I feel the need ....the need for speedFall 2007, Yosemite
I'm struggling down the final stretches of the descent from El Capitan in the gathering gloom; after an arduous onsight attempt on Freerider. The haulbag is cutting into my shoulders in an increasingly painful sawing action, and every step feels like its taking ten minutes. Two figures pop out of the darkness in between pine trees, "Those look like heavy bags," the long-haired one remarks with a touch of smugness. " What you guys been on?" he asks, more friendly now.
"Nice. How long that take ya?"
"errr... three and a half days I guess"
"What you guys been on?" I sensed he probably would have told me anyway, so I might as well ask.
"The Nose. Six, thirty-two, seventeen. Anyway, have a good one guys." They jogged off through the trees with a deeply irritating efficiency.
"Pretty keen on times that guy." I remarked, needlessly and slightly grumpily.
"You do know that was Hans Florine?" answered my partner.
Hans Florine, for those still in the dark, is the current Nose of El Capitan record holder (with Yuji Hirayama) at a ridiculous 2hr43min33sec. Most teams do the route in three to four days. There is little or no interest in speed records within UK climbing, but there is plenty we can learn in terms of efficiency and speed from ascents like this, by harvesting the appropriate nuggets of technique and approach that can improve our everyday climbing experience, even if it is just about getting one more route in after work, or making it to the café before it starts raining!
Even a relaxed evening's grit cragging can be streamlined with a few tweaks to fit another route in.
Why do I need to climb faster?
Why go fast? I always saw climbing as a relatively slow sport compared to my previous obsessions of windsurfing and mountain biking; part of the attraction is having the time to think, to plan and execute the moves. Why get all stressed out about trying to get it over with? Why not just enjoy climbing at your own pace?
Perhaps the most important thing about climbing fast is actually that climbing fast is perhaps the least effective way to try to speed things up. This article is more about doing everything you possibly can to allow you to climb without hassles, which I think is something all of us enjoy. Climbing more smoothly, if you like.
Speed and efficiency leaves you to concentrate on the important thing - actually climbing!
Five reasons to want to go faster
Planning and preparation prevents poor performance (PPPPP!)
For their Nose record (now beaten) in 2007, the Huber brothers tick-marked virtually every hold and gear placement on the entire route. The Nose is pretty much a mile of vertical climbing. I'm not suggesting for a moment we all start going out and emulating this level of route prep, but it shows the difference some forethought can make.
The advantage with doing a little preparation is that it's ‘free' speed when you are on the route, in that you are not expending any extra energy or concentration in order to go faster, or to have more time in which to do other things which allow you to go faster. So here are some things you can do before you get anywhere near the crag to enable you to focus and enjoy the climbing when you are actually there, remember, some of this can be as useful to do at work (when the boss isn't looking, obviously) before an evening on the crag, as it is the nervous night before a big route.
The faster you go, the less you'll wake up in places like this.
Five ways to go faster without trying harder!
route selection can be crucial - know how factors such as exposure may affect your performance.
Check out Heather Clark's article Nutrition for Long Days for more advice on food and hydration.
Clothing - have stuff that is versatile, adaptable to a range of conditions, and not too heavy. There is a huge range of this sort of thing on the market, so choose something appropriate for where you intend to climb. One recommendation is the lightweight softshell style top - such as a
These tend to be breathable, durable and adaptable to a wide range of conditions so you don't need to keep taking things off / putting them back on which wastes valuable time. If it is cold, a synthetic insulated jacket or vest like the Rab Generator jacket, for the belayer / follower can be an immense benefit.
Footwear - again, appropriate to the climbing you are doing. If you feel you can go quicker if you really trust your feet, it's probably better to have tighter, more precise rock boots - something like the 5:10 Anasazi Verde - and have to remove them every pitch or two while you belay rather than climb in more comfortable boots that can stay on, but slow up your climbing. If you are doing this, it's well worth getting some thin bungee loops that you can tie to the pull-tabs on your boots, and make a loop around your ankle. This means you won't have to worry about dropping them, or clipping them in, and can rip them off whilst belaying if you need to. If, on the other hand, the climbing on your chosen line is easy for you, consider going for ‘sticky' approach shoes rather than rock shoes. Many of the modern models are amazingly precise, and you can walk in wearing them as well, cutting down on weight. 5:10 do the amazingly sticky Guide Tennie.
Rope(s) - if possible (unless the place you are climbing is much more suited to using doubles) go for a single - it's lighter, less complicated, makes simul-climbing much easier to deal with and tangles less likely. I like to use something around 9.8mm most of the time, a good compromise between weight and durability, and not too worrying to jumar or hard to ‘batman' (see below!) on if need be.
A 'magic plate' set up as an auto block belay to belay a second.
Other gear - Use ‘magic' belay plates like the Petzl Reverso whenever possible to enable you to belay directly and auto block belay the second, this allows the leader time to drink, re-organise the rack, and slip rock shoes off without losing time.
Use cams whenever possible and appropriate instead of wires, they are generally quicker to place, quicker to clean and less hassle to re-rack at the belay.
Five things not to sacrifice for speed
And the ever-controversial article - Making the Ultimate Trad Quickdraw here>>>
Having a comfortable and well organised belay stance will make changeovers faster.
Five ways to really start motoring
Proviso: these techniques demand practice and confidence to execute effectively. This is a list of suggestions, not a technique manual- seek out further reading or instruction if you are unsure. Do not try them for the first time as the thunderclouds are gathering halfway up a mountain. Whilst we are interested in being as fast as possible, this always goes along with being as safe as possible.
Having a good system is crucial to changeovers at belays.
All Images - Toby Dunn
PlanetFear media is funded by our online store. Consider shopping with us for your latest outdoor gear, and check out our latest sale items at great prices: visit the planetFear shop here.