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Aiding Out Of Trouble

Contributed to Chockstone by Phil Box

(Neither Phil, nor Chockstone takes any responsibility for the accuracy of this article, or it's suitability for the purpose. Use at your own risk. Chockstone Photography | Landscape Photography Australia | Australian Landscape Photography

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You can not free a small section of an otherwise long free climbing route, and want to press on. How to safely aid past the crux, on lead, using improvised aid gear from your free climber's rack. Includes making etriers out of slings, how to step up in them without overbalancing, etc.

First thing you need to evaluate before deciding to press on is whether you are actually on route or whether it would be more prudent to back off and perhaps traverse over into another easier line. This could even entail doing a pendulum off a bomber couple of pieces lower down. Having decided that yes it is in fact safer to carry on up the chosen line but you are no longer able to free climb it is now necessary to draw on some aid climbing skills. You may also choose to simply do a couple of what is called French free moves.

French Freeing   Push For The Summit

French free is simply pulling on gear or as some wag has coined it pulling on the silver jugs. You get up to where you cannot carry on and down climbing is not an option so the only way is up. You've got to be able to place pro that can at least take body weight. You will not have aid hooks as you did not anticipate having to aid this route. Place the pro and drag that lazy lard butt up, this may be all that is required to overcome a particularly nasty crux. Lets say for arguments sake and also to explore other scenarios that this is not the end of the difficulties and there is not a convenient jug with which to take a much needed hang on. Have a biner clipped in to your belay loop, clip that biner or even a quickdraw in to the pro that you just yarded up on.

You will note that there is more than a hint of derision attached to pulling on the silver jugs, get used to it as this is what you will experience from your belayer. Pay them no heed at all, it is your butt that you are keeping safe and you need to make your own decisions on the cliff bearing in mind that your safety affects more than just you. If you make wrong decisions out on a multi pitch affair then it will be your partner who will most likely have to pick up the broken pieces of a bad situation.

After cranking up on the piece of pro and clipping in to the pro you then have time on your side that you will be using wisely to evaluate your pumpedness and of course the terrain that you will be about to move on up past. Don't forget to clip the rope in to the quickdraw. Clear your head, you will need to be thinking clearly and have the ability to problem solve through lateral thinking. You've gotten yourself into this unexpected situation oh foolish one so you had better think about how you will extract yourself out of it.

Okay have we calmed down yet, no more abuse floating up from your belayer, doesn't matter even if there is, it's you alone up there buddy and what are you going to do next, more French freeing then eh, well ok then, let's at it eh. Have we got some pro that we can stash in that crack up there, you might have to clip directly into the piece you're on so leave the quickdraw attached and use the biner attached to your harness to clip in. There that's a little higher then eh. Place your next piece of pro and clip a quickdraw to it. Don't at this stage pull your rope up to clip your top piece, if you do that and the piece you are currently sitting in blows you will take an even bigger fall.

Testing Gear   Push For The Summit

We need to talk a little about testing gear before transferring your weight over on to it. One way is to stay low on your current piece of gear and after clipping a long sling to your top piece give it a couple of jumps up and down on it. The other way is to funkness test it. Place a long sling in your top piece and transfer some of your rack over to the bottom of the sling, gather the pro in your hand and lift it and give it all a good jerk down which will seat the pro or rip it out. This last way is preferable if you are standing on a fairly tenuous piece, you won't place much strain on the piece you are standing in. When testing gear ensure that the gear is somehow attached to you because if it ain't then you kiss it goodbye if it blows.

Improvising Aiders & Stepping Up   Push For The Summit

Grab the quickdraw and pull yourself up. Are you high enough to start moving over easier terrain yet, yes, well then what are you waiting for, get to it and clip your rope in and you're away. 

Let us explore for a moment the scenario that calls for you having to step up on your gear. What I mean is that there is no way that feet are going to be able to stick as you are yarding up on your gear. You have to construct an aid ladder or what is known as an etrier or aiders. Have you got a sling or two on you, what about long extendable quickdraws, maybe even a series of short quickdraws will do. Simply clip the draws together to make a chain of draws thus you will be able to place your feet in loops formed by the draws. Do you only have sport draws, well you are in a bit of a pickle then dude, what were you doing way up there with only these things.

Do you have some prussics on you, well they'll make loops for your feet to go in. A webollette or cordellette will also suffice to knot up for an improvised aid ladder. A long quickdraw can be fabricated on the spot for a daisey chain, you will need one of these so that as you move up the aid ladder you can clip in to the daisey and have a rest. Remember clip the rope in only after reaching the piece of pro your heading for. Best if your belay loop is level or slightly above the piece of pro before clipping the rope to the pro.

Obviously there are a lot of things becoming attached to your piece of pro, you'll have a daisey biner, an aider biner and then your primary safety biner which you'll clip in after you arrive at the piece of pro. You'll also have to be able to clip the rope in to the biner or probably better to clip it to the quickdraw. Don't worry about the fact that biners will be cross loading or triaxially loading, this is nothing to worry about as it is body weight only and we're talking aiding here, it's a whole nuther world of thinking.

In Summary   Push For The Summit

It's a whole bunch easier to move up if you have 2 aiders and 2 daiseys but you may not have that luxury as you were on a free trad climb and you weren't expecting to have to do this aiding business so you will have to put up with make shift gear and minimal gear at that. Every climber should have these skills in his bag of tricks for unforeseen events which crop up. You never know when you may need to aid and knowing how beforehand is highly recommended.

Doing a bit of aid climbing will certainly reinforce how to place gear correctly first time every time because of the testing procedure on every piece of gear. Aiding makes you a better free climber because you increase your efficiency at placing gear and spotting that tricky placement. When aiding there is no imperative that time is short if you flame your forearms out. You can hang out all day if necessary solving how to overcome a particular difficulty. Your belayer may go to sleep but hey isn't that why they made Grigris?

Disclaimer, you know all the usual, don't take any of my advice and go and actually use it for heavens sake. You need proper instruction in the dark arts of aid climbing and it could well get you killed so don't whatever you do ever go out and go anywhere near a cliff. Smatter fact don't get outta bed as there is too much risk involved in life and you may eventually die mmmk.

Chockstone Feedback - Discuss this article by leaving comments in an appropriate topic of the forum.

Further Reading:
Aid Climbing - From Dawn's Trad Girl FAQ.
Aid Basics - From the Mountain Tools web site.
The Big Show - Climbing Magazine article outlining aiding basics.
Pika, Yates, Fish - Manufacturers of aid climbing gear.


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