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So you want to be an Aid Climber?



You’re strung out a good 30 feet above your last good piece of pro on pitch 7. Thinking back on the micro cam you plugged into the last remnants of that solid crack, you wonder how awesome that placement actually was. It seemed fine an hour ago when you placed it, but now you are separated by several hook moves, some rotting copperheads, and some fixed mank from who knows when. As you sit on your talon hook and look up at the next available piece you curse under your breath. Staring at some expanding and rotting flakes, you wish that someone would have placed a chicken bolt so you could clip it.

You’d never place the chicken bolt yourself, but if it was already there it would be OK to clip it, wouldn’t it? You’re sweating and have just realized you haven’t done anything for the last five minutes and you’re getting achy from hanging in your stirrups. Let’s check out that flake. Let’s just give it a little tap with our hammer to see how crappy it is...
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Continuation of Introduction
GGOOONNNNGGG!!!! Well that doesn’t inspire confidence. Maybe a micro cam will plug in. Sand and little rocks pour out of the flake into your eyes. Nope, the cam is way too big. Let’s try a pin. The flake starts expanding as you start driving. Hmm, better hold up on this for a second. Thinking…… Well, let's try a slightly bigger pin and higher now that the flake is partially expanded. Hopefully it’s not going to break off. Now it’s been 20 minutes and you’re still hanging on that talon. “CRAP, I’M FALLING!” Wait, no, the talon just shifted and now you believe you may have just soiled your pants to add to this picnic.

No time to dwell on that. You’ve got to be getting at least close to the end of this pitch. Just breathe for a second, then let’s go. Watching the birds soar below you is therapeutic and you watch them for what seems like an eternity. Better clip in short to the high pin as you finish placing it. Don’t want that hook to ping off while banging up above it. Pins in. No bounce testing for this bad boy, that flake doesn’t need even a mosquito to light on it once you weight it.

Clip the etriers to it. Clip the daisy to that. Now slowly shift your weight onto the pin. Stand up. Clip in short. Exhale a sigh of relief and congratulate yourself. Wait. Crap. Now you gotta do all that again? At least you’re four feet closer to that bomber bolted anchor up there. You can finally see them. Let’s just not think that now you’re 34 feet above that micro cam.

*Introduction written by Jordan Ramey.

What is Aid Climbing?
Aid climbers use gear to help climb a difficult section of rock. Aid climbing is not a form of free climbing. Gear is intentionally weighted by the climber and aiders (ladders made of webbing) are used. Aid climbing is commonly used to climb sections of rock that are extremely difficult and it even has its own grading system.
Styles
Clean aid climbing is a division of aid climbing where no gear is permanently placed in the rock. Gear that is permanently placed in the rock (i.e. pitons) are known as 'fixed gear'.

Aid Climbing Grades
The common presumption that aid climbing is easy because you are weighting gear is almost always incorrect. Aid climbing can be terrifying (hanging off of a 1 mm ledge with no protection below you for 30 ft, inviting a 60 ft fall, is what an A3 can be like).

Aid climbers typically climb difficult fifth class to sixth class terrain. Aid climbing uses a grading scale from A0 to A4. Higher grades are awarded to climbs that involve smaller features, more hook moves (less protection) and more technical sequences.

Why Aid Climb?
As far as first aid climbs go, everyone feels differently about them. Some take astounding comfort in their gear and the hanging sensation. Others trust nothing but their own hands and strength. Aid climbing is an engineer’s art; a series of problems to be solved through the application of technique and hardware. The best aid climbers aren’t good because they’ve memorized a series of moves or read it in some book; they’re great because they can overcome varied problems in an array of inventive and ingenious fashions. Having nerves of steel doesn’t hurt either. Aid climbing can be easy and straightforward once practiced. It is only as hard as the route you’ve chosen. Unlike free climbing, aid climbing is slow and monotonous. Either you love it or hate it.

Aid Gear
If you have a standard free trad rack, then you can easily jump into the aiding game and see if it tickles your fancy. To start, we will only discuss “clean” aid, which is no pitons or hammers. Unless absolutely necessary, hammer aid is not encouraged or even tolerated in many areas. The equipment necessary to begin is probably already in your closet or can be obtained fairly inexpensively. (Equipment with an * means it can be homemade safely.)

Etriers (a.k.a. aiders, stirrups)* (2-4)
Daisy Chains (2)
Fifi hook (optional)
Harness
Carabiners (lockers and ovals)
Webbing
Trad gear

With this basic list you’re ready to start aiding up that perfect crack at your local crag. I’ve even seen people set up practice aid climbs in trees by slinging webbing around branches as the placements. I recommend trying it out on top rope first before jumping into aid leads. To do this simply set up a top rope exactly as you normally would to climb safely, except now use your trad gear to make upward progress instead of your hands and feet. You can also attach a short piece of rope to your harness to act as your practice lead line. Make sure your top rope and tie in are setup correctly. It’s easy to get confused at first with all the jumble of gear attached to the front of your harness, but it will all come together once practiced.

Aid Technique
To get started aiding get that harness on, girth hitch two daisy chains to the rope tie in point of your harness and clip all your gear on to your gear loops. You’re going to place gear and clip your lead line almost identically to how you would when you trad climb a route. Now all you have to do is follow the 9 steps of aiding:

1. Set a placement.
2. Clip aider(s) to it.
3. Clip daisy to aiders biner.
4. Test the top placement – bounce on it a bit.
5. Step into the new aider and weight it.
6. Clip lead line into bottom placement (the one you just unweighted).
7. Retrieve aider(s) and daisy from bottom piece.
8. Climb up aider to top second step or sub second step.
9. Repeat.


It can be very beneficial (especially on anything >80°) to utilize a fifi hook. This is a curved metallic hook that girth hitches to your harness and allows you to rest (hang) on your daisy chains. When you are high enough in your aiders you will simply hook the fifi to your daisy chain and weight it to add stability. Also, utilizing three or four etriers can make aiding much easier and enjoyable. A set of etriers connected to each daisy (a total of four) means you can stand both feet at equal level while ascending. Using only one aider per daisy chain (a total of two) can be substantially harder on steep routes, but quicker on slabby routes.

Some tips:
* Aiders and etriers can be made of 1” climbing webbing
* A fifi hook can be made by putting a short sling on an oval carabiner and duct taping it open.

Hooks

Fifi Hooks
Fifi Hooks are used to temporarily connect to protection or other gear.





Screamer
Function: Shock absorbing sling designed to reduce peak loads in any climbing system.

A screamer is a piece of folded webbing, stitched together along the folds. A carabiner is attached to either end (so it looks much like a quickdraw), and as a big shock load is applied to the screamer, the stitching is torn and the folds start to unravel. This increases the amount of time your anchor system has to absorb the load. The ideal situation for a screamers is to use it on the last piece of gear before a long runout.

Daisy Chain
Daisy chains are similar to a runner, but they allow the user to regulate the length by clipping into any section of the daisy chain. Daisy chains are made of webbing or spectra. They are especially helpful when you have set up a hanging belay during a multipitch climb.

Clipping into two loops of a daisy chain (with one carabiner) is dangerous (read the manual that came with your daisy chain), as you can pull out the stitching and your carabiner can become unclipped from the chain.

Most daisy chains are only full strength on the end loops, and the other loops are usually meant to support body weight only. Daisy chains are most often used in aid climbing, but are also commonly used to attach yourself to an anchor.

External daisy chains are sewn outside or inside of a pack to allow you to attach gear to your pack in an organized manner.

Piton
A piton is a piece of steel that is placed in a crack in the rock (often using a hammer). Pitons come in various sizes (for different sized cracks). Pitons normally include a hole to clip a carabiner too. Pitons are often used as a form of fixed protection. A large piton is often called a Bong.
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