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Baggage Handling on Your First Big Wall   

Tagged in: Aid and Big Walls, Multi-pitch, Trad Climbing
by Mark Synnott
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Setting Up the Haul 

The worst part of any long trip is dealing with luggage. Now imagine that instead of carrying your gear in a comfortable pack or on a rolling suitcase, you’re dragging it behind you at the end of a rope. Hauling will likely be the crux of your first wall. If you fail, it will probably be because of the pig. Here are some tips to ease the load.

Rock Climbing Photo: Fig 1.  Hauling a bag by Mike Clelland

Fig 1. Hauling a bag
by Mike Clelland
When you reach an anchor and prepare to haul, envision how you want the whole anchor/haul system to look, keeping in mind things like the path by which the second climber will arrive, the best stance for hauling, and how you’ll free the lead rope when you’re ready to start the next pitch. These organizational skills take some time to learn, so practice them before the big climb.

In general, you’ll fix your lead rope on one side of the anchor and haul from the other, in order to minimize tangles and spread the load. Though you were taught to equalize your anchors, most big-wall trade routes have multiple solid bolts at each anchor, and it is accepted practice to simply clove-hitch your lead rope across the anchor pieces, from one side to the other, thus providing back-up in the system but not equalizing it. Use a locker for the first clove hitch, which will be weighted by the second as he ascends the rope, and non-lockers for the others. Leave about five feet of slack in the rope connecting you to the anchor—you’ll need that maneuvering room for hauling. (If you are building the anchor from scratch or beefing up a minimally bolted stance, you’ll create two equalized power points, one on each side of the anchor, one for fixing and one for hauling.)

Once the lead rope is fixed, create a master point on the opposite side of the anchor for the load-intensive task of hauling. Use separate biners so you don’t trap the lead rope for the next pitch. Rig this master point as high on the anchor as possible, because you will need to hang a couple of feet below it do the hauling.

Pull up slack on the haul line until you hit the bag, then load the rope into a progress-capturing pulley such as the Petzl Pro Traxion or Rock Exotica Wall Hauler. Pull up any remaining slack, make sure the pulley’s ratchet is engaged, and call down to your second: “Ready to haul!”

The Dirty Work

Clamp one ascender to the strand of rope coming out of the pulley opposite the load, and attach it directly to your belay loop.

Clip your aiders at a point where you can stand in them with the pulley at about chest or head height. Many big-wall belay stances are hanging, but even if you have a ledge, you might want to set up to haul in your aiders to keep the system tight and efficient. Allow enough slack in your daisy attachments so that you can drop into a full crouch in your aiders. (See figure 3.)

Weight the ascender, dropping into a crouch to lift the bag. Yes, it’s burly. Lift the bag about two feet. This should be enough for the second to release the pig from the anchor below. (See “The Second’s Job.”) Wait for his call: “Bag’s free!”

Start hauling for real. Experiment with your feet in different steps in the aiders (but with both at the same height) until you find the sweet spot. You may try pulling up on the other end of the haul line as you drop, using one or both hands. Stack the rope into a sling or rope bag as it comes through the pulley—this is a good excuse to rest. Pace yourself, knowing that this procedure is the crux of big-wall climbing.

Rock Climbing Photo: A "docked" (anchored) haul bag showing t...

A "docked" (anchored) haul bag showing the Munter/mule hitch that allows you to easily lower out the bag on overhanging or traversing pitches. The docking line is approximately a 30-foot length of 7mm cord.
by Mike Clelland
Unless the pitch is completely overhanging, expect the bag to get stuck once in a while. For minor snags, you can sometimes lower the bag a few feet, then yank it up past the obstacle. Other times, your second will need to free it as he ascends the rope. On bad hauls, the second may need to babysit the bag all the way up the pitch. Keep your cool and communicate with your second to solve problems in a systematic way. This is what big-wall climbing is all about—technical problem-solving in a vertical environment—so relax and embrace the challenges.

Docking the Bag

Haul the bag until the knot is about six inches below the pulley. Grab the docking line and attach it to a locking biner on a secure point on the anchor with a Munter/mule hitch. Make sure the attachment doesn’t pin the lead rope in place or you’ll create a big organizational hassle when you try to start the next pitch. (See figure 4.)

Counterweight the bag enough to disengage the pulley ratchet (this might take some practice), then let the rope back through the pulley until the bag hangs on the docking tether. Attach the haul line to another secure point, then prepare the pulley to carry up the next pitch.

Second's Job: Undocking the Bag 

The leader does almost all of the hauling work; as the follower, all you need to do is free the bag from the anchor once the leader has set up the haul system.

Work out a series of commands so the leader knows: 1) when he has pulled up all the slack in the haul line and can engage the hauling pulley; 2) when he has lifted the bag off of your anchor; and 3) when you have completely freed the bag from the anchor and lowered it out, if necessary.

The leader will first haul the bag off the anchor until the docking tether is unweighted. Call for the leader to stop, then undo the mule hitch and lower the bag out, using the Munter hitch like a belay device. When the bag is hanging straight off the haul line and the tether rope is slack, undo the Munter and call, “Bag’s free!” Now the leader hauls and you break down the anchor and second the pitch. Be ready to help if the bag gets stuck.

The Pig 

The goal of haul-bag packing is to protect delicate items like your water and food, plus allow access to the right things at the right time. There is nothing more depressing than finishing a haul only to see water dripping out of the bottom of the bag, and your rain gear or lunch food won’t do you much good if they’re buried at the bottom.

Most first walls are Grade Vs, which can be done in two days, with one overnight. For the average party, a single Grade VI–size haul bag will be more than adequate. Two Grade V bags also can work; that way, each person can approach and hike down with a bag, but a two-bag system is much more prone to snags.

Pad the inside of the haul bag with your foam sleeping pads (air mattresses are not recommended). With a large haul bag, stack the pads on top of each other to completely cover the inside of the bag. Pack your water bottles into the bottom, but leave enough water near the top for the day. Camping gear and extra clothing can be shoved down into the nooks and crannies to fill out the cylindrical shape of the bag. Leave room near the top for your rain gear, lunch, and daily water ration. Securely close the lid, and make sure to cinch down any straps so the contents don’t spill out when the bag gets tipped upside down.

Food and Water 

Rock Climbing Photo: The northwest face of Half Dome. by Alexandre Buis...

The northwest face of Half Dome.
by Alexandre Buisse
In warm weather, I keep it simple and don’t bring a stove. (Addicts can always bring canned coffee drinks.) If you carry a stove, a hanging set-up is required, and you’ll need to be vigilant about the flame’s proximity to ropes, clothing, and rainfly.

Canned food—ravioli, beef stew, fruit cocktail—has long been standard fare on walls because it’s virtually indestructible and doesn’t require extra water. Pringles, jerky, nuts, and energy bars are wall-friendly snacks, as are foil packs of tuna, peanut butter, tortillas, and bagels.

Lay out a meal plan for the number of days you expect to be on the wall, plus one day. Divvy up your food into various stuff sacks. One system is to make a dinner/breakfast sack for each bivy, plus a miscellaneous food bag, plus a day bag for energy bars and snacks at the top of the haul bag.

When it’s not too hot, many climbers can get by on two quarts per person per day on a wall. In midsummer, you’ll likely need four. I add at least one additional day’s ration of water, then try to get by on as little as possible each day to build up a secondary reserve.

Two-liter soft-drink bottles are ideal. At least some of them should have clip in loops so you can hang them on the anchor. Make sure these loops are bomber—a falling water bottle could take someone’s head off.

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