This series of posts outlines our philosophical and practical approaches to climbing, and will cover factors we consider vital to successfully completing climbing objectives.
A note on the purpose of this article:
With this blog, and especially the articles in this series, we share our "theory of climbing," which is derived from our own experiences and research. We don't want to trick anyone into believing that we are big wall climbing experts. Quite the opposite in fact. Our big wall experience is limited to two routes: The West Face of the Leaning Tower, and the Salathe Wall, both in Yosemite. So why should we be the ones to write an educational article about big wall climbing?
Well, as with our article on simul-climbing, we wrote this article because, despite countless hours of research, we didn't find a definitive resource for people who want to climb big walls in a party of three that we were satisfied with. Leading up to our ascents in Yosemite, we engaged in extensive research and critical thought about the system we would use. Sometimes experts glaze over details that they simply don't realize are important for newbies. Since we are beginning big wall climbers ourselves, our education is fresh, and we aim to fill in the blanks that we identified while learning the skills ourselves.
Although it may seem like this system is our invention, we can take no credit; all of the machinery is derived from other excellent resources. Where appropriate, we link these sources in the text of the article. Additionally we provide a full list of resources at the end.
As neophyte big wall climbers, we Choss Boys faced a daunting challenge. We were travelling to Yosemite Valley, CA, with the dream of climbing El Capitan. Three of us were living together in the van, and we had to climb the wall together! Neither of us had even climbed a big wall in a party of two, so we had to learn how to climb as a party of three from the very beginning.
The basic skills are the same whether climbing with a party of two or three, so we all put in hours of practice aid climbing, jugging ropes, cleaning pitches, and hauling. But what differs between parties of two and parties of three is the logistics, the "big picture," if you will, and that's where we found ourselves at a loss. Hopefully, after reading this article you won't.
Although we will present a system which we believe optimizes efficiency, it is simply more complicated to climb big walls in a team of three than a team of two. However, we couldn't change our situation, so we rose to the challenge, and decided to compensate for our lack of experience with extensive research. We try to avoid mistakes by reading the experiences of others, and very carefully planning our own strategies. For the most part, this approach actually worked out, and we didn't make any major mistakes. Despite having never spent a single night on a big wall, we were able to arrive in Yosemite and scale both the West Face of Leaning Tower and the Salathe Wall on El Capitan, without running out of water, or having an epic.
Our success came from the system we eventually decided to use. For lack of imagination, we've dubbed it the "four rope system".
Note: This article is intended to provide information about the simul-climbing system used by the Choss Boys. It presents techniques that are not recommended as standard practice in technical rock climbing. The article also displays various pieces of equipment being used outside the scope of manufacturers' recommendations. Simul-climbing is inherently more dangerous than standard pitched climbing, and should be approached with due caution, by experienced multi-pitch climbers.
The system presented in this article is not our invention. It is a compilation of techniques and methods we've learned from a long history of practice by advanced climbers. Our intention in this article is simply to present what we have decided is the best simul-climbing system (we call it "the modern simul-climbing system") based on our own extensive research and experience.
Random climber: "How long did it take you?"
Choss Boys: "An hour."
Random climber: "That's crazy! You guys did all 12 pitches of Estrellita in one hour? That's 5 minutes a pitch!"
Choss Boys: "We aren't super fast ninja climbers, we just simul-climbed it."
Random climber: "But... what if you fell? Isn't that dangerous?"
Prior to our 2016 road trip, simul-climbing was a mysterious, impractical style we didn't understand. Like most climbers, we thought it was an inherently dangerous climbing system that only pros used for really easy terrain. However, as we began lusting after bigger, longer routes, the idea of breaking free from the slow, traditional pitched climbing system compelled us.
Now, we Choss Boys simul-climb on many multi-pitch routes. Aside from free-soloing, it is the fastest way to move quickly and efficiently on long routes. We've adopted a simul-climbing technique that is safe for both the leader and the follower in almost every case, and it even allows us to tackle multi-pitches close to our on-sight limit.
Have you ever been benighted or bailed from a climb because your dailed-in multi-pitch system was simply too slow? If so, this article is for you! Your climbing system can be the difference between finishing a route in 10 hours, or 3 hours.
[...] climbers grow to appreciate alpine starts: the brilliance of stars at higher altitudes, perhaps the glow of moonlight on snow, the distinctive sounds of crampons on ice, the tinkling of carabiners in the still night. [...] The magic of watching a sunrise from high on a mountain above a sea of clouds remains with a climber long after memories of the trip's exertion have faded.
We Choss Boys have refined our procedure for success in the early morning. Read on to learn how we start our big climbing days.