by Jullie

October 5, 2021

What Is Aid Climbing

If you are a newbie in climbing and mountaineering, I will bet that you probably feel a little bit intimidated right about now, especially if this is your first rodeo. 

For starters, there are countless climbing styles, and beginners often have a hard time choosing the right style for their needs.

If you are having some difficulties deciding on the best climbing style, you don’t have to. This article provides you with all the best information that you’d ever need on the oldest and most trusted climbing technique – aid climbing. Let’s see what is aid climbing.

What Is Aid Climbing?

If you want to gain a more solid understanding of aid climbing, then the best thing to do would be to look at a brief history of climbing in general. To do this, we’ll have to focus a little bit more on mountaineering or alpinism.

What Does It Mean Aid in Climbing

Mountaineering or Alpinism

When people initially began mountain climbing, their primary aim was to reach the most challenging summit. To do this, they had to conquer ridges, glaciers, walls, and numerous other obstacles.

The general public didn’t appreciate all the mountain climbing challenges unless the climbers conquered the mountain and reached the summit. However, later on, the price of the climb, which was reaching the summit, was abandoned. People began to focus more on the process.

Climbers focused more on overcoming challenging climbs, which helped create new climbing styles and climbing gear. The two main climbing styles that climbers adopted were: aided and free climbing.

How to Aid Climb?

Aid climbing is a climbing and mountaineering technique where climbers make upward progress by utilizing various climbing gear and specialized skills. Support equipment used in climbing includes nuts, daisy chains, cam hooks, stepladders, fifi hooks, pitons, etc.

The aiders are used to support the climbers’ weight and protect them from falling. Other climbers have also been known to use portaledges (flat, manufactured ledges suspended from above).

Aid climbing is often pre-planned, and it involves mapping the best climbing route with optimum cracks for fixing support tools. To climb, you have to place hooks, wedges, cams, pitons, or other similar climbing tools inside the pre-planned cracks.

Next, you’ll have to hook your aiders (simple ladders designed with webbing loops) into place to ensure that you are fully secure and then lift yourself. Repeat this process until you’ve finished your climb. 

Pros and Cons of Aid Climbing

How to Multi-Pitch Climbing

Cons of Aid Climbing

There are two significant cons with aid climbing. First, the entire climbing process is too time-consuming compared to other climbing strategies. Plus, it’s also more tiring and boring.

For instance, you’ll have to ensure that you have all the necessary climbing tools, carry the gear, and fix (and unfix) as you climb. The gear is often quite heavy. Plus, hooking and unhooking the fixed pieces into the mountain’s cracks is a bit time-consuming.

For this reason, most climbers prefer free climbs where they use their arms and legs to secure themselves and make upward progress. However, there’s one significant advantage to aid climbing.

Pros of Aid Climbing

At times, you may realize that aid climbing is your only option. For instance, aid climbing can be helpful in instances where you’re faced with a steep wall that doesn’t have enough foot and handholds. 

Your chances of finishing the climb successfully improve significantly if you’re equipped with the right climbing gear.

A Detailed Buying Guide to Aid Climbing Gear

Now that we’ve gone through the basics, the next step involves learning more about the correct type of gear that you need to purchase to help you climb any pitch. Read on to find out more.

1) Aiders

As mentioned earlier, aiders are webbing ladders that help you in aid climbing. It would be good if you had a minimum of two aiders when mountain climbing since you’ll need to stand on one while securing the other one further up. 

When you are out shopping for aiders, you’ll notice two types of aiders: etriers and conventional ladders (ladder aiders).

What Does It Mean Aid Climbing

Ladder aiders

Ladder aiders are designed with a series of loops fixed to support pillars on both sides. The preferred option on the market for such aiders is the Yates Big Wall 6-step Aider.

This aider has a plastic tube reinforcement on its uppermost section, typically referred to as a spread-bar, and it helps keep the fabric loops spread at all times. This helps prevent climbers from always reaching down to make way for their feet.

However, it would be good to note that other aiders do not have this feature, i.e., the Metolius 8-step ladder. However, these aiders aren’t the best option, especially for beginners, since reaching down to spread the loops each time could lower your concentration and increase the risk of accidents.

Etriers

While ladder aiders are easier to use, they are often quite heavy, becoming problematic if you climb a multi-pitch route. The best option could be using lighter equipment, which is where etriers come in.

Etriers, French for the stirrup, have a single support pillar at the aider’s center with climbing loops on the side shaped like stacked triangles. 

They are designed to minimize folding; however, they can be a bit uncomfortable due to their crooked design, especially if you take quite some time to attach your fixed pieces to the cracks on the rock’s surface.

Single-step aiders

Single-step aiders are designed for minimalistic climbers, and if you want one, you could try the PETZL Quickstep Etrier

This piece has a double-back buckle with which you could quickly and safely jug up a rope. However, note that using this aider could consume too much of your time if you use it as the primary etrier.

Climber on a steep crag

2) Daisy chains

Daisy rings are meant to protect you in case you slip off your aider. Daisy chains have multiple loops that you could easily clip at convenient intervals, which come in handy since it acts as a safety anchor that secures you to the secured, fixed pieces.

The best type of daisy chain you can use is the Black Diamond Daisy Chain since it’s pretty easy to handle in rough situations because it only weighs two ounces. Ensure that you connect your daisy chain to each aider, making it easy for you to retrieve the aider if it falls off.

3) Adjustable daisies

Adjustable daisies are perfect when you have to hang off two points since regular daisies won’t work as effectively. 

The best model to use would be the Metolius easy since it allows you to adjust and fine-tune your position by tagging on the adjustable straps.

4) Fifi hook

The fifi hook is a simplified version of the carabiner since it features a question mark shape that climbers could easily use to hook to and hook off a daisy chain. 

However, please don’t use the fifi hook as your primary safety tool. Instead, use it as your secondary safety tool to help you maintain your progress as you prepare to clip to a fresh fixed piece.

5) Piton (optional)

Pitons are an optional aided climbing piece that you could use for protection against falls or as a climbing aid. Pitons were officially for protection by early mountaineers; however, more effective anchoring tools replaced them as time went by.

While some people still use them currently, they have one con that makes them somewhat redundant. Climbers cannot retrieve them easily once they are secured into place. Thus, if you want to use them, you’ll have to ensure that you pack enough of them. However, you could also use other readily retrievable pieces like cams.

Aid Climbing

Cams are spring-loaded mechanisms that are inserted in apertures and used for protection and support when mountain climbing. Cams are reliable, efficient, and effective; however, they have two disadvantages.

Often, they could be too big to fit in crevices, and the force [rpduced by their spring-loading mechanism could shatter weak rocks. Therefore, it would be good to ensure that you place your cams in strong rock crevices and pack some pitons as a backup.

6) Climbing helmet

Climbing helmets are pretty important, and they are designed to offer you protection against common climbing scenarios. For instance, they could be helpful in cases where small rocks get dislodged above you and come rattling down.

The helmet can also protect you when you miss your step and slide into the wall or when you hit your head on an overhang. It would be good to ensure that you have a well-fitting helmet that could dampen any accidental fall plus, it should be comfortable enough for you to wear for long periods.

There are various helmets to choose from, making first-time climbers’ purchase decisions even harder; however, you could try Petzl Boreo because of its thick ABS build for better protection and durability. Plus, it’s affordable.

7) Climbing harness

All brands must (and do) design their harnesses for maximum protection according to safety standards; however, not all of them care about comfort.

If you want a good harness that doesn’t dig in into your body, is a little bit wider and has a padded build for more comfort, then you could try the Black Diamond Solution.

8) Rope

Climbing ropes have different features, lengths, designs, and safety ratings.

Therefore, if you want a great climbing rope, then you’ll have to take some time to educate yourself and get a rope (and general gear) that’s designed for safety and comfort.

Equipment for Multi-Pitch Climbing

9) Shoes

Climbing shoes are quite different from your average running shoes. They have been designed for maximum comfort, effectiveness, reliability, and durability. 

You’ll need to take some time and get familiar with all the climbing shoes if you want to get the best pair.

Aid Climbing History

Aid climbing started in the 1900s, and mountain climbers often used pitons to anchor themselves and prevent accidents.

However, pitons were unreliable since you had to carry lots of them. However, Yvon Chourinad introduced cams and nuts, which changed the game for good.

Cams and nuts are way lighter than pitons plus, they don’t leave any marks on the rock’s surface, making it easier for people to enjoy untampered routes. This is why aid climbing using nits and cams is referred to as clean aid climbing.

Aid Climbing vs. Free Climbing

Free climbers only use their physical strength to propel themselves upwards. They could use ropes but only as protection in case they slip. 

Those who participate in aid climbing are allowed to use gear to propel themselves upward.

Aid Climbing Grades

Professionals have created a universal grading system that determines a route’s difficulty to help facilitate the aid climbing process. 

The system consists of a letter and a number. While the number represents the routes’ difficulty, the letter represents routes requiring pitons and those that don’t.

A0C0

Such routes require minimal gear and can be ascended by stepping on fixed pieces and (or) pulling on pitons. It is also referred to as French-free climbing.

A1C1

These are accessible routes that present minimal risk of gear detachment.

A2C2

These present moderate routes that have a higher risk of gear detachment but with relatively safe falls.

A3C3

These are challenging routes that are challenging when placing pieces. Plus, the risk of falls will be pretty alarming.

A4C4

These represent complex and time-consuming routes with perilous falls.

A5C5

These routes will have fatal falls since they don’t protect the climber, and thus, climbers need to be extremely careful.

Sometimes, a route’s difficulty can rest between two ratings, and some people prefer to modify the ratings with a (+) or (-) to accommodate the route.

For instance, the A+ route can be described as easy but with a few challenging sections that push it to an A1 (but not further enough to get it to an A2-).

Final Thoughts on Aid Climbing

While aid climbing doesn’t produce as much adrenaline rush as free climbing, it’s still an excellent alternative for beginners. 

Aid climbing is excellent for building up your endurance, strength, mentality and boost your risk assessment capabilities. Consider starting with aid climbing before moving on to more advanced climbing techniques.

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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