My buddy and I made a pact to climb El Cap after our senior year of college. We go to Sewanee (note: we're both freshman so we've got plenty of time) so we'll get plenty of climbing experience between now and then, both sport and trad.
My questions are:
1.What else do we need to learn to be confident in doing one of the easier routes like Lurking Fear or NA wall? Or are there easier free routes (5.10 or less) 2. How should we go about learning aid climbing techniques/safety? 3. Are there spots in the southeast that we could practice some of these techniques safely? 4. What kind of physical condition should would be in? 5. What gear should we start accumulating past a standard trad/sport rack? 6. What else should we know?
If anybody has specific trip reports or plans that'd be awesome as well.
1.What else do we need to learn to be confident in doing one of the easier routes like Lurking Fear or NA wall? Or are there easier free routes (5.10 or less)
you need to learn everything cuz even these routes have penjis/lowerouts, weird hauling, clean/nailing etc. be safe and learn it all
2. How should we go about learning aid climbing techniques/safety?
well, this forum, and others, are a great place to start. chris mac's HOW TO BIG WALL CLIMB book is coming out in march. definitely pick that up
4. What kind of physical condition should would be in?
this is tricky. you don't necessarily need to be in top physical condition. rather, top mental condition with lots of stamina. i'm just getting back into aid after a long break, although, i've done many "off the couch accents" of el cap and other walls--i plan to continue to do the same. i'm sure others may disagree and advocate otherwise.
5. What gear should we start accumulating past a standard trad/sport rack?
again, chris' supertopo big walls book lists the general rack required for each route listed in his book, including the routes you mentioned. routes change overtime so check the beta section for updates. honestly, i've found his rack recommendations to be pretty right on.
6. What else should we know?
learn the knots required to replace the mechanical devices you're using (jumars, belay device etc) incase you drop them. prussik, klemheist, munter/hitch/mule etc.
this is not even scratching the surface, so keep reading and chatting with folks and maybe consider a route on washington column, leaning tower, watkins and the like. these walls will definitely give you the big wall feel without the el cap commitment....just as a warm up
for your third question, check out some of the places in North Carolina. I know that Whiteside has many routes that may require some aid climbing. I would suggest making a few trips over there. There is some great multipitch routes which you and your buddy can start doing to become more efficient at the different techniques and trick involved with longer routes.
lookup Chris MacNamara's videos on youtube for learning to aid climb:
go aid some 1 pitch routes to get your systems dialed and time your progress. You should be able to get both people and your bag up a 100 foot pitch in under an hour. The first time you aid a pitch will be VERY slow. Figure out how to go quicker.
Do all the trad climbing you can, especially multipitch if you can find it. Learning to climb efficiently and having smooth change overs at the belays is super important.
Re aid: find an out of the way C1 crack (like a 5.10+/.11) and practice. Where you do that in the SE I have no idea. Are the Whitesides or some other granite area too far away?
Be in good physical shape. Other than being in shape to climb 5.9/10a all day, do lots of situps, back extensions. Core strength is key.
Re a rack, pick a route and look at the recommended gear list from Supertopo, etc. If you feel you need to buy a bunch of expensive gear, keep in mind that virtually all of these routes were cleaned with a heavy emphasis on passive gear. In other words, you don't need a ton of offset cams, etc.
Probably the best advice I can give you is to show up a couple weeks early. Get on some long routes. Try to do an overnight climb such as West Face of Leaning Tower, the Prow, NW Face of Half Dome. You'll have a blast, learn a ton and have a very good idea whether you're ready for a longer route on El Cap.
BTW, don't do the NA. It's supposed to be way harder than it appears. I'd say Lurking Fear, the Salathe, Zodiac (if your aid is down), the Nose if you want to stand in line.
the nose in the middle of july heat is remarkably crowd-free. a few pitches up there is enough breeze to make even a really really white guy like me comfortable. we were the only party on the route for two out of the three days we were on it! crazy...
if you do the Nose, don't be put off by the HORDES of folks climbing to the stove legs. 75% will bail.
Be prepared to suffer.
The most important advice I have to give is time yourself and do absolutely everything you would normally do. Then add at least 50% more time for being on the wall and doing it.
Go to the valley next summer and do something shorter like others have mentioned. If you're not SUPER PSYCHED to do something like leaning tower, half dome, etc... as well and enjoy doing it then you'll hate El Cap and probably bail. You gotta WANT to be up there, even when it sucks. Laughing at the absurdity of it all helps ;)
This is worth quoting because it's been suggested twice and I really don't want to see the OP get hurt. From MP's description:
Whiteside Mountain, located between Highlands and Cashiers NC, is considered by many as the biggest, "baddest" cliff on the east coast. It offers stout free climbing routes, wild, run-out routes and aid routes all with tremendous exposure all around. Whitesides also has a reputation for loose rock, skimpy gear and unpredictable weather and because of this Whitesides remains among the most feared, respected and involved climbing areas in North Carolina and the Southeast. All the routes here required a level of commitment and seriousness because of the objective dangers and Whiteside's reputation as the "local flight school". As Thomas Kelley, author of The Climber's Guide to North Carolina, writes, "Whitesides is undeniably bold. Whitesides is immense, scary and the closest thing to big wall, run-out adventure climbing you'll find in the south. This is the place for you if you wish to avoid the crowds and soil your drawers." Eloquently put.
Practice at Looking Glass. I suggest the first two pitches of Glass Menagerie.
I'm just beginning my big wall career, and spent my summer in yosemite. Everyone's advice has been pretty accurate. Watch all of Chris Mac's videos on youtube, get the rhythm of aid climbing. Being psyched, and wanting it really bad is the most important part. Of coarse you need to know how to do the technical stuff as well. I did my first wall in March, The Nose, and wasn't ready technically or mentally. I was super psyched, suffered, and made it to the top. Check out my blog if you want to hear about my experience. I have a bunch of TR's.
Rumbling Bald: 1) Shredded Wheat, make sure no one is going to be on it and if someone shows, just come down off the last piece. It is a free route after all. Mid week you wont have this problem
2) there is a chossy corner past Frosted Flake, that is mellow but, well chossy. Anchor of a semi-dead tree or continue traversing to bolts.
Looking Glass: Any of the free routes.
North Face. The Seal, Invisible Airways Pitch 1, cornflake, safari jive P1 Nose area/Sun Wall: Pitch 1 of Hyperbola would be interesting, with some scary hooking. Pitch 1 of Electric Acid Kool-Aid test is more like C2. South Side. Any of the crack lines that are there would be good, though be ready to potentially step out of your ladders on the easier slab stuff on the upper pitches.