Depending on the type of pulling down you’re doing, climbing can vary from minimalist to “everything but the kitchen sink,” and big wall climbing is very much the latter. We asked Colorado climber Paul Gagner—who has done more than 50 wall routes around the world, including first ascents on Baffin Island and in Utah’s Fisher Towers—to detail his packing list and the experience-driven tricks that go along with it.
Learn To Rock Climb
Learning how to build an “anchor in-series” will not only give you a solid option for bad rock, but also offers numerous solutions if you run into any other tricky anchor scenarios.
Unlike the butterfly, this method doesn’t require using an extra locking carabiner, and it relies on a basic technique that most climbers employ regularly. You simply girth-hitch yourself into the rope.
You’re lying if you say you’ve never dropped your belay device and watched it go “tink, tink, tink” all the way down to the base of a route. It can happen to anyone. But have no fear: If you have four carabiners of any shape or gate type, plus a locking belay biner, you can make it to the ground. The double carabiner brake rappel is the best way to descend without a traditional rappel device.
Simultaneously rappelling, or simul-rapping, is an advanced skill where two climbers descend one rope at the same time (or two ropes tied together: climbing.com/skill/rappel-knots), and one climber’s weight counterbalances the other. The margin for error is small, but it’s a good trick to know. It’s useful for bailing during a sudden, dangerous storm, or for rapping off opposite sides of a fin or spire where there are no anchor points, which is common in places like the Needles of South Dakota’s Black Hills.
When many people start trad climbing, cams become their new best friend. They’re easy to use and contract to fit a variety of crack sizes. But don’t underestimate the benefits of their counterpart: the nut. With no moving parts (hence, “passive protection”), nuts are inexpensive, lightweight, sturdy, and it’s easy to judge a placement by eyeballing— many will fit a variety of spots because they can be positioned in four different orientations.
Falling is essential for advancing as a rock climber. The saying goes, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying hard enough.” To progress, you need to try moves that are at the edge of your ability—or beyond—and when you try that hard, you will fall. Toprope falls are the safest, but falling also can be quite safe on well-protected lead climbs, as long as you have good technique and a solid belayer.
Long rappel descents, whether planned or as a matter of sudden necessity when the weather goes bad or an injury occurs, can quickly turn into expensive ordeals when you have to leave a few pieces of gear at every rappel. Plus, you might need that gear later on. Fortunately for those seeking terra firma, the ice abundant in winter and/or mountain terrain typically provides a much better medium for descent than bare rock, because there’s less chance of rock fall, and you can build gear-free rappel anchors with just the frozen stuff.
The shadows are growing long across the desert as you rappel off the neo-classic Birdland (5.7+) in Red Rock, Nevada, after a successful ascent. In your haste to beat darkness (and avoid the resulting expensive ticket at the park gate), you forgot to grab the rack off the ledge before you started the rappel. Midway down the rappel, you realize your blunder. What to do? Time to go back up—and fast!
Climbing is dangerous. And that's part of the fun, isn't it? We learn many standard steps to manage risk and prevent bad things from happening: Double-check knots! Pack a headlamp! Back everything up! But someday the shit may hit the fan, and you’ll be faced with a scary and dangerous situation. Do you have the skills to get yourself and your partner back alive?
Do you always know the exact length of every rappel? At some point in your climbing career, you will probably encounter a rappel that is unknown but looks too long for your measly single line. Instead of tossing the rope, crossing your fingers, and getting to the ends of your rope only to discover that, yes, your rope is too short, there is a simple technique to deal with such a situation.
Getting off a cliff with no fixed anchors or big trees is a skill that every rock climber should have in his bag of tricks. It’s especially useful to do it with minimal loss of expensive hardware. Here’s one method.