Seeking advice for getting into big wall climbing


Original Post
Derrick Keene · · Kentucky · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 90

Gumby checking in here for some advice.

Ive been climbing for a couple years and all my outside experience has been at Red River Gorge, KY. I'm getting into trad and hope to some day get on some big walls. So far my biggest climb is the 200 foot 5.7 multipitch "Firefox". I don't have any certain climb in mind to reach as I just enjoy the multipitch climbing experience a bit more than sport climbing. The higher the better. I don't care if the climibing is difficult or easy. I just enjoy climbing and I love the beautiful views reaped from it. So, with all that said would like some opinions on where to go next. I have my eye on Looking Glass NC or Seneca Rocks WV. I climb 5.11 sport and feel comfortable on 5.8 trad. I haven't really pushed my limits on trad yet, but plan to very soon. Any tips, pointers, recommendations, trash talking is welcome.

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20

So... are you interested in just doing more multi-pitch trad, or big wall climbing? Bit wall climbing, while it doesn't have to be aid climbing, is often comprised of a lot of it because the average person can't lead 15+ pitches of 5.11+ trad. So, if it's big walls you want to do then you need to start learning to aid climb. Which is also a great way to lean to place gear, which translates well to trad climbing because you place 3x as much gear on aid as you do trad, maybe more. 

If it's just muti-pitch trad climbs you want to do, which is fine, they are tons of fun, use the MP tool to find multipitch trad routes in 5.7-5.8 grades and go climb a bunch. If you want to get into big wall climbing go find some lesser used trad or aid climbs and start practicing. A blot ladder is ideal to get used to the movement of aid climbing because as easy as it sounds to climb a ladder, it's not, at least not at first. 

I don't know what kind of walls you have out in your area of the country, but MP should be able to point you to a few good routes. Have fun. 

Derrick Keene · · Kentucky · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 90
Ryan Hamilton wrote:

So... are you interested in just doing more multi-pitch trad, or big wall climbing? Bit wall climbing, while it doesn't have to be aid climbing, is often comprised of a lot of it because the average person can't lead 15+ pitches of 5.11+ trad. So, if it's big walls you want to do then you need to start learning to aid climb. Which is also a great way to lean to place gear, which translates well to trad climbing because you place 3x as much gear on aid as you do trad, maybe more. 

If it's just muti-pitch trad climbs you want to do, which is fine, they are tons of fun, use the MP tool to find multipitch trad routes in 5.7-5.8 grades and go climb a bunch. If you want to get into big wall climbing go find some lesser used trad or aid climbs and start practicing. A blot ladder is ideal to get used to the movement of aid climbing because as easy as it sounds to climb a ladder, it's not, at least not at first. 

I don't know what kind of walls you have out in your area of the country, but MP should be able to point you to a few good routes. Have fun. 

Thanks for the reply Ryan. I've never tried aid and would prefer to not use aid if possible, but if I need to use aid to gain access to a big wall then I'd be willing to learn it. Probably go in with hopes to free climb it and use aid if needed. I'm guessing I'm not alone on that strategy. I'll look into the blot ladder. 

Andy Novak · · Golden, Co · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 305

^^^ I think he meant bolt ladder. 

My advice: Don't rush. learn how to trad climb well (5.10) and climb some longer routes out west. Then see if you want even longer routes and start learning to aid. 

Derrick Keene · · Kentucky · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 90
Andy Novak wrote:

^^^ I think he meant bolt ladder. 

My advice: Don't rush. learn how to trad climb well (5.10) and climb some longer routes out west. Then see if you want even longer routes and start learning to aid. 

Thanks for the reply Andy. Do you know of any good routes to suggest? I've looked around on MP, but getting some ideas from people who have climbed the routes would be nice. Thanks!

Andy Novak · · Golden, Co · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 305
Derrick Keene wrote:

Thanks for the reply Andy. Do you know of any good routes to suggest? 

Start with trying to climb some of those 3-4 pitch routes at Looking Glass. See if you can climb two of them in a day, then three, then? Get mileage. Spending a week in Yosemite would be pretty good. Royal Arches and Snake Dike on Half Dome are both long and under 5.8. Spending a week in Moab climbing towers would be good too if you're climbing 5.10. 

Aid and big wall come down to efficiency and being able to quickly improvise if things go sideways or, really bad. The more experience and mileage you have, the better. I've seen 5.11 trad climbers get shut down on easy walls because they are used to single pitch and don't understand logistics of being on a route for an entire day or longer. Rope management, changeovers, food and water, constant exposure, cold, heat, etc can all easily force a bail. Just try to climb as much trad as possible, on as long of routes as possible, and you'll know when you're ready. Take a week long trip to the Valley and Tuolumne and it will blow your mind, even if you "only" are climbing 5.8-5.9..  

Derrick Keene · · Kentucky · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 90
Andy Novak wrote:

Start with trying to climb some of those 3-4 pitch routes at Looking Glass. See if you can climb two of them in a day, then three, then? Get mileage. Spending a week in Yosemite would be pretty good. Royal Arches and Snake Dike on Half Dome are both long and under 5.8. Spending a week in Moab climbing towers would be good too if you're climbing 5.10. 

Aid and big wall come down to efficiency and being able to quickly improvise if things go sideways or, really bad. The more experience and mileage you have, the better. I've seen 5.11 trad climbers get shut down on easy walls because they are used to single pitch and don't understand logistics of being on a route for an entire day or longer. Rope management, changeovers, food and water, constant exposure, cold, heat, etc can all easily force a bail. Just try to climb as much trad as possible, on as long of routes as possible, and you'll know when you're ready. Take a week long trip to the Valley and Tuolumne and it will blow your mind, even if you "only" are climbing 5.8-5.9..  

Thanks again Andy. I will add Royal Arches and Snake Dike to my list. Hopefully next year I'll be ready and able to make a trip out west. Plan on getting on some 5.9 and 5.10 trad routes locally in the next few weeks and then I'll get out to Looking Glass.

Aleks Zebastian · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 175

climbing friend,

don't

stephen arsenault · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 50

Derrick,

Every climber is different in abilities, motivation etc. I've seen climbers doing a typical big wall, ( El Cap routes), with under 2 years experience, but it is not common. They say that about 50% of climbers who attempt a big wall, back off, many have "head problems",  or become discouraged for a variety of reasons. Obviously the weather plays a big factor in multi-day climbs.

My experience with aid climbing, (50 years ago) was begun by rope soloing, since there were no books, and lack of partners. You can learn quite a bit of aid by practicing yourself.

I soloed my 1st big wall in Yosemite because I was impatient, and could not find a partner. The weather sucked and nobody wanted to commit. I did get hit by 2 bad storms on the climb.

As somebody posted above, don't rush it, and obviously the more you get on the rock, the more efficient you will become. Remember, it's all a "game".

NegativeK · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 5
stephen arsenault wrote:

Derrick,

Every climber is different in abilities, motivation etc. I've seen climbers doing a typical big wall, ( El Cap routes), with under 2 years experience, but it is not common. They say that about 50% of climbers who attempt a big wall, back off, many have "head problems",  or become discouraged for a variety of reasons. Obviously the weather plays a big factor in multi-day climbs.

My experience with aid climbing, (50 years ago) was begun by rope soloing, since there were no books, and lack of partners. You can learn quite a bit of aid by practicing yourself.

I soloed my 1st big wall in Yosemite because I was impatient, and could not find a partner. The weather sucked and nobody wanted to commit. I did get hit by 2 bad storms on the climb.

As somebody posted above, don't rush it, and obviously the more you get on the rock, the more efficient you will become. Remember, it's all a "game".

Stephen, mind sharing a bit more about soloing as your first Yosemite big wall? Your experience before that, things you would (or wouldn't!) do differently, et cetera?

Also, does anyone know of a good resource for finding aid routes? MP's search is somewhat lacking, and I believe the Supertopo route search is super selective.

Eshaw · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2011 · Points: 25

Another great place to do some long multi-pitch routes is Red Rocks.  There are a lot of very long routes with moderate grades.  Approaches and descents can be tricky and it's pretty easy to find routes that are very well protected.  Great place to learn.

stephen arsenault · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 50

Derrick,

Up here in New Hampshire there are a few climbers who regularly rope solo aid. When I  that type of stuff, it was the era of pitons, where hard aid-A4 and above were many stacked/nested piton tips. My 1st wall in Yosemite was the Prow, 2nd ascent, when it was rated 5.9A4. It took me 3.5 days. There were no porta-ledges back then-all open bivy's. I had some major fu---ups on that climb; including a 100+ foot fall when I zippered an entire A4 pitch. You can read about it here, and perhaps learn a few things about what NOT TO DO :http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1114340/2nd-ascent-of-the-prow-solo

Things have changed a lot with gear since then, and pitons are rarely used today. As I said before, in my 1st post, I basically taught myself aid climbing, Obviously, if your motivated enough, many things are possible. With cams, beaks etc. aid climbing is a different skill set than years ago, when it was mostly piton placement. Obviously, a big modern aid rack will set you back a pretty big piece of change, so don't rush getting into it.

Dan Mathews · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 0

Given your location NC and Seneca are good options.  One place you may want to consider is the New River.  There actually are a lot of really good trad climbs in the 5.8-.10 range and it's probably the closest destination from you.  They're steep, strenuous and in the upper range of your stated trad ability though.  It could be a good place to push yourself as the rock/gear is excellent and relatively clean falls for trad climbs. Nothing very tall or exposed though.  Seneca is better in that respect and has many more moderate climbs 5.8 and under.  Rock is not near so good as the New and gear can be sketchier as a result.  

If you travel, I'd say go to Boulder or Red Rock.  Red Rock has the most amazing trad moderates in my opinion.  1000+ foot 5.5-5.8s of great quality and spectacular settings.  Boulder has atremendous variety of trad climbs all within day trip range.  You can really rack up the miles on long classics at either location.  

Yosemite isn't a great place for new trad climbers in my opinion.  The moderates are far and few between and slammed with crowds as a result.  Save it for when you're solid on .9s and then you'll have many more options open to you in the Valley and the high country.  

My one piece of trad climbing advice is don't treat it like sport climbing.  It's much easier to get hurt.  Moderates usually aren't steep and falling means you hit things.  Plus gear is often spaced further than bolts and if one piece pulls you can easily end up with a long, dangerous fall unlike sport climbing. 

Be safe and have fun!

dan

C Brooks · · Fresno, CA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 546
Dan Mathews wrote:

Yosemite isn't a great place for new trad climbers in my opinion.  The moderates are far and few between and slammed with crowds as a result.  Save it for when you're solid on .9s and then you'll have many more options open to you in the Valley and the high country.  

+1

Derrick Keene · · Kentucky · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 90
Dan Mathews wrote:

Given your location NC and Seneca are good options.  One place you may want to consider is the New River.  There actually are a lot of really good trad climbs in the 5.8-.10 range and it's probably the closest destination from you.  They're steep, strenuous and in the upper range of your stated trad ability though.  It could be a good place to push yourself as the rock/gear is excellent and relatively clean falls for trad climbs. Nothing very tall or exposed though.  Seneca is better in that respect and has many more moderate climbs 5.8 and under.  Rock is not near so good as the New and gear can be sketchier as a result.  

If you travel, I'd say go to Boulder or Red Rock.  Red Rock has the most amazing trad moderates in my opinion.  1000+ foot 5.5-5.8s of great quality and spectacular settings.  Boulder has atremendous variety of trad climbs all within day trip range.  You can really rack up the miles on long classics at either location.  

Yosemite isn't a great place for new trad climbers in my opinion.  The moderates are far and few between and slammed with crowds as a result.  Save it for when you're solid on .9s and then you'll have many more options open to you in the Valley and the high country.  

My one piece of trad climbing advice is don't treat it like sport climbing.  It's much easier to get hurt.  Moderates usually aren't steep and falling means you hit things.  Plus gear is often spaced further than bolts and if one piece pulls you can easily end up with a long, dangerous fall unlike sport climbing. 

Be safe and have fun!

dan

Thanks for the great advice Dan! Red Rock does look amazing.

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20

Getting experience with anchor building and changeovers is one of key areas for big wall climbing. Knowing how to quickly get the gear you need for the next pitch. Stacking ropes to keep things tidy at the belay, what to eat, when to eat, etc. Getting into a rhythm on a good 4-8 pitch route is really helpful. Getting experience with different partners on multi-pitch routes is good too. Everyone does things a little differently, which is fine as long as it's safe. But, seeing how different people manage belays, leading, changeovers, will help you to hone your skills and get fast and efficient. There's a big different if you can make it 2-5 min. instead of 30.

Derrick Keene · · Kentucky · Joined Apr 2017 · Points: 90
Ryan Hamilton wrote:

Getting experience with anchor building and changeovers is one of key areas for big wall climbing. Knowing how to quickly get the gear you need for the next pitch. Stacking ropes to keep things tidy at the belay, what to eat, when to eat, etc. Getting into a rhythm on a good 4-8 pitch route is really helpful. Getting experience with different partners on multi-pitch routes is good too. Everyone does things a little differently, which is fine as long as it's safe. But, seeing how different people manage belays, leading, changeovers, will help you to hone your skills and get fast and efficient. There's a big different if you can make it 2-5 min. instead of 30.

That has been one of the struggles. Most people around the Red are sport climbing so I've not been able to get in with someone more experienced yet. Hopefully soon!

nathanael · · Riverside, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 307

Just to clarify, when most climbers talk about a "big wall" they're talking about something like El Cap. 3,000 feet, portaledge, aid climbing, etc. "Big wall" just has some in-built connotations.

Sounds like the next logical step for you is just a "wall/route that is big", at least relative to your 200' routes so far. If your thread was titled "looking for tips on trying long trad routes" you wouldn't have all the people talking about aid climbing and such. The category of "long trad routes" would generally be routes from 200'-1000'. (Of course some strong people push the boundaries and treat El Cap like a "long trad route" and do it in just a few hours).

Anyways, the recommendations in this thread are good. Work your way up. You'll be thinking about climbing the real big walls before you know it.

Matt Thomsen · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 8

Laurel knob is close to you and has a lot of long free climbs. It is also granite, so will help you with climbing in Yosemite.

I moved to Kentucky when I was 18. I moved there for the sport climbing, but also learned to trad climb. Made a trip to Yosemite a year later. Saw El Cap and knew that is what I wanted to climb. So one year later I quit school and moved to YNP and climbed El Cap and a few other walls that season. So if you are motivated you can get it done.

But if you just want to climb really long fun routes, Red Rocks is the place to go.

Mark Hudon · · Lives on the road · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 415

Learn the systems!

Setting up an anchor (quickly). Hauling (1:1, 2:1). Setting up your ledge w/fly. Organizing your rack. Cleaning. Anchor change overs. Communication.

The failure rate on something like the Nose, or even the South Face of the Column, is easily 50% and I'll bet that none of those failures are due to the inability to climb the rock. I've seen 5.13 climbers fail on El Cap because it took them forever to haul, or set up their ledge or even ascend their ropes back to their high point.

neils · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 20
Nathanael wrote:

Just to clarify, when most climbers talk about a "big wall" they're talking about something like El Cap. 3,000 feet, portaledge, aid climbing, etc. "Big wall" just has some in-built connotations.

Sounds like the next logical step for you is just a "wall/route that is big", at least relative to your 200' routes so far. If your thread was titled "looking for tips on trying long trad routes" you wouldn't have all the people talking about aid climbing and such. The category of "long trad routes" would generally be routes from 200'-1000'. (Of course some strong people push the boundaries and treat El Cap like a "long trad route" and do it in just a few hours).

Anyways, the recommendations in this thread are good. Work your way up. You'll be thinking about climbing the real big walls before you know it.

I was thinking about this reading through this thread.  I am a pretty new climber as well.  I spent a few days in Red Rock a month ago and did some 7 plus pitch climbs and really liked it.  Do climbers routinely bivy/camp on long trad routes with ledge or bivy opportunities that are not "big walls" on purpose?  I saw no need to bivy on a 7 pitch climb but on something longer, maybe?  Or maybe if it wasn't needed but you just wanted to.  I suppose you can do whatever you want as long as it fits in with the rules of where you are climbing but is it a usual practice?  To bivy on a long route for fun and for the experience of doing it?  Maybe to get the flavor of that experience  in a somewhat less committing way, dial systems, etc?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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