Road to The Nose - Checklist of learning to aid

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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 16, 2009 - 01:40am PT
NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE - THE NEW UPDATED VERSION IS HERE: http://www.supertopo.com/a/Road_to_The_Nose_Checklist_of_Learning_to_Aid/a10533n.html

Here is a checklist for a path someone can take to Climbing the nose. This is part of my How to Big Wall Climb project that you can read more about here and see a directory of all Forum posts related to How To Big Walls book:
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.html?topic_id=692927

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Master Checklist - for climbing The Nose on El Capitan

This is a 30 day program which would ideally be completed over 2-3 months. That is enough time to have rests between practice days but not too much time so that you loose momentum and forget what you have learned.

Its important to not skip steps. If you skip the low-angle environment and go straight to vertical or overhanging terrain, you will get frustrated and develop bad habits.

[ ] = a checkbox
each session is about 2-3 hours

1. Before you climb

[ ] Get psyched. Read a bunch of books from the Get Psyched Reading List in appendix. Check out some inspiring movies like “El Capitan” or “Vertical Frontier.” Read pag XX in the preface as to why if you are not REALLY motivated to climb el cap, its going to be hard to get through the inevitable challenging moments on the wall.

2. the basics – less than vertical (slaby) terrain (see page xx for “where to climb”)

LEADING – sessions 1 and 2
 set up a practice bolt ladder described on page XXX
[ ] aid it once timing yourself to get a benchmark.
[ ] now aid it 10 times. Focus on smooth but consistent movement
[ ] time yourself on the 10th time. Aim to be 50-75% faster by the 10th time than the 1st
[ ] now aid 10 times where you focus completely on smooth movement. Try to never stop moving up the aiders from one piece to the next. Remember “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”
[ ] Now go another ten times focusing on both smoothness and speed. Try to get 20% faster than your last timed lap.
[ ] overall, aim to do at least 50 laps over the course of 2 days.

FOLLOWING – sessions 3-4
set up a rope on a less than vertical 30-50 foot cliff.
[ ] Jumar once timing yourself to get a benchmark time
[ ] jumar 10 times. Focus on smooth but consistent movement
[ ] on the 10th time, time yourself and try get 50[ ]75% faster than your first benchmark time
[ ] now adjust the lenth of daisy chain and go 5 times. Time the 5th one and compare it to the time before. Go with the daisy length that is most comfortable and gives the best time.
[ ] now adjust the height of your feet in the aiders and go 5 times. Time the fifth lap and compare it to the time before. Go with the aider height that is most comfortable and gives the best time.
[ ] once you figure out the best place for your feet, do another 10 laps. Time yourself on the last lap and try to get 25% faster than your 10th time.
[ ] overall, aim to do at least 50 laps over the course of 2 days.


3. The basics – vertical to overhanging terrain

LEADING – sessions 5 and 6
[ ] find a 30[ ]50 foot cliff that is vertical. Slightly overhanging is ok
[ ] aid once timing yourself to get a benchmark time
[ ] introduce the fifi hook. Do 3 laps with the fifi at different lengths to figure out the right length. See page XX to know this
[ ] top stepping – do 5 laps where you top step every piece using holds or features on the wall for balance (when possible)
[ ] top stepping – do 5 laps where you top step every piece without using any holds or features on the wall for balance

FOLLOWING – session 7
[ ] set up a free hanging rope.
[ ] Jumar once timing yourself to get a benchmark time
[ ] jumar 10 times. Focus on smooth but consistent movement
[ ] on the 10th time, time yourself and try get 50-75% faster than your first benchmark time
[ ] now adjust the lenth of daisy chain and go 5 times. Time the 5th one and compare it to the time before. Go with the daisy length that is most comfortable and gives the best time.
[ ] now adjust the height of your feet in the aiders and go 5 times. Time the fifth lap and compare it to the time before. Go with the aider height that is most comfortable and gives the best time.
[ ] once you figure out the best place for your feet, do another 10 laps. Time yourself on the last lap and try to get 25% faster than your 10th time.
[ ] go until you really have a good pump in your arms
[ ] recover for two days
[ ] go back and set up a free hanging rope that is anchor 20[ ]30 feet up and the rope length is at least 200 feet. This is building up your jumaring muscles so they wont lock up with cramps on day 3 of a big wall.


4. Leading placing gear and following cleaning gear
sessions 9 and 10
leading and cleaning with gear - find a good C1 cliff that is 30-50 feet tall.
[ ] aid once timing yourself to get a benchmark.
[ ] clean that same pitch, timing yourself to get a benchmark.
[ ] now aid and clean 5-10 times. Focus on smooth but consistent movement while both leading and cleaning.
[ ] time yourself 5-10 times. Get 50-75% faster by the 20th time than the 1st for both your leading and cleaning times
[ ] now try 5-10 times where you a little slower but focus on fluidity: try to never stop moving up the aiders from one piece to the next
[ ] time yourself again focusing on speed. Try to get 20% faster than your last time.
[ ] overall, aim to do at least 50 laps over the course of 2 sessions

5. building anchors
session 11
[ ] build an anchor off two bolts (described on page xx)
[ ] build anchor off 3-5 pieces of gear (described on page xx)
[ ] alternate between anchors and bolts and gear and focus on:
[ ] keep anchor as simple as possible – one master point

6. putting it all together
session 12-14

set up a 3 part course. This could be the same terrain you have been using so far. Ideally it is a 50-100 foot cliff that is just less than vertical. But if all you have is a 25-foot tree (like I did when learning) that works too.
lead
build an anchor
clean
break down the anchor
repeat

[ ] time yourself the first time to get a benchmark.
[ ] Every 10 times you do a lap on the course, time yourself and try to improve your time 10-20% every ten times.
[ ] do the course at least 30 times over 3 days

Congratulations, you are now an aid climber! You are about half way through the process of climbing El Capitan. And you are 95% closer to achieving that goal that most climbers. If you have done all the items on this checklist, you are proficient on the basic techniques of aid climbing. Even some climbers who have crawled and scratched their way to a big wall summit can’t say that.


7. hauling
session 15. Ideally do this on your small practice cliff. But at first you can start setting up the systems on flat ground.
[ ] space haul 15 times
[ ] body haul 15 times

Congratulations! You have learned all the aid climbing basics! If you actually practiced all these techniques as many times as a I recommend and times yourself, then you are ready to move onto the next step! (if you only did each stage 1[ ]2 times then said “yeah, yeah I get it, now lets move onto the cooler stuff” then I would seriously recommend you go back and practice the techniques more. Its essential to get the basics dialed before moving on to more complicated stuff.



8 . time for a bigger cliff + hauling.
session 16 and 17
Do the routine described in 6 but on a longer more sustained pitch (hopefully at least 100 feet long). Each time try to set up the anchor a little differently and alternate hauling techniques

Its important to find a long and sustained pitch so that you learn to deal with these very real big wall issues:
[ ] how to maintain speed and fluidity over a longer pitch
[ ] how to conserve gear by mixing up what size piece you leave so you have a full selection at the end of the pitch and extra for anchor

[ ] time yourself the first time to get a benchmark.
[ ] every 10 times you do a lap on the course, time yourself and try to improve your time 10-20% every ten times.

[ ] After the first 10 laps. Introduce hauling for another 10 laps. For the first five times, use the body hauling technique. At this point, if you can do it safely use the body haul technique (only works if your haulbag weighs close to your weight, otherwise it is quite dangerous).

[ ] Do 20-30 laps total over 2 sessions


Congratulations, you are now a proficient aid climber. If you took the times to master all the lessons, then you have the basics dialed. Now when you go to the multi[ ]pitch environment, you will have a solid set of skills to draw from. When the exposure kicks in on day two and your partner is thinking of bailing because “it just doesn’t feel right”, you can confidently draw from your mastered skill set and push on through!


9. Traversing Terrain
session 18
find a traversing lower angle cliff
[ ] lower outs
[ ] cleaning a traverse with ascenders
[ ] cleaning a traverse by re aiding
[ ] pendulum
more details to come


10. multipitch
sessions 19 and 20
[ ] find a 2-3 pitch route and practice the course in (8). Practice 5 times. Remember to time yourself. If you cant find a 2-3 pitch route, you can artificially build an anchor or two in the middle of a sing pitch route

Again, time yourself the first time to get a benchmark. Every 10 times you do a lap on the course, time yourself and try to improve your time 10-20% every time.


11. bivy/portaledge
session 21
[ ] on the ground, put the portaledge together 5 times
[ ] hang from a wall and put the ledge together 5 times.
[ ] put the ledge together twice while using a headlamp
[ ] try camping on the side of a cliff for a night (optional)



NON AID SKILLS

12 cragging skills
sessions 22 and 23
after becoming a solid 5.10b trad climber, go a crag with 100+ foot tall pitches. The base of El Capitan is perfect but most people will have to climb at their local crag.
[ ] climb 5 5.9 trad pitches carrying a Nose rack [see page xxx].
[ ] climb 5 5.10 pitches carrying a Nose rack
[ ] now add in a haul line and hang some ascenders and a Petzl Pro Traxion off your harness. If you can still climb 5.10b, you are in good shape. Try to climb pitches longer than 100 feet.


13 multi pitch skills
[ ] climb 5 multi pitch free routes
Key skills to pay attention to:
[ ] fast belay changeover (2-5 minutes)
[ ] rope and belay management (practice seeing rope snags before they happen)

If possible,


14. Rescue and retreat
[ ] practice rappelling with a haul bag
[ ] learn the basics of self rescue, how to escape the belay etc (material not covered in this book)

congratulation, your are ready for your first wall! If you have not skipped any sections, if you have checked every box and graduated to each level honestly, you can confidently know where your weaknesses still lie, or are ready to charge.

15. Climb 3 Grade V walls


16. Climb The Nose!

[repeat checklist and graduation steps]


(The meter at this point is pinned all the way to the right)
Jello

Social climber
No Ut
Feb 16, 2009 - 01:46am PT
Holy Sh#t, Chris, yur gunna make wall crawler machines out of 'em. They do all that and the Nose will hold no secrets!

Just joking, really. What an amazing program to jump-start a wall-climbing career.

-Jello
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Feb 16, 2009 - 04:31am PT
If possible,


14. Rescue and retreat
[ ] practice rappelling with a haulbag
[ ] learn the basics of self rescue, how to escape the belay etc (material not covered in this book)


If possible??? Self rescue should be required even if not in the book. I feel like I never know enough about how to save my own bacon. John Dill wrote a masterful section for guidebooks on staying alive so I figure it is pretty important.
altieboo

Boulder climber
Livermore, Ca
Feb 16, 2009 - 04:33am PT
Thank you for posting this Chris. It could not have come at better time.
Gunkie

climber
East Coast US
Feb 16, 2009 - 09:00am PT
It's scary to think how little prep we did before doing the Nose 15 years ago.

You gotta add "crapping in a bag and wrestling with a poop tube." Also, pee first, then poop. That helps or maybe that's just me.

Just trying to be helpful.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 16, 2009 - 11:15am PT
yes, the poop tube section will be in the book... but i am not sure there are any "training" items for that to add to the list.

this list is WAY more preparation that I used for the nose, but that is the point. Most people do way less training. But as Tom "Ansel" Evans guesses, at least 60% of them bail by pitch 16. The goal of the book is to have people more prepared so there is less bailing in the stovelegs. When you have so many people bailing, it's a bummer for the folks who are bailing. and its a bummer for all the folks waiting behind to pass who ARE prepared. and its a bummer for all the folks who show up really prepared to climb el cap but cant because there are 5 parties starting route (most of which are not prepared enough to finish the climb).
Paulina

Trad climber
Feb 16, 2009 - 11:43am PT
Great training list, thank you for posting!

But I wonder how realistic is this: each session is 2-3 hours. Sessions 1 & 2 (basic leading) require a total of about 50 laps over the course of 2 days, so an average of 25 laps per session. Presumably, the person starting out has done very little aid beforehand. I think a realistic estimate is 2-3 hours for like 2 maybe 3 laps on a bolt ladder... not 25!
I know that from personal experience being a total aid gumby, which is much closer in time to present day than Chris's :-).

Then of course the whole point is that you get more proficient and faster, but you should have some words in there about stretching out sessions, or taking (way) more than 2 sessions if needed.

Cheers!
Josh Higgins

Trad climber
San Diego
Feb 16, 2009 - 12:09pm PT
I think that whole section is great in theory, but I honestly don't think that even 5% of people will do it. People are lazy and cocky. "I don't need to do that, that's for the other guy!"

Also, I agree that some of your time estimates are a little off. The less discouraging your program is, the more people will do it. Maybe at the beginning of the section stress HEAVILY that most people bail off The Nose due to lack of preparation. Real heavily, so that people have a larger incentive to do the training.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 16, 2009 - 02:35pm PT
good feedback. its a tricky balance: i want people to REALLY DIAL IN THE BASICS but I dont want the program to be so intimidating nobody follows it.
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Feb 16, 2009 - 02:43pm PT
Chris
Do you have a date in mind for publishing yet?
I'll bet there's tons of interest. . .
I can add quite a few pounds to that interest. . .
Thorgon

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Feb 16, 2009 - 03:06pm PT
Chris~

Yes, very timely, I have found a solid partner and have been climbing 4 times since mid-January! There are extremely good elements in your approach! One comment that I had, besides self rescue being a MUST, is that possibly each climbing group set their own time-goal! I am hoping that the outcome of this would be that teams could set a long term goal, get the training in, and still maintain their relationships, or jobs!
I have found it difficult to train and climb together with a partner! My last failed attempt on El Cap went SLOW beacause Jedi was training (super-fit) in Virginia, while I was training in Idaho! Then we hit the wall out-of-sync. In retrospect, I think we should have done The Prow first, then tackle The Cap, but time was an issue! We both had jobs to get back to.
In conclusion, If teams are allowed to follow the program and modify it to their unique situation, I feel a great amount of success could be achieved.. ESPECIALLY efficient change overs, leading in blocks, grouping pro while cleaning, etc. This information is detailed in Hans Florine and Bill Wright's book, "Speed Climbing, How to Climb Faster and Better"!!!!

Does that help?
Thor
Prod

Trad climber
A place w/o Avitars apparently
Feb 16, 2009 - 03:11pm PT
Nice work.

Guy
Redwreck

Social climber
Los Angeles, CA
Feb 16, 2009 - 03:22pm PT
I seem to be having some difficulty with the "become a 5.10b leader" part.
Paulina

Trad climber
Feb 16, 2009 - 04:17pm PT
I know, and that's _before_ you start the training program. :-)
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Feb 16, 2009 - 05:41pm PT
That is great advice (and a great detailed plan) Chris--dial in the mundane work to enjoy the climbing.

However, I think my plan, 35-40 years ago, was to complete half of step 15, start 16, and finish with 14.
GraemeK

Big Wall climber
Ontario
Feb 16, 2009 - 08:18pm PT
Hi Chris,

This is really great information. Honestly, one poster mentioned people might not want to do this - I most certainly DO! Rather than El Cap being an immediate goal, just becoming proficient is an immediate goal. I think your angle at the book is great - although the current books give ideas for getting up these things they seem to miss the basics around training and building up to it... More of this would be welcome (unfortunately I have no partners this year, but I can see where I can transition this to top-rope solo and practice on single pitch climbs - which may actually benefit me, to be honest).

Keep up the good work.

Rgds, Graeme.
Studly

Trad climber
WA
Feb 16, 2009 - 10:40pm PT
I'm not sure I have a pencil big enough for the checklist for NIAD.
labrat

Trad climber
Nevada
Feb 16, 2009 - 11:22pm PT
Thanks Redwreck
ditto on the 5.10B part. I was happy to cry my way up one 5.8 last summer.
Erik
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Feb 16, 2009 - 11:24pm PT
think 5.10b french free leader....
Paulina

Trad climber
Feb 17, 2009 - 09:13am PT
Ed, you're right, of course!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 17, 2009 - 08:38pm PT
I just added an image to the top that gives a visual of the process of getting up The Nose
altieboo

Boulder climber
Livermore, Ca
Feb 17, 2009 - 08:58pm PT
Thanks for the diagram Chris! I'm somewhere towards the end of the first month on that chart! Just need to get out there. Snow sucks....
David Nelson

climber
San Francisco
Feb 18, 2009 - 12:05am PT
Chris, lots of fun, should achieve your goal of less bailing.

I think that you should also put in that they read John Dill's Staying Alive essay and maybe the thread here on ST that we all put together after the sad death of the two Japanese climbers, analyzing what went wrong. There are facts there that just don't appear elsewhere, such as considering communication with a ground party (I say "considering" because some felt that such a safety line compromised the essence of committing yourself; personally, I don't agree, but I am not trying to tell anyone how to do their thing, just open their mind to things they might not have thought of) and the fact that Camp VI is a waterfall in a what elsewhere on the Captain is a slight drizzle.

Cheers. Glad to see you are thinking climbing, not base jumping or worse, wingsuiting!
TKW

Trad climber
Currently Nomadic
Apr 17, 2009 - 10:12pm PT
Hey chris (and others)

Do you have any rough guidelines for how fast is "fast" or "fast enough" (not talking hans/yuji speed here) for doing the nose at a nice clip (say 3 days)?

Eg roughly how many feet/min for leading c1, Following, etc.

How do I know when I'm going fast enough rather than just "faster than I used to go when I was slow". Obviously there are no hard and fast rules here but thoughts on ranges would be insteresting.

Thanks again for the inspiring roadmap - I think I may be somewhere around month 2.
TradIsGood

Chalkless climber
the Gunks end of the country
Apr 17, 2009 - 10:32pm PT
Chris - You raise the bar on the genre.

Nice - I doubt I will ever get into aid climbing, but if I do, I'll know the first stop!

The guide books rock, too.

Maybe you should publish guides to other crags - held to your standards.
Jon Byers

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
Apr 19, 2009 - 09:08pm PT
Hey David N.
Where is that thread you were referring to about the Japanese climbers?
Tfish

Sport climber
La Crescenta, CA
Apr 15, 2010 - 09:30pm PT
You should add leading some trad pitches or aiding in the dark with a head lamp.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Apr 16, 2010 - 01:41pm PT
Chris,

Holy Toledo -- you compressed my first six years of climbing into about six months! Nonetheless, it still looks like a good checklist (with the poop tube and French free comments).

John
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