DEFINITION - Aid climbing is the technique of using gear to support your weight as you climb and isregularily used in big wall climbing. Resting on the rope after a fall, grabbing a sling instead of falling (dangerous!), or hanging onto gear while making a placement technically all count as a point of aid and "taint" the free ascent of a pitch and route. Traditional free climbers can however incorporate aid climbing techniques - either improvised "real time" while on the sharp end or strategically planned in advance in order to pass a difficult section of the route and to speed up the ascent of a long Grade IV, V or VI. This can be particularly useful by allowing you and your partner to consider classic free routes that have mandatory but minimal aid - in the form of an old bolt ladder, pendulum or even one, two or several A1 placements that provide passage between excellent free climbing. Aid technique may be necessary to pass a wet section of rock in the mountains, while wearing big boots or crampons on an alpine route or to provide an escape from a climb after darkness has fallen. There are even certain techniques (arrrhhh - the free climber in me cringes) that address pulling up on a slings or the rope to surmount a move that is (only momentarily and temporarily) harder than we are capable of - but if you play the aid climbing game - pretty much anything goes. Doing it smart is what it's all about... aid climbing will take you where most have never been before!!!

BACKGROUND - Aid climbing was used on the first ascent of Shiprock in the form of the first bolt ever drilled in America and also extensively on the first ascent of the Nose and other early Yosemite big walls. Yosemite was the birth place of modern aid climbing technique and still proudly represents the state of the art. When gear was primitive and pitons widely used, it was easy (necessary?) to resort to the drill when the climbing got thin. Now of course difficult aid has a whole tool chest of tricks and 16 year olds have climbed El Cap in a day.... and some harder routes in a weekend. Of course the average time up The Nose is 4-5 days with plenty routes of 7-10 day duration and longer waiting patiently for you to notice them.

Difficulty is rated A1 (bombproof), A2 (not so bombproof, but relatively safe), A3 (trickier, body weight placements, serious fall potential), A4 (very serious fall potential, injuries expected) A5 (lethal fall potential). Oversimplified maybe but for our purposes and the moment we will explore the realm of A1 - leading bolt ladders, following placement by placement (as well as on ascenders) and simple pendulums and tension traverses. This stuff is FUN and doesn't have to be scary. Let's concentrate on the transition from free to aid (and back again) and the sequence of the moves - rote mechanics for sure. Get into a rhythm - if you're a good technician - you're about to be in your element, if you haven't lead a pitch before this - have fun - everything is a hand hold or foot hold and the clip is never far below... and many times above (a virtual top rope).

EQUIPMENT- For A1 on "mostly" free climbs a "normal" free climbing rack will suffice with few additions. Aid does eat 'biners so plan ahead and make sure you have enough to complete the pitch and anchor safely. You can save a biner on many placements by looping (stronger) or hitching (weaker) a runner thru the sling on a cam or the eye of a piton or bolt. Likewise aid slings & daisies can be improvised from runners and quick draws or your Web-o-lette - again make sure you have enough to get the job done. At most, a pair of lightweight aiders (etriers) & daisy chains for both partners and maybe a pair of ascenders to follow on is all that's needed. So you see, you already mostly have what it takes.

PERSONAL GEAR- A comfortable harness becomes important if you're hanging in it every move. Knee pads & gloves offer some protection and comfort if any quantity of aid is to be done - special units are available or you can shop at KMart and modify. Easy aid can be climbed in almost any approach shoe, but remember when you step out of your slings onto free holds (slightly unnerving) you will want sticky rubber and a snug fit. Comfortably fitted crack shoes work well and any all around model will suffice. For more than occasional aid, my favorites include Boulders (easy climbs, cracks and smearing), Guide Almightys (long approach, easy free), Trangos (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.

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)

Pinnacles - Many (now) free routes were originally 5.7 A1 if climbed before 1980 and make excellent practice aid climbs - so check the guide carefully. These routes usually have a short section of 3-6 bolts that surmount an overhang or bulge. Bolts on aid sections may be original (now historic) gear so quality may vary widely.

West Side
Once Around the Backside 5.7 A1 or 5.9
The Balconies 5.10+ or A1 (first pitch)
Machete Direct 5.8 A2 or 5.12 (first pitch A1 may be rappelled)
Machete Indirect - A pleasant long, mostly free climb can be made - 5. A1 or 5.11 via linking the following routes: Twinkle Toes (5.5) Upper Bad Man's (5.9 or 5.7 A1), traverse left on The West Face (easy 4th and 5th) and then finish two pitches of the Direct/West Face (5.7 A1-5.10 or 5.11). A bonus pitch on the West Tower (5.5) may be climbed before the half pitch rappel and hike down. Son of Dawn Wall 5.8 A1 (first pitch- bring wired nuts for some bolts)

High Peaks
Mechanics Delight 5.11b or A1
Flat Iron (5.4 A1 or 5.9)
Longs Folly (5.7, but may be aided)
The Wedge 5.8 A2

East Side
Ranger Bolts (5.13 or A1) - back side of the Monolith

Yosemite - classic routes abound - some with a short section of aid:
La Conte Boulder (A1 bolts) is good road side practice as is any crack which can be aided with the right assortment of nuts and cams. Royal Arches (5.6 A1 or 5.9) - when the slippery, glacial polished face is wet everyone swings across this face; when dry pure friction (with a top rope) can be fun.
East Buttress of Middle Cathedral (5.10c or 5.9 A1)

PRACTICE AREAS- Check out the cracks at the Main Rock @ Crab Town - these can be top rope belayed while you practice placements and test them by standing in aiders.