Speed Big Walling as Four


Original Post
Alex Wyvill · Dec 23, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35
Hey everyone. Myself and three buddies are hitting Yosemite in June for a whole month with the goal of speed climbing El Cap as four. We'll be doing several easier walls together first to get the four-man system dialed.

Before anyone asks: Yes, I'm aware that hauling will be heinous. We are counterweighting and/or splitting the hauling over two bags for the early pitches. Also, yes, we actually want to do this. We are not splitting up the team. The whole point of this is to see if it can be done in speed-climbing style as four.

I've developed the following system for speed climbing as four. For context, the leader begins trailing lead line A and a zip line. The other end of the zip line is attached to the haul line and lead lines B and C, which serve as top-anchored backups for the two juggers.

At the end of the sequence, C1 becomes C4, C4 becomes C3, C3 becomes C2, C2 becomes C1. Lead line A becomes C, C becomes B, B becomes A. Everything else stays the same.

My question is whether it's completely stupid to think we'll be able to efficiently execute such a complex system, and more importantly whether I'm putting someone is danger with this system.

Speed Climbing as Four

Before I get chewed out for the obvious, here are two potential red flags that I notice:

1. Yes, you are only tied in when leading. Otherwise, while jugging, hauling and cleaning, your belay loop is clipped to the lead rope via a figure 8 on a bight and a locking biner. This speeds up anchor transitions, since backup knots and the end of the jugging top-anchor lines can all be clipped to one biner to hand off. As long as this clip is only used as a backup in the off chance of an ascender popping off, this isn't an issue, correct?

2. Daisies, not backed-up cloves, are used as personal anchors for extended periods of time. This minimizes the cluster factor considerably when three people are anchored to the belay at a time. While this is normally a cause for concern, I believe that my system always still always has you backed up while anchored via daisy, in case of a shock load failure. Is this a safe compromise, or is there a better option?

Thanks in advance. I'm really looking forward to this trip and just want to ensure that our method will be possible, efficient and safe.

rchur · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 0
My honest opinion? This sounds like you are going to create a cluster, probably on a trade route.

When I think of speed climbing, I don't think of hauling, definitely don't think of heinous hauling. What you're planning doesn't sound like speed climbing.

I skimmed through your system. It sounds like a cluster. You're bringing 3 lead lines, a haul line, and a tag line? And untying/retying into ropes all the time? You don't need to be attached to two ropes to jug.

Have you done any wall climbing? Might be good to get some systems dialed with a two person team first.

My limited wall climbing experience has been with a two person team. I've never done a party wall. Maybe someone who has could give you a better answer. But if I were to, this is probably how I'd set it up.

Off the top of my head:

Leader leads in blocks, with a lead line and a haul line. When the leader gets to the top of the pitch, they shortfix and continue climbing.

Follower 1 & 2 jugs the haul line and puts the leader on belay. Follower 3 releases bags, jugs the lead line and cleans.

Edit: typos and clarity.

Seth Kane · Dec 24, 2015 · Bozeman, Montana · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 103
So looking at your ticks your first trad lead was in September, and you've done very little multipitch- you're going to have a huge clusterfuck doing this. Climb as two teams of two. The hauling will be easier, you'll climb faster and you won't waste as much time figuring out how three of the ropes managed to wrap themselves six times around the fourth rope. Additionally nothing that you're doing (climbing as a group of more then two, not short fixing, not going IAD) sounds like speed climbing at all.

IF you're set on a team of four, for sure use a two rope system (+1 for rchur's system- I can't think of a less clustery way to do it). Make sure everyone has their jumaring DIALED, use rope buckets and do not to get on a trade route during the prime season. Going light is going to be super important or hauling is going to destroy you. You absolutely don't need backup lines for jumaring. I'd also say everyone doing this should have a lot (100 pitches is probably a minimum) of multipitch experience before you try this.

K Weber · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 0
Speed Climbing + Hauling = WRONG

Schuyler Collett · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0
One of the biggest principals of big wall climbing is mitigating clusterfucks, before they escalate. Easy things like facing biners the correct way or keeping fixed lines in good positions are essential to moving quick, and therefore, having fun. We climb to have good wilderness experiences in the mountains, not to perpetually flake six ropes. Split the teams up, bring only two ropes MaX (or one if you are actually speed climbing) then meet back up with your homies at the pizza deck. Whatever you do, wait until you are a seasoned wall climber to go up with a big party. Sure, it's fun, but it can be a hassle, and sometimes unsafe. Unfortunately, the climber who passed away on the nose this spring was part of a non traditional team of three.

Send on!

Schuyler Collett · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 0
One of the biggest principals of big wall climbing is mitigating clusterfucks, before they escalate. Easy things like facing biners the correct way or keeping fixed lines in good positions are essential to moving quick, and therefore, having fun. We climb to have good wilderness experiences in the mountains, not to perpetually flake six ropes. Split the teams up, bring only two ropes MaX (or one if you are actually speed climbing) then meet back up with your homies at the pizza deck. Whatever you do, wait until you are a seasoned wall climber to go up with a big party. Sure, it's fun, but it can be a hassle, and sometimes unsafe. Unfortunately, the climber who passed away on the nose this spring was part of a non traditional team of three.

Send on!

Alex Wyvill · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35
Thanks, everyone! I expected some skepticism given the lack of experience, and its certainly justified. That's why we started training many months ahead of time. We go out three times a week and aid/jug up a tree in the park over and over just to get the basic systems right, and will continue doing this for the next seven months. We have a schedule of 8 other walls that we are going to hit (some without bags, some with) before we even attempt to get on El Cap. If those are a cluster, no chance are we getting on some trade route and slowing everyone else down.

I think I've also been unclear about one other thing: when I say we are "Speed climbing," I only mean that we are climbing using a system where someone is always leading. This is opposed to a "Pitch-by-pitch" schlog up the route where every pitch is led, then hauled, then cleaned, all before the next pitch is led. I'm not saying we are looking to do anything in a day. Forgive me for using unclear language.

As to "you don't need a top anchor while jugging," I assume therefore that the dangers of an ascender popping off on a traversing pitch are just very minimal? My only reason for including the two backup lead lines was for redundancy while jugging and (more importantly) as a tether for a space haul.

I'll reconsider with your two-rope system, I just want to make sure it's safe for a four-man team.

Em Cos · Dec 24, 2015 · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 0
Alex Wyvill wrote:I think I've also been unclear about one other thing: when I say we are "Speed climbing," I only mean that we are climbing using a system where someone is always leading.
When you say the leader is always leading, do you mean that you are planning on simuling and short-fixing? These are advanced techniques that sacrifice some safety for speed, and that trade-off doesn't really make sense to me considering you are bringing two haul bags and a portaledge. I'm guessing that's not what you meant though, just wanted to throw that out there just in case.

Alex Wyvill wrote:As to "you don't need a top anchor while jugging," I assume therefore that the dangers of an ascender popping off on a traversing pitch are just very minimal?
Obviously you need an anchor while jugging. What you don't necessarily need is a second rope. Ascenders can come off the rope unexpectedly, but you can provide redundancy for the ascender by tying back-up knots every so often, you don't need redundancy for the rope, unless you are concerned about a very low probability rope-cutting or anchor-failure event.

Your system is confusing because some of your choices seem to be strongly prioritizing safety over efficiency, and others the opposite. With your level of experience I would recommend focusing on safety first, and efficiency will come naturally as you practice more. Once you are really dialed in on your system, you can start thinking about more advanced techniques to increase your efficiency and speed even more, but as a beginner your greatest efficiency gains will come with getting really dialed in with all the basic techniques, placing solid gear quickly, getting good at rope management, and avoiding clusters in the first place.

Regardless, I think the best way for you to find out what will be most efficient for a big wall party of four is to get out there and try things, what works and what doesn't will become painfully obvious very quickly. Just start on some short walls that are not super popular and get things figured out, you'll probably have a lot of fun doing it, and next season you can come back and share all your tips for the best way to bigwall in a team of four!

Andrew Gram · Dec 24, 2015 · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,430
Besides turning into a giant clusterfuck of doom, climbing walls in a party of 4 would absolutely suck because you would spend so much time jugging instead of leading.

Alex Wyvill · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35
Em, if you are jugging a haul line, you can't tie backup knots, because there's a bag on the end. That's why there are three lead lines, one for the leader, two for top anchors while people jug.

As for "always leading," my point is that the next leader can blast off and be half done with the next pitch while the previous pitch is cleaned and the bags are hauled. Yes, it is a cluster, but no time is wasted since the leading is what takes longest. As long as the leader gets on the next pitch ASAP, the cluster-controlling and heavy hauling don't actually slow anything down; the next pitch is already underway. That's the whole thought. We aren't short fixing or simuling or anything like that.

Several of the responses are saying not to climb as four. This was not the question, though. I understand that climbing as four involves difficulties that make things not-so-fun, but we have a goal and are trying to accomplish it.

I am just asking if my proposed method is unsafe in any way, and whether I can simplify it in any way without compromising safety or speed.

Thanks again for the help and suggestions.

James Willis · Dec 24, 2015 · No where in particular · Joined May 2013 · Points: 150
If hte previous pitch is being cleaned then how will you lead? two racks?

Paul Hutton · Dec 24, 2015 · Boise, ID · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 601
When I think of speed climbing, I think of (wow, I forget his name when I think of his face) Dean Potter! You can find video footage of him free soloing a flake, I think, to set his partner up for a pendulum. No hauling. My partners always give me a hard time when I want to bring my little stubby haul bag. They always say "Let's climb light and fast!"

Seth Kane · Dec 24, 2015 · Bozeman, Montana · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 103
When jugging the haul line you don't really need to tie backup knots as you're not doing lower outs or passing pieces. You can put a biner through the top hole of your jumar to hold it on or use a microtrax on your belay loop as a backup.

Also keep in mind that for a three day nose attempt with four people you'll be looking at 100 lbs of just water.

Alex Wyvill · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35
As for the rack, yes, we have enough gear to lead two (or at least 1.5) pitches at a time

Seth, I think that's a great idea. Rather than have a tether for the hauler, I'll just have that person clip a biner to the top hole. That cuts out one of the lead ropes and should lessen the cluster factor.

Your point about water is well taken. Our goal was a bag under 180-200 lbs, in which all of us should be able to space haul with the belayer hanging as a counterweight. Is that unrealistic, in your experience?

Kemper Brightman · Dec 24, 2015 · Tucson · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 1,843
I thought this said "Speed Big Wailing"... come to think of it that might be an appropriate name for what you're about to get yourself into.

Tom Gnyra · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2012 · Points: 6,238
+1 for the idea of two teams of two
+1 for the idea of two ropes max
+1 for try climbing a bit more before hopping on giant trade routes where people will be really mad when they have to pass your cluster of an anchor

I've never done overnight walls but the idea of climbing like this seems more heinous than being quick and covering huge terrain

sam england · Dec 24, 2015 · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 345
This is a terrible idea. There is going to be nothing fast about this system even if you manage to pull it off smoothly. This is your first wall; you will have to deal with some clusters. Throw in 5 ropes, 2 huge haulbags, portaledges, and 4 people and you're never going to get it untangled.

Consider that the success rate on El Cap is something like 50%.

You have further lowered your odds by having:
Never done a wall.
A tremendously large load.
A huge team
Overly complex logistics.

Seems that you have you heart set on the party of 4 thing. If you're going to do that for your first wall, find an obscure route (preferably not on El Cap) so you don't clog up a trade route when you bail.

Alex Wyvill · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35
As I have mentioned, we are climbing eight walls of increasing size in varied areas (Big South Fork, Looking Glass, Linville Gorge, Yosemite) before touching anything on El Cap. Many of the responders here seem to be assuming that we are not going to prepare or practice. This trip is in seven months. If we aren't ready by then, we aren't going to attempt to "clog up a trade route."

We are just trying to come up with a system to practice. If this seems "terribly inefficient" or slow, tell me why. I honestly do not see how this is a slow system. Leading will always take longer than anything else. If someone is leading at full speed with only a ~5 minute changeover between leads, that is a good speed setup.

Seth suggested taking out one of the ropes and using a biner on the top of the ascended to hold it in place, making a backup unnecessary. This was very helpful. More suggestions like this are more what I'm looking for.

csproul · Dec 24, 2015 · Davis, CA · Joined Dec 2009 · Points: 25
(Big South Fork, Looking Glass, Linville Gorge)
Those are great stepping stone to learning the ropes, so to speak. But please don't think that any of these are even remotely in the same league as even a grade V Yosemite bigwall, much less an El Cap route. I've climbed extensively in Linville and at LG, and those routes might help you get into climbing shape and teach you how to aid/jug/lower out etc, but they are simply not even close to the length and logistical considerations of even WC or LT. Please keep in mind that you'd have to stack two Glass Menagerie's on top of each other in order to get one WFLT, which is not even close to being an El Cap route. I'm not saying this to discourage you or talk you out of your progression, just letting you know I went through the same thing and it still did not prepare me as much as I thought it would.

As far as the 4 people thing goes. I think it's a terrible idea just from a tangle and cluster standpoint. Getting two parties of two in the same place at the same time on a wall has always turned into a bit of a mess, now add two more people and their ropes into the mix. But obviously your pretty set on doing it that way, so I'll just say that as long as you work it out on smaller wall, I'm sure you'll figure out what works best.

Bill M · Dec 24, 2015 · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 101
Find some 3 pitch route out of the way and see for yourself how it works out. You can even break up a one pitch route into 3 pitches. Even if everything works out it seems like it would be hard to get 4 people together enough to work the systems out.

Alex Wyvill · Dec 24, 2015 · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35
I buy that. I guess we'll just get on a wall and decide for ourselves if it's a mess waiting to happen. I appreciate the warnings and definitely want to have a good experience, even with an unorthodox plan. Going in with a plan doomed to fail is obviously not going to be a good experience.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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