Yosemite Big Walling Gear By Andy
I put this list of gear together for some friends that I am going to Yosemite with but thought it may be useful for others.
For the purpose of this article I am assuming that you are already a keen Trad climber and have built up a Trad rack that includes 2 sets of nuts, 6 to 8 cams and a selection of quick draws and slings.
Now the one big expense if you are planning to go to the valley, even if you are planning on just doing free routes is that that you will need to take a lot of cams. Yosemite is a crack climbing Mecca and many of the routes; even the easier ones require a lot of them, around 15 cams across the size range is minimum and many routes are almost impossible to climb without cams like Black Diamond C3 or Metolius Master Cams or the new BD X4 as these are the only cams with a small enough head unit to fit in blown out peg scars (of which there are a lot). Offset nuts and offset cams also are a useful investment again for fitting in pin scars. Offset cams have lowered some of the aid grades in Yosemite and are a very worthwhile investment.
What is a Big Wall? The term big wall is a very broad term as it means different things to different people but for the purpose of this article it will mean that it is a climb that will take more than one day and will involve aid climbing in some way.
Aid climbing is a dying art in the UK and many people brought up with a free climbing ethic see aid climbing as cheating, however in Yosemite aid climbing is an essential skill that without you won’t get very far on any of their big walls. Many UK climbers find aid climbing slow and a faff however once you have mastered the basic skills and movements it can become quick. It is worth practising aid climbing before going to Yosemite to get the most from the trip. It is also worth practising hauling techniques and seconding techniques as these can be complicated at first but once familiar with them are quick to set up. Big Walling by John Long and John Middendorf is a brilliant book that will teach you all you need to know about all the different techniques you will need for climbing in Yosemite. The Yosemite Big Walls by Supertopo is by far the best guidebook around and is very inspirational.
Big walling is a very gear intensive sport but if you and your climbing partner both have a full Trad Rack you are most of the way there (for this article it assumes that you have two Trad racks plus a large selection of cams). Below is a list of additional equipment that you will need to think about if you are going to attempt a Yosemite big wall. And don’t forget your HELMET.
- Ropes – The rope set up for big walling and aid climbing is different to other forms of climbing. The lead line should be a thick 10mm (or thicker) 60m rope with a strong sheath as you will be Jumaring on it. Then a 70m static rope (the extra 10m is for lower out) for hauling, I tend to go for a 9mm to keep the weight down. Finally some people use a thin tag line for gear transfers although this does require a bit more knowledge on how to use them efficiently, you can buy specialist tag lines but 60m of 6mm cord works well. A half rope works fine and you then have a spare lead line in an emergency (although not recommended).
- Daisy Chains- These are your primary connection to everything when on the wall. There are several lengths available and the longest are usually the best, just make sure you can extend your arm fully when holding them and they are attached to you harness. You will also need a fifi hook if using traditional Daisy’s. Adjustable daisy chains also do exist and can speed things up but do take a bit of getting used to and you always need to back them up.
- Aider/Etries – These are ladders made from nylon slings. Don’t be tempted buy the cheaper lightweight ones used for alpine climbing, as after 2 days in them the arch of your foot will be destroyed. Look for ones where the step stays open so it is easy to get your foot into it.
- Jumars – These are what you use for hauling and ascending the rope. One left and one right hand are the standard. Look for some that are tough and are easy to slide up the rope. The Petzl Ascensions have been the standard for years and are still the lightest.
- GriGri – This is the standard belaying device for aid climbing as people can be on the lead for hours and a GriGri gives a little more security if you fall asleep (it happens all the time). Also falls in aid climbing tend to be very violent so a GriGri helps in catching the fall.
- Chest Harness – As you are carrying a lot of gear it won’t all fit on your harness and even if you can fit it on it will weigh a ton around your hips. Black Diamond do a light and simple one.
- Pulley – In order to haul 50 litres of water for a wall a good pulley is needed. A 2inch ball bearing pulley is standard and is set up with a Jumar to hold it but an auto locking pulley like the Petzl Pro Traxion speeds things up and makes life simpler.
- Haul Bag (the pig)– The only way you can move gear up a wall is with a haul bag. These are a very tough tube that will withstand the beating of 3 days being hauled up granite. They range in size from 40 litres to 150 litres. Go for the biggest you think you will ever need as you don’t have to fill it and you won’t have to buy a bigger one next year when you go back for a bigger longer wall also if you’re on a wall for 3 days you will be carrying 40 to 60 litres of water (that’s half of an average size bag before you have even got you food and sleeping bags in it). Lining the haul bag with cardboard is a good tip to make them last longer.
- Swivel – Used to attach the haul bag to the haul line, it allows the haul bag to swing 360 degrees which stops the rope getting tangled and also makes certain lowering out procedures easier.
- Gloves – A good sturdy pair of fingerless gloves are needed to protect your hands from the pains of jumaring. Go for some a little bigger than you need, as your hands will swell. Give them a generous coating of seam grip before you go.
- Hooks – Even some of the easiest routes in Yosemite still require one or two hooking moves so it is always worth carrying a couple. A Black Diamond Talon and a Petzl Sky Hook will see you through most situations.
- Shoes – You will need two pairs of shoes for a wall, a comfy pair of climbing shoes and some shoes to aid in. Some people wear full leather boots to aid in others uses trainers. Whatever you use just remember they will get a battering and you want something with a stiff arch support for the hours stood in aiders.
- Foam Mat – These serve two purposes, one it gives you something to sleep on (don’t take a thermarest up a wall it will get destroyed) and second to line the inside of the haul bag to stop hard things inside sticking out against the material of the bag (this will wear a hole in any haul bag).
- Sleeping Bag – You will need a synthetic bag for big walling as if it rains water just runs down the face and there is no way of keeping anything dry and synthetic will still keep you warm even if it is wet.
- Bivi Bag – Go for a fully durable Gore tex or Event bag as again if it rains there is no escape from the water so you need to be fully protected.
- Bothy Bag – These are really useful for sitting out storms on ledges as you can pull them over you and your partner to keep the wind and rain of and are quite warm once inside.
- Poo Tube – It is illegal to throw anything off a wall in Yosemite and it is pretty grim leaving it on a ledge for someone else, therefore you need a solid plastic tube that sits below the haul bag. I have found that a Motion Research Kayaking barrels slung with some tat and repair tape works really well. You will also need bags to poo in to before putting it in the tube and hand sanitizer for afterwards. (P.S. Don’t forget the toilet roll.)
- Knee Pads – These protect your knees and your trousers from 31 pitches of jugging up granite.
- Drinking Bladder/Bottle – A low profile 2 litre bladder one that goes over the top of your chest harness is a good idea as an aid lead can take hours and you need to keep hydrated. Or a Nalgene slung with some tape so you can clip it to your harness also works well.
- A swing style seat is also useful for those long belays. You can buy packable ones but a bit of wood with some cord thread through works fine.
It is also worth having extra snapgates, screwgates and slings. Altogether you need to have about 20 spare snapgates/quickdraws, 10 screwgates and 8 slings (120cm are best) not including the ones you need for racking.
The equipment mentioned above will allow you to take on most of the “Trade routes” in Yosemite that can be done on clean aid and have natural ledges to sleep on. However, all of these routes are very busy so you usually have to queue for the route and you will always be behind people whilst on the wall. By buying a hammer, pitons and a portaledge you will open up routes that are the same difficulty as the trade routes but will have no people on.
- Hammer – Look for something that is well balanced and can be securely fastened to you, as you don’t want to drop it on some one.
- Pitons – The amount of pitons you need and the size you need will depend on the route you want to do. The Yosemite Big Wall guide by Supertopo tells you all the gear you will need for the different routes including all the Piton sizes.
- Funkness Device – This is a 1/2m piece of cable with eye loops at each end that you can connect to your hammer for testing and removing stubborn gear (it’s better than clipping 6 karabiners together).
- Portaledge – This may be the biggest investment you ever make as a climber as they are not cheap. A double ledge is better value money and weight wise than a single. The Metolius and Black Diamond Ledges are the only ones available in the UK, the Black Diamond are cheaper with more features; the Metolius are more expensive but are lighter and much stronger and easier to set up. Despite adding more cost a rain fly is almost essential if getting a ledge, as storms in Yosemite do kill, because of the steep valley you can’t see them coming until they are on top of you.
- Copper/Aluminium Heads – These are malleable heads that are hammered into flared out cracks and will just about hold body weight. Anything grade A3 and up usually involves multiple head placements which you have to place. However, many of the easier routes in Yosemite do have a few head moves, these are nearly always insitu but carrying a few is always a good idea in case a party in front rips them out. Copper heads are better in the smaller sizes and aluminium in the larger. Carrying 7 or 8 across a size range is usually enough (remember they can only be placed once).
- Rivet Hangers – Again like copperheads you may need some of these for some of the easier routes (Around 10 is a good number). Rivets are basically bolts without hangers and rivet hangers are metal loops that can be wrapped around them. You can just use small nuts and push the nut down to use the wire but you do lose a lot of height using this method. Again these are hard to get in the UK but can be obtained given time if not they can be brought in Yosemite relatively easily.
As for clothes it’s in California so it is warm most of the time whilst hanging out in camp 4 a t shirt and shorts will do, however whilst on the wall the clothing is slightly different as it has to be light but tough.
- T Shirt – This should be a wicking t-shirt as you sweat a lot whilst hauling and needs to dry quickly.
- Windproof – A windproof fleece is essential as it can get very windy whilst on a wall.
- Trousers – A real tough pair is needed for big walling but don’t expect more than 3 walls out of them. Go for trousers instead of shorts to stop sunburn on the back of the legs.
- Waterproofs (Top and Bottoms) – A waterproof top and bottoms is essential to keep in the bottom of the haul bag incase that storm hits.
- Hat and gloves – They don’t have to be thick but are a life safer to keep in the bottom of the pig.
- Buff – Brilliant for keeping the sun off the back of your neck and can be used as a balaclava in bad weather.
- Primaloft Jacket – Again it doesn’t have to be the thickest available but makes things comfier on windy 2 hour long belays.
Yosemite is an awesome place and for many climbers is one of the many places to go before you die. Big Walls often scare most UK climbers just due to the size but with the right attitude and a basic understanding of the skill then you’re in with a good chance of bashing out a route that you will remember for the rest of your life