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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 8, 2008 - 02:25pm PT

I am working on a How to Big Walls book with David Safanda Design Solutions. I am seeking inspiration, constructive criticism and suggestions.

Below is a list of all the topics i have posted. Thanks for you feedback!

1. Introduction
2. My Personal Road to The Nose
3. Master Checklist

Aid Climbing Skills
1. Reading and Movie List
2. Acquire basic aid climbing gear
3. Basic leading on low-angle terrain
4. Basic following on low-angle terrain
5. Basic leading on vertical and overhanging terrain
6. Basic following on vertical and overhanging terrain
7. Leading placing gear and following cleaning gear
8. Building anchors
9. Basic aid course: lead, build anchor, clean
10. Traversing terrain
11. Acquire more gear: haulbags and hauling gear
12. Hauling and belay management
13. Advanced air course: lead traversing terrain on bigger cliff, haul and clean
14. Multi pitch aid climb
15. The bivy, food and water
16. Retreat and bailing
17. Advanced stuff you may or may not need to know

Aid Practice Routes in Yosemite

Here are some threads that are not chapters in the book
First post asking for suggestions on how to get feedback
suggest your other favorite how-to guidebooks
What is the best aider to use?
using brand names of devices vs. generic terms
forum discussion on how to make a poop tube
Big Wall Passing Etiquette

Here is a list of all the youtube instructional videos i have made:

The Leading Sequence
Leading: Moving up the piece
Fifi Lenght and Top stepping
Back up Knots
Using Two aiders Not Four
Racking Gear when cleaning
Bounce Testing
Basic ascender set up
Jumaring Technique
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 13, 2008 - 03:10pm PT
just added how to build poop tube thread to list

Trad climber
Oct 13, 2008 - 05:45pm PT
Good clean diagrams that relate to the task. this really separates good how to guides from cryptic bibles.

photos don't work as well as good line drawings.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 13, 2008 - 06:12pm PT
I think it's great you are making a new "how to" bigwall book. The other ones out there just aren't that good, and I know yours will be an improvement.

Couple things:
I would suggest putting in a section on advanced techniques that help people climb faster, like short-fixing, etc.

In your ethics section try to add something about Copperheads being a last resort form of pro. It seems there is an increasing trend to smash a head in a good pin scar that could take a pin or even clean pro. Also add that drilling bathook hole to bypass a tricky section is unacceptable. Even worse filling that hole with a head! Lot of that going on up there it seems.

I think you should show all the different types of equipment being used like Kong Block-Roll vs Pro Trax, Gri-Gri vs Silent Partner, etc.

Social climber
down south
Oct 13, 2008 - 07:52pm PT

Hobart, Australia
Oct 13, 2008 - 08:08pm PT
Some topic suggestions:

Tricks of the ultra-fast: how the heck do ya climb the Nose in 2:37?

Tricks of climbing "regular" fast on more aided climbs:, (egZodiac in a day), two person vs. three person, ropes, anchors, etc.

Application of Yosemite techniques to the remote mountains--fast, light, and lots of free.


Oct 14, 2008 - 02:09pm PT
Transitioning between free and aid
Trash, doodoo and weewee management
Traversing/lower outs
Rope solo techniques (please cease in using the ambiguous term "continuous loop")
In-a-push (aka "speed" climbing) techniques
Deciphering topos/route finding
Emergency/first aid gear
Bailing and other self-rescue issues
Moving cargo
Wall-worthy anchors--solo, partnered
Replacing hardware--techniques and gear
Mitigating hammer use (here's where Ron O. can tell us about his secret T-off method)
Flagging the ledge
Food--what, how to pack
Water storage tips/options
Bivy architecture--how fast can you get in your ledge
Cold-weather climbing and weather in general (wind, clothing, bivi and survival gear)
Impact--at the base, on the climb, on the summit
Types of available gear, including brands
"Staying Alive" updated from last century
Case studies of rescues and how to avoid (sort of a micro ANAM specific to walls)
Loose/rotten rock
Wildlife--potential problems, bears, current food storage options/methods
Big wall history/milestones
Big wall areas of the world
Hand/finger care
Ratings (and how little they can mean)
Communication--phones, radios, etc
Ultimate checklist
Resources--print, online

Just off the top. Lots of these topics are overlapping.

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 14, 2008 - 02:41pm PT
thanks guys... all the ideas and motivation are helping me chip away at this book. can't wait to get er done!

Oct 14, 2008 - 03:07pm PT
A chapter on "Visualizing".

It's an extremely important subject matter that never gets mentioned. A lot of times these "how to books" turn people into instant robots.

Visualizing anchor layouts for efficiency in all it's varied dynamics. Visualizing scenarios that can create, efficiency, robustness, speed, along with eliminating potential dangerous problems that can cause reorganizing the anchor later.

In a nutshell, visualize a clean efficient layout, before making the huge clusterfuks I've seen parties make time and time again.

Social climber
The internet
Oct 14, 2008 - 04:29pm PT
"Visualizing anchor layouts for efficiency in all it's varied dynamics."

I think this takes awhile to learn.

Along those lines, the important piece is to lay out the principles - ie, what kinds of loads are present, how hauling and such fits into the anchor, etc.

The only way anyone is going to be able to visualize anything is if they have a library of working pieces and requirments. I think the "robot" comment comes from trying to apply just a few ways of doing things to every situation, perhaps not understanding the fundamentals well enough to be able to invent on the fly, which is the goal.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 14, 2008 - 04:41pm PT
Thread Drift- n00bs need to spend more time visualizing the Send and not the Bail.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Oct 14, 2008 - 04:55pm PT

What type of book are you aiming to write? Long/Middendorf style basics to get started or something more Chongoesque in its breadth?

If you go the Chongo route w/ more advanced topics (and I hope you do), you might have some sort of icon/bullet system that differentiates between the most n00b-friendly way of doing things vs. slick tricks that work best on overhanging rock in the hands of experts.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 15, 2008 - 10:53am PT
at first i just wanted to make a shorter book that was geared toward 90% of big walls ascents (which are C1 and C2 routes). but now its probably going to cover it all and have info on harder aid, soloing, etc.

the main focus of the book is going to be getting the essentials dialed and having streamlined, efficient systems.

hopefully i can keep it under 3 inches thick.
Jim E

Oct 15, 2008 - 11:44am PT

Mountain climber
Oct 15, 2008 - 12:16pm PT
A few other topics that should be included:

Rope management for both lead and haul ropes. A simple rope bag like what you can get from Fish is really nice for organization. It is also helpfull to visualize the lead rope as always next to the wall and the haul line as a seperate system that is away from the wall.

Tagging gear - simple topic, but it does not occur to some new climbers that they can use the haul line to send up gear from the belay until they are 100' out (assuming a 200' haul line).

Don't forget the obvious like:
 Ensolite pads lining the haul bag
 Pre-arranged rope signals for when you cannot verbally communicate
 Haul bags to one side to minimize the cluster at the belay
 Don't let the haul bags ever be in a position where they can knock rocks on your partner
 How to tie in for sleeping
 How much water to bring
 How to free a stuck haul bag
 Re-enforcing the toe of your aid shoes

I agree with the comment about line drawing being better than pictures.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 15, 2008 - 01:42pm PT
this is great. the bullet point lists of things to cover are especially helpful

Big Wall climber
A cube at my soul sucking job in Oregon
Oct 15, 2008 - 02:39pm PT
Topics I see as being weak in the existing books:

1. Aid shoe strategies (boots vs approach shoes vs climbing shoes). I've wasted too much money on shoes that suck too badly on the approach, 5.easy freeing, and/or smashing toes/feet in aiders.

2. Soloing.

3. Good pictures and diagrams of mechanical advantage rigs for hauling. Bad hauling destroys morale faster than scary aid pitches.

4. Staying comfy on multi-hour belays.

5. Multi-bag rigging for hauling. I'm suprised by the arguments I get into at the base on this seemingly simple task.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 15, 2008 - 02:58pm PT
expando techniques

Social climber
Oct 15, 2008 - 03:08pm PT
I like Werner's post on "Visualization". For me actually getting on the wall is always the problem. Before launching off the ground the butterflies of doubt and fear creep in. Once on the wall, I always relax knowing that going up is usually easier than backing off. Once we start climbing the "fun" begins and the "focus" on the goal is razor sharp. It is the mental commitment that gets me up the wall.

I would also discuss how to "improvise". It seems you can never bring enough gear and water on a wall. At some point I am always taking gear or water out of the haul bag so we can actually reasonably manage to haul the bag.

Comfort and Preventative Hand Care:

My partner wears contacts and always brings "baby wipes". Two wipes at the end of a long day are great to remove the crud from your face and hands. It almost feels like a shower.

Cleaning your hands and applying a little moisture cream under your nails and in your cuticles avoids those painful cuticle splits and nail separation. There were times my finger tips were so sore from nail separations that I could not bear to touch anything. Cleaning and moisturizing my nails each day avoided this problem.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 15, 2008 - 04:37pm PT
photos of all the potentail types of Cam Hook placements that can work.

I think a lot of people need to 'see it to believe' what can be done with those things.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 18, 2008 - 04:48pm PT
I just added the preface to the list above. or you can click on it here

Trad climber
Oct 18, 2008 - 05:08pm PT
It would be cool to have a photo section of different/tricky/unique ways of climbing clean----photos of cam hooks, inverted offset aliens, tricams, etc.

------kind of like the "Climbing Anchors" book by John Long.

Adv./Disadv. of different leading daisy setups, jugging systems, solo belay systems.

Speed/effeciency techniques.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Oct 18, 2008 - 06:42pm PT
For some of the more complex things that can be hard to visualize when reading and that would take many panels of drawings to show the step, you could have links to YouTube.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Oct 18, 2008 - 11:48pm PT
Sounds like a good book. I would like to get back into wall climbing and such a book would help. To date (in chronological order) WFLT (1975), WC South Face, WC Prow, bail on Salathe Wall (1976).

Not much, I know.

Trad climber
Oct 19, 2008 - 01:51am PT
I'd definitely be psyched to see pictures of cam hooks and funky clean placements you can pull off in a book in writing. I think it would influence a lot of people actually, and be pretty cool.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 28, 2008 - 05:51pm PT
I just added cleaning and following with video:

Social climber
Oct 28, 2008 - 06:42pm PT

Wow! Chris

Get rid of that video now and show correct hookup/use of jumars. There is a reason for those holes on top of them.

It is for safety. Call it a backup.

Why is that every novice climber that I have seen never looks at the paper that comes when buying these?

Unless you are speed climbing which 99% of your audience will not be, they will learn the incorrect way from the beginning.

If you notice one of the carabiners is Chounard’s and the other Black Diamond with these pictures. Remember what happened to his company.

All it will take is that same attorney or another to see this and your ass is his and $$$$$.

Werner's post: “In a nutshell, visualize a clean efficient layout, before making the huge clusterfuks I've seen parties make time and time again.”

Do it. Can make a difference between a rescue, death or just got lucky this time.

Trad climber
Redwood City, CA
Nov 1, 2008 - 01:46am PT
Have Mike Clelland do the illustrations. I don't know the man, but his contributions to Tech Tips in Climbing magazine has made many an article more entertaining and clear.
Jacqueline Florine

Trad climber
Nov 4, 2008 - 04:26pm PT

I would like to add my two cents to the topic of wig wall soloing.
One of my favorite bits of gear is a Pika hammock.
It is nice and light, very easy to set up and break down, and allows me to bivy anywhere I can get in good gear. It is so comfy that I prefer to sleep in it instead of any stone ledge I may happen onto. I really appreciate being free of the pressure to get to a certain spot for rest. It is also super easy to sew your own hammock.

My opinion on your "how to" project is to write a beginner big wall book. Then publish a second on difficult aid. I feel the requirements are distinct enough to warrant 2 volumes.

Trad climber
Nov 26, 2008 - 09:38am PT
Hauling Chapter

How about a look at the hauling chapter?
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Nov 27, 2008 - 09:51am PT

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Nov 27, 2008 - 10:33am PT
I'd like to read about hauling - I'm excited about this book. Bump for MC's illustrations.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Dec 24, 2008 - 12:47pm PT
As a couple of others have mentioned a section or short (very short) chapter on food - solids and liquids - could be helpful, though I know that dietary requirements vary with individuals.

I started a thread recently on this subject and received some helpful tips from more experienced wall climbers.

Big Wall climber
somewhere without avatars.........
Dec 24, 2008 - 12:59pm PT
I remember when I was learning to aid... The things that were the hardest to find really good info on were:

Solo aiding - WTF? There's, like, NOTHING out there on solo aid.

Cleaning traverses and penjis - really not a lot out there for this either. Pics would probably make people happy.

Hauling - There's a ton of info out there about hauling and the different methods, etc... People jsut can't seem to get enough info about hauling tho.

These seem to be the thing I see the most requests for and the most bitching about the lack of info.

Dec 24, 2008 - 01:02pm PT
My two cents: Go for the big book, don't skimp on details. If you must have only small books, do a "Big Wall Climbing" book and an "Advanced Big Wall Climbing" book. In the advanced, go all out.


Big Wall climber
somewhere without avatars.........
Dec 24, 2008 - 01:20pm PT
Sounds like a good plan, Hobo. Lot's of people just starting out would like to get hold of Chongo's book, as it seems to cover everything. Then they hear the price. And THEN they find out how hard it is to get hold of one...

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Dec 24, 2008 - 02:49pm PT
JPL wrote: "The only way anyone is going to be able to visualize anything is if they have a library of working pieces and requirments. I think the "robot" comment comes from trying to apply just a few ways of doing things to every situation, perhaps not understanding the fundamentals well enough to be able to invent on the fly, which is the goal."

Agreed. What there is no consensus on is - what are the requirements, and what are the basic, standardized procedures. We can't even agree on whether a redirect is or is not wanted or needed at a belay anchor. People say there are too many variables to work out a standardized approach, but I disagree.


Ice climber
Candia, NH
Dec 24, 2008 - 08:33pm PT
Thanks for the videos. I'm just starting to learn aiding and I'm finding them useful. I have big wall aspirations, so I'm pretty much your target audience.

This might seem trivial, but I'd suggest covering daisy chains a little more. I kept trying to to aid in the gym by just using my fifi or a quickdraw to clip into the grab loop on my aiders, which was hard on overhangs. Then a little light bulb went off in my head when I figured out I could just fifi into the pockets on my daisy. Total gumby move, I know, but mentioning it might make things more clear to a total aid beginner.

I really like how you're emphasizing efficiency. I'm using two ladder style aiders and I haven't really felt the need for more.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 16, 2009 - 01:46am PT
just added a checklist to climbing the nose. this is a work in progress
Ryan Tetz

Trad climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Feb 16, 2009 - 04:30am PT
Nice Chris. Super cool. You are definitely the best guy for the job. I'd personally be interested in more info or short fixing/efficient aid techniques and also a section on harder aid leads, not a lot out there on that stuff. Go big brotha!


Mountain climber
Mar 11, 2009 - 02:58pm PT
It occurs to me you should mention something about wearing out your tie-in loops, webbing, daisies, UV damage, etc.
Gear is cheap, replace it often.

Trad climber
san diego, ca
Mar 27, 2009 - 06:26am PT
Chris, first want to say that all your posts on How to Big Wall climb are awesome! As someone who aspires to climb Yosemite big walls i'm eating up any info I can get my hands on.
I was wondering how far along you were with your book or if you had a projected date for it. I'm sure from what I've seen thus far that it will be extremely helpful for guys like me. Thanks!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 31, 2009 - 11:49am PT
i just updated the list with a discussion of best aiders to use

Trad climber
Kalispell, Montanagonia
Mar 31, 2009 - 10:24pm PT
Bump. Just priming for wednesday, you know, bump day.

Good stuff, and yes, I do draw inspiration from Supertopo, and keep my stoke going when the weather just won't allow going up.
Brutus of Wyde

Old Climbers' Home, Oakland CA
Apr 2, 2009 - 10:31am PT
Chris, a small section devoted to freeing a stuck haul-bag (i.e. "bouncing" the bag over roofs) might be worthwhile. A video of the hauler, then of the bag, would be best, but otherwise here's a short visual description:
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 8, 2009 - 12:49pm PT
I just added the "Get Psyched Reading and Movie List"

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Apr 9, 2009 - 12:11pm PT
b u m P!!!111
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 13, 2009 - 12:53pm PT
I just added this chapter to the list: Basic Leading on Vertical and Overhanging Terrain

Aug 14, 2009 - 12:22am PT
Chris - great work.

Hey, I see tons of ways to arrange bags. Vertically, side by side, with catch lines etc. Something on this would/may help management which is difficult to "visualize". Nice stab at a complex picture.

Also, photos of anchors before the bags arrive - and then why they are placed to the left, right or center etc.


Trad climber
A trailer park in the Sierras
Aug 31, 2009 - 02:21pm PT
Hey Chris - you might want to add a section about how to safely practice some of the more basic techniques without a partner. Unless you have a really patient partner, or a really cool girlfriend, it may be more convenient for many to practice aid stuff alone (at least it is for me), without someone belaying them from the ground.

Self-belay with a grigri on toprope has been the easiest way for me - my piece blows, the grigri catches me. Maybe explain the dynamics of this and/or any other methods that work.

Also, regarding gear - it would be a good idea to list which gear is the most essential to start out with, ie. daisies/aiders/jumars. If you have the essential gear first, it enables you to go do a wall with a more experienced friend who is more likely to have plenty of pro, but not two sets of daisies/aiders/jumars.

So far, what you've posted is invaluable information for the blossoming wall climber (me). Keep it coming!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 28, 2009 - 02:07pm PT
I just added another chapter

Trad climber
Provo, Ut
Sep 28, 2009 - 02:38pm PT
You're awesome. Thanks for doing this.


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Sep 28, 2009 - 07:00pm PT
Thanks so much for all of your efforts on this!!!!

Trad climber
St. Paul, MN
Nov 10, 2009 - 11:59pm PT
Any idea when the book will be out?
Climbing dropout

Trad climber
Vancouver, BC
Nov 11, 2009 - 01:03am PT
not a book suggestion but Chris there has to be a better way to find the actual climbing related threads in the forum. many threads here have little to do with climbing, though they are entertaining. Trip reports are easy to find, can you flag the forum posts that are actually about climbing somehow ? I have been sifting though old ones by searching profiles from those whom do contribute great climbing threads.

It would be a lot of work to isolate the top climbing threads, I realize.

Trad climber
Yosemite, CA
Nov 19, 2009 - 12:37pm PT
Great idea, here are a few things;
:More than 5 days worth of gear for two people, "double haul", one extra rope, extra Pro traxtion, two swivels, one on the Pro traxtion, one on the bag.
:If above anchor is off to either side and bags need to be lowerd out a long ways, best to set up power point with a sliding, equillized spectra cordelet with back up sling to anchor points.
:Clove hitching, around sharp objects.
:Achoring zip line, so second can use it for back up.
:Walkie talkies!
So many things, you opened a can of worms!

Trad climber
The Lost Highway
Nov 19, 2009 - 01:04pm PT
i agree with climbing dropout-

it would be great if there was a new tab that had a compilation of tricks of the trade and technique.

i've thought of trying to compile a thread of links to those threads, but it seems like there is so much info it needs its own tab.

Trad climber
quebec canada
Oct 7, 2010 - 12:29pm PT
climbing partner and how to keep the nose as a great human expericence. I think that it is not in the introduction that you must talk about that. There is some climber who did the nose and don't even remember the route. They did it as a tick list. done...without fear and plaisir. Must climber will tell you that the best route ever climb was those who the person have to work at it to be able to do it. At the summit, many people have a kind of deception has they will not dream anymore about it...even if they are other objective as great as this one.

One can keep the nose at the level of a duty to show how good they are, other can want to enjoy to be in hard situation with good friends.
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