The YoGo Method for Rapid Multi-pitch Climbing
Legal disclaimer: In this article we describe a novel approach to speed climbing, which has significant risks of death or serious injury. Although we have significant experience with this technique, we recommend as is the usual custom for the humble reader to consult his personal physician before attempting any of these activities. We also recommend consultation with your priest, rabbi, mullah, and/or mortician as well. There are no guarantees. The journal publishing this material assumes no responsibility for use or misuse of the accompanying information.
If you do this work, expect trouble...
– Julius Newman, MD (referring to cosmetic surgery)
By Chris Gonzalez(1) and Robert Yoho
El Capitan's Nose in a Day (NAID)... from the couch it sounds if not reasonable at least plausible to we four aging musketeers. Right Florine: a layback here, a pull on a cam there, a run-out or two, and we'll have it on our resume along with the West Face, Astroman, and Half Dome in a day. Right from the start we planned on heat conditioning and a couple of trial runs to get reacquainted with the Big Stone. Three of us had done the route before. One of us had already a 17 hour ascent (2). The idea was to avoid doing another big-wall camping trip. The prospects at first really didn't seem so bad. And we have one improved skill: we're better at buying gear. The new super-light stuff might be some sort of compensation for our average age of nearly 50. And as Alvarez says, quoting Mo Greene in Feeding the Rat, "every year you need to flush out your system and do a bit of suffering. It does you a power of good."
But each of our teams tried twice to climb NAID and only made it about a third of the way (3). So back to the drawing board: check in again with Hansie in Speed Climbing. According to his bible, to cut time we just had to perform a few smart-dog tricks to get the team moving together. Didn't sound so hard. Sumulclimb a bit, (don't let that second fall) and maybe short fix to keep that leader moving when the second is jugging the line. But simulclimb? What's our comfortable solo limit? 5.7? (well, maybe 5.6). This isn't going to do us much good. And short fix? Isn't that roped soloing? One of the authors (RY) tried it a couple of times on the Vampire at Tahquitz (an excellent description of short fixing is found in notes (4)). Got the Gri-Gri rigged with the chest harness, wire loop and all. Even took a 15 foot fall, the system worked perfectly. Unfortunately the sphincter factor was excessive: whatever time was gained was then lost by having to change underwear, so he vowed never, ever to do that doggie trick again.
So what's a mere mortal middle-aged chickenhearted climber to do in order to speed up a big wall ascent? How about cheater sticks? We already thought of that and one team had a nice one. (5) What about drugs or other special aids? In a Climbing Magazine parody of Bacher's prose in the 1970's, one author (RY) had suggested that "when the going gets visionary," (i.e. when climbing real rad stuff) Bacher relied on his third leg for extra purchase on the rock. (6) Even using prescription performance-enhancing drugs, based on actual experience of the four climbers, maybe 30 to 60 minutes max would be all the help we could expect. And the object was to perform for nearly 24 hours. No dice, this wouldn't work either.
We thought about the problem long and hard to come up with a solution to our conundrum. Extra conditioning was out: we had the time but not the motivation. Free soloing was good for only about 60 feet of the Nose given our 5.6 rating constraints. Author RY had tried Potter's movable anchor and made about 70 feet in 2 hours (thus making the Nose a 4 day proposition provided he could climb continuously) and again the underwear stains were annoying. Finally after hours of contemplation we thought of a novel approach. Our idea is really just short fixing for chickens, and in the traditional self-aggrandizing spirit of Chouinard-Herbert and Bacher-Yerian, we dubbed it the YoGo method.
Here's the idea. The leader takes two 60 meter (200 foot) single ropes, leading on one and trailing the other. When he reaches the anchor—often only 80 to 120 feet on the Nose--he briefly pauses and anchors the trail line after taking up the slack and tying it off to the anchor with an equalized cordelette. The second, tied into both lines, jumars the fixed trail line in usual manner leaving our intrepid leader on continuous belay with his trusty Gri Gri (7) or Cinch (Trango). The leader happily continues climbing on the original lead rope after clipping the anchor with a quick-draw secure in the knowledge that he is leading with something that closely approximates a real honest-to-God belay. There is no stopping at a traditional belay stance; both climbers keep moving whenever possible.
Next the second arrives at the anchor. He double-dasies directly into the cordelette and immediately unties the trail line from the anchor as well. When convenient the leader pauses and pulls up all gear cleaned from the previous pitch, which the second ties into the middle of the now free trail line. Obviously, the leader cannot have progressed more than 100 feet or there isn't enough slack in the trail line to get the gear. Then the leader continues climbing, all the while staying on belay on the original lead line. He gets to the next anchor and the process is repeated.
The above scenario works best when the pitch is vertical. However, if there is a traverse or pendulum involved the leader should pull up and fix the lead rope instead of the trail rope when he gets to the anchors. This allows the second to more easily clean the pitch when jumaring. After fixing this lead rope, the leader then leads on the original trail line after clipping this rope into the anchors with quickdraw(s) as a bombproof protection point. Obviously the second must put the original trail line into a belay device, being careful to always have the leader on belay or tied off as appropriate. When the belayer arrives at the anchors, the leader will pull up the gear as before, this time on the new trail rope (original lead rope), after this is untied from the anchor.
It is prudent for the leader to pause momentarily when the second is following pendulums or on a traverse. There's potential for a sideways jerk on the second if the leader were to fall in these circumstances. Rope snarfs are routine and untying a rope from the leader or second and quickly sorting is occasionally necessary (with everyone clipped in or on belay as appropriate). You may opt to tie into doubled and reversed biners, but at least one author (CG) thinks this isn't faster. The pitch-by-pitch rope swap sometimes advocated in traditional block leading is not required with this method. Keep the belay device on top of the whole mess when you are the second, because in theory, some of your slings might keep the device from locking if the leader falls. Also pay attention to keep the belay device from being twisted on the biner.
We think the YoGo may be safer than traditional short fixing. The leader can concentrate on leading and does not have to self-belay or feed out the rope. There is less stress on a belay device when it is on the belayer as opposed to the standard short fixing situation, when it's on the leader's waist, where it will be subjected to the full force of the fall. With the YoGo there are higher risks for the second, who belays without a directional anchor appropriate for an upward pull.
We wish we could report a proper sub-24 hour Nose ascent this year for our group but it hasn't happened yet, even using the YoGo method. We are hoping for longer days and cooler weather next spring... Maybe we will break down and do some conditioning too. After lots of chat with other climbers of our meager abilities, it appears that it's not uncommon to go up there as many as twenty times before a successful daylight accent. Ah yes, NAID... it's not a climb, it's an obsession!
Additional Notes and Recap
Our literature search revealed no reports of this technique in climbing journals in either anecdote or controlled study. We believe it to be wholly original, or at least unreported.
Movement is continuous but we believe that this method is more confidence-inspiring and safer than either simul-climbing or standard short fixing. It may be slower, depending on the party's skills. We have experience with the YoGo. Falls have been taken, and no untoward consequence has occurred to date.
The major risks are:
1) The leader should be aware that falls might be somewhat longer than usual because, despite assiduous attention to the belay device, it's hard to keep the slack in the line just right when the second is jumaring.
2) The belay device might potentially get snarfed somehow in the jumar slings or wrapped somehow so it won't catch properly. The assumption of course is that the belay device will catch a fall, even if neglected. We occasionally tied off the rope behind the belay device for extra security; an autoblock or prussic might also be helpful, but might also get sucked into the device during a fall with unknown consequences. In practice, as the second jumars, the weight of the rope tends to slide through a Gri-Gri taking up the slack but occasionally short-roping the leader (a Cinch might work better). Pay attention so the device used is properly positioned on the carabiner and won't get torqued with an abrupt fall.
3) The second might get jerked in an unexpected direction with untoward consequences (for example, fatal head injury).
4) Because the YoGo has had only moderate use "the law of unforeseen consequences" is in play here. Be careful, you might just die.
The advantages are:
1) In the most common situation, there may be only moderate force exerted on the belayer even from a long fall because a significant amount of rope is out with correspondingly low fall factors. This presumes the usual friction in the system between the belayer and leader, and that the leader has placed adequate protection.
2) The leader may be more liberal with gear placement (and a correspondingly smaller rack might be considered) because the rack is restocked roughly every 100 feet on average. This is a nice technique on old wave climbs like the Nose or the Regular Route on Half dome, where the pitches are short.
3) The leader is always on belay, even when retrieving gear. This contrasts with short fixing technique, when the leader has to either hold on or establish some sort of quasi-reliable anchor when pulling up cleaned gear.
4) The second is also belayed by the lead rope through the device he is using to belay the leader. This is another layer of security for the second.
5) Communication between climbers is typically easier because they are not too far apart.
With the YoGo method you don't have to debate about bringing a second rope. You need to have it because it is an integral part of the system and you are going to move faster with it. Having the second rope is obviously safer because you can always retreat (although this may be a disadvantage psychologically), and you have two lead ropes in case one gets damaged.
We have not tried the YoGo on multi-pitch free climbs when the second also free climbs. However, with some modification it may work and possibly be safer than standard simul-climbing. The second could self-belay with a Mini Traxion (Petzl, not recommended by manufacturer for this use) on the fixed line and/or use a Gri-Gri with a chest harness. Of course if the second falls rope stretch in the fixed line might pull the leader off. This problem might be circumvented by using more slack in the lead line. In any event if the leader gets yanked off, the fall should be a typical leader fall and he should not be pulled all the way down to the last protection point in the catastrophic manner of a typical simul-climb fall. The second always has the option of stopping, sitting on the rope, and giving his full attention to belaying the leader through a crux. Likewise the leader can always pause at a protection point while the second climbs a crux. (N.B. The second author thinks this is insanity.)
Use ropes of different colors, constantly monitoring the system when cleaning, leading and jumaring. When changing lead ropes, be sure to have the leader call out the color of the rope he is clipping on lead as a safety check. Clip the wrong rope and you might take the Big Slap...
Hauling is not easily incorporated into the YoGo method. We had the second jug with a pack.
For simplicity, we recommend the anchors be set up completely independent of the ropes (except of course for the fixed jug line) with an equalized cordelette system. The fixed line might be tied off with a clove hitch or (better) a figure eight with a carabiner in the middle so it could be quickly untied. When the second clips into the anchor, use dual dasies for simplicity so the trail rope can be quickly freed and pulled up for gear retrieval and/or fixing above.
(1) First author contributed 90 per cent of the original ideas contained herein.
(2) This individual, Grant Horner, climbed the Nose in 17 hours in his mid 30's on the first day he ever visited Yosemite. This has never been done before or since. In fact he arrived, started in the dark, and his first daylight view of the Valley was from the top of Sickle ledge! He conditioned by climbing in an East Coast climbing gym on a 5.11d artificial crack up and down for up to 4 hours. Grant's partner, Reid Mallenbaum, was the fourth member of our group. Mr. Florine confirms via email that Grant's accomplishment was indeed unique.
(3) Four NAID attempts constituted a very crude unblinded study of the "YoGo" technique outlined above. Grant's team tried with traditional "lead and follow" technique. They made it to 40 feet below Dolt tower once and the top of the boot the other time. Each time they bivvied, enjoying lovely views of car headlights and climbed for roughly 20 hours once and about 14 hours the second time. The authors' team used the YoGo, and made it once to the Eagle Ledge via Jardine traverse (10.5 hours) and once to top of Texas flake in 11.5 hours. They happily jumped into the Merced well before dark after each retreat. Hansie' bible claims that our collective high points were only 25 to 35 per cent of the whole NAID in terms of effort.
A comparison study of the two teams was undertaken. Age, grip strength, free climbing resume over the prior 12 months, and testicular greatest dimension* were compared (the French team member had to be forcibly restrained in order to collect some of the data, but we did what was necessary in the name of Science). Using weighted analysis, not included here due to privacy issues, the first, slower group was found to be significantly superior in these measured parameters (p less than .01). Though there were obviously other confounding factors (authors, for example, had been up to start of Jardine traverse in 8 hours once before using traditional methods), it may be stated cautiously that that data suggests the YoGo method may be faster than traditional belaying. No member of either team was particularly proud of his performance. The authors' behavior in particular might be characterized as cowardice in the face of the enemy: they had gallons of water left when they bailed the last time. But, hey, it's all fun on the Captain and beats the hell out of life in the real world.
*First author CG, who was a pathologist, appends: "I have measured hundreds of gonad specimens on the surgical pathology bench (orchiectomies for prostate cancer and of course primary testicular tumors) and I typically used the term "greatest diameter" or "greatest dimension" or gave the three dimensions of the testicle. This is in contradistinction to length which I think of as typically applying to an object that has one dimension that is considerably longer than the rest (e.g. phallus, leg, arm, etc...)." It was not necessary to excise the Frenchman's testicles to examine them, although consideration was given to this option because resistance to a proper physical exam was encountered.
(4) "Short-fixing works like this: The leader climbs to a belay, pulls up the slack on the 60-meter lead line, fixes the rope to the belay, and then continues leading, self-belaying on the section of slack rope. Meanwhile, the second jumars the pitch and, upon reaching the belay, puts the leader back on belay. Properly executed, short-fixing all but eliminates belay transitions and down time. But because the leader and second seldom if ever meet at the belay, there are few opportunities for the leader to replenish the rack. Result: The leader back cleans, or removes the gear behind him, for up to 70 feet or more on A1 or A2, and may not place gear at all on free pitches easier than 5.10. The leader often forgoes a self-belay once he's anchored the rope, and instead launches off with a 70-foot loop of rope hanging from his harness. "There is a similar feeling to free soloing," says O'Neill. "In many sections you know you absolutely can't fall." Furthering the commitment, most speed teams dispense with "non-essential" gear. No retreat rope, no descent shoes, no bivy gear, no headlamp, no drill kit." (from http://www.yosemitefun.com/climbing/)
(5) Our ethic is that cheater sticks are absolutely cheating and should never be used unless they are from an automobile antenna which was broken off an expensive late-model car parked in the Valley within 24 hours prior to the start time of the ascent, defined by Dr. Florine as the exact moment the leader leaves the ground (we obviously would never advocate vandalism or thievery; the antenna might even be from your own car of course).
(6) This was "Path of the Dastard" which satirized Bacher's article "Path of the Master". John Bacher, who spoke to author RY in 1983 when passing him near the top of Astroman, reacted as follows: "Don't sweat it Bob, any publicity is good publicity."
(7) Petzl website (http://www.petzl.com) gives the acceptable rope diameter for Gri gri as 9.7-11 mm. Petzl does not advocate either taking the belay hand off the rope or rope-soloing with the device.