Looking for best instructional guides and DVD's??


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 29, 2007 - 12:52pm PT
yo forum

i am writing a how to big wall climb book. (have no idea when it will be done).

i know what i want to write but i am looking for inspiration on the layout. ways to design sidebars, little quick tips, photos, illustrations etc

what do you guys think are the best designed instructional books out there for

a) climbing

b) any other sport (mtn biking, surfing, etc)

c) any activity (home improvement etc)


PS: Directory of all Forum posts related to How To Big Walls book:

Social climber
Charlevoix, MI
Oct 29, 2007 - 01:16pm PT
Pictures and spicific details, lots and lots of pictures. Pictures showing the right way as well as the wrong way to do almost everything. Beaking, hooking, pounding pins, etc.

Of the books I read. I liked Mittendorfs and Longs book but wish there was an updated version. Ogdens book was pretty good as well. Never did get Chongo's book, is it any good?

Edit... Assume your reader has very little conceptual framework. This allows a person with more experience to skim sections while not alienating a novice.

Brian Boyd

Trad climber
Scottsdale, AZ
Oct 29, 2007 - 02:13pm PT
I'm partial to the 'Self-coached climber' layout: A mix of color photos and drawings, chapter summaries, and good mix of big picture and practical content. The book also has a DVD -- neat idea, but so-so content. Craig Luebben's basic rock climbing book is also set up nicely as well.

Big Wall climber
Yosemite area
Oct 29, 2007 - 03:44pm PT
The absolute best big wall book that I've ever read is "Big Wall Climbing: Elite Technique" by Jared Ogden. Every time I read it, I learn something new.

I think that the "Simple Stuff" of big walls has been gone through about a billion times in as many books. This book gives you the starting-out beta, as well as stuff like kind of elaborate pin stacking techniques, etc. Its an amazing book.

Something to consider:

With wall climbing, there are simple techniques for simple situations, then advanced techniques, for when the loads are moster, the its a winter ascent, or the pitches are hard nailing pitches. When a book tries to address all of this, a new climber can become confused about where to draw the line, and end up over-complicating things on their first walls, leading to situations that are frustrating at the least and maybe even dangerous.

Consider organizing key sections in two parts:

1) Getting Started (Example: Hauling)- Hauling for your first, simple wall: Basic setup, hauling devices available, things that can go wrong, how to get "Help" on the line from the second climber if need be, docking the pig, lowering out, selecting a static vs dynamic haul line.

2) Advanced Technique (Example: Hauling) - Counterweight hauling, hauling 2 loads vs 1 monster load, flagging your ledge, using cargo hook on the pig when soloing, how to rig a 2:1 and 3:1, far end hauling for the soloist, etc.

That's just one example of how a section could be designed to not overwhelm a beginner but also help someone who is not such a beginner.

Finally: For diagrams of belay stations, rope systems, knots, etc. it is really nice to use color drawings, not just line drawings. See Jared Ogden's book for an excellent example of this.

For the DVD - it would be awesome to show people hauling solo, together, leg hauling, etc. This is such a cluster when you're getting started, and it doesn't need to be.

I hope this helps, Chris!

John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Oct 29, 2007 - 11:50pm PT
First, thanks for taking on this challenge...

As mentioned above Jared's book is a good example of what I think is a well written instructional book on wall climbing... The diagrams are fantastic. However, I wish it was more in depth in some areas.

Self coached climber is a very classy instructional book. The layout and presentation as well as the methodogy in getting points across are well put together.

Some things I would like to see in a new big wall book include:

 More emphasis on climbing hammerless
 Cover cleaning and jumaring,in detail, such as folliwing traverses, etc.
 Living on a wall
 Include history. To go forward we need to understand the past.

Maybe link instructional film to this web site rather than dvd... Otherwise check out clean walls by Jello and Piton Ron if you haven't seen it already.

There is a lot of knowledge out there about specific soloing techniques and it would be great if it was possible to capture some of this.

Good luck with the book.


Oct 29, 2007 - 11:56pm PT
You should design the book in such a way the reader will learn.

On the front cover you will have your usual poser picture on some climb.

Then Book opens to first page and only page.

It says: "Meet me at the base, and don't be late."

The back cover .....?


Social climber
No Ut
Oct 30, 2007 - 12:58am PT
Werner, books have their place. So do gurus. However, gurus are more rare than books, so books are a transition between not knowing and experience; so serve their purpose as sort of placeholders in a climber's progression - until the student is ready and the teacher appears. But you know that!


Oct 30, 2007 - 01:18am PT
IMO, the old Middendorf/Longo monograph is best at capturing the whole big wall zeitgeist

I don't think you will improve appreciably upon either Middendorf/Largo or the Ogden book.

Where you can add value, however, is going over the various solo systems, emphasizing both historical and contemporary technique

back east
Oct 30, 2007 - 07:55pm PT
NIAD for Dummies

Big Wall climber
Yosemite area
Oct 30, 2007 - 08:04pm PT
I think the only way to improve over Ogden's is to associate it WITH a CD...for example, go to this point on the CD to see this system in action:

* Jugging techniques (Frog, Grigri and ascender, two ascender)
* Cleaning penjis/lowering out
* Docking the pig/lowering out
* Hauling techniques as mentioned before
* Belay station organization
* Portaledge set-up tricks (soloists especially)
* Mechanical advantage systems
* Low-impact pin placement/removal
* Getting high in the aiders
* Backstepping and balancing
* Gentle travel on hooks/traverses
* Heading
* Modified hooks and other weird stuff
* Bounce testing (get low on the lower piece, how to stay in balance, don't look up!)

I think that video of these techniques would provide a tremendous advantage over still photos and diagrams. Aside from that, I can't think of a thing that you could add to Jared O's book to make it better.

I don't think it should be book OR DVD. It should be book AND DVD, maybe.


Trad climber
Oct 30, 2007 - 08:13pm PT
John Long's book on building anchors was how I learned to place gear and make gear anchors. The book was very helpful and after reading it I could just get out and climb without any doubt that I'm doing it safely. I still do 90% of things the same way as I learned from it.

Big Wall climber
Yosemite, CA
Oct 30, 2007 - 09:13pm PT
Green Gear published something called a video guide to aid climbing. When I was learning to aid climb, the two main resources I had was John Longs book and this video. I watched the video over and over and learned a lot from it. I think this was done by Mittendorf (not sure). I am pretty sure it is out of print. The sections that helped me the most were on cleaning a pitch (methods of using your jumars to pass pieces or unweight pieces to clean them, obviously on pitches that are not straight up) and on lowering out. These are hard to show in diagrams.


the flatness
Oct 30, 2007 - 09:32pm PT
The Jebus of visual information stuff like this is a guy named Edward Tufte, he has a web site at www.edwardtufte.com as well as 4 books. The earlier books are a little more on graphs and charts, but the later ones deal more generally with how to present information visually. He also does one day courses, you can find the listings on the web site, looks like he'll be in CA in January.

Big Wall climber
Valencia, CA
Oct 30, 2007 - 09:38pm PT
I have always liked Extreme Alpinism by Twight. There is a calculus book I like that explains every section in several different ways (written, algebraically, numerically and graphically), perhaps this approach could be modified to a climbing book (written, illustrated and demonstrated on dvd). Also in textbook fashion consider putting a few questions/example situations at the end of each section, some food for thought, then put your analysis of each question/situation in the back.


Oct 30, 2007 - 09:46pm PT
It would be uber-Tacopian if you titled it "Big Wall Climbing: Yer Gonna Die!!!"

Better still: just "Yer Gonna Die!!!" with the trademark symbol (Russ registered this with the Patent Office, right?)

Seattle, WA
Oct 30, 2007 - 11:39pm PT
I think the tech tips in Climbing Mag are very well illustrated (some of the info is bs but the illustrations are top notch).

It be cool to see a book that brought more info on in a push climbing and strategies for free or mostly free attempts.

3hrs to El Cap Meadow, 1.25hrs Pinns, 42min Castle
Oct 30, 2007 - 11:45pm PT
"John Long's book on building anchors was how I learned to place gear and make gear anchors. The book was very helpful and after reading it I could just get out and climb without any doubt that I'm doing it safely. I still do 90% of things the same way as I learned from it."

Uhhh... anybody besides me ever meet anybody with this mentality and know, almost immediately, that they were destined to die a premature death?
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 21, 2007 - 01:13pm PT
thanks for all the ideas. keep em coming!

at this point i am not sure exactly what form the book will take.

it could be an all encompassing book on everything aid and big wall. it could also be just focused on the fundamentals.

I just dont think the fundamentals are focused on in the books i have read. people learn how to do things but they never learn how to master them and really get good a the basics. i think most people bail on el cap because they are good climbers but still dont know how lead efficiently (its takes them 2+ hours per pitch to lead, haul and follow a Stovelegs pitch). or maybe they don't bail, but they end up having the experience of climbing the nose in 5 days instead of 3 which means they spend most of the time devoted to moving large loads instead of enjoying the climbing. i want people to get to Dolt or El Cap Tower with hours of daylight to enjoy them.... not setting up the bivy by headlamp.

ultimately i think a bigger contribution rather than showing how to clearly set up a 3:1 (which i still have never done on a wall myself), would be to teach people how to climb any c1 pitch in under and hour and any A3 pitch in under 2 or 3.

i know that is not sexy, but i have been approached by so many people who ask me the correct way to saw off a piton and then i see them lead and they still take 2+ hours on a C1 pitch because they use 4 aiders and still dont really know how to efficiently do things... because its never been laid out clearly in a book and most other wall climbers do things the same way. they might place that sawed off piton 5 times in their aid career. by contrast they will likely make 1000's of moves in aiders. if each time they move in their aiders they are 50% faster then that really ads up over time.

el cap has been a great part of my life, and i want to see more people who bail in the stovelegs or hold up other parties on 5 day ascents succeed while having more fun.

so i think the fundamentals will be the heart of the book. but i still might add in the more advanced stuff depending on how much feedback i get that there is a need for that in books.

i am also considering writing the book and posting each chapter here first to get feedback... do ill keep you all posted on that.
Pistol Pete

Trad climber
Pasadena, CA
Nov 21, 2007 - 02:24pm PT


I read all the aid books and watched the 2 videos (Jello and Reid). I think you are right, the fundamentals aren't covered as well. Maybe it requires just getting out there and floundering a bit on a 3 pitch climb.
I'd be interested in your book. I agree that Ogden's book is awesome and if it had a DVD it would be even better.


Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Nov 21, 2007 - 03:06pm PT
failure to include solo techniques will make it incomplete in my eyes.

don't use Jared Ogden's format.

The Mike Strassman book and John Middendorf books are ideal. You keep coming back to them time and time again.

Leave no reasonable technique out, but don't fail to point out the problems with the various techniques.

Nov 21, 2007 - 03:38pm PT
I find a lot of photographs in climbing instructional books to be confusing, due to poor contrast, busy backgrounds, graininess, etc.

The cartoon illustrations from Climbing (don't know the artist's name) are fantastic. Always well done and easy to figure out.

As an added bonus, those drawings can be treated as a coloring book, which helps cement the layout in my head and makes the drawing easier to "read" when referring back to it later.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 21, 2007 - 11:46pm PT
here are my 2¢ Chris

you seem to state your motivation clearly enough: el cap has been a great part of my life, and i want to see more people who bail in the stovelegs or hold up other parties on 5 day ascents succeed while having more fun.

and you have to realize that your topo guides have opened up access to climbs in the Valley to a much larger set of people... the details are above and beyond what has existed previously. If you wanted to guarantee a good ascent up El Capitan, the old school way would be to find someone who had done it and go with them...

...it is a tall order to create a guide book/DVD to do that, but maybe you can.

First, you could illustrate the basic techniques in a gym, most people have access to gyms and probably could benefit from some relatively elementary exercises before going out on the rock.

It seems to me that practice is essential for moving quickly. You actually address this in your book Road to The Nose which provides a set of climbs illustrating different aspects of the challenges facing a climber who wants to do the Nose.

Perhaps you should expand that volume to include instructions on how to do the aid bits and bigwall techniques required for each of the climbs. The appropriate generalizations should be discussed, but you use each climb as an instructional demonstration.

The DVD would then follow you doing those climbs and showing people the techniques as they are actually practiced. The read/viewers would then be in a position to actually go out and do those climbs themselves.

Maybe you could be a video download on iTunes so people could load your instructions on their iPod or iPhone, well it gets a bit silly...

Just a thought... but it's exactly like your mother said: "practice makes perfect" and so it is for aid climbing.

Get Tami Knight to do your illustrations...


Nov 21, 2007 - 11:54pm PT
just title it "Big Walls for Yuppies", get REI to sell it for $39.95, and your retirement fund will swell like my c*#k when viewing Christy Canyon DVDs

any other way is the way of poverty
The user formerly known as stzzo

Trad climber
Sneaking up behind you.
Nov 21, 2007 - 11:57pm PT
Werner's comment takes the cake :-)

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Dec 24, 2008 - 01:30pm PT
bump to "include solo techniques"
Bill Becher

Trad climber
Westlake Village, CA
Mar 12, 2009 - 12:49pm PT
Take a look at Craig Lubben's Rock Climbing: Mastering Basic Skills for a very well crafted how-to book. It won a National Outdoor Book Award. It's clearly written, well organized with clear illustrations.

Craig Connally's book Mountaineerin Handbook is intersting and I'm sure appeals to engineers, but he spends a lot of time taking shot at Freedom of the Hills (New vs Old School)..

I also like Mark Houston and Kathy Cosley's new Alpine Climbing book from Mountaineers. It's well written and includes some good stuff on choosing partners, risk management and other important mental, not just technique issues..

Trad climber
Mar 16, 2009 - 01:12am PT
I think you're on the right track with focusing on efficiency. I only learned to aid climb about a year and a half ago and many of the resources I used to learn gave good overviews of general techniques but didn't offer a whole lot on how to be more efficient. The best resource we found for that was Hans Florine's book "Climb On" - he details out many steps you can take to improve your speed per pitch, transition times, and overall speed. This information was extremely valuable.

That said, other resources we used that were also valuable.
1) Don Reid's "The Video Guide to Aid Climbing". In the absence of having a guru teach you personally, having someone demonstrate the techniques on video is priceless. I found the video well organized although lacking in specifics sometimes (many of which were commented on above). We would watch the video and then head out to practice, then watch the video again to figure out what we missed, go out and practice, repeat.
2) Pass the Piton Pete's online resources. A treasure chest of resources on how to refine your big wall system.
3) John Long & Middendorf's book "Big Walls". A good all purpose book with good diagrams.

But there is no substitute for practice on the wall. There is only so much that can be taught via books and videos. Sometimes you just have to suffer to learn.

Good Luck

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Mar 16, 2009 - 01:17am PT
I think the DVD supplement is the key. I'm not into aid-climbing, but a DVD of techniques would be invaluable to a noob. And it would make money....

The DVD of aid technique would be awesome. Do it!!!

I might even do a wall.
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