I hope you dont mind me picking your brain, just say if you do. But I’m wondering where I could practice the art of piton craft within the uk. Ive got a bunch of copper heads I’m keen on trying. I’ve been speaking to others and all I get told is to go to some worthless crag somewhere, but no one really knows where. I’m going to yosemite in 3 years and I know a lot of climbs go clean, I suppose i could just go there and learn on the spot but I’d rather practice beforehand. I wondered how you practiced early in your career whether you did so in the uk and ignored others or did you do it abroad? I could ask you a million things, i hope you dont mind. If your too busy i understand.
My advice would be to not worry about placing pegs, because A: it’s very easy anyway, and B because even on the hardest routes you’ll never place more than a few (on the Troll last month I placed one Angle). With modern cams and nuts (and cam hooks) you just don’t need to place pegs anymore, and so they are the weapon on last resort (well just before a rivet, a bat hook, then a bolt). If you find you need to place one, then 90% of the time it’s very straightforward - just bang it in until it feels good.
The one exception to the rule are birdbeaks (the king of pegs), as these are used a lot on any harder route (probably placed about 30 times on the Troll). Luckily because the hook like a mini ice axe they’re much easier to understand when it comes to getting one to stick.
Copperheads are pretty much the same, and only work on limestone and granite really (not grit or sandstone!). When I climbed the Pacific Ocean Wall we just spent half an hour on some scrappy boulders on camp 4 (had a big lightning bolt on it… Joke) with a few heads, a hammer and a chisel (chisel is for the head - not the rock!).
By the time you get to thoes routes that need this kind of thing then you’ll have the skills.
The most important thing for aid/big walls are your systems, like leading smoothly and safety (ie using aiders, diasys and testing), jumaring and cleaning, and hauling. It’s this that makes or breaks a climb, not placing gear.
My advice is to leave the pegs and stuff (I know you get a thrill out of banging in pegs, but it soon wears off), and just do as much clean aiding as you can (sandstone quarries are perfect for this). Try different systems (1, 2, 3 and 4 aiders), and become a jumar demon on all angles of rock. That’s what I did, and climbing the Shield headwall is really not that different to aiding London Wall on a rainy day.
If you want to make the most of the stuff I’ve learnt the hard way, then buy my book Driven.
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram