Climbing Harder on Gear

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Moonlight Buttress in Zion is one of the world’s best crack climbs. With four hundred feet of fun sandstone followed by six hundred feet of amazing crack climbing, the exposure, consistency, and aesthetics make the route nothing short of amazing. Free climbing such a difficult route seems daunting but it is fully possible. While Zion may be a bit far for your next weekend trip, these tips can help you on your next long, difficult Yosemite route.

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Most professional climbers who want to send a difficult traditionally protected climb at their limit start by getting the rope to the top.  Sometimes that means aiding or French-freeing, pulling on gear. Other times, climbers rappell into the crux.Do what ever is the most efficient.  Conserve your energy for the climbing instead of the toiling. The hardest part of climbing big routes is the hiking and carrying gear. Once you have the rope up there, begin interrogating the route.  

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Toprope, toprope, toprope.  Start by finding the crux of the route. Figure out the difficult moves. Next, decipher the climbing into and out of the crux. Are there other spots where you might have a section of unprotected climbing or where there are hard moves?  Finally, find where you can place gear on the pitch.  Take the time to find stances, good locks, or stems where you can jam in some gear.  Having the moves figured out can help significantly with being confident when you’re leading.  It becomes easier to punch through difficult sections high above gear if you are confident on the climbing.  Some people rope solo routes to decipher the moves. On steeper traditional routes, it is easier to lead climb them. This is true if finding partners will be difficult as well.  In that case, make sure you’re going to send the route quickly. 

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Set yourself up for success. When you’re leading a pitch only carry what you absolutely need. Going light helps you climb faster, easier and keeps you out of bad weather.  You should be keeping tabs on the weather report anyway.  Climb in the shade or when conditions are best.  Conserve your energy as best as possible.  Often, tagging a thin line and hauling a small bag with extra water and gear can save time and eneregy.  Use a Guide ATC or Petzl Reverso to hand haul the bag.  Sometimes, it is easier to lead in blocks, where the leader leads a few pitches in a row.  Swinging leads can be taxing because the follower climbs then leads. However you decide to climb, do so in the style that gives you the most satisfaction. Make sure you’re efficient at belays and can make quick change overs.  A huge amount of energy can be spent hanging at belays.   


Train before the route.  Chances are that climbing a big route with a difficult pitch will make you weaker. The best way to fight this is to be extremely strong before heading out to the crag. Boulder and sport climb in the winter before your spring trad climbing. It’s hard to gain strength on the wall. Make sure you’re fit before hand. 

Most importantly, be willing to try. Climb as hard as you can and if that doesn’t work, try again.