- A2 and beyond is the realm of the patient climbing mechanic - progress slows when solid gear has to be installed every 2-3 feet, tested, weighted and used to hold yourself while moving up to the next placement. There is nothing like experience and practice to get familiar with your gear, what it will (and won't hold) and to prepare yourself for your first A2+ lead. Unlike free climbing where a burst of power and speed coupled with a calculated "run out" might get you through the crux, difficult aid climbing relies solely on the integrity of each placement with the prime strategy being to keep you securely attached to the rock and your "fall potential" low and under control at all times. When things get difficult the pace slows to a crawl - 2-5 hours per pitch is the norm for difficult leads. Make a series of hurried "sketch" placements and you could pay dearly in the form of ripping out several pieces... and having to re-climb the section.

RATINGS - Aid pitches ratings are always the subject of debate. It's the fuel for discussion at the bivy or around the fire back at camp. A single fixed copper head, rivet or rurp that is "missing" can change a rating by a full grade or more - in some cases it can even terminate the climb. For a team seeking a higher accomplishment by practicing "clean aid" - the use of non-destructive equipment and techniques - more creativity, specialized gear and patience replaces the hammer and rock scarring gear. In general the C2 (clean) or A2 (fixed, original hammered placements) is solid if not finicky and generally near bombproof and relatively safe). You might place a hook or two and rely on only two lobes of a camming unit to support you and then click back into a bomber "truck stop" A1 piece. An important distinction in aid ratings is the age of the route and rating - anything that is referred to as "new wave" (using all the modern tricks) is a full grade harder than traditional (first ascent) ratings. A3 becomes trickier and gear holds body weight barely - you wouldn't want to build an anchor of A3 placements although many have! A3 is the realm of micro wedges and blade pitons, stacked and or equalized pieces, copper heads and expanding flakes. There is serious fall potential given that several pieces will probably blow if you "go". Remember keep the forces down and make each placement as solid as it can be. A4 and beyond is more of the same with an increased penalty for getting it wrong - a very serious fall potential exists and injuries are expected - a competent party will know first aid and have the proper kit aboard. A5 is for the winged and with prayer - it can be lethal - a series of A4 placements, longer falls with obstacles, rope cutting edges and other horrors waiting - no one jumps on A5 without miles of experience on easier grades.

EQUIPMENT - This will be the most extensive test of your gear collection to date - fear not for your partners will help you put together a 'big wall' aid rack... and look forward to when you can reciprocate. Plenty of ammunition is the order of the day! Aid climbing eats gear - placements every 3 feet (many with 2 biners) and the necessity of having the right type and size of device to "plug in" and step up. Having the right amount of gear also contributes to the speed of the team and increases your chances of making the bivy before dark. Wasting time scrounging for biners or quick draws gets old in a hurry.

Team Gear Personal Hardware Pounding
big wall racks harness 15 draws/biners blades
haul pack helmet 50-70 free biners angles
lead rope glove/k-pads 15-20 various slings bashies
haul rope wall boots 2 sets cams heads
pulley/hauler wall rack 1 set TCUs hammer
zip-line (7mm) belay seat 1 set Aliens bolt kit
  aiders 2 sets stoppers  
  daisy chains rivet hangers (3)  
  ascenders full set o'hooks  
  belay device set of RP's  

PERSONAL GEAR - Wall harnesses are wider, very cush and have lots of racking & a rear belay loop. This coupled with your Max Rack will help keep you organized - one of the 10 commandments of speed. Knee pads increase comfort and allow you to lean against the rock. Leather gloves (cut glove tips off and tape fingers) protect knuckles while placing gear and also swinging a hammer - both promote a better pace. For more than occasional aid, my favorites include Boulders (easy climbs, cracks and smearing), Guide Almighty's (long approach, moderate free), Trango's (stiff for standing in slings, good for edging and wide cracks). Don't forget your helmet - pretty much the standard head gear for big wallys - keeps the sun off and avoids most headaches. Safety glasses - or polycarbonate wrap around sun glasses - will also protect you from pulled gear, metal slivers from pitons and rock dust.

CLOTHING - Although the pace of aid climbing would suggest that it was rather sedentary - all the hanging in harnesses and resting in slings - you will build up lots of heat and sweat. All the tugging and pushing and other isometric exercises needed to advance up the rock will keep you warm (if not baking and parched) until you reach the belay - then you will cool in a hurry due to the sudden stop of activity. That is of course unless you are hauling. Dress in layers - with plenty of venting options and durable pants that you can push up into knickers. Leave the cotton on the ground - comfortable for cragging but damp and slow drying on a wall.

WHAT ELSE? - Bring plenty of water - minimum 2-4 liters/day/person, foods that are easy to eat/no preparation - lots of "snacks" and lots of it (pudding cups are killer), electrolyte-type drink supplements, small candies to keep up blood sugars, a special 'treat' for bivy sites and the summit surprise! Make sure to pack a first aid kit, repair kit (leatherman tool, swiss knife, spare parts) headlamp w/ spare battery, hand tape, extra clothes..... and 3 copies of the topo!

OTHER SKILLS - First aid training (WFR), self rescue, jumarring, endurance sports, night climbing (if you haven't much experience yet)

HOW TO: BIG WALLS Middendorf
YOSEMITE GUIDE - BIG WALLS - Meyers >>> (read Staying Alive forward by John Dill!!!)
Catalogs: A5, Fish & MT

EL CAPITAN (iron -age experience, art not technique, good beta for The Nose)
OVER THE EDGE! (insane)
LA ESCOBA DE DIOS (alpine big wall - Patagonia)


Yosemite - mega classic "easy" and relatively short wall routes and some short aid cracks can be climbed in an afternoon, day or weekend. Here are a few to get you going:

short starters:
Bishops Balcony, Church Bowl - I 5.6 A2 (out an amazing roof)
Salami Ledge, W. El Cap - III 5.7 A2
Pink Pussy Cat A1 pin crack (aliens/tcu's/ball nuts)
Kat Pinnacle III 5.7 A2-A2 (rurps/ball nuts/HB's)
Coffin Nail, Cookie Cliff A3+ (thin, single pitch)
Sun Blast, Pat & Jack Pinnacle (rurps, KB's, LA's)
Negative Pinnacle Left Side, E. of the Nose A3 (thin: HB Offsets, Balls, LAs, Blades)

more committing:
Washington Column - South Face V 5.9 C2 (or recon and climb 3 pitches 5.8 C1 to Dinner Ledge)
Leaning Tower V A2, 5.8 (the realm of the over hang)
Half Dome - Regular NW Face 5.9 C2 (0-3 bivys)
El Capitan - The Nose 5.10 C3 (2-3 bivys)
El Capitan - Zodiac 5.10 A3+ (2 bivys)

1) Lead pre-placed A2-A4 routes with TR belay. Alternate: re-lead bolted A1. Your matna is: " Place, check, clip w/ daisy, gradually weight, bounce test, move up - clip at waist, survey next placement" (repeat).
2) Lead, anchor, fix rope, set up hauling system, haul bag. Alternate - practice jumarring
3) Hanging belays - practice rope stacking, organization and "change overs"

PRACTICE AREAS- Check out the cracks at the Main Rock @ Crab Town - down the coast. These can be top rope belayed while you practice placements and test them by standing in aiders. Please don't hammer on existing bouldering and top rope routes - which could change or destroy their character.