Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Climb Better! 4 Tips to Do More With Less

So sometimes we lose gear or maybe you're just starting out and don't have a couple grand to drop on a whole rack of climbing gear and all the other accoutrements. That's not necessarily a bad thing. By doing more with less you can learn to be more creative with what you do have which can help you be a more efficient and capable climber.

As climbers we can be really into gear without thinking about whether it's actually necessary. After a particularly hectic week I forgot almost all my cams. A lot of times guides will use cams because they're just easier for everyone to deal with. I can be forgetful so hear are some tips on gear substitutes and things you can hold off on buying.

Cams? We don't need no stinking cams!

A couple cams but a lot of tricams,
stoppers, and even a couple hexes!
At over $50 a pop cams are the heaviest and most expensive pieces of protection you'll carry. A double rack of cams can cost nearly $1000. They do have advantages but when I first started climbing they were just too expensive so I could only afford three of them. While I relied heavily on stopper placements and tricams which took more time to place my entire rack was less than a couple $100. Not only are nuts, hexes, and tricams cheaper but they're also lighter and work better in icy cracks that are common in alpine climbing.

Keep in mind before manufacturers started making stoppers climbers used to sling machine nuts or put slings around pebbles and rocks in cracks. While I wouldn't necessarily suggest slinging machine nuts that aren't specifically designed for climbing having a couple slings for chockstones is another way to get up a route with less gear and a little ingenuity.

You're a Nut Tool!

So everyone always asks if I have a nut tool. I rarely carry one and while it's bit me in the bum here and there I have only had an instance or two where I actually needed it to get a stuck piece out. A nut tool is really just a flat piece of metal with a hook on the end to help reach stoppers and deep placements.

The best solutions are often the simplest. Don't set your stoppers! A lot of people yank on the stopper to keep it in place. If you have a nice keyhole placement then don't yank on it. It just makes it harder to clean. Only yank a stopper placement if it won't stay in place otherwise in which case you should consider whether it is actually a good placement. 

Big stoppers you can often just knock out with a carabiner by banging on the bottom of the stopper. Sometimes you can find sticks on the route to poke out deeper placements and if you realize you don't have a nut tool and think you'll need it you can always use a wire coat hanger. Not only can this be effective for hooking a placement out of reach but you can extend it several feet if you drop gear into a really deep whole or chimney. It also doubles as a hook for threading an Abalakov anchor for ice climbing and if you lock your keys in the car you may be able to avoid calling a locksmith.

What Size Backpack?

Carrying two ropes and a silly daisy chain.
I don't know how many times I hear people asking what size backpack. The question is do you need one? If you're not walking far you can often times just carry things in a rope bag. It's funny how often I see someone hiking up to a crag that's literally right off the road and they're carrying an expedition size pack.

Climbing with a pack sucks anyways so I try to ditch it as often as I can. Often you aren't coming back to the exact same spot on bigger climbs anyways so it just makes more work. Got a long walk but can't figure out how to carry all that stuff? If you're just doing some cragging at a roadside crag why not just use a rope bag? It keeps your rope clean and most have enough space for a few extras like shoes and a harness. Then if your partner carries the rack you're all set.

It's funny how often I see people literally five minutes from their car with expeditionary size packs on. Of course sometimes you've got a bit of a walk but luckily you have a device for carrying a lot of your gear, your harness. If you wear your harness on the hike in then all you really have left are a couple small items like your helmet and shoes that can be clipped on and you can check out this backpackers coil video to see a simple way to carry the rope without an actual pack.

On a really long hike though it's worth it to just carry a pack unless you know you're going to end up a long way away from it. Cams smacking you in the thigh for several miles can be a bit of a downer.

Friends Don't Let Friends Carry Multiple Belay Devices!

I looked at my friend as he unpacked his pack. It was his first day at altitude and in typical fashion for those who are less familiar with what is absolutely necessary he'd packed a huge pack and had dragged behind no the hour long straight uphill approach. To be fair it was pretty grueling but one thing I noticed caused me to laugh out loud. He had three belay devices! A Black Diamond ATC, Trango Pyramid, and a Petzl Gri-Gri.

If you know how to tie a munter hitch then you really don't need a belay device but they are easier to use and add fewer twists to the rope. But there is absolutely no reason to carry more than a single belay device for each climber and really with minimal use of a munter you can get by with a single belay device for the whole rope team.

After a brief discussion on the pros and cons of carrying three pounds of belay devices he decided to leave two on the ground. Lo and behold the next day he forgot the other two at camp.

Not sure how to tie a munter hitch? Check out our self rescue class where you'll learn that in addition to a multitude of other helpful skills to keep you safe on bigger climbs.

Why Should I Do Without?

Doing without is training for your brain. People love to feel the pump of physically pushing themselves but there are many aspects of climbing. Climbing is a series of puzzles and problems. By taking away some of the tools for problem solving it forces you to think more creatively and be more critical of what tools are absolutely necessary.

Some of these are helpful exercises for when you're just cragging and bailing off a climb isn't that big of a deal. Some of them you can add to your toolkit for any climbing you do because they're generally helpful but as with any skill it's best to practice before the consequences of messing up become serious.