Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More Climbing Equals More Better!

Climbing is fun. So what is more fun than climbing? More climbing of course. Over the past week while climbing with some other guides in Red Rocks near Las Vegas, NV our constant theme for the time there was "More Climbing = More Better". Our first day was spent doing a link-up of two classics, Black Orpheus and Rainbow Buttress, which total about eighteen pitches of climbing, and a long and somewhat complicated descent. For most people this sort of day would have them coming back in the dark fully satisfied but when we got done early afternoon we considered doing another eighteen. The following are some tips to help speed up your climbing so you can do more of it in a day.

1. Think Fast: For many people moving fast is simply not something they consider doing. There are certain times you can move faster but first you have to push the speed a little. Don't spend time looking for the huge hold you'd like if the one you're on is adequate to keep you moving. If you're seconding a pitch you're generally in less danger if you fall off so move quicker. Both you and your belayer should be breathing heavily when the pitch is finished. Which reminds me, climbing fast is an aerobic activity so if you're not in good cardio shape it's harder to be quick. 

2. Don't Screw Around: I remember climbing Epinephrine with a less speed inclined friend. Epinephrine involves about 2,250 feet of technical climbing a few hundred feet of scrambling and a very long descent. After beating him up in the chimneys and getting passed by the three parties we'd beaten to the base we started to get a little lax about being efficient and although we started at 7 A.M. we didn't get back to the car till about 9 P.M. Part of the problem was we started screwing around. We all screw around too much. You can talk and swap gear at the same time. You can rehydrate and eat while belaying if using an autoblocking device such as BD's ATC Guide. If you take five extra minutes on each pitch trading gear, putting on your jacket, or hanging out in the sun for too long, then on a climb like Epinephrine that's an extra hour that you'll be climbing! Now this doesn't mean you can't enjoy what you're doing. The whole point of moving quickly is so you can enjoy more climbing. You can always slow down to enjoy a particular pitch, just make it up on the boring pitches afterwards.

3. Take Easy Gear and Place Easily Removed Gear: How often do you hear someone yelling up to their leader, "How'd you get this stopper in? I can't get it out." A few hours later the headlamps come out, they start screaming at each other about who's fault it was. If you are comfortable with the climbing you don't need a piece every couple of feet, just spaced enough to prevent injury. With few exceptions you don't need to set stopper placements. I rarely place a stopper that needs a tool to remove and I am confident in their ability to hold a fall. When possible I try to place cams as they're generally faster to remove. The key is using the correct gear at the correct time. Don't avoid an obvious cam placement and try to fiddle in a junky stopper. Don't be afraid to go a few more feet from the last piece to get to an easy and obvious placement when it's safe to do so.

4. Multitask, Multitask, Multitask: While you're trading gear with your partner they can be putting you on belay. While you're belaying you can be looking at the topo so you can tell them where they're going as soon as they get to you. You can put on your jacket while they re-rack. The point is to take care of more than one thing at a time and to eliminate extra, and therefore unnecessary, steps.

5. Less is More: The saying that if you prepare to bivi you will bivi is in many ways true. Carrying too much will slow you down to the point of at a minimum getting home late and at worst having an uncomfortable or even dangerous night out. After having a miserable and dangerous evening of getting caught in a rainstorm while descending from a route with no rain gear I went overboard the next day and carried up bivi gear akin to what one might take for a summit push on a 14er. On the last pitch I had to have my partner throw down the other end of the rope to clip the pack into so I could free the last hard move. After spending double the time we should of on a six pitch route we got back to the car in the dark again and my knees didn't forgive me for a week. If you can carry a smaller rack that can be helpful as well but be careful of cutting out so much that you put yourself into unnerving leads that end up taking a long time because of fear. Sometimes a larger rack or an extra jacket will help you move faster because you are physically or psychologically more comfortable. In cases like this the weight is worth it. Some gear can also serve double duty. Instead of carrying a huge guidebook just take a picture of the route description and topo. Then you have something to capture the memories of the route as well as a map of the route to help keep you on track. Things like this save weight, clutter, and time. A lot of phones these days feature GPS, photo, and lighting features in addition to their use as an emergency communication device. Of course electronic gadgetry becomes useless if the batteries are dead or there is no signal so know the limitations of your equipment.

6. Link and Simul: When possible it saves a great deal of time to link pitches because there are fewer transitions from leading to belaying. This becomes tricky though because it becomes a judgement call whether linking pitches will result in more rope drag that will slow things down. Bastille Crack, for example, located in Eldorado Canyon is a classic 5 pitch climb which can be done in 3 when pitches are linked. This of course takes careful slinging of gear to avoid rope drag. Another technique to help eliminate transitions and save time is simul-climbing. Although a very advanced technique that is not often used and requires a great deal of trust and proficiency between the leader and the follower, it can be a time saver on climbs with some difficult climbing seperated by very easy or moderate climbing in between sections.

Most of all it's important to experiment and learn. Take past experiences and grow from them so you can enjoy the next climb all the more and climb a little higher or longer. Take time practicing new techniques on safer climbs or on the ground. Hiring a guide is also a great way to learn some good techniques that help save time and get more climbing done because More Climbing = More Better!

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