Occasional postings about Maz and Si's big adventures

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™

Dr Curly
Big Wall "Expert"

NEW! - Endorsed by self-proclaimed Big Wall Cleaning expert and Gosforth Punter Marian Jones-Jones.

Marian Jones, never far from the poo-tube (the orange thing).
As a medical professional and big wall climber of a few days experience, people often ask me about the optimum way of losing weight. Up until now I’ve not been able to give them a good enough answer. Now, however, after extensive field testing and research, I can recommend Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™. This is a fast, effective and lasting way of losing weight.

For a full and personalised programme you will need a credit card at hand and to re-mortgage. But, as a FREE OFFER, just to you, I can give you a small taster of what Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™ can do for you and how to do it. Part of the joy of Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™ is that it is essentially a two-for-one offer as both people in the team will benefit. Just stick to the advice below in order to maximise calorie consumption and minimise that excess fat!

Route Choice
This is the first and most important stage of Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™. The Big Wall route you choose must push both partners’ ability. As a baseline for free climbing routes the Yosemite 5.9 grade covers a good and unpredictable range of difficulties in a variety of rock features.

Aid climbing is a strenuous activity for both leader and cleaner, so be sure to include a route with a significant amount of aid pitches. The route must be long, sustained in difficulty and involve strenuous features such as chimneys, corners and squeezes to guarantee a full body work out. Twenty or more pitches should be the minimum length. A substantial amount of traversing will ensure challenging hauling conditions, (see below), and an added psychological stress for both climbers.

Dr Curly on Pitch 13, one of the infamous chimney pitches of Half Dome NW Face.

 A route at altitude will add to calorie consumption, as will a route with a northerly aspect. Being constantly cold will increase your body’s calorific needs.

Pick a popular route with a high failure rate. A constant flow of retreating teams as you approach and climb the route will increase anxiety levels and thus calorie consumption. Increased anxiety will lower your hunger too – bonus! On-route these retreating teams will hinder progress and thus increase anxiety further – double bonus!

A route which ticks all these boxes is the North West Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley. (VI 5.9 C1+).

The steep side, obviously.

Route Strategy
It is essential to ignore the advice of others. Write off any ideas of a fast alpine ascent, (more time on the route will mean greater opportunities for weight loss), and online beta about equipment required or not required. Always go with the maximum of gear for climbing. Maximise your aid gear such as hooks and your largest and heaviest camming devices.

Whilst climbing, the use of hard to extract pieces of equipment, such as DMM Offset Nuts will ensure maximum energy and time consumption for the cleaner.

Marian weighed down with gear on the Robbins Traverse, pitch 10.

You must be the team carrying the largest and most unwieldy haulbag. In fact, most teams will probably not be carrying a haulbag. Don’t let this put you off! Stick to that Big Wall Strategy! Plan for as many days as possible approaching and climbing the route of your choice. I would suggest a minimum of three nights bivving, two at the base and one on the face.

Be warned – you may come across “Speed Climbers”. Ignore these loons who have only climbed the route a dozen times and are currently doing so in the middle of the night! They will no doubt only be spending a handful of hours on the route that you will be climbing over a period of days. They will have a single short rope, almost no gear and no haulbag. They may have already climbed, or are planning to climb The Nose on the same day. They know nothing of Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™. Rookies.

Hauling is a corner stone of Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™. The energy required to do so is massive. Time and effort required increases time-pressure and thus anxiety, especially with the inevitable rope snarls and those traverses. It is preferable to have a primary-hauler, which will ensure maximum exhaustion for that member of the team.

What to put in the haulbag is equally important. Bivvi equipment should include a stove, pan and food, (see below). A sleeping mat is advisable, as is a space blanket, but sleeping bags can be left out, (see below).

Water requirements should be greatly exaggerated. Although you may be climbing a north-facing route, go with what you would need on a route of a sunny aspect. At least three litres a day per person is recommended. Plan to have to pour some of that water away on the last bivvi. Calorie consumption and exhaustion will be greatest if you fail to consume this water as you climb.

Hauling will also ensure that you reach the bivvi ledge just after being overtaken by a “lightweight” team. This means second choice for the sleeping spots, perfect. (See Sleeping, below).

Cozy and fresh after 17 hours on the move.

Food choice is another of the cornerstones of Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™. You should ensure you pick water requiring dried food of low calorie content. This should then be shared between the two members of the climbing team.

For consumption whilst climbing a maximum of two “Clif Bars” per person per day is recommended. This should be adhered to regardless of the length of the day’s climbing, even if it runs to seventeen hours. Weight loss will be enhanced if you forget, or don’t have time to consume these.

Breakfast should consist of small and low energy muesli bars or “Pop Tarts”.


Let the member of the team who will carry the least on the approach choose which way to get to the bottom of the route. This will mean an approach of some hours, say six, most of which will be a hard slog in the mid-afternoon sun. The team member with the haulbag should be carrying at least thirty-five kilos.

The approach should involve contact with tourists. They will frequently make you stop by asking what you are carrying, increasing the time on the approach. Feel free to amuse yourselves by free-styling on the answers to these questions – a big sleeping bag, parachute, or gloves (!?), in the haulbag are acceptable answers to those prying questions.

Making mistakes route-finding on the approach will mean not only extra time in getting there, but a substantial amount of extra calorie consumption as you ascend several hundred metres in altitude that you didn’t need to. The approach should mean that you actually have to descend to the base of the climb, even if you get the navigation correct.

This is to be avoided at all costs! Not sleeping means that your body’s metabolic demands continue to gallop on. If you are cold and shivering whilst lying down this is best. Three consecutive nights bivving will have the desired effect on your mental status and energy levels to ensure Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™ has maximum impact.

Rope tight, Marian "enjoys" her third night without a sleeping bag. Pictured on "Big Sandy", at the end of pitch 17.

Whilst bivving on the climb you must be on a narrow ledge, above a precipitous drop of guaranteed fatality. The anxiety this provokes will ensure sleep is not possible as well as the other benefits of anxiety already discussed.

The bivvi ledge will inevitably smell strongly of urine. This does wonders for the appetite.

Night Climbing

Pitch 4 aid-climbing at 4am.

This is recommended on at least one day. Start at 3am to guarantee that several pitches will be ascended pre-dawn. Climbing polished 5.9 cracks with a weak head torch is thoroughly exhausting physically and mentally.

Inter-current Illness

Ideally one of the team should have diarrhoea at all times. One of the team whilst on the approach day and one whilst while climbing seems to work well for keeping that calorie account in the red. Whilst on the Wall this will also ensure more to haul as the poo-tube just keeps getting heavier!

Summit and Descent

The Top. It still smelt of wee.

When you are on the summit of your Big Wall you will have shed several kilos of unwanted weight as well as having gained an enormous sense of achievement. On field testing Dr Curly himself almost felt emotional at the top of Half Dome. Your Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™ however, is not quite over. You must now get to the pizza restaurant as quickly as you can by jogging for three hours down that same path you slogged up. No eating yet though!

The walking route is surprisingly steep and very slippy!

When you return to your mission-wagon and throw in that haulbag you may now feel free to eat a 16 inch pizza and drink beer until you pass out. You can be safe in the knowledge that it’ll take a few more days of gluttony before you need to follow the Dr Curly’s Big Wall Weight Loss Program™ again.

The desired effect?


Monday, 20 September 2010

Living on the Ledge

In the last week we've dispatched two Big Wall climbs. That's three nights spent living on the ledge. It's an unusual style of camping out but I do quite like it, especially as we've been really lucky with the weather.

After our success on Washington Column, we set off on our second big aid route: Leaning Tower. We were attacking the underbelly of the beast: America's most overhanging wall. The lower part of the tower averages 110 degrees, the upper part 95 degrees. When Harding first led it in 1960 he placed 111 bolts! This is a full on aid route.

So what does a big wall aid trip involve? A lot of climbing gear (every single piece we own), aid climbing gear (2 sets of jumars, mini traction for hauling, 2 sets of aiders (ladders) and lots of daisies), 2 ropes, lots of water – 3 litres per person per day, food, stove, warm clothes, waterproof clothes, bedding (thermo-rests, sleeping bags, emergency bivvy bags) and the poo kit! It's not physically possible to climb and carry all this stuff, so most of it goes in a haul bag.

Simon carries the haulbag on his back to the base of the route (because it's grey, he looks like a dustbin), while I carry the climbing gear and ropes. Then, Simon has to get to to top of a pitch - “by any means possible”. He ties in the lead rope and hauls up the haul bag on the haul line. I then jumar up the lead rope, taking out the gear that he's placed. Obviously, the more overhanging the wall, the harder it is.

Pigs Might Fly - our haul bag in space, with the poo tube swinging free (must get a screwgate karabena for that!)

Ahwahnee Ledge.  Sleeps 4 apparently!
Our first night on Leaning Tower was spent on Ahwahnee Ledge (named after the luxury hotel in the Valley). It was 10' x 2' – very spacious indeed – at least for 2 people. This ledge even had a static line fixed in place for us and dinner was waiting behind a rock – someone had thoughtfully left us a tin of Stagg Chili – yum!

Everything has to be clipped in at all times – us, the haulbag, our sleeping bags and any other bags of clothing or food. I guess if it was windy, you'd have a bit of a nightmare keeping everything under control, but it was nice and calm for us.

Once everything is in order, it's just a case of chilling out until sundown. So far Si has insisted on travelling light so no books. Might sneak a sudoku into the next mission bag though!

Working on the tan. Question is: which way's the beach?!

There's usually a boulder or a corner to hide behind when using the facilities (whilst the other person sings loudly). Simon was enjoying peeing over the edge, until I pointed out that he might be peeing on the team below! Solids go in a biodegradable ziplock bag which then gets packed away in the poo tube. So far, all the bivvy ledges we've used have been clean, but they do smell – a lot!

Before sunset, there are lots of sudden whooshing noises as the swallows swoop past and then at dusk, we're surrounded by sonic beeping as bats navigate their way around. If you choose a south or west facing route, the rock stays nice and warm long after sunset! The nights have been very starry so we've spotted lots of shooting stars, satellites, Mars, planes – maybe even a UFO or two!

When there aren't tins of grub waiting for us, we usually tuck into freeze-dried packets of food. So far we've tried Black Bean Tomale Pie (v good), Jamacan chicken (ok), Nepalese Lentil Curry (yuck), tiramisu (v tasty), mocha pie (added too much water), and huevos rancheros (with added sachets of stolen Tabasco). I'm looking forward to trying spaceman ice cream on our next trip.

Even when in our sleeping bags, we stay strapped into our harnesses. I wish mine didn't have plastic gear loops that stick out! Luckily, all the ledges have angled inwards so no problems with rolling over and off the edge so far!

Mornings involve a pre-dawn cup of tea before we start all over again!

Great Ledge, Leaning Tower Bivvy 2- bigger than Ahwahnee, but less flat!

Incidentally – there was another tin of chili waiting for us on our second bivvy on Leaning Tower too. Thank you chili-fairy! M

Why Aid Climbing is Scary....

Loaded up ready to start Leaning Tower West Face

Now, I thought that pulling on the gear was fairly straight forward, if not a little strenuous.  But I've now discovered it can be a little hair-raising.  Up until Leaning Wall the gear has all been good, and the protection that has been fixed has been there when i needed it, and been in good condition.  Not so on the first pitch of West Face of Leaning Tower (C2)...

100 feet up on pitch one, at about 110 degrees overhanging, after some good bolts, if not a little bit spaced, I reached the spot of a "Bashie" (a piece of metal beaten into a crack in the rock with a hammer, and attached to a piece of wire).  The head was in place, but the wire was long gone.  Giving me about 10 feet to the next piece of fixed gear from what i was hanging on.

Hmmm.... I'm not going to be coming down on the first pitch!!

I scouted around for options, the only one being an old shallow bolt hole in the rock, about big enough to stick my fingertip in.

Time for some hooking action.

The hook sat in it OK, but the base was still far away from the rock when i weighted it (due to the overhanging nature of the pitch).

This is quite scary.  Next placement.  That RP isn't so good. Lets test it with body weight...

POP.... I drop back on to the hook which appears to be working its way out of the bolt hole.  Heart rate is definitely up.

This is definitely more like it.  Try again with that RP 2 (a few mm squared of brass on the end of a wire wedged in the crack).  Deep breath.  Body weight.  Its holding! Next piece looks like a small Cam.

My heart is pounding in my ears as I stand as high in my aiders as gravity and my own strength will allow.  The RP is directional so I'm trying to keep it down and right as I lean up and left to place the Cam (a spring loaded device that "cams" into cracks), in a shiny thin horizontal crack I can't quite see into.

Its going to hold.  Body Weight.

Gravity kicks in as the cam pulls out.  I don't have time for a deep breath.


Slight jolt (the RP pulls.)  Big jolt (the hook pulls.)  Before i know it I'm 10 foot below the last good bolt, hanging at a funny angle in space due to all the gear hung over one shoulder.

Damn.  Only one thing for it.  

I tried again....


Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Joneses first Big Wall

Washington Column

So the time had come for our first Big Wall Adventure.  The training had been done, the book consulted, techniques mastered (...), and the kit purchased. 

A 4am start and a pre-check of the approach and first pitch the day before ensured that we were first in line to get started on one of Yosemite's most popular big walls - South Face of Washington Column.  Our early start really paid as we passed another team floundering in the dark on the approach.

Simon leading Kor Roof
Marian "Cleaning" the gear having just pulled over the roof.  You can see our plush bivvy ledge below

Some straight-forward aid climbing and our first taste of proper hauling of "the Pig" (haul bag) gained the first ledge which was to be our bivii.  It mostly smelt of wee, but we secured a higher spot which was more bearable.  We then climbed the infamous Kor Roof and Marian discovered that cleaning the gear on a big overhang can be quite troublesome....  We climbed a bit more and fixed a rope back down to the ledge. We then spent the evening watching another team on the Kor roof using their headtorches!!

Below us, was Yosemite village where there were many campfires glowing.  Above us, the clear sky twinkled with thousands of stars, and opposite, we could see the dark mass of Half Dome silhouetted against the night-sky.  At the base, middle and 3/4 mark we could see headtorches flashing as, like us, other big wall teams prepared to settle in for an uncomfortable night.

Day Two was another pre-dawn start with jumaring up our fixed ropes (using special devices to haul ourselves up the free hanging rope),  to our high point of the previous day. 6 more pitches of climbing on the open walls of the Column and via the inevitable offwidth and chimney section (free climbed), we got to the top. Hurrah!  Only the retreat past several slower and floundering teams to go....

At this point I would like to say thank you to the British Army for two things (they had taken several days to ascend the route and we met them on their way down):  firstly, for showing us how to clean a pendulum, which we learnt on a ledge half way up.  (I had failed to notice there were any to do and hence we hadn't practiced that);  secondly, for supplying us with most of a rack of offset wires which Marian removed from cracks all the way up! (They clearly didn't have a purple hex and nut key - essential tools for the removal of stuck wires - M)

Got to the van with headtorches on and feeling pretty smug.  I started to plan the next Big Wall....


Thursday, 9 September 2010

Lost Arrow Spire Tip

This was a big adventure that we had been working up to - an iconic Yosemite climb.  Lost Arrow is a pillar of rock detached from Yosemite Point.  The tip is about 800m above the valley floor and 40m away from the main face.  The plan was to abseil in from Yosemite point, climb the tip and then set up a tyrolean back to the main cliff.  This required much reckoning!

The climb itself is quite tricky - beyond our climbing ability, so we had to aid it.  We bought all the gear we needed (now on first name terms with the folks in the mountaineering shop), and the day before, we consulted Simon's book on aid climbing and practiced ascending, cleaning pitches, abseiling passed knotted ropes and setting up a traverse.  All set then!  Nothing to it!

Up early for the epic 3 hour walk in.  We were carrying 3 ropes and a lot of gear.  The sun beat down on us as we made our way slowly up the gully, passed the dried up Yosemite falls and on to the Point.  Here we looked across at Lost Arrow, and I felt slightly sick!  The abseil in was longer than our longest rope so we tied one end of one rope to the in-situ bolts, backed up with a convenient tree, then tied the other end of this rope to another rope and threw it over the edge.  Si disappeared and I was left alone to double check we had everything.  A voice drifted up from the void "Maz, can you bring the guidebook!" - oh yeah - that might come in handy.

Soon we were both in the gully between the tip and the cliff.  Si got his aid climbing gear ready and I tied the end of the abseil rope to the back of my harness.  Si set up the third rope as he ascended the Arrow.  Most of the placements involved ancient rivets (which we had to tie off with the wire tips of nuts), bashies (hammered in bits of metal with wire hangers), dodgy cams placed in peg scars and the occasional bomber nut.   When Si was at the top of a pitch, he tied off the rope and then I jumared up it, collecting our gear as I went.  Halfway up pitch 2 I discovered that jumaring  along a traverse and cleaning the gear at the same time wasn't as simple as the description in the book!

A couple of hours later, we were both stood on top of the spire.  The abseil rope was still connected to the main cliff (good start) and I had hold of the other end.  We fixed this to the assortment of battered bolts and faded slings at the top of the tip so that the rope was taut and Si set off back to base (you didn't think I was going to go first, did you?!).

The wind was quite strongly through the gap and the ropes were being sideswept in a big loop.  After much swearing and cursing, Si made it back to base and I re-threaded the rope so that we could pull it through.  Then it was a quick check to make sure I'd collected all our stuff before I launched my self backwards and began the arduous task of jumaring up the rope back to Simon.  Much relieved self congratulation and a long hike back to the village for some well-deserved beer followed.

Later, Simon told me that this aid route had been high-lighted as unsuitable for beginners!  Oh!!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Gentle Art of Thrutching

The climbing in Yosemite has so far been crack-heaven. "Thin fingers" to "flared Chimney" and every width in between. Learning the necessary techniques has so far been an on-the-job affair, and mandatory training at that. Our first Yosemite "offwidth" was about 30cm wide, 30 metres into the pitch and several metres out from the last good protection! Sustained fist jamming was consolidated on the very same pitch.  (Sacherer Crack 10a, El Cap Base).  Our chimneying has been learnt on the flared featureless chimney of pitch 6 of East Butress on Middle Cathedral Peak, (below).  The Americans have several descriptions for the techniques required - arm barring, leg bar, back and footing and a few more.  However, I find our British word "thrutch" describes the whole range rather nicely and more realistically.

One thing they've definitely got right over here is "taping-up".  (The practice of covering the back of the hands with climbing tape to protect the skin whilst crack climbing).  My initial scoffs have turned to a very real interest into how to make these "tape-gloves", after increasingly trashed skin on my hands. S