Aid Climbing Gear – Skyhooks

Skyhooks come in many different sizes, with each brand being shaped slightly differently. However, for most aid routes, you'll only need the three common types:
- Bat/talon (small)
- Cliffhanger (medium)
- Grappling (large)

Having two of each is recommended so that you can make consecutive moves with the same sized hook.

aid climbing hooks

Giant Aid Climbing Hooks

On harder routes, it is worth supplementing your hook rack with some giant hooks (such as the Pika Meat Hook) and pointed hooks of various sizes to fit in drilled holes.

sky hooks aid climb

Pointed Skyhooks

To make your hook pointed, simply file the end to a blunt point at around 60 degrees.

skyhook

Slinging Skyhooks

Tie your hooks with a loop of cord or webbing which is stronger than the hook itself. 9/16" (14mm) webbing tied with a water knot or 6mm cord tied with a double fisherman’s bend are good choices.

Make the loop small so you get the optimum reach out of it.

sky hook

An alternative method is to tie an overhand knot in a short length of thick webbing and feed it through the hole in the back of the skyhook.

Make sure the knot is big enough so that it won't slip through the hole.

climbing sky hook


Skyhooks - The Placement

Hooks work best on flakes or incut edges of solid rock. Feel the edge of rock with your fingertips to find the sweet spot – the slightest depression makes a difference.

On popular routes, look for scratch marks on the rock to see where others have hooked before.

skyhooks aid climbing

Sometimes, a very light tap with your hammer sets the hook into position nicely.

If you hit a hook too hard, it will probably bend, break the rock or spring out suddenly.

sky hooks aid climbing

The Over-Reacher

If a flake is just out of reach, you could use the ‘over-reacher’:

1) Extend your daisy chain with a quickdraw.

2) Clip the hook to it.

3) Tape the hook to your hammer.

4) Slide the hook up the wall.

5) Once the hook bites, give it a very gentle bounce test and creep upwards.

skyhooks for aid climbing

Leaving Hooks as Protection

The average skyhook has a breaking strength of around 2-3kN; the same as a tiny micro nut. This is enough to hold your bodyweight or an extremely short fall.

To make your hooks more likely to hold a fall, you can equalize them with other marginal pieces (using a sliding-X), or add a fall arrester (such as the Yates Scream-Aid), or both.

skyhook belay
aid climbing hook

When you climb above your hook, it is fairly likely to get flicked by movements in the rope and tumble off the rock. This can be reduced by:

- Weighting the hook down with something heavy, like an enormous hex.

use aid climbing hooks

- Using standard office stationary such as duck-tape or blu-tac.

yosemite aid climbing skyhooks

- Using an upwards-pulling piece of gear to hold the hook in place.


It may seem like a lot of trouble for a marginal piece of protection, but if it's the only thing stopping you from hitting a ledge, it'll be worth the effort, at least psychologically.

how to use skyhooks climbing

Racking Skyhooks

Rack one of each type on the same carabiner. On harder routes, it can be useful to keep a commonly used hook (usually a pointed grappling) on each aider to save time.

If you are storing a lot of hooks with the main rack, keep them in a stuff sack (Fish Beef Bags are good) to stop them tangling into everything.

how to use skyhooks

Aid Climbing Gear – Pitons

This article about using pitons for aid climbing is part of the book - Big Wall and Aid Climbing.

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

The dart art of smashing pitons into rock with a hammer has been frowned upon by climbers since the 1970’s when less destructive protection (cams and nuts) was developed. Advancements in modern aid climbing gear have completely removed the need for hammering on most easier routes. Many old aid lines can now be aided (or free climbed) with clean gear by using the piton scars created from hundreds of early ascents. Even moderate aid routes (A2-A3) are often climbed clean or with only a few hammered placements.

However, if your chosen route relies on fixed pitons or copperheads to go ‘clean’, you should be prepared to replace them if they are missing or useless. If you plan to climb harder aid or modern routes with few ascents, you’ll need to know all the tricks of the trade. Remember – there is a big difference between gently tapping a piton into a crack, and smashing it in so hard that the whole feature turns to dust or the piton is stuck there forever. Practise placing and removing them on a worthless non-climbable boulder before you weld them into an established aid route.

aid climbing fisher towers

Types of Piton

Pitons are available in many shapes and sizes. Common types are shown here. You may find many other obscure shapes and sizes of piton. They all work in the same basic way.


Material
Pitons are typically made of hardened steel, meaning they can stand up to the abuse of repeated placements.

Pitons are also available in softer steel and other malleable metals. These are designed to deform into cracks for a more secure placement, however they are harder to clean and don’t last for as many placements as the harder steel versions.

File down any burrs on your pitons as these can damage your rope or slings.

types of piton

Spectres
Spectres are basically a cross between a fat beak and an ice axe.

Originally designed for hammering into icy cracks or frozen turf on winter routes, these pitons can be useful on hard aid too.

spectre piton

Sawed Angles
These are angle pitons which have been sawed in half so they can fit into shallow but wide pods and scars.

To make your own, saw a regular angle in half (approximately) with a hacksaw. Then make the edges smooth with a metal file.

sawed angle piton

Big Wall Hammers

You will need a hammer to place and remove pitons. A good wall hammer has a:

- Square head for hammering in corners
- Hole in the head which is big enough to clip a carabiner
- Rounded point (opposite side from the square head) for precise placements and copperheading
- Head weight of at least 500 grams
- Good weight distribution between the handle and head
- Wooden handle, or a fibreglass handle wrapped in rubber, to reduce vibrations on the hand
- Good grip at the bottom of the handle (finger tape works well on wooden handles)
- Sling to wear it over the shoulder
- Clip-in point in the sling

big wall hammer

Wearing a Hammer
Put the hammer’s sling over your shoulder and then wear your chest harness over the top. If using it frequently (for almost every placement), just let it hang down, making sure it stays clear of the lead rope.

aid climbing hammer

When not using it, clip it away to your harness (head-side up). If your harness doesn’t have a holster, use a Petzl Caritool carabiner to store it away. This allows easy clipping and unclipping with one hand.

how to use a big wall hammer

Big Wall Funkness Device

As a nut tool is used to remove clean gear, a funkness device is used to remove pitons. This is a length of thick wire with a swaged loop at either end. It’s better to use a screwgate for the end which attaches to your hammer because this carabiner has a tendency to unclip itself.

Use old carabiners for your funkness – they will get battered so don’t use them for anything else.

funkness device


Pitons - Rurps

The rurp (Realised Ultimate Reality Piton) was originally designed to be hammered into hairline cracks. Since beaks were invented, the rurp has become fairly redundant. However, rurps do have an advantage over beaks in horizontals or roof cracks.

rurp piton

The Placement
The ideal rurp placement is an incut horizontal crack which is too shallow for a knifeblade.

Place the thin end of the rurp into the slot. It should go in about half way by hand.

use rurp pitons

Then tap it so the thick end wedges into the slot.

If it bottoms out (hits the back of the placement without being fully driven) you’ll probably be better trying a circlehead instead. If it can easily be hammered up to the cable, you may need to stack another rurp with it or try a stubby arrow instead.

how to place rurps

Removal
Lift the cable out of the way and give it a gentle tap back and forth to unseat it. You can now gently funk it out with your funkness device.

If the rurp is buried up to the cable, you’ll have to funk it fairly hard. Be careful though – this can damage the cable.

how to place rurp pitons

Pitons - Blades, Arrows and Angles

Knifeblades, lost arrows and angles are the original types of piton. They are less useful nowadays since the introduction of larger sized beaks and offset cams. However, they are often way stronger and more secure than anything else that will fit in a weird placement, particularly in horizontal slots.

The Placement
Slide the piton approx 2/3 of it’s useable length into the crack, then hammer it in to the eye. In most cases, you’ll need to hit them fairly hard to make the placement good. Essentially, the piton acts as a wedge and relies on outward pressure from the sides of the crack to remain in place.

how to use pitons for aid climbing

The piton should make a higher-pitched ring with each firm hammer blow. When you hear the same pitched ring twice in a row, the piton has reached it’s optimum depth. Hammering more will probably make it difficult to remove.

The ideal piton reaches its optimal depth just before the eye contacts the rock. If the piton goes in up to the eye easily, you’ll need to remove it and try a bigger size. If you hear a dull thud, the piton has probably bottomed out. In this case more hammering will not help. Try stacking another piton with it or remove it and try something else.

how to use pitons

Roof Cracks
You’ll need to go against clean climbing ethics to get an upwards driven piton of any kind to hold your weight.

Weld it in with your hammer as hard as you can. The harder you hit, the better it will be. Then apologize to the rock for your destructive behaviour.

Horizontal Cracks
In horizontals, the back of the piton is pushed up when the eye is weighted down. This helps to lock it in place.

Pitons can be excellent in incut cracks. In these placements, you may not even need to hammer them.

how to place pitons

Vertical Cracks
In vertical cracks, the piton torques into place when weighted (like a cam hook, but with less leverage). Make sure to clip the perpendicular eye on blades.

how to hammer a piton


Removing Pitons

To remove a piton, you will first need to unseat it and then pull it out the way which it went in. Depending on how driven the piton is, this can sometimes be done by hand, sometimes with a hammer and sometimes using a funkness device.

Step 1
Unseat the piton by tapping it side-to-side (in horizontals) or up and down (in vertical cracks) a few times. This loosens the pitons grip in the crack.

how to remove pitons

Step 2
Clip your funkness device to the piton and also to your hammer. Swing your hammer outwards to shock-load the piton out of the crack.

Lean to one side so you don’t hit yourself in the face with the piton. If this doesn’t work, repeat step 1 and try again.

how to use a funkness device

Piton Racking

Rack blades in groups of 3-5, facing the same way so they spoon each other. Arrows and angles can be racked as a group of 3, facing in alternate directions.

Use oval carabiners for racking pitons – other shapes cause pitons to sit awkwardly and be more fiddly to remove.

how to use pitons aid climbing

Piton Stacking

Stacking means having two or more pitons side by side in the same slot. Stacking is useful when a placement is too shallow for a large piton and too wide for a smaller one. Any piton can be stacked with another to make a more secure placement – be creative.

Step 1
Place the first piton.

knifeblade piton

Step 2
Tap a second immediately next to it. The idea is to wedge them in tightly together.

stacking pitons aid climbing

Step 3
Once you’ve created your iron artwork, loop a sling over it with a slip knot, pushing it as close to the rock as possible to reduce leverage.

aid climbing piton stacking

Step 4
Attach a keeper cord to the pitons so you won’t lose them if they fall out.

Make sure the keeper cord isn’t weighted.

how to stack pitons

Aid Climbing Gear – Beaks

This article about using beaks for aid climbing is part of the book - Big Wall and Aid Climbing.

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

Beaks are an ingenious type of piton which offer protection in super thin cracks, where even micro nuts are too big to fit. They are available in three common sizes.

beak piton aid climbing

Beaks - The Placement

Beaks are most often placed with a hammer, but they can also be hand-placed.

If possible, always clip a quickdraw directly to the hole on the beak, rather than the cable. Eliminating the cable gives you a few extra inches of aiding height, and also results in a stronger piece of gear (the 3kN cable on Black Diamond Peckers is the weakest part).

To place beaks well, you must first understand the physics that cause them to lock into a placement - taper, hooking power and outward force. Each of these are described below.

how to aid climb with pitons

Beak Physics – Taper

Most beaks have a tapered tip, being smaller underneath than on top. This allows them to be placed similarly to a nut.

Look for tiny constrictions in the crack and slot the beak in just above. Then gently tap it a couple of times with your hammer to seat it in position.

If you hit it too hard, you’ll damage your beak tip or the rock which is holding it in place, or it will be really difficult to remove.

how to place beak pitons aid climbing

Beak Physics – Hooking Power

Similar to an ice tool, the tip of a beak is angled downwards. This allows the beak to ‘hook’ over constrictions far back in a crack.

how to place beaks

Beaks can also be used to hook over flakes or dead-heads (copperheads with broken cables) where a standard skyhook is too wide to fit.

how to place pitons

Beak Physics – Outward Force

If the crack has no constrictions or undulations, a beak will rely on the outward pressure from the sides of the crack to remain in place. Think of the beak as a wedge. You’ll need to hammer it in fairly hard for it to be good.

The beak’s tip should slide half of the way in the crack initially, and then go close to the eye when hammered. If it can be hammered all the way in, you’ll need a bigger size. Over time you’ll be able to judge this before you hammer it.

Unlike most other pitons, beaks do not torque into uniform vertical cracks. So unless there is a slight narrowing or constriction, you’ll probably be better off placing a knifeblade or arrow instead.

how to use moses tomahawks


Beaks – Diagonal, Horizontal and Roof Cracks

When a beak is weighted in a diagonal crack, the tip twists into the crack. This offers a little more security on slightly diagonal cracks.

However, on steep diagonals or horizontals, the beak tip is likely to bend or break, especially in the smaller sizes.

how to use black diamond peckers

To combat this, you can clip your aiders to the upper hole (via a loop of 5mm cord). This reduces the leverage on the beak’s tip, making it less likely to break.

Rurps or knifeblades are often a better choice in these situations, since they are stronger when weighted this way.

aid climbing peckers

If you place a beak (or any other piton) at the base of a roof or small overlap, it may become ‘geometrically fixed’.

To be removed, it must be tapped upwards, but this will be impossible if there is a roof in the way. Think about how you would remove the beak before you hammer it in.

how to use peckers climbing

Removing Beaks

To be removed, beaks will need to reverse the way they went in. This is usually done by tapping them upwards.

Hit them from the bottom (be careful not to hit the cable) or underneath the head. You may need to tap them back down and up a few times to unseat them.

how to use beaks

They can also be removed with a funkness device. Clip one end of your funkness device to the beak’s upper hole and the other end to your hammer. Give it a gentle tug upwards. You may need to tap it back into position and then tug it again a few times to loosen it.

You can also clip your funkness to the lower hole on the beak for a more outwards (rather than upwards) pull. You can clip the cable too but it tends to weaken it.

how to use beak pitons aid climbing

For stubborn beaks, you may have to hit the beak upwards until you can slide something between the stem and the rock. This creates a pivot point.

Hit the stem back into the rock to pivot the beak out.

using beak pitons for aid climbing


Racking Beaks

Rack beaks in groups of 3-6 per carabiner.

It’s better to clip the upper holes (if they have them) so the beak tips all point in the same direction – downwards and facing out from your harness. This reduces how much they get stuck on your pants and leg loops.

When storing beaks with the main rack, keep them in a stuff sack (Fish Beef Bags are good) to stop them tangling into everything.

using beaks aid climbing

Stacking Beaks

Clip both beaks, either weighting both of them, or just the one which reaches furthest back.

how to use beaks

For hard aid routes, it is worth taking some ground-down beaks (sawed-off halfway along the blade) for features like this. Don’t bother sawing your new beaks though – your old ones will snap at this point anyway if you use them enough.

Small spectres are sometimes useful in placements like this too, since they are the same thickness as a few stacked beaks.

sawed off beaks pitons

Aid Climbing Gear – Copperheads

Heads are single-use malleable lumps of copper (copperheads) or aluminium (alumi-heads) that can be shaped with a hammer and chisel for a custom fit into a weird slot where nothing else will go.

Due to their super low strength (body weight only) and difficulty to place, they are only useful for aid climbing. Every aid climber should know how to place copperheads, even if it's just to replace the occasional one which has ripped out on a popular route.

copperheads aid climbing

Heads are commonly available in four sizes (#1 to #4) from matchstick thin to the thickness of your little finger.

They can be made in a variety of styles, including double-heads, circleheads or lead-heads.

types of copperhead

Copperheads - The Placement

Heads work best in small pods, flared constrictions, or shallow grooves where pitons or offset cams and nuts won't quite fit. Try to get a beak or a small brass nut to fit in first. If this doesn't work, bring out your 'heading kit'.

Attach your heading kit together with a piece of cord and clip it to your aiders so it cannot be dropped when in use.

copperhead kit

Step 1 – Clean Up
Use a wire brush to scrub away loose rock fragments. Then use a toothbrush to 'dust' the placement. For a head to stick, the placement must be clean and dry. A layer of water, dust or slime between the head and rock will prevent the head from sticking.


Step 2 – Measure Up
Measure your rack of heads against the slot and select the correct size. It'll need to be the same size as the slot and no bigger.

how to use copperheads

Step 3 – Shape It
Hold the head against a flat and clean section of rock away from the placement and hit it with the square end of your hammer to make it the same shape as the slot.

Make sure to have the wire side of the head at the back of the placement. This means your body weight will pull down from the rear (and more secure part) of the placement. It also means that you can punch more metal into the placement, therefore having more head-to-rock surface contact.

how to place copperheads

Top View

how to place copperheads aid climbing

Step 4 – Place It
Place the head into the slot and set it in position with the pointed end of your hammer (use a chisel on tiny heads for a more precise aim).

how to use copperheads aid climbing

It should stick with just a couple of hammer taps. If it won't stay, dust the placement, re-shape the head and try again.

Be careful not to hit the rock with your hammer when you do this; it'll ruin the placement.

how to place heads aid climbing

Step 5 – Chisel It
Use your blunt chisel to cross-hatch the head into place. Start in the middle and work outwards. Make sure your chisel is blunt, otherwise you'll chop the head into pieces. You can also use a large punch (similar to a chisel, but with a rounded point) to do this.

how to use copper heads aid climbing

Imagine the head is a tiny climber facing outwards in a flared chimney. In order to stay wedged in place the tiny climber needs to press itself into the chimney using as much surface contact as possible.

Hit the head hard enough to push it into the placement, but not too hard that you chisel down to the wire. The aim is to push the head so it makes as much surface contact with the back of the placement as possible. Obviously you can't see this, but if you shaped the head correctly it'll conform to the placement fairly quickly. Make sure to chisel and punch to the very top and bottom edges, being careful not to ding the cable as you do so. If the head moves when you hit its top or bottom, take it out and try again.

To fine tune the head, use a small punch to smear as much copper as possible into every useable grain of rock. Start in the head's centre and work outwards. The aim of this is to add a little extra head-to-rock surface contact. Finally, clip your aiders to your copper artwork and give it a test.

how to place aid climbing copper heads


Removing Copperheads

It is possible to remove and re-use a head (depending on how much you chiselled it the first time), but it'll be weaker the second time around. Trying to remove a well-placed head usually results in damage to the rock or the head staying in place while the cable pulls out, thus making the task of removing the 'dead-head' difficult for the next climber. Therefore, it is common courtesy amongst aid climbers to leave good heads 'fixed' in the rock for the next climber to use. However, never trust a fixed head. Be prepared to replace them.

To remove a head (or a dead-head), position your small punch underneath the head and tap it with your hammer. Do the same on the top to lever it out, being very careful not to damage the rock.

copperheads aid climbing

Dead-Heads

An alternative with dead-heads is to use them as aid placements.

Gently tap a small beak or a pointed hook into the top of it. Just one or two soft taps will set it in place.

copper heads aid climbing

Copperhead Lengths

Heads are available in different lengths. Long-wired copperheads can be wedged deep into 'expando' slots, or be bent over an edge. Short-wired heads are better for most other situations, simply because they'll put you higher up the wall.

Circleheads

Circleheads are designed to fit in small horizontal flares or underneath roofs. In these places, a regular head will pull from one side, meaning that it'll probably be levered out.

A circlehead pulls evenly from both sides and therefore is more stable.

aid climbing circlehead

Copper or Aluminum Heads?

Copper is a stronger metal but aluminium is more malleable. This means that a copperhead will take longer to place and it'll be more difficult to get it to stick. But a well-placed copperhead will be a stronger piece of gear than an alumi-head of the same size.

Generally, if the placement is a good nut-like slot and the head doesn’t need much chiselling, use copper for a stronger piece of gear. If the placement is a flared pod, use aluminium so it is quicker to shape and more likely to stick.



Copperheads on Overhangs

Heads are more secure when placed in slots which are less than vertical. This is because of the direction of loading. An 'overhanging' head is more likely to be plucked out when weighted, just like a nut would.

#0 Copperheads

#0 heads are made of the same cable diameter as cam triggers. These will break under the force of a gentle bounce test. There’s really no point using #0 heads because you can always flatten a #1 head and use that instead.

Making Your Own Copperheads

If you plan to place hundreds of heads, it’s worth investing in a good quality bench-mount swager to make your own. Nicopress is a good brand. Cheaper Chinese-made brands tend to have compatibility issues with sleeves and cables.

For the strongest heads, use galvanised aircraft cable and zinc-plated copper sleeves for all points which are not pasted (i.e: not the mashable head part of the head).

Having your own swager also means you can fix cam trigger cables, re-swage beak and rurp cables and make your own wire rivet hangers and funkness devices. If you can borrow a tensile-testing machine, it is wise to measure the strength of your swages before you trust your life to them.

how to make copperheads aid climbing

How To Climb a Big Wall – Bolting

This 'How To Place Climbing Bolts' article is part of the book - Big Wall and Aid Climbing.

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

Big Wall Climbing - Bolting Ethics

Belays
Some first ascentionists choose to create bomber bolted belays (making a quick and relieving end to the pitch for future ascentionists), while others prefer natural belays (believing that creating an intricate belay is part of the climb). There is no right or wrong here. When repeating a route with natural belays, it is expected that you respect the adventure of the route and do not add bolts.

Blank Sections
When a climber reaches a blank section on a first ascent, should they drill a rivet and continue climbing, or claim the route to be too difficult and retreat to the ground? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. The commonly agreed ethic is that rivets and bolts should only be placed when there is absolutely no other way to climb the rock, and the number of drilled holes should be kept to a minimum.

Bat Hooks
Bat hook holes are shallow holes which have been drilled in a blank section of rock to accommodate a small pointy ‘bat hook’.When encountering a blank section, some first ascentionists choose to drill a bat hook hole instead of place a rivet or bolt. This may be because they’re running low on time, low on rivets or because they want their route to remain more dangerous.

Whatever the motive, it is commonly agreed amongst modern aid climbers that choosing to make a bat hook hole on a first ascent is poor style, and that a rivet should be placed instead. Drilling a rivet makes the route more ‘repeatable’ for future ascentionists. This is because bat hook holes are often hard to see and can blow out with very few uses, meaning that a rivet must inevitably be placed anyway.

bat hooks aid climbing

Adding Rivets and Bolts
It is not acceptable to add bolts, rivets or bat hook holes to an established route in a place where there wasn’t one previously (‘replacing’ them is different). This would be roughly equivalent to gluing a massive plastic hold at the crux of a crimpy free climb in order to downgrade it to your level – not cool. The only exception to this rule is if part of the aid route has fallen off, creating a new blank section. With permission from the first ascentionists or local climbers, you may repair the route with the sensible addition of rivets/bolts where needed.

Replacing Rivets and Bolts
If you plan to climb a seldom travelled route, it’s a good idea to bring a bolt kit to replace old/broken bolts and rivets. The common ethic is to only replace hardware if it needs replacing, and to replace it with the same type of hardware as the original (e.g: replace a 1/4” rivet with a 1/4” rivet). An exception to this rule is to replace substandard belay bolts with a full-strength alternative (e.g: replace an old 1/4” belay bolt with a 3/8” bolt).

Big Wall Bolts – Material and Strength

The breaking strength of a new, well placed bolt is at least 22kN (very strong). Whereas the strength of a rivet is much less and quite variable. Even a new rivet should not be expected to hold a big fall. You should only use high-quality bolts, rivets, nuts, washers and hangers which are made of stainless steel by a reputable brand. This material lasts a long time before it rusts.

Rivets should be at least 1.5” long in solid granite. In softer rock (e.g: sandstone), use 3/8” bolts instead which are least 2” long. Belay bolts should be 3/8” in diameter and at least 2.25” long in solid granite. In softer rock, it’s recommended to use 1/2” bolts which are at least 3.5" long.

Bolts should be used for all steep overhangs and roofs (rivets on steep ground are difficult/impossible to climb). Always leave the hangers on bolts so future teams can use them easily.



Removing Old Climbing Bolts

To remove an old bolt, you will need:

- Tuning fork (#4 lost arrow with its center cut out)
- Long thin knifeblade
- Epoxy glue

how to replace old rock climbing bolts

Step 1
Gently hammer a long, thin knifeblade under the bolt hanger to begin the process of prying the bolt out. Tap the knifeblade in from all sides. You may need to switch to a fatter knifeblade before the tuning fork will slip behind the hanger.

how to remove old bolts climbing

Step 2
Slide the tuning fork behind the hanger and tap it until it is driven all the way. If the bolt hasn’t already popped out, clip the tuning fork and gently weight it to lever it out.


Step 3
It is theoretically possible to re-use this hole for the new bolt. However, this is not recommended because the old bolt may have moved position over time and created an uneven hole from repeated use. You can’t be certain that the original hole is smooth enough for the new bolt to function correctly. Instead, fill this hole with epoxy glue and cover the top with rock dust to camouflage it. Then drill a new hole next to it (at least 6” away).

If the bolt breaks off while you are prying it out, fill the remainder of the hole with epoxy and rock dust for a smooth finish. Once you have started removing a bolt, it is important to continue until the bolt either pops out or breaks. Leaving a half-removed bolt for the next climber is extremely dangerous!

how to remove old climbing bolts

How To Place Climbing Bolts

This section describes how to place expansion bolts. Other types exist (e.g: glue-in bolts) but are not commonly used on big walls.

You Will Need
- Hammer
- SDS compatible drill with a drill bit
- Bolt hanger, washer and nut
- Torque wrench
- Blow tube
- Bolt which matches the diameter of the drill bit

climbing bolt kit

Step 1
Assess the rock. Visually inspect the area and tap it with your hammer to check that the whole area of rock surrounding the bolt is solid. Never place bolts in loose rock.

Step 2
Choose the precise area where the bolt will go. The hanger will need to be flush against a flat part of the wall when the process is complete. Visualize where the hanger will be (or place it there) to confirm exactly where to drill the hole. Use your hammer to gently remove any loose crystals or micro flakes which would stop the hanger from being flush against the wall.

Step 3
Attach the correct sized drill bit to your drill and loop the keeper sling around your wrist or clip it to something so you can’t drop it. Hold the drill 90 degrees to the rock and hit it a few times to create a small depression. It’s important to hit the rock in the exact same place when starting the hole so as not to create a ‘rounded off’ hole.

Step 4
Now the hard work begins. Keeping the drill perfectly perpendicular to the rock, hit it with steady, precise blows, rotating the drill 1/8 to 1/4 of a turn between each hit. Develop a steady rhythm and keep concentrating or else you’ll drill a wiggly hole or hit your thumb. Remove the drill every 50 or so hits and blow out the dust using your blow tube. Close your eyes when doing this, wear glasses or both.

placing climbing bolts

Step 5
Once the hole is deep enough (this may take 20-30 minutes depending on the depth of the hole and rock type), carefully blow all the remaining dust out.

Measure the depth of the hole using the drill bit. It needs to be almost the same length as the bolt. If you’re not sure, it’s better to drill the hole a bit deeper, than too shallow.

place climbing bolts

Step 6
Put the hanger, washer and nut on the bolt and tap it into the hole. It should go all the way in with a few gentle taps. Adjust the nut so the bolt can go inside the hole as far as possible.

placing rock climbing bolts

Step 7
Tighten the nut with a torque wrench, making sure the hanger stays in position. The bolt will rotate slightly initially, but then it should stay in position as you continue tightening the nut.

how to place rock climbing bolts

Check the torque recommendation for your bolt and be careful not to over-tighten. As you tighten the nut, the back of the bolt expands and locks the whole thing in place. The bolt is now complete.

how to place bolts rock climbing


How To Place Big Wall Rivets

Rivets are available in different types. Some are basically small expansion bolts. Simply place them in the same way as a bolt (see above), but using a 1/4” drill bit.

Other types of rivet work by compression. As they are hammered in, the rivet compresses and deforms. This compression holds the rivet in place. Because rivets are smaller than bolts, it is much faster to drill the hole for them (typically 5 minutes).

Step 1
Drill a hole as described above.

place aid climbing rivets

Step 2
With a plate hanger over the rivet, tap it into the hole, being very careful not to overdrive it.

how to place rivets aid climbing

The rivet should go in as far as possible while allowing the hanger to be removed and replaced easily.

aid climbing rivets

Ideally, you would drill the hole the exact depth so that when the rivet is hammered in as far as possible, it protrudes out from the rock the correct amount. But this can be difficult to get right on your first few tries.

how to use rivet hangers

Why I Climb Big Rocks > Part 2 – The Struggle

The philosophical genius, Eckhart Tolle, stated in his book The Power Of Now, that to be in the present moment, “you don’t need to climb the north face of the Eiger”.

VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks

Five days into the unrepeated Russian Directissima on the Eiger north face, Tolle’s words suddenly revealed their full meaning.

He was right. I was free of time, free of problems, free of the burdens of past and future.

I was truly absorbed in the present moment.

Eiger north face climbing Neil Chelton

But I was leading the most dangerous pitch of the hardest aid route on the Eiger, so I had to be.

I realized that I don’t climb in order to find the present moment.

The present moment is just something that happens while trying to find something else.

Eiger north face aid climbing

Legendary climber, Yvon Chouinard, sums it up in the film 180° South:

VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks
VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks
VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks
VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks
VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks

Yvon is right. There is no point reaching a summit without a struggle, since the struggle is the whole point. It is during the struggle that we learn, we become stronger, we become better people.

That route on the Eiger was, perhaps, too much of a struggle. We returned to our camp on the mountain...

Eiger north face big wall aid climbing

... and melted snow for a nice cup of tea.

VDiff Climbing why i climb big rocks

We never made it to the summit.

Watch a short video of our Eiger fail here.


The Slip Knot

'How To Tie a Slip Knot' is part of the book - Trad Climbing Basics.

VDiff learn to trad climb e-book book

The slip knot is useful for tying off pitons, tree stumps or other poor gear in order to reduce leverage.

how to tie a slip knot for climbing

How To Tie a Slip Knot

Step 1
Form a loop in a sling (thin Dyneema works better than nylon).

how to tie a slip knot

Step 2
Pull a bight through this loop as shown.

how to tie a slip knot for rock climbing

Step 3
Slip this bight over the piton.

slip knot for climbing

Step 4
Cinch it tight and push it as close to the rock as possible to reduce leverage.

tie a slip knot for rock climbing