Big Wall Passing Ethics


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Social climber
May 19, 2008 - 10:12pm PT
hey there all... say, i had always wondered about this---the passing bit....

(course i dont climb) but i know these issues come up on those long-hauls and i always wonderered what you all would do...

i remember surfers going through their set of troubles, too, as crowds pick up....

i learned alot here from many situations... say, as to the language bit.... too bad you cant justs get some international signs to hang down to someone....

oh, my.... you know---a flag that says "no"... the one with the LINE through what ever symbol you need.... there, that's what what i was going for... :)

if someone is passing wrong---- use it... now a day, everyone knows that language...

Trad climber
May 20, 2008 - 09:13am PT

I got passed on Lurking Fear a couple of years ago by a Swiss team doing a push ascent. They caught and passed us on pitch 4, both of us leading the pitch at the same time,with virtualy no slowing down on our part or theirs. I was determined not to be passed in mid lead. The leader made a comment that it was tough going because I had left my pro in all the best placements. For us getting passed was no big deal but it sounded like that wasn't the case for the big wall camping party above us. They got passed on one of the traversing pitches and were held up big time, at least that was there side of the story when we caught up to them the next day.

A few of the funny comments made; Swiss guy to big wall camping team at the belay they are sharing "Do you mind if I sh#t?". When given the ok "Do you mind if I use your poop tube?" Not ok. And the sh#t bag tossing began.

That evening we could hear the Swiss team (think it was them) on Thanksgiving Ledge were they ended their in a push attempt and spent the night, throwing sh#t bags, water bottles and empty cans at dusk. We thought they had to much stuff for a push ascent, with the second jugging with a large pack.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 20, 2008 - 10:55am PT
Having been to their country a couple of times I can assure y'all that they don't crap into bags and toss them. How disappointing!
Normally I am quite impressed with the swiss, but apparently they fielded some poor ambassadors, still if I was belaying I wouldn't just stand by if some euro tried to barge through onto the pitch my partner was leading. If he doesn't have the courtesy to ask then NO WAY is he going to get a pass!

Mountain climber
May 20, 2008 - 11:00am PT
This thread is getting a bit off topic. What Chris was looking for is advise to climbers about the queue at the start, when is passing ok, and how to do it.

I have found the following helps if you want to pass:
1) It is important to take a few minutes to eat, drink, and be organized before you catch up to the slower party. Then you can approach them at a good clip.
2) Talk to them a bit and ask for permission to pass - if they say no, you are out of luck and should have started earlier.
3) If they give permission to pass (and they almost always do), ask where would be a good place to pass - perhaps even recommend an upcoming ledge.
4) When you do pass, be courteous and climb fast for the next pitch or two. Offer to fix a rope for them.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 20, 2008 - 11:31am PT
You are both right.

Trad climber
May 20, 2008 - 02:49pm PT
This April I was walking over to the south face of washington column with a friend to do my second wall ever. We didn't see any reason to spend a night anywhere near the route or haul since it's only 1100' and were very worried about getting stuck behind hordes with haul bags. We got to the base around sunrise and lo and behold there was a party sleeping at the bottom of the 3rd class section. We walked around them while they were still in their sleeping bags, but the level of anxiety has increased. Then we got to the base and found another 3 people sleeping on all the level spots. At this time I am starting to freak out. I asked the climbers about the situation on the wall above and it turned out that they all are lined up for the same route and there's more people above.

I ran up the 1st pitch and found 3 euros sleeping on the ledge. I inadvertently woke them up and asked if it's ok to pass. They were in no hurry and let us go ahead. At this point we are rushing like never before. I belayed my partner up the first pitch and he linked 2nd and 3rd to the dinner ledge. I got up there as fast as I could with my throat completely dry and soaked in sweat even though it was still about 7 am and quite chilly.

Well, what we found there surprised us. There was nobody on the dinner ledge and the wall above was completely clear. This is when my partner realized that he forgot his aiders in the pack at the base. However, he managed to rig up some slings together for jumaring. Well, we didn't see anyone the rest of the day, but were assuming that the whole circus is just a pitch or two below us the entire time. We were still very worried that they are going to catch up and we will slow someone down. I hate being slowed down and would never want to do that to others. On pitch 8 there is a 4" crack and some chimney climbing. Here is were we relaxed and decided that the Euros might have a lot of "fun" on that pitch and they are not going to catch up to us after all.

To make a long story short I don't think that they ever got to pitch 8 at the pace they were going. We ate our lunch at the summit of the column and proceeded to rappel the route. It seemed like a good idea, since we were not hauling - I highly recommend it (bring two 60s). We rappel and rappel pitch after pitch and there were no climbers in sight!

Finally we get to the dinner ledge and the whole circus (about 6-8 people) is hanging out right there with a single Euro sewing up the Kor roof like I've never seen before. The dude has not back cleaned a single piece of pro and has gear ever 2-3 feet even on the 5.8 section in the beginning. Others who were there ended up wasting their day watching this dude climb two pitches. Insane!!! My friend and I had a blast and were pretty happy that we passed everyone while they were still in their sleeping bags.

The moral of the story: if you think you are going to have to pass a few parties - make sure you set your alarm!

Trad climber
Chatsworth, CA
May 20, 2008 - 03:41pm PT
route rage

a climbers uncontrolled urge to do something rash, based on another climbers irresponsible act, that he/she will surely regret moments later.

Back on subject,
I've found that communication well in advance with the other party, usually sorts thing out.

Maybe we should carry a climbing CV with us?

List routes climbed,
free, french free, yarded on other climbers gear,
likes and dislikes,
you know:
I enjoy nothing better then a thin seam and A5 hooking moves.
My dislikes include, almond butter and bomb-bay chimneys with no pro.
How about incentives:
can pass for water, ok I really mean beer, but that doesn't seem fair since they dragged it up that far.
when you think about it, water is one hell of an incentive too.

Brings back memories of my first big wall (WCSF). We ran out of water at 2pm the second day. The three of us finished the climb and after a very long descent, made it to the valley floor about 4pm day 3. My wife looked straight at me and didn't recognize me. I've never been that thirsty before or since.

Take it easy,



Social climber
The internet
May 20, 2008 - 05:54pm PT
"route rage"

That sums everything up for me. It only happens when one or both of the parties involved are dumbasses. The rest of the time there are rarely if ever any problems. Summary for Chris: Don't be a dumbass.

Oct 6, 2009 - 01:27pm PT
I vie for the party that's furthest up on the route to initiate a 'pass.' Otherwise, who had the lack of forsight and planning?

Eddie Mo used to crack me up by asking the inquiring party queing up behind us, "How many walls do you have between you?" Then we would motor on, usually never to see them again.

Some Euros can be downright rude, clipping your pro and steaming right through while your leading the same pitch. I guess that's what goes on over there. The time it happened to me was at the Leap and I got the guy to back off only by being beligerent (and he believed me). Funny, at the summit we all chummed it up respectfully.

My wife and I were on Pingora where I was just finishing the first lead. We started at about 5:30am to beat the t-showers. Then, these two guys stroll up saying they just walked in from Big Sandy for a IAD ascent and wanted to pass. I said that I didn't see them at the base in front of us that morning, and that not to worry, you'll never keep up. (in other words, f*ck off). 'Good thing, as they were having difficulty pulling off the simple crux of the first pitch and probably bailed. We never saw them again...

Trad climber
San Clemente
Oct 7, 2009 - 06:37am PT
My 2 cents:
If you are doing a trade route, expect to wait in line and suck it up. Having been both the new slow party and the fast experienced party, we need to let the new folks have their space on the trade routes. My first attempts on the nose were screwed by faster folks passing me and holding up my climb. This same ethic applies to any long trade routes, not just big wall climbs. I see slow parties all the time on routes like free blast, fairview dome, etc... and always encourage them to not worry about who's behind them and enjoy their climb; i let them have their space.
I guess we could discuss which routes are "trade routes" and should generally have a no passing ethic. I'd say if you are on a trade route, the only time you should pass is if you are free climbing and someone else is aiding, as the time involved is so significantly different.

and ditto the "don't be a dumb ass" comment

Oct 7, 2009 - 09:07am PT
"till NO! I then said "fuk you" and took out my yo hammer and said I'm gonna beat it into your dumb ass brain about WTF we're talking about here."

Good morning LOL, thanks W.

Sorry I have no on-topic comment. Sorry to keep it drifting, but that was a standout. That they never showed up is the topper.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Oct 7, 2009 - 09:20am PT
"I guess we could discuss which routes are "trade routes" and should generally have a no passing ethic. I'd say if you are on a trade route, the only time you should pass is if you are free climbing and someone else is aiding, as the time involved is so significantly different."

I guess that means "Nose in a day" is now out of the question?

Folks go on trade routes at wildly different speeds. Passing happens all the time and NEEDS to happen or the experienced people would pressure all the parties who are just getting their wall legs and will eventually bail into not starting in the first place.

Sure, things should be consensual, negotiated and cooperative, and I've had sad storys about letting people pass who slowed us down, but a "no passing" ethic is not practical as long as people bite off more than they can chew on a regular basis.



Big Wall climber
Peak District, UK
Oct 7, 2009 - 10:18am PT
Being considerately assertive - Another story from the Nose.

I was on a 3-month road trip in the US and my partner came to join me for a week (in fact 6 days!) to do the Nose. He landed at 11pm was in the Valley by 10am the next day and we were fixing by noon. Down for a night's sleep and we were up at 5:30am to haul and blast. His plane left 4 days later - we had no contingency!

A couple of American guys (Ben and Ben) already had their bags up there and beat us to the start so they were clearly in front - we established a good raport and watched them head up as we hauled.

Then an Italian pair arrived - immaculate new gear, all very shiny. They'd also got their bags on Sickle (not having bothered with the first 5 pitches) and asked to pass us. I thought long and hard then did the decent thing: "Yes you can pass BUT if we catch you up you WILL let us back past you - is that OK?" "Si - Yes, OK. Grazzi"

It was our first experience hauling so we weren't fast, but we arrived at Sickle to find the Bens were struggling a bit running pitch 1 into pitch 2 and the Italians hadn't moved. I called in the deal: "OK - so now you will let us past." There was an anguished discussion in rapid Italian - the guy who had shaken hands wanted to honour the deal but his partner wasn't so keen. In the end chivalry prevailed and we were waved through. WHAT A BLESSING.

We started at midday and sped up the first couple of pitches and were invited to pass by the Bens - they were first-timers too and welcomed a "more experienced" team in front (little did they know we were making it up as we went along.) At about this time a cacophony of screaming Italian could be heard the length of the Valley. Our friends had run the first 2 pitches into 1 with their 60m lead rope, forgetting they only had a 50m haul line - this was stretched like a piano wire, with the leader a few feet short of the belay. The Italian lesson went on for some time (funny how you know what's being said without speaking a word...) until they fell out so badly that they bailed. It would have cost us a day being behind them, and that would have cost us the route.

As it was we made it to Dolt (despite my second lending the Bens our only headtorch and all our Big Cams a couple of pitches lower, on the mistaken assumption I was at the bivvy ledge!) We had a very enjoyable top-out and stayed pretty close to the Bens, who's company made the trip extra memorable.

Just goes to show - be considerate BUT be assertive.
Erik Sloan

Oct 7, 2009 - 11:03am PT
Nice thread Chris, thanks.

Chris Mac wrote:

"As far as starting up at night to pass, this is ok as long as you work it out with the team being passed before hand. Again, its important that you are confident that you are MUCH faster team in order to get good spacing and make the experience pleasant for everyone.

When you are fixing pitches (e.g. fixing pitches to Sickle on the nose). The team that fixes pitches first, is first in line to start the route. They should try to haul all their bags that day to sickle and start at very first light if there are other teams behind them. If the team first in line knows they are going slower than teams behind them, they should let the faster teams fast. However, the faster teams should start at first light or earlier if possible."

I don't agree with these statement at all, and in my experience here in Yosemite I've seen that holding onto beliefs like these will only distract you from the awesome climb you have come to enjoy.

The first person climbing the route with all their gear is first in line. As soon as you fix lines and rap to the ground you lose that place, and anyone who also fixes to the same spot and gets up before you and is climbing the route before you has done so legitimately. Considering that at least half the parties that fix to Sickle end up bailing, what Chris suggests here amounts to a ton of lip service and far less El Cap celebrating than is worthy.

I always discourage people from putting too much stock in the plans that others fixing on a route are talking. In general if someone says they're blasting at 5am that means 10am, if they say 1pm that means 4pm.

I've climbed the Nose several times with five or more parties fixing to Sickle the day that we fixed, and using my 'walk up to the rock with your stuff and then believe who is going to be there and what the order is going to be' attitude I've never run into a traffic jam on the first day. What I find works really good when you're with a lot of people on a route is make it into a party by taking pictures of each other and silly jokes, ect.

As many people have mentioned passing usually does slow down both parties so definitely offer to fix a pitch if you are the passing party.

Love it!

Oct 7, 2009 - 11:18am PT
LOL...Werner, CLASSIC!

Oct 8, 2009 - 06:50pm PT
pass (bump)
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Oct 8, 2009 - 08:12pm PT
"When you are fixing pitches (e.g. fixing pitches to Sickle on the nose). The team that fixes pitches first, is first in line to start the route."

Ah, if people would only adhere to that rule.

Another big problem, like several folks have mentioned, is other folks jumping on your lines and jugging pitches they haven't actually climbed in an effort to "climb" the route.

When I did the Shield back when, we made the mistake of fixing portions of Free Blast and then hauling it (lots o' work that). Anyways, we showed up the morning of to jug the first three we fixed only to find a party of FOUR jugging our lines, which included them sawing the lines back and forth across edges that we strung the lines to avoid. They gave us a perfunctory "sorry we'll be out of your way" kind of line, but clearly had absolutely no concern for being in our way. We barely made Mammoth that night as this clusterf@#$ inched up before us all that day.

I'm not sure if there used to be so few climbers, etiquette was usually needed, but nowadays there appears to be very little of it as so many compete for the few popular big lines.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Oct 8, 2009 - 08:24pm PT
Except if you're blasting w/o fixing and you go @ 5 and the jugtards go @ 9, you don't gotta wait; first come first served.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 8, 2009 - 08:24pm PT
I see jumping somebody's lines without permission as a serious threat for the very reason you cite.
Damage to fixed ropes is far more likely when they are jugged by gumbies who have no vested interest.
They can protest their innocence all they want from the crater(s) I would leave them in.
They should climb the pitches or get lost.

Trad climber
Pasadena, CA
May 11, 2010 - 04:03pm PT
There needs to be also an understanding about which party is going to use the natural ledges ahead for biving.
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