Let me tell you a poorly kept secret: until recently and despite 40 years of climbing, I knew almost nothing about big walls. Oh sure, I’ve managed to drag myself up Leaning Tower, Half Dome and even an El Cap (Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La) route after several gumby bailures. But my real big wall skills? By the standards of “Pass the Pitons” Peter Zabrok, aka Dr. Piton, co-author of the encyclopedic Hooking Up: The Ultimate Big Wall and Aid Climbing Manual (2019), they might as well have been non-existent. Yet in an exercise that reminded me of my early days of learning to ice climb by bringing Chouinard’s classic Climbing Ice out to a local waterfall and doing exactly what Dr. Piton taught, a summer spent studying Hooking Up has changed all that. By studying, I mean just that, because Zabrok and his co-author Fabio Elli (the book originally appeared in a shorter form in Italian) have written what has to be the definitive textbook for this most intimidating of climbing disciplines.
Zabrok and Elli each have decades of experience big walling–Zabrok himself has an impossible-to-comprehend 800 nights on El Cap. But lest you think this book was written for experts alone, the authors make clear right up front their goal was a manual for everyone interested in aid climbing and big walls. Whether you’re a neophyte or experienced, the inspiring reading starts right in Chapter 1, “A Brief History of Aid Climbing.” The 1960s through 1980s are covered quickly before more space is dedicated to the totally mind-blowing mega-walls of the ’90s on Baffin Island and in the Himalaya.
Once they’ve inspired you with just how far and high the skills to be learned can take you, the real coursework begins in Chapters 2 and 3, with discussions of aid ratings and gear. Think you know this stuff? I thought so, too, but I’m glad I took the authors’ advice and didn’t skip it, even if my wallet is less pleased with the money spent on the must-have new toys I learned about. Typical of the entire book, these and all other chapters are filled with pictures illustrating the descriptions, diagrams on how-to for the visual learners, and sprinkled with many “Dr. Piton Big Wall Tip[s] of the Day.” Covering everything from the technical (“Cleaning on Free-Hanging Rock-Modify Your System to the 2:1 Body Hoist”) to the sublime (“A Cool Knot for Connecting Two fixed Ropes”) to the ridiculous (“Big Wall Margaritas”), these tips often make the book what it really is, which is fun.
Like any good teachers, the authors go to great lengths throughout the book to break up what are often extremely technical (and necessary) discussions with fun and funny stories and anecdotes. The book includes words from big-wall luminaries such as the late Jim Bridwell, John Middendorf and Andy Kirkpatrick that remind us that this is really all about having a good time. Of course, in big walling, sometimes “fun” is in the eye of the beholder. For example, take the story by Marcin Tomaszewski about his epic 18-day winter first ascent on the north face of the Trollveggen (Troll Wall) with Marek “Ragan” Raganowicz. Fun? You decide.
By the time you get through all 13 chapters and 671 pages, it’s hard to imagine anyone interested in the subject not finding something of value. Chapters eventually cover solo climbing, alpine big walls, living on the wall, descending and of course hauling. On this last topic–the bane of every big wall climber’s existence–it is worth noting that Zabrok seems to enjoy dragging more gear and toys up these enormous cliffs–the “Junk Show” he calls it–than many climbers possess in their entire lives. As a result, the authoritative hauling chapter alone may be worth the price of the book, as Zabrok, of personal necessity, describes enough techniques to move seemingly any load anywhere under any conditions. For those who have struggled with unruly bags thousands of feet off the deck, as I have many times, this chapter will feel as if a light has finally shone down. Oh to have only understood how to lower-out heavy bags before watching my water bottles explode inside them at the end of a wrecking-ball like pendulum swing on an ill-fated El Cap attempt. And where was Dr. Piton to explain far-end hauling every time I engaged in another expletive-filled tantrum while doing battle with a stuck load that outweighed me at my fattest? Right here in this book, that’s where, standing by with these and innumerable other tips and tricks that can mean the difference between success and failure.
To round things out there are checklists, an excellent glossary and even recommendations about what booze will take your big-wall experience beyond the realm of Olde English 800. There is so much information here they’ve even included a last chapter on how to go about actually learning all this stuff; a how-to for all the how-tos! All in all Hooking Up is a monumental work that will stand the test of time and should be required reading for anyone with dreams of the Big Stone. If a graduate-level education in big wall skills is what you seek, you have found your course and your professors.
For customers in the United States the book costs $59.95 plus $20 shipping and can be ordered by emailing Zabrok at email@example.com.
Zabrok told Alpinist: “I have shipped worldwide, so contact me for a shipping quote based on your country. It’s a heavy-ass book–just over 1.5 kg!” He notes that buyers will get a “substantial shipping discount” if they order extra books. “If you can find one or two or more people who also want to buy the book, not only will the shipping cost be lower on a per-book basis, but I’ll give you a discount on the additional copies because, like, I appreciate you drumming me up the extra sales, eh?”