off, and spare clothes to feel human. Pro tip: have some plastic bags to put your shoes and clothes in that you take off! Make sure you can get comfortable when you arrive to your car but more importantly, make sure you can get back in it! Have a hide-a-key or spare key that you don't take in case you forgot where you put it in that now clustered haul bag or even lose it.
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