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Following Your First Big Wall   

Tagged in: Aid and Big Walls, Multi-pitch, Trad Climbing
by Mark Synnott
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The Procedure 

In wall climbing, the second climber seldom gets put on belay. Instead, when the leader finishes a pitch, he ties the rope to a power point at the anchor, and the second “jugs” the fixed rope with ascenders and aiders.

After the leader has tied off the rope, take him off belay, then tie an overhand on a bight in the rope near the point where you had it in your belay device. Using a dedicated locking carabiner, clip this bight to your belay loop. This now becomes your primary protection point, and the first of the “back-ties” you’ll be doing as you ascend the pitch. More on those later. You can let the rest of the rope hang, or collect it in coils and carry it on a sling.

Next, clip your ascenders onto the rope, attached to your daisy chains with locking biners. It is critical to get the length of these attachments right. Each brand of daisy is different, so get this dialed on fixed ropes near home before the climb.

There are two basic setups for jugging: one for less-than-vertical rock, and one for overhangs.

Rock Climbing Photo: Figure 1: The second removes all the pro as he mov...

Figure 1: The second removes all the pro as he moves up an aid pitch. Note the daisy and aider setup and the back-ties.
by Mike Clelland
Less Than Vertical
  • With one aider on each ascender, push both ascenders as far up as you can reach. Put your right foot in a low rung of the right aider.
  • With your left foot, step into the third rung from the top of the aider on the bottom (left-handed) ascender.
  • With your hands on both ascenders, use your left arm to pull your weight completely onto your left leg, and at the same time unweight your right leg and slide the right ascender as far up the rope as it will go.
  • Shift your weight onto the right aider, pull with your right arm, unweight the left ascender and aider, and slide them up the rope, just underneath the right ascender.
  • Don’t hang on your daisies between moves on low-angle rock. All of your weight should stay over your legs as you move. But if you need a rest, just sit back in your harness.

  • Attach both aiders to the bottom ascender. Once you get going, each foot will be in the third step (from the top) of a different aider. (See figure 1.)
  • Use both arms to haul your weight over your feet, then stand up. Lock off on the bottom ascender, and slide your top ascender as far up as it will go.
  • Sit back on the daisy attached to the top ascender.
  • Unweight your legs and slide the bottom ascender as high it will go. Repeat.

If it’s hard to reach one of your ascenders, your daisy connections are too long. If you can’t slide your ascender nearly to full arm's reach, your connections are too short. Sometimes it's necessary to help an ascender slide up the rope by using the thumb catch to slightly disengage the cam. Don’t forget to release the thumb catch before weighting the device.

Daisy Length 

With your ascenders attached to the rope, right ascender directly above the left, clip a loop of your daisy chains to locking biners on the ascenders and sit back in your harness to check for length. When you have the lengths right, your elbows should be slightly bent with your hands on the handles. This description is for right-handers. Lefties can reverse right and left without changing the basic system.

Caution: the loops on most daisy chains are not full strength. If you clip through two different loops with the same carabiner, and then rip out the daisy’s stitches with a severe load, it’s possible to become completely unclipped. To keep the unused portion of the daisy from flopping around, but still keep the system “closed,” don’t clip the end loop directly into the locking carabiner on your ascender. Rather, attach the end loop to the locker with a separate carabiner. When you arrive at the anchor and you want to move off the rope, clip this biner into a bolt or a master point to begin anchoring in.


A back-tie is a “catastrophe knot” in case both ascenders somehow pop off the rope. Use back-tying like you would protection on a pitch of climbing: as a way to keep yourself from hitting the ground or a ledge, should your ascenders fail.

Back-tie with a simple overhand (or Figure 8) on a bight, clipped to a dedicated locker attached to your belay loop. Use a big, pear-shaped biner so there’s room for multiple knots. If you run out of room, you can drop some of the old back-tie knots or, better, start a second biner.

Way up on El Cap, when there’s no ledge to hit, you might back-tie only every 40 feet. On ledgy, traversing terrain you might back-tie every 10 feet. When in doubt, throw one in. Your back-ties also function to shorten up the loops of dangling rope, which can get caught on flakes.

Cleaning Traverses 

Rock Climbing Photo: Organized gear equals faster aid. by Martin Fickwe...

Organized gear equals faster aid.
by Martin Fickweiler
At the beginning of a traverse, the rope often will make a sharp bend, making it impossible to unclip the carabiner where the rope is under tension. (This can also happen at the base of overhangs.) Here’s what to do:
  • Ascend to a few feet below the pinned carabiner and back-tie, since you’ll be removing an ascender from the rope.
  • Remove your top ascender from the rope and reattach it just above the biner.
  • Weight the top ascender. This maneuver will change the tension in the rope and tend to jam your lower ascender against the biner. If the traverse isn’t too extreme, and you have the spacing right, you will be able to shift onto the top ascender without jamming the bottom one. If it does jam, move the top ascender down, slide the bottom ascender down a bit, then try again.
  • If you can’t get quite enough slack to unclip the rope from the biner, firmly grab the rope near the bottom ascender, pull down, remove the bottom ascender from the rope, then gradually let the tension out of the rope. Place the ascender back on the rope above the piece and clean.


If there’s a big horizontal span between pieces—e.g., after the leader has done a pendulum—you’ll need to use a different method, the lower-out. See below to learn how to do it.

When faced with a tricky horizontal jugging challenge—for example, the Kor Roof on the popular south face of Washington Column—consider following on aid instead of trying to ascend the rope. Back-tie, clip your aiders onto the end loops of your daisy chains, and clip the aiders onto the gear as if you were leading, sliding your ascenders along the rope as a self-belay. Once you’re on the next piece, reach back to clean the piece you just passed.


Sometimes a traverse will be impossible to follow simply by sliding ascenders along the tensioned rope. If the leader has done a tension traverse or pendulum, for example, the follower usually will have to lower out from a piece in order to swing back to the plumb line. (Note: Usually, you will lower out by passing a bight of rope through the pendulum point. This method, shown here, allows you to avoid untying from the end of the rope. For very long lower-outs near the beginning of a pitch you may need to thread the end of the rope, rather than a bight, through the pendulum point.) Here’s what to do when you’re jugging up a pitch and you arrive at a pendulum point.
Rock Climbing Photo: 1. Put in a back-tie, as you would before any tric...
1. Put in a back-tie, as you would before any tricky maneuver. You will need some free rope to lower yourself across the wall—at least twice as much as the diagonal distance you’ll lower—so you may need to remove some or all of your previous knots. Move your top ascender past the pendulum point. The rope is tensioned at an angle, so be extra careful to attach the ascender properly. To decrease the chance of it popping off the rope, clip a carabiner through the hole at the top of the ascender and around the rope.
by Mike Clelland

Rock Climbing Photo: 2. Grab a bight of rope from below your back-tie a...
2. Grab a bight of rope from below your back-tie and feed it through a biner or ring on the pendulum point. Pull through enough rope to complete the lower-out. You’ll need enough slack for the doubled rope to pass back and forth between your final lowering position and the pendulum point. If you don’t have that much rope, untie and feed your end through the pendulum point.
by Mike Clelland

Rock Climbing Photo: 3. Grab the strand of threaded rope that goes thro...
3. Grab the strand of threaded rope that goes through the ring to your back-tie. Rig that strand through your belay device. Take up all the slack, and suck yourself in tight to the lowering ring until the main lead rope is unweighted enough to unclip the carabiner at the pendulum point.
by Mike Clelland

Now lower yourself out by letting rope through your belay device. When you reach the plumb line on the main lead rope, undo the device and pull the bight of rope free from the ring. Continue up the now-vertical fixed line.

Most pendulums are short and relatively easy to follow once you’ve done these a few times and get all the different strands of rope sorted out. Sometimes, they can present quite a technical challenge, even though the principle is the same. For the famous King Swing on the Nose, for example, the leader does a long pendulum at the beginning of the pitch, and there is not enough rope for the second to do a proper lower, even if he unties and threads the rope. Here, the second generally uses a separate line for the lower-out.

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