Oftentimes there will be expressionless portions on big rocks that will seem impossible to ascend freely. Such rocks demand the use of aids in climbing. Proper professional guidance and precise equipment can help you conquer any mountain that doesn’t offer natural holds to reach the top. In this guide, I’ll show you how to aid climb efficiently.
What is Aid Climbing?
This is a rock climbing style that uses aids such as pegs and bolts placed in rocky fissures to help the climber ascend. In other styles of climbing, these devices are fixed in several places on the rock to offer protection.
Nuts are fit into cracks to offer anchorage and protection in case a person falls and they are never used as supports to rely on for climbing. But in aid climbing, the climbers literally pull themselves up using these fixed devices.
While aid climbing may take more time compared to free climbing, this is at times the only option, especially when a portion of the climb does not offer any natural holds so the climber hangs on device after device in this gear aided technical approach to conquering big rocks.
What are the various aids used to aid climb?
The aid devices in this style are mainly daisy chains, fifi hooks, and aiders and the fixed units are nuts, hexes, cams, pitons, bolts, RPs, and cam hooks.
This most commonly utilized gear is called Etriers in French. This is basically a webbed ladder that is usually suspended as protection equipment during free climbs while in aid climbing, you put an aider into place, climb up on its rungs, reach upward and fix another support to again put an aider in place.
The length of your body and the kind of wall you are attempting to climb will determine what type of aider will suit you best. There is no free size aider. You must pay attention to the length of this equipment rather than the number of steps. An aider of more length is needed for aid climbing than for freestyles.
It is good to try climbing on aiders before purchasing them and assessing if their steps are timely located so that you are able to decide if it serves your purpose. You must also look for proper reinforcement and webbing in the steps. The aider should be able to support you comfortably. A bulky aider will easily get lodged in cracks, get one that offers you ease.
Aiders are of three types: Aid ladders, Standard, and lightweight.
A little heavier than standard aiders, aid ladders are more beginner-friendly and are widely favored for their less propensity to twist or turn around on the climb. Both sides of this ladder style aid can be ascended and the steps at the top are close together so that the climbers can choose to rest both their legs. A spreader bar at the top of this equipment is necessary to prevent it’s turning around during the climb and to ensure that the top step remains intact.
Standard aiders are lighter in weight than aid ladders which increase the ease of carrying. They do have more inclination towards getting twisted and turning around due to their light-weightedness and the steps might get compressed, which means a lot of time may be spent untangling and setting up the equipment.
Pay attention to the webbing of the steps and their reinforcement.
This aid is more commonly used as protective equipment for free climbs rather than sole equipment for aid climbing. It is not advisable to take this ladder with you on your aid climbing expedition as you will be bent on the wall untangling rungs and cursing your choice.
Daisy chains are widely used in aid climbing. Daisies are clipped on top of each aider. There is a right daisy and a left daisy that have to be prevented from twisting together. They provide anchorage on two sides, help jugging and protect your aiders from falling to the ground
Adjustable daisy chains can be adjusted to the right size for your body. Most climbers prefer the Regular daisies instead of the adjustable ones by already selecting the length that works for them. The length of this chain should be enough so that it never gets tight on your climb.
When you purchase a daisy chair, fix one end to your belt and outstretch the other upward with both your hands so that there is an extra chain of four to eight inches length beyond your fingers.
The adjustable daisy chains lack a flowy one-handed extension, can break during small falls, and have to be kept untangled at all times.
This is a little question mark shaped hook made of aluminum or steel that lets you hand on to a fixed point for some time before you place the next fixed point and ascend ahead.
The top hole on the Fifi is smaller for connection to the retrieval cord and the larger bottom hole connects to the harness.
You cannot rely to hang on a Fifi for protection or to solely utilize it for the ascend. This device is used as per convenience to lift one’s weight momentarily and to hook on the gear.
The length of the half-inch webbing connection between the fifi hook and your harness is important. It should be an accurate length, probably shorter than you judge, but not very short. A shorter length will not let you ascend higher on a fixed point. A 20-30cm length works well, is easy to place in position and to remove. Any extra length of the loop during the climb can be tucked into your waist belt and can be useful in emergencies.
You can procure two different lengths of Fifi connection bypassing Fifi through the device you want to hang yourself from and then hook the Fifi onto the loop of your belay so that you have it’s length too. You can add a second Fifi to the belay loop’s cord to make a closer connection.
how to aid climb?
- The first step, before you start ascending a climb with aids is to attach your harness to your daisies and aiders. This can be done by hitching the girth of one end of each of the daisies through the hard portion of your climbing harness and fixing the other end of daisy to the aiders with the help of a carabiner.
- A carabiner with a keyhole is preferred to the nose style because a keyhole one wouldn’t get lodged with nut wires or interfere with slings. Your aiders should be placed on the gate side of the carabiner so that the daisy is freely mobile on the backside bar.
- Your haul rope should be attached to the haul loop on the posterior side of your harness.
- Clip one of your daisy chains to the highest belay point and weigh it to shift your attachment point on the belay. Your rope should be clipped to the top piece of the belay with another quickdraw.
- Set up gear: Clip your free aider or daisy chain to a piece of fixed gear and shock test it before placing your next gear. Move your Fifi to a precise position on the lower daisy chain so that the full length of the upper daisy chain can be utilized for climbing. A snap gate carabiner should be used for added protection and decreasing reliance on fifi hooks that often cannot support falls.
If you’re using adjustable daisy chains, the daisy on top can be pulled tight and the one below can be slightly loosened for an appropriate adjustment of weight.
Your waist shouldn’t be above the last piece of gear if it still has to be shock loaded and you should take some support from the bottom aider at this time because your top piece could fall.
- Testing Gear. Your gear needs to be tested before you fully shift your weight upon it. Bounce your weight on your top daisy with progressively increasing force so that the fixed nuts, slings, and pitons can be checked. You should be standing on your already tested lower daisy when you do this.
To test small cams, cam hooks, rivets, and skyhooks, do not bounce on the daisies, instead shift your weight towards the wall so that a weight more than yours can be tested without creating a turbulent bounce. Also, test these joints by pulling the daisies from side to side.
- Shift upon your tested top daisy by trusting your test and shorten the daisy length to move your harness upward.
- Reset. Before removing your aider, go back down and attach your lead rope with the lower piece. Fully extend your adjustable daisies to rearrange them for the next positions.
- Move Upward. You should get to the highest point of your top gear by climbing up on the steps of your aider so that your daisy will shift up sliding on the back sidebar of its carabiner. Decreasing the length of your daisy at this point will give you more tension in a downward direction so you wouldn’t lose your balance.
Tips for leading and practicing
- If the hole in your gear only has room for one carabiner, first attach a quickdraw to it and only later fix an aider. You’ll be able to use it as protection this way and your aider need not be removed so that you are never detached from the piece. This technique might increase your distance from the next point.
- Reach the topmost point of your upper piece as you ascend. This will make your climb faster.
- Fix a sling to your upper piece if you have to switch from aid climbing to free climbing as the rocky route changes.
- Your aiders and daisy chains should be clipped on the backside of your harness so that you don’t trip on them as you climb.
- Your full aid rack doesn’t have to be carried on every pitch. Most things can be belayed over a haul rope to you.
- The initial practicing for aid climbing should be done on closely bolted low angled routes where your entire focus can be directed towards aids instead of shifting from aids to leading and making haphazard attempts.
- Bolts that are 4 to 6 feet apart are perfect for practicing beginners. You can concentrate on placing aids and testing them while going upward.
- When you have mastered low angled routes, you can aim higher and practice on vertical routes or even overhead routes, anything that improves you and keeps you going.
Grading in Aid Climbing
Like all other types of climbing, aid climbing has its own rating method. The ratings fundamentally explain the level of danger related to the movements.
The front letter of the grade is to specify which fixed aids can be utilized on the rock. Letter A specifies that pitons will be available. While letter C states that only removable aids can be used.
A0/French Free: This refers to a free climb that does not need aid climbing gear to progress upward. Holding on to bolts would work.
A1/C1-C2: The fixed placements are secure and the climbing is well suited for beginners.
Hooks, cam hooks, and pitons may be required.
A2-A3/C2-C3: The difficulty level is moderate due to the tricky placement of fixed aids but there is less probability of a high fall. Specialized aid climbing equipment is required on this route.
A3+-A4/C3-C4: The difficulty level is advanced. The fixed aids are insubstantially placed and there is an increased risk of a high fall.
A4-A5/C4-C5: This is the level of expertise. Negligible fixed and body-weight aids could easily result in high falls. A great amount of mental strength and technical literacy is required to accomplish these climbs.
The climbing community’s first grand debate took place over climbing style when a German climber called Paul Preus criticized the then leading climbers for not climbing on the basis of physical abilities alone and instead relying on pitons to pull themselves upward which should have only been used in case of emergencies.
While aid climbing may be worth criticism on easy routes, some blank portions of rock can be transcended by aid climbing alone.