Author Topic: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories  (Read 1682 times)

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Offline Erik Sloan

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New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« on: January 24, 2014, 02:56:00 pm »
Duece, you gotta get in on this one!

Hey guys, I'm making a book called My First Bigwall, which is gonna deliver the goods on how to bliss out on the big stone. Most of us didn't get that kind of primer, and epiced a little more. I'd love to share some 'my first bigwall' stories in the book so future climbers can understand that hard is relative.

Please email me your stories erik@yosemitebigwall.com

Woot! e

Offline mungeclimber

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2014, 12:31:31 am »
my first wall, or my first wall that I topped out?  very different animals


first wall my buddy Chris took a whipper and sprang his ankle. long walk out, and I was pissed that we didn't top out.  :oops:

first successful wall, I was super dry mouth. I hadn't learned to suffer proper, or that one could prevent certain types of suffering with relatively little cost. e.g. chapstick with a keeper sling clipped to your harness. so bomb! one chapstick is like 5 little sips of water.

Offline deuce4

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2014, 12:35:17 am »
All we knew back then was what we could discern from Robbin's Basic and Advanced Rockcraft, which was outdated even then, and the pictures from Yosemite Climber, which had just come out and only provided photos, not many descriptions, of the state-of-the-art.  My first big wall was Half Dome, when I was 17.  I had started climbing on the crags of the San Juan mountains, and to me, the ultimate goal in climbing was to climb bigger rock walls.  My friend John Ely and I had practiced rope techniques on the crags of Carderrock, and climbing in aid ladders on some tall trees using 6" nails and a framing hammer. There was one other reference--the National Geographic article of the first clean ascent of Half Dome, which was our inspiration.

This of course was before camming devices or any other fancy gear--we had a few sets of Chouinard stoppers, mostly slung on Perlon, hexes of course, and some odd pieces like the Gendarm nuts from Seneca Rocks.  Also new to our arsenal was a 45m Perlon rope--the latest and greatest shipped from Europe (prior to that we only had three strand Goldline, which we used for our haulline).

After a long drive out west from the East Coast, we set upon our goal, first free climbing around the Valley cumulating in the East Buttress of El Cap, then our first aid wall--the South Face of the Column.  Finally we were ready for Half Dome.

We hiked up and around (the "slabs" approach was not then known), and arrived at the base late morning only to find to our dismay three other parties waiting to begin.  We only had three days of food, so if we had to wait a day, it could have been tough.  As we were waiting at the base with two other groups, a interminably slow team struggled all afternoon on the first pitch.  The hours went by, when suddenly, a scream and the lead climber took a huge whipper and slammed into a ledge about 50' off the deck.  He shattered his ankle, and we helped with the rescue.  The helicopter coming in close at the base did nothing to braven our spirits--quite the opposite of course, but we were determined to stick around and see if we could get a chance.  But all the afternoon's action did dampen the spirits of one of the teams waiting ahead of us, and they chose to bail in the morning.  The other team graciously gave us first go--they sensed we would be faster and well ahead in no time, and we were off.

We made it to the first bivy after a tough day of climbing and hauling.  Our haul bag, an old army duffel bag with some straps speedy stitched onto the top, was already wearing thin, and one of our Clorox bottles--the only suitable water bottle back in those days--had leaked one of our precious gallons of water.  But we were over a third the way up, and the next days would bring steeper (and thus easier hauling) and cleaner climbing. 

The next morning, we took turns posing at the famous traverse shot featured in Galen Rowell's National Geographic article, and continued up the mostly free climbing pitches above.  Big Sandy came mid-afternoon--we were making good time and decided to call it a day.  I discovered my first joys of sitting on a ledge perched in the middle of a massive cliff, looking down between my toe-worn boots, absorbing the depths of the view, and enjoying the adrenaline high that comes with such moments.

to be continued...
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Thanks for visiting the Big Walls Forum!!
John Middendorf

Offline mungeclimber

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2014, 12:48:36 am »
Quote
I discovered my first joys of sitting on a ledge perched in the middle of a massive cliff, looking down between my toe-worn boots, absorbing the depths of the view, and enjoying the adrenaline high that comes with such moments.

well said, and such truth!

Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2014, 09:31:10 am »
Best dry mouth remedy I've found is jolly ranchers (I buy the large bags and only bring purple and blue). We did similar thugs when I was on marching band to keep our mouthed from drying out.

Pop one in when you're hauling and you'll save about 1/2 a liter of water by waiting until after you finish hauling to sip on water.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2014, 09:49:47 am »
My first wall: Roulette. Sounds better than it is as we bailed before even touching the crack that starts the route. My girlfriend chose the route from the 2nd edition CMac bigwalls book where the main description of the route was "...hard, but never dangerous..." I guess CMac doesn't consider a ground fall if you blow any of the last section of hooks getting to the first rivet to be dangerous...

Anywho, here is the account of our first attempt to climb a bigwall as posted already on my blog (failfalling.com) and deep in a thread about Roulette on ST. This was written immediately after we got home so don't hold me to all of the noobish thoughts and ideas found within.
- - - -

Intention
We spent the summer practicing aid placements on rotten boulders an hour north of Truckee. Fun two and three move wonders that were more about trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. The translation from the page to the rock coming in spurts of realizations followed by dry spells in between. We would have liked to go a bit bigger, but our jobs only gave us 24 hours off every week. Not nearly enough time to march up to a big wall and do anything but turn back around again. We had played on Washington Column before the summer but had no other longer route to hang our hat on besides multiple single pitch TR hooking sessions done more for the fun of trying things out than for the most efficient line to the top – read as, all over the place, including the occasional quick downward trip.

Once our summer job was over, we pulled out our Big Walls book and opened up to Leaning Tower. We wanted something that we could play about with iron and hooking and heading instead of clean aid so that we could piece together all of the things that we had practiced over the summer. I suppose that any clean wall can go with aid but part of me feels that if it can go clean then it should go clean (the other part just not knowing).
She loved the description of Roulette and I liked the challenge that it posed. Putting everything together all at once would be exhilarating to say the least. Better than the difficulty was the options of West Face or WDDD should we decide that our eyes were bigger than our hearts for the time being. The only other thing that you might need to know in advance is that we have hammocks. There’s something sufferingly romantic about doing a wall in hammocks. Have we done one yet? Nope. Do we expect to still want to do a wall in hammocks after we’ve done one? I don’t. Romance is seldom a practical or comfortable thing.

Application
We left the bay area at 3:30 and drove for Yosemite. Getting there as the sun was setting, we parked off of the road and gathered our stuff together. The most amount of time was probably spent getting smelly things out of the car. Mouthwash, deodorant, trash, toothpaste, sunscreen. By the time we had sufficiently bear proofed the car, the light was gone and we were moving down the road with our headlamps showing us the way.

We intended to approach through the night. Once we passed the bear boxes of the parking area, we headed towards the “house sized” boulder that Chris talks about in the approach information. “Is that it? It looks more like a shed.” The first thing we saw didn’t seem large enough until the beam of my headlamp hit what appeared to be a walk of granite behind the shed sized boulder. “Distinct” was a good descriptor for this boulder. We moved around that boulder, stopping to look at the chalked up problems (read as, I stopped and Billiegoat did not like standing around with two ropes strapped to her pack) and found the trail heading uphill. Where the trail splits at the top of the hill there is the option to go left and the option to go right. During the day time, one can see the cairns off to the left more clearly. During the nighttime, it is easy to follow the community trails around the boulders heading to the right. A note for those doing the approach at night. When Chris says, veer right through the boulder field, this is based upon facing the wall, not facing uphill. If you face uphill, you would want to veer to the left. This did not become apparent until the morning.

Having immediately lost the trail in the boulder field, he did the best we could to talus hop while looking for cairns. Without the packs, this would be fun and beautiful as most of the boulders are massive and the moss moves seamlessly from the ground onto the rocks. With our packs this was like taking a sweat bath while punishing our knees for some past sin. This talus approach made me thankful that we choose to climb with a purposefully large rack in order to learn how to balance with the oppressive and shifting burden of the weight. The night was warm we think. Truth is that it could have been freezing and we still would have had our shirts off at the first gasping stop somewhere in the wasteland of looming boulders.

Eventually, we could see the shadowed outline of Leaning Tower off to our left and so we began veering in that direction, finally finding the cairns and trail aprox halfway up the approach. Once we hit the wall, we followed the line of ledges above us into the dark, hoping that they would equal the start of the catwalk and our bivy spot. Twice we were denied but the leapfrogging hopes of each new ledge hanging above us made it a bit easier in the long run. Every time we said, “I’m done, to hell with this.” We would look up and say “just a bit further, probably 25 more feet, just got to push it” Thus teaching us BIGWALLLESSON#1 Just keep walking.

At the bivy spot, we dropped our bags, lay on the ground and fell asleep. The time it took to read that sentence is probably the same amount of time it took us to perform those three actions.

In the morning we grabbed our things and headed up the catwalk. We came to the start of Roulette almost immediately. Maybe. 25% sure. The topo has the route starting just before the “fixed line tree” yet this did not seem to be the case. The first tree that had the fixed line to it was the smaller tree that has its lower trunk shooting directly out from the wall, forcing you to step over it (and over an exposed drop) in order to continue on the catwalk. This exposed drop taught me the first thing about big wall approaches that I was to learn that day: haul bags are much much heavier and thus, much more dangerous to walk around with than a normal pack. I’m used to hiking 4 60M ropes and gear up to the top of climbing walls for my summer camp, but exposed catwalks are something completely different. After realizing that I was being pushed a bit too far away fropm the wall as I was trying to get past the tree, I learned BIGWALLLESSON#2 Scout around, THEN bring the pack.

Having now dropped our packs, we decided that the start of the route did not seem to begin before this tree, so we continued on, finding 10-20 feet later that the fixed line wrapped around a much larger tree (prob 3-4’ diameter). The features on the wall just before this tree did match up with Roulette and so we were now 50% sure. Looking around, it seemed like I could match up a few bolts up high that made sense based upon the topo. We were now 75% sure. To be 100% sure, we figured that we should find the start to West Face. This would prove that we had gone too far and the backtracking would be the nail in the coffin. Actually, lets change the imagery to something else. The backtracking would be the icing on the cake. Never mind.

Making the trek over to West Face started out without a harness until about midway when Billiegoat suggested rather strongly that we get our harnesses. There are parts of that traverse that might be better called 4th class + or just 5th class. On your own, the traverse is fun and airy. We would later learn that when hauling gear across it, airy would be a descriptor that didn’t hold the correct amount of dread and yuck.

Once we stood in front of West Face, we were now 100% certain that we had earlier found the beginning of Roulette. The good thing about 100% certainty about finding the beginning of the route was that we were now 100% certain that we were not ready to start that route.

Call it fear but once I was sure we had found the route, I then became certain that we were wrong about the route. “There’s a bunch of routes here that aren’t in the guide. Look at that bolt, and that rivet” Inside I knew that I was just scared. But the best part about Leaning Tower was the routes like West Face to the left that we could conveniently scoot over to. There something frightening about seeing three equalized heads attached to a locking biner. It’s like a sign saying, “Pain and Fear lie this way.” I could see fixed heads sticking out from the wall, but they didn’t look like they were fully attached to anything. At that distance, I have a feeling that their relative solidity had as much truthfulness in my head as a mirage of water to a cartoon guy crawling through the desert. From the base, you cannot see past the first corner section. This means ten feet or so of the copperhead/biner warning followed by…. I don’t know. Our internal agreement about risk and safety forces us to see the route that we know is probably over our heads (pun intended). It’s hard to convince yourself of what you cannot see. Back on the ground, in my chair at work, I can see the equalized heads and biner as a safety net, but at the time they seemed more like a warning. In the end, when choosing between a neat row of bolts as far as the eye can see versus ten feet of heads followed by… something, West Face was the choice we made.

I had thought to myself how happy I was to not be dragging my gear across the catwalk to West Face when I was scouting over to it. While I later was actually lugging the gear, I cursed my formerly happy self. Making a 4th class traverse with a haul bag is something I never want to do again, that I look forward to doing it again is besides the point. It was later when I was heading back across the catwalk that I learned BIGWALLLESSON#3: Bags can be attached to a fixed line and pushed with a small ascender. Such a lesson would have saved a lot of anguish.

At West Face, I headed up the bolt ladder and got to the bolt right below the bulgy overhang section that takes C1F. I needed to back clean and so I had Billiegoat lower me to gather some of my draws and biner chains from the bolt ladder. This allowed me the fun of learning BIGWALLLESSON#4: When on overhanging terrain, make sure that you are clipped to the belay side of the rope as well. Once I was hanging in space and unable to reach the wall again. I realized that I had made a small mistake. I remember being able to make a swing on the playground go back and forth by swinging my legs forward and then leaning back, but apparently this does not work from a dead hang. I tried doing an Indiana Jones whipping move with my aiders to get a swinging action going but to no avail. Shaking my head at myself and hearing Billiegoat’s laughter at my helpless thrashing in space, I was forced to have Billiegoat lower me all the way past her ledge until I could reach the wall and kick myself into an arc and then climb back up to her.

Having to reaid up to the last high point could have been a low point of the day (though not nearly as low as that wordplay joke) but for some reason it wasn’t. The weight of Roulette was off me and everything felt fine. I had no worries anymore. Then I got to my last high point. Faced with the C1F section, I noticed that there was a rusting piton halfway up the crack and not a lot else that I could see at first. A few shallow slots and a solid left rising crack that was more than out of my reach. I assume at this point that I’m missing something easy, but as I sit there very few option begin to show themselves. There looked like a head placement that had been removed but I had left my heads at the belay and didn’t want to place any I (I had convinced myself that the section was clean and that I would not need to place any, with that in mind, I put the idea of placing heads out of my mind) I decided to try a tomahawk high and to the right in a small groove and was able to step up and onto it. I was not happy with this though because this placement was obviously tipped out, but at this point, I decided to keep moving up. I fiddled with my brass offsets more because I wanted to see how they would work and found that I probably want a little more time playing with them closer to the ground. A 00 C3 worked well for a bit until it began to move out as I tested it. Finally I got a ballnut placement that looked perfect. This is where I learned BIGWALLLESSON#5: stand there long enough and your mind starts to play tricks on you. I looked at the ballnut, saw that most of the ball was showing and decided that it was a good placement. Bounced it, stepped up onto it, and then took a ride into space. As I was falling, it occurred to me that I knew that the ballnut placement was bad. I knew that the less of the rounded ball you see, the better. In this case though, my mind tripped me up and I made a bad choice.

Once I got back onto the bolt, my head felt different. Mistrust had become part of the game now. I knew this feeling well from many a multipitch climb where the topout came long after dark and I had to check everything I did at least 3 times to make sure that I would catch every mistake. From here I placed the tomahawk again, pulled it out while bounce testing it and then sat there for a while. I noticed a perfectly drilled bathook hole right at the right side of the lip. I knew this would help me surmount the bulge and place a solid piece in the crack up left, but my talon was down at the belay. I could have called for Billiegoat to send it up to my on the tag line but I didn’t. I was done and I knew it. I threw a locking quicksilver (booty alert) on the bolt and headed down. This time, I remembered to clip myself to the belay side of the rope.

I’ll spare you the story of getting back to the ground. Suffice to say, my back and joints hurt. Once we had time, he headed over to Church Bowl and aided Church Bowl Tree in order to set the TR on More Balls Than Brains which was a lot of fun. The bathooks that take you to and between the 2 rivets at the start of that route only served to prove to me that I could have easily surmounted the bulge, but knowing what could have worked only matters when you find yourself back up there again.

So, this is a TR of failure, a TR of learning, or just a TR. We’re happy with the weekend despite its unplanned result, we will go back to send West Face or WDDD and after that, we will go back to send Roulette. At this point, it’s only a matter of time. Once we do, we’ll post a proper Roulette TR for all to see.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline Erik Sloan

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2014, 11:16:33 am »
Awesome! Keep em comin!

Chapstick and Jolly Ranchers? How about just bringing some good drink mixes and staying hydrated. I love the powdered coco-water mixed with Ultima-Replenish. Cytomax or something thicker always go down smooth up there too. Wheat Grass or other green powders make you tingle. V8 on a hot afternoon.

I laugh now when I remember how chapped my lips used to get wall climbing. I never bring lip balm now, but I do bring a lot more water than I did in the early days.

Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2014, 06:04:20 pm »
Water is heavy man.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline *Mucci*

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2014, 09:35:44 pm »
Man, on an FA in early OCT our 3 man team brought 20 gallons of water and gatoraid.  That was for 6 full days of baking class at 90+degrees each day. 

Everybody passed out at some point during the route, either on lead, belay, or just trying to slink under the umbrella.

Hard to imagine folks taking more than that, and it was surely not a sufficient amount even with conserving.

Hell, most teams are worried about bringing a 3rd rope for Christ sake.

Water is life.








Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2014, 01:30:02 am »
I guess that life is pretty heavy then.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline mhudon

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2014, 09:11:01 am »
Dang, Mucci! That sounds serious!

Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2014, 03:07:18 pm »
That story freaks me out every time I hear it
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline offset

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2014, 03:31:46 pm »
i was on the nose this past summer during the 100+ degree spell.  what saved our bacon was that we caught up w/ a slow team and retired to the fact that we were going to spend an extra night.  sure, this sounds like it would have been our demise since we didn't have the extra water for an extra day.  What it did, was made us just hunker down in the shade of our haulbag during the heat of the day and only climb in the morning and late afternoon.   The hike down from the top was super-mega-uber brutally hot.  my sweat was viscous gel.  srsly..

but back to the original question:

My first wall, like so many others, was the WFLT.  Somehow in the planning stages our team grew to a total of 4 big wall rookies.  everything took FOREVER.  The plan was to spend one night at awahnee ledge then top out the next day and 'maybe' spend the night on top.  The first day brought us to awhanee at some point in the middle of the night.  The next day i was on lead on pitch 7?  (the longish steep one?) when the temps were in the mid to upper 90's.  i finished the lead and yelled down "whoever is coming up first...bring some water".  I couldn't move and was nauseous.  When part of my team made it up to me i explained that i couldn't move and that i might throw up.  "what are the odds of you throwing up" i was asked.   I responded with "5 to 7%".  Faster than you can say 'good odds' i was ralphing...narrowly missing my buddy hanging directly below.    we set up the ledges there and bivied.  The next morning i felt fine again, but was not going to do any more leading.  we topped out before dark, barely, and set up camp once again (night 3 of our planned 1 night outing).    We made it down with no incident the next day after realizing at the last anchor that we had been rapping on a core-shot rope.  we tied a knot in it and made it down the rest of the way.  our feet hit the ground just as we turned on our headlamps.    we ferried all our gear out and went for pizza.   the best pizza of my life. 

that climb led us to believe that we had a chance of climbing the nose the next year w/ a party of 3.     ...which, as you might imagine, led to two consecutive bails off the nose before realizing that maybe the trip would be a better el cap starter route.  which it was.    something about being committed after pitch 5.

what is it about that place...  bailing keeps us going back just as much as summits do.


Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2014, 02:12:17 pm »
I've always said that I've learned more technique from bailing than I've ever learned from sending. If anything, reaching te summit has only taught me the technique of dealing with myself.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline Erik Sloan

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #14 on: March 11, 2014, 07:49:56 am »
Admittedly a very minor addition (more are on the way ;), but the written introductions and strategy from the Routes By Difficulty page are not on each Route's page, under the Intro/Strategy tab.

So if you put a route in the Valley - write me an introduction and strategy and I'll put it in there!

Woot!
erik
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Offline Danish

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #15 on: March 19, 2014, 10:11:18 am »
I've always said that I've learned more technique from bailing than I've ever learned from sending. If anything, reaching the summit has only taught me the technique of dealing with myself.

This is a fantastic quote!

Offline cobbledik

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #16 on: March 19, 2014, 11:58:07 am »
Thanks! Once you get over the stigma of bailing, it becomes a bit easier to send. I think part of it is the fear of bailing compounds the fear of the route. If you don't fear the bail, you can often think more clearly about the choice when you're afraid on the wall.
Sometimes the difference between a layman and a journeyman is simply what he is allowed to believe himself to be.

Offline mungeclimber

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Re: New How-to Bigwall book--need your stories
« Reply #17 on: March 19, 2014, 08:13:01 pm »
well said