Climbing – when the next placement is out of reach

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When aid climbing, it’s often necessary to “top step” in your aiders or etriers in order to reach the next placement. If the next placement is just out of reach, the inventive aid climber will try just about anything to get to that elusive crack, flake, pocket, jug or hook. Techniques such as lassoing a flake or other lump of rock with a rope or sling, lassoing a bolt head with wires linked together, using a cheat stick to clip that fixed protection above or even using a cheat stick to place a wire, hex or hook that is out of the climbers reach.

If you don’t carry a designated cheat stick then a piton hammer or a nut tool can be used to add reach, they could also be taped together to make a longer make-shift cheat stick. The use of nut tools as a out of reach placement device is not restricted to aid climbing, free climbers can also used this technique to place wires and hexes that are out of reach. I have also heard some horror stories of climbers flicking a wire into a crack that is out of reach and unable to be examined, using a hook like a grappling hook from below and even throwing a large hex into the fork of a tree before ascending the line, very carefully, I might add.

Before attempting the lasso or cheat stick approach, I like to evaluate the protection that is already in use. Firstly I check to see if the protection can be placed any higher then I check to see if I can clip my etriers any higher onto that piece of protection. The extra inch or two of reach might make the difference.

With “U” type cam constructions such as HB Quadcams, the desperate aid climber could clip his/her etriers into the same location that the sewn sling is attached (E). This type of clipping gives an extra reach equivalent to the sling length. In some circumstances and with some brands it is also possible to clip well above the sling onto an alloy spreader bar (D). Climbers must be aware that the manufacturer may not recommend this type of clipping and it may cause damage to the cam.

Flexible stem cams are a bit restrictive in that they don’t normally allow for clipping above the sling. Some brands have enough space at the sling attachment point to rig an additional, smaller loop for etrier clipping, although this is not a designed feature it seems to work well. By using a length of 4mm cord, tied to form a small prussic loop. It is simply a matter of applying a prussic knot to the stem of the cam thus providing the additional attachment point (B)

The additional attachment point (B) is only used to gain height and is not used as fall protection.

The prussic knot must not be tied above the release trigger (A) as this could release the cam, however may types of release triggers can be slid up out of the way.

The extra height (C) depends upon the prussic loop length and the original sling length, my tests indicate that you can gain approx 1 inch (25mm) to 4 inches (100mm) of additional reach depending upon the particular cam, sling length and the length of your small prussic. If the prussic knot should slide down the flexible stem it will stop at the swage or sling attachment point. If the prussic loop should fail then the cams will operate as normal.

Helpful tips:

  1. The prussic loop may slide more readily on a cam that has a plastic coated flexible stem.
  2. Always seat the placement prior to using these techniques.
  3. Regularly inspect your protection for damage, especially after a fall or after an aid climb and even more often when you use these techniques.

WARNING – Extreme care must be taken when using homemade placements or when modifying standard forms of protection.

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