Logistics and Equipment
(Side note, DO NOT do this competition with your significant other/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend.)
The first thing you have to do is sign up. This is accomplished in two ways: pre-registration or the lottery. Years ago, the event had empty spots and anyone could join. There was a maximum, but it would take hours to fill. My first year I don’t know if it ever filled. My second year the online signup filled in 9 hours, then 15 minutes, then 4 minutes. After that, the wise decision was made to create a lottery where people were pulled randomly from a list of entrants and let fate decide.
Around the same time, I suggested to Andy Chasteen that the 24-hour wasn’t long enough and we needed a 36- or 48- hour continuation of the competition. Alas, he’s smarter than I and created the 12-hour competition before the main event which is optional but can be used to gain entry for the following year’s events. This means that someone who fails to get into the lottery for the 24-hour event can do the lottery (which isn’t nearly as difficult to get into) and earn pre-registration for next year. You ARE DEFINITELY ALLOWED TO SIGN UP FOR BOTH, and THAT’s CALLED “The 36.” I don’t suggest doing it, even though I will never not do it again.
To be pre-registered means that you competed the previous year and successfully completed the minimum required for your bracket. If you’re in the 12-hour event, you need to climb a minimum of 60 routes, (of ANY difficulty) to gain reentry. If you’re in the 24-hour event, you must complete a minimum of 100 routes (of ANY difficulty) to gain reentry. If you want to do the All 5.8 and less in the North 40, more power to you. If you want to do every 5.10 you can possibly find, it’s going to suck, but good luck!
When I say any difficulty, I mean it. Even if you sign up for Elite, and your “bracket” says you climb 5.12b and up, you can still climb easier routes. People sometimes think that just because they’re in Advanced, which is 5.11a to 5.12a, that they have to climb in that range. You don’t; you can climb 5.9 to your hearts content even in the Elite bracket.
Every year you must re-qualify for pre-entry the following year. Early on in the competition the minimum for pre-qualification was only one route per hour for each hour. The scores were correspondingly lower. To allow for more entrants, the re-qualifications have been retargeted as the techniques and crowd gets better. Scores, route-counts, etc. have all increased over the years for many different reasons, and comparing scores year-to-year is effectively meaningless. Yes, during many years, new records are set, but this 11th year was brutal and everything was depressed significantly.
Now that you’ve signed up, it’s time to set your goals. People who set a goal of completion fail. People who set a goal of 150 routes typically succeed. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the biggest deciding factor of success in this competition is ambition. If you ever stop moving, you’ll stop moving permanently. If you ever take a rest, regardless of your discipline, it’ll kill your motivation and drive. I’ve gone through it. I’ve witnessed others going through it. I’ve seen people who swore left and right that their goal of 48 routes each was super ambitious and that they trained for it and were super confident…. Only to find them asleep at 4 AM on the ground because they were going TOO slowly.
Whatever goal you set, the requalification of 60/100 routes should be your minimum. Give me any single human being who has been climbing for 6-12 months and loves it, and I can get them requalified. You will surprise yourself and you can do amazing things. You will have climbers alongside you during the competition cheering you on and trying to motivate you. Ask for beta on a route and thou-shalt-receive. The stoke and psyche are high, embrace it and go for broke.
Don’t be someone who goes for bare minimum. You’ll get in others ways and you’ll let yourself down. Don’t be afraid of the idea of doing 4-5 routes per hour each. It sounds like that’s a significant quantity of routes, and my first year I only did 80 and was super proud, but now that I’ve seen many, many, many people break into the 200+ club, regardless of their fitness level, it’s completely doable with sheer determination.
YOU CAN FUCKING DO IT, SO DO IT, AND DON’T BITCH THAT IT MIGHT BE HARD. Surprise yourself, I swear I have more confidence in your anonymous self I may never meet than you have in yourself, so go crush it. Win your division, first try, I’ve seen it done.
Great, you’re signed up. You’ve got a goal. You’re a moron. Now give up all autonomy and follow these simple steps to get your 60/100 routes. If you don’t desire to get your requalification, why are you even reading this?! But on a serious note, every single person who has ever started the competition, either one of them, has the capacity to get their 60/100 goal. Every. Single. Fucking. One. So when I turn around at the 24-hour competition and someone says their goal is only “surviving it” or “24-48 routes total” I tell them quite frankly they will fail. Good luck!
Now you need to train. Like a crazy person. My friends and I, every year, turn the 4-6 months before the competition into a mad rush of endurance cardio training. You might not be able to do what we do, but the closer you are to it the better.
What you’re going to need is: cardio, strength, endurance, callus, hair, pain tolerance, and a destruction of your ego. Tick whatever boxes you can, and blissfully ignore any you cannot.
This year, and I feel it worked out really well for me, I rode my bicycle, rock climbed, and swam a little. (I’m a former competitive swimmer, so that helps I guess; but it was in the Mediterranean, so that doesn’t, I guess.)
My bicycle riding consisted of riding the 5 km (3-miles) each way to the rock climbing gym 3-4 times per week. I would push hard and try my damnedest to go faster each and every time than I had the previous, even after workouts at the climbing gym. Traffic and weather pose problems, but they will during 24HHH too, so suck it up, learn to negotiate traffic mentally and physically, and learn to enjoy the fact that you’re outside regardless of the weather. It can snow at 24HHH, it can rain (it has!), it can cook you (it has!) or if can be perfect 75 degrees with a light breeze for the complete 24-hours (it has!). After a few months of riding my bicycle with my climbing gear on my back, my cardio was good enough. If you don’t ride, run. If you don’t run, swim. If you don’t swim, have vigorous sex. If you don’t enjoy sex, well then you’re an idiot (oh, we’re back to the prerequisite for signing up, welcome to the club!)!
For my climbing, I go to the gym and run laps. On anything. And everything. And more. My favorite is to find a nice string of routes a little harder than my warmup and climb them until failure. For me that’s roughly 5.10+. Then do it again. Then do it again. At the end I could do roughly 1000 feet without stopping where the minimum was difficulty was at my warmup level and I would finish without being pumped. Learn to breathe large breaths while climbing. Learn to flow. Learn to ignore your forearms. Learn to look like a tool with 10 quickdraws and some PAS’s hanging from your harness indoor. About once per week, go to the gym and climb for four to six hours without taking breaks longer than 1-2 minutes. About once every other week, make it a six- to eight- hour day. You’re thinking I’m crazy, but if you can’t make 6-8 hours of air conditioned indoor rock climbing, how-the-fuck do you expect to survive 12 or 24 outside?! And lastly, before your first time at hell, I suggest desperately trying for a 12- to 16-hour day of relaxed climbing just to test yourself out. Trust me, you don’t truly know yourself until hour 16.
You’re thinking by now, this guy must truly be insane. No one does what he’s suggesting! But trust me, they actually do. And if you can get to this point, in your climbing workouts, then the actual climbing part will cease to be an issue, and no matter what you actually try to do during the competition, you’ll crush the climbing part. If you do this, trust me and every other veteran, the climbing will be the easy part and then just getting the minimum becomes a test in patience and determination.
Even if you want more than the minimum, go for this pseudo-training regimen and you’ll get a leg up. Some of the veterans do it differently, but this guide isn’t for the dudes (or ladies! [Watch out for Natalie Neal Dower]) who actually know what they’re doing, it’s for the first or second timers who want a leg-up.
For any other training, It’s just fun multi-pitch days if possible, single-pitch cragging for fun, and the occasional swim session which is partly about just mixing it up. As the competition gets closer, be careful about going for hard red-point attempts because an injury just before the competition can royally fuck you. (Speaking from experience.)
Also, when is the last time you were awake for 24 full hours? My advice: stay up one Friday night for 30 hours (because of the 3 hours before the competition and the 3 hours after the competition before you get to sleep) and see how your body does. Do it with your partner, if possible? Get to see what each other is like at 4 AM. Time the wakefulness to correspond with what you’ll experience during hell. Get up at 7:30 for the 9 AM meeting, eat your breakfast and poop, then play mind games and go to the gym together etc. But don’t let each other sleep. In the wee-hours of the night, put on your headlamps and practice wearing them for 12 hours. Don’t waste batteries, just get used to them. Play games that are mind-intensive late at night and see if either of you get loopy or lose your minds. At 10 PM and then again at 4 AM do a stroke-check on each other, like in the comp. Cheer and eat breakfast around 10 AM. Then around 1 PM get some sleep again. Yes, that’s hell. And you weren’t even climbing for 24 hours! Treat it like a game, but if you are worried about any advice in this guide, YOU CAN TEST IT BEFORE THE COMPETITION STARTS.
I’ll admit that one year, my anonymous Danny partner, was stuck in the middle of a 5.7 on the North Forty, Mr. Dixon, and spent 20 minutes trying to figure out the beta while in a no-hands rest all confused asking me what to do. *Cough Danny Cough* Basically, at 4 AM his mind shut off and it took him 20 minutes to do his lap, 30 seconds for mine (it’s a 3-bolt route with jugs), then another 20 minutes for his because he forgot his beta from literally one minute beforehand and was confused again. Yes, I let this man belay me. Yes, I still love you Danny. (He went on in later years to crush harder, and even in this particular year he did more than 100 routes when the minimum for re-entry was still 24 and 100 was uncommon.) (He did win best haircut because of the handprint on his head! And Thomas Caldwell, gentleman extraordinaire, offered to let us wipe our feet on his bare thighs, but that’s an entirely different but true story.)
Moral of the story, know yourself and your partner and what you will be like 16-20 hours into the comp. If you can’t survive 16-20 hours fooling around outside climbing, while only eating and drinking what you’re going to during the competition, how do you expect to survive together during the actual hell?
Okay, so now you’re shredding shit harder than you ever have before because you decided to actually do some climbing. Great! Now you need the gear. Here’s a photo of gear we own which you should also have.
Just kidding. Well, we each own this, but don’t bring it. Here is the complete minimum list of all climbing gear that you need to complete 24HHH, including traditional protection:
- 5 quickdraws (okay, maybe 6 in case you drop/lose/break one)
- 35-meter rope
- Locking Carabiner with inbuilt cross loading prevention (Via Ferrata style is fantastic!!!!!)
- Black Diamond #.75 Camalot (Green) or .75 Link Cam (Green)
- 60mm sling
- ATC-XP belay device with auto-locking carabiner
- Enough tape to both become Egyptian mummies permanently
You’re thinking I’m joking. I’m not. If you want to take and utilize more, good on you. I won’t stop you, but it’s going to be excessive. Here’s a picture of the gear we actually carried with us during the comp. (Notice the blue tape on the link cams and the white tape on the quickdraws for later. We never even placed the purple link cam, though.)
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re looking at doing a bunch of routes, and you’re probably going to skip the obvious ones that everyone skips. That means the longest climbs you’re going to do require a 35m rope. Buy a 70m by 9.2mm rope and cut it in half, or a 35m by 9.2mm one you don’t need to cut. Expect your rope will die by the end of the competition. If you’ve cut your 70m in half, you can leave the other half down in your car in case your side dies then you have a backup. Don’t underestimate backups upon backups upon backups! Thickness of the rope matters. It’s going to get thicker as the competition continues. Get the smoothest feeding and easiest rope for handling. It’s going to get thicker, it’s going to get dirty, it’s going to get gnarly. You aren’t going to be taking whippers on these ropes, so thickness only serves to make it HEAVIER and HARDER TO CLIP. Do yourself a favor, get a rope that is shoestring thin which can feed through an ATC fast and use it. (Even 9.4 ends up becoming too thick and less than 9.0 doesn’t bind properly in an ATC.)
Doing 100 routes at 24HHH is typically just shy of 1 vertical mile. If you and your partner both do it, that’s 2 vertical miles the rope is being clipped, and 2 more vertical miles (minimum) that it’s being pulled back through. That means your rope will experience roughly 200 pitches (each 100’ long) worth of dragging across rock. You seriously want to tell me that you expect your rope to genuinely be usable after that much usage? Come again, I can’t hear you, speak louder. How many of your ropes would you like to go climbing with knowing they already had 200 pitches of previous use, and you can visibly see the sheath separating from the core and turning fuzzy. Our 9.2mm rope this year ended up at 11.3mm in thickness, too. I’m not joking, it became hard to pull through the ATC and almost impossible to pull through a GriGri.
My ex-girlfriend took a used rope one year, and 3 hours in it became unusable because it had seen some use previously. They barely got their 100 routes each that year, and the rope only survived the first 20 that each of them did.
Trust me, it’s going be painful, but buy a rope specifically for this. You’ll love yourself for it later. If you bring a 60m, it’s going to be far too much rope and slow you down drastically. If you bring a 70m rope, you’re insane. Anything longer and you’ll be laughed at.
Also, there’s these things called rope-bags; leave it at home. In past years we’ve tried to maintain tarps, rope bags, blue IKEA bags, and laundry baskets. They only slow you down. The rope is designed to take a bit of abuse, and as long as you aren’t walking on it, and no one else does, it’ll survive touching the ground. The one exception to this rule is the year it torrentially rained, but even then it’s impossible to actually keep the rope clean. The simplest of the solutions is to get a 10’x10’ section of tarp and cut it into a 5’x5’ square and just let the rope drop onto that. Then you just pick up the corners and move on. But, of course, all of this is mitigated by having that 35m rope, because a 35m rope can be managed very easily with just your hands. Especially if you two work together to make it go faster. If you ever need to coil, both of you should be doing it and carry the piece you have at the end. Either way, they take longer to manage and will slow you, and by extension others, down. In the photo below, the rope is dirty, but survived 36 hours of direct ground contact and more than 650 total routes.
Another really strange phenomenon I witnessed this year is each climber having their own rope permanently attached to them, and a personal rope bag of varying types for each climber. I’m speechless, that’s heavy and pointless. You quite literally don’t save any time vs our method, and only add the possibility of tangled ropes because you should be going fast enough that one would be climbing while the other is pulling THEIR OTHER rope down. Basically, read the next paragraph and go faster and lighter and smarter. Yes, I’ll admit this works, and it might be faster than a 60m rope. It’s definitely faster than retying each iteration. It’s unfathomably less favorable to having a single end you each switch off as necessary.
The other thing you’re going to be doing is taking that non-cross loading carabiner mentioned earlier and tying the end of the rope to it. Before the competition starts. Congratulations you’re not going to have to tie a knot for the entire competition! 100 routes, 2 times each, tie and untie means 400 knot tie/untie actions, running at 30 seconds each, that’s 3 hours 2 minutes of knot tying. Thanks for wasting 1/8th of your competition standing around not competing! (This, coupled with shoes, ends up being 25% of your entire competition (SIX HOURS), if you’re stupid.) If you think you can tie your knot faster than 30 seconds each time, and untie it faster than 30 seconds each time, then I’d like you to demonstrate that to me at hour 20 of the competition when you can’t feel your fingers and you’re having difficulty climbing 5.6.
More on why the short rope is better later in this treatise, outside the obvious amount of usage. We used one half of the rope each during each competition. One half was used in the 12 hour, and the other half was used in the 24 hour. Here’s a photo of our two halves of the rope after 36 hours of stupidity (they started out bright reflective lime green).
This suggestion is going to draw ire no matter how I state it, so I’ll just preface it upfront and say that if you want to argue with me, and won’t listen to my advice, then skip this.
I’ve used ATC’s, ATC-XP/Guides, Petzl GriGri’s, and the Micro Jule thingy. I’ve had partners in the past use these and others such as the Cinch. This last comp, the fastest we’ve gone is with a normal ATC with teeth. Let me explain why.
The safest device you’re going to use is auto-locking. If you’re remotely worried about fatigue affecting your belay technique, and want something to do your job for you because you’re too novice for belaying to be second-nature/muscle-memory, then get a GriGri 2 and read the next section. For the love of all that is holy, find a way to make belaying second-nature and require ZERO thought.
If you want a device that will twist your rope, get a Micro Jule. It doesn’t like thin ropes or being fed from certain angles, run away from it because of this! (When going fast, it’s a bitch; when taking your time, it’s actually quite lovely.)
If you want to go fast, and I mean unbeatably fast, get an ATC-XP. The kind with the teeth on one side of the device. This device is impossible to beat in terms of belay-disconnection. For reasons I’ll explain in the “During the Comp” section, this is the fastest device. Also, you should be doing your job as a belayer; anyone entering hell should be able to belay with 2-5 different belay devices on a moment’s notice without having to think about it, and be able to do it blackout drunk, at night, blindfolded, and while being attacked by ants/goats/skunks/hornets/all of the above (all of these exist during hell). Forgive the superfluous night/blindfolded, you get the idea.
In the end, you should also take a backup device. You might drop yours. You might get loopy at 4 AM and lose yours. You might break it. Last year my partner and I each had an ATC-XP for our primary devices, and I brought along an extra ATC and GriGri 2 as backups. The ATC does have the drawback that your hands are slightly more engaged, but if you do it right it actually doesn’t grind on your skin any. Learn how in advance. But if your skin does get fried, and it will eventually no matter who you are, then using something like a GriGri 2 can save your fingers more, but it’s VASTLY slower.
Also, you should tape the gate to your belay carabiner so that it’s easier to open on your fingers. The little metal nubs which give it traction start to HURT to touch during the comp. And it should be an auto-twist-locker, not a screw-gate locker, because speed and simplicity. Don’t argue with that, just do it. C’mon baby, just the tip, nice and smooth. Just go with it.
You should be skipping first bolts. You should be skipping last bolts. If you aren’t, why not? If you’re that afraid of falling in places where the bolts won’t actually protect you, why are you on that route in the first place in a competition that requires clean red-points?
With that simple paragraph, 5 or 6 quickdraws can be enough for the competition. We took 10 of the lightest ones available made by Petzl, that way we wouldn’t have to ever worry about if we had enough when we left the ground.
The other feature about the quickdraws which can make-or-break your competition is the gates. You want large gates for the carabiners you clip the rope into, to make it easier to clip the rope to, obviously. Small details like that are useful. But the real killer is the gate for the side touching the bolt. You want gates that don’t have a notch so that the carabiner NEVER GETS HUNG UP ON CLEANING. You should be able to open the gate and just twist it out, even under pressure. This is the difference between 1 second per draw and 10 seconds per draw.
Let’s do some quick math. You want 50 unique Routes each. Each route is 5 draws (See Above) (I really hope not) (Please don’t clip this much) (Be safe!). That’s 250 bolts you’re clipping and 250 bolts you’re cleaning. If you’re going to clean 250 bolts and each takes 5 seconds because they have a notch, vs 1 second which don’t, that’s 4 x 250 seconds of wasted time, or roughly 15-20 MORE minutes of your competition is spent cleaning draws than necessary. And that’s conservative. Want 200 routes? That’s just become closer to 30-40 minutes. And this is assuming you can get it off in a very fast 5 seconds each time.
Now let’s look at if you skip more bolts. Instead of spending the 10 seconds to clip each send, and then the 10 seconds it takes to put it on the wall and take it off, each bolt ends up costing you 50 seconds. (Placement/cleaning + 4 clips during sends). This means in your 250 bolts from above you’re taking 250 * 50 seconds, or 3.5 hours just clipping bolts. Yes, you read that right, a conservative 5-bolts per route means you’re doing nothing but placing, clipping, and cleaning draws for 3.5 hours of your competition. That’s 1/8th of the competition wasted standing there burning energy on something you could probably skip anyway.
So then you hear about us, we were “Those Guys”. We typically skipped all but 1-2 bolts per route, which gives us less than 40 minutes combined for the entire competition spent clipping. Who gets more routes in, the guys with 0.66 of an hour clipping or the guys spending 3.5 hours clipping? Don’t do this. Ever. It’s stupid and crazy and dangerous beyond all belief. But now you understand WHY we do it. It quite literally can save 1/8th of the competition for more climbing/eating/drinking/pooping/etc. (I prefer to spend it staring at the beautiful climber ladies.)
Here’s how my partner, Austin Howell, rationalized our clipping strategy:
"In terms of clipping, think of it like you're on multi-pitch. You run it out like a bastard on some moderate climbing, then as soon as you find a crux a bolt suddenly appears in front of your face. There's no difference here except that the wall is 15 meters instead of 150 meters. Except there is one difference: you can't survive a 30-meter fall on a 15-meter wall."
Here’s a picture of the only traditional protection we actually placed for the entire competition with 42 traditional routes each in the 12 and 48 traditional routes each in the 24. Have a nice day. (Note the tape on the carabiners for later.)
The other point worth making is that the rules don’t mention the QUALITY the placement needs to be. That would be impractical and impossible to guarantee a minimum, because you can’t truly verify good placements. This means, when we sling a chicken-head, we go quick-and-fast and don’t expect it to catch a fall. When we place a cam, we place it so it’s super easy to clean. Clean it every time for the redpoint (instead of pinkpoint), it’s not going to hold anyway. Bonus Points if your belayer can knock the piece loose when lowering you to speed up the process.