Blake Herrington - Black Gunnison - light crck
Climbing the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, with a lead line and a haul line.

The first time my partner packed a haul rope, haul bag, and hauling device on a short rock route, it was NOT my idea. I was adamantly minimalist, hailing from the northwest where mountaineering and long scrambly rock climbs are the norm, with lots of easy alpine and very little steep terrain. I was a full devotee of the light-is-right ethos, meaning one rope, minimal gear, and climbing while wearing a pack.

So I put up a small fight when our planned route in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, according to my partner, would necessitate hauling a bag and leading with a tag line hanging from my back side. Why not just clip extra shoes, jackets, water, and snacks to our harnesses? But despite the glamorized Black Canyon tradition of just the “rope, rack, and shirt on your back,” our 6mm static 60m rope and a 35L BD Stubby haul bag proved crucial for our send of Trilogy, a somewhat heady 5.12a which features a thin traverse toward a large corner, where neither partner should test the ‘R’ rating with a fall.

The added weight and extra time from dealing with this heavier kit didn’t become the problem I’d expected. Instead, it allowed us to bring more water and more layers while actually climbing lighter. This was especially helpful on pitches that we would have struggled through while carrying shoes and water on our harnesses, not to mention wearing a pack. The approach and descent were short and the route just under 1000’ of climbing. In this case, fast-and-light would have really meant slow, cold, dehydrated, not sending, and very little to no benefit.

Going forward, I can’t imagine tackling a similar climb (short-to-medium approach and descent, steep and technically challenging pitches or with scary fall potential) without some kind of hauling plan. Light is right, I discovered, until the climbing starts to get hard.

Below you’ll find 3 basic methods (and plenty of variants) to haul gear while multipitch free climbing. Purposefully, these methods either require no additional gear, or minimal extra gear. Knowing these skills can make or break the send of your dream climb, and are simpler and lighter than the standard methods used on overnight aid walls.

 

Warning! These are advanced climbing techniques!
Below you’ll find general hauling guidelines. This information is intended to give background information for reference when consulting a guide or other authorized instructor before attempting. Do not try these without proper guidance, you risk serious injury or death!

1. Basic Hand Haul

Extra gear

Nothing – This uses just the rope that you’ve brought for leading, and no hauling hardware.

When to Use

  • if your bag is under 15lbs
  • if it would be a hassle to climb with a tag line, such as on a very long route with only a couple steep sections, and a walk-off descent
  • if most of the route can be climbed while wearing a backpack (by leader and/or follower) but the route includes a few difficult pitches between sections of easier climbing

Method 1: If the pitch to be hauled is no more than ⅓ your rope length

What the Haul? 3 Ways to Help Send Hard Multipitch Climbs 1
The long loop is for hauling on the final 20m of the pitch.
  1. Lead the pitch as normal.
  2. Build an anchor as normal.
  3. Pull up all the slack.
  4. Drop down all the slack in a huge loop that will reach the lower belay.
  5. Have the follower knot the loop and clip the bag at the knot, then pull it up hand-over-hand, pulling the bag’s full weight. Note: If your follower clips the bag into the loop itself, you will have effectively created a 2:1 hauling system to bring up your bag. Con: Hauling will take twice as long. Pro: The bag will feel lighter.

Method 2: If a pitch (or hardest section of a given crux pitch) is between ⅓ and ½ your rope length

  1. Lead the pitch as normal.
  2. Build and clip into the anchor using only slings or cord – not the rope.
  3. Pull up all slack and put your follower on belay, ideally using a guide-style device like the CAMP OVO, Petzl Reverso, or Black Diamond ATC XP in guide mode.
  4. Untie from the rope. Note: Since the follower is on belay from the top belay station, there’s no chance of the leader losing the rope.
  5. The leader should then gather the slack and toss the lead rope to the follower.
    Tip: If the pitch is slightly over 1/2 your rope length, you can add long slings to the end of the rope as needed to reach the follower.
  6. The follower should tie the pack and everything they’re carrying (water, jackets, even their belay device) onto the end of the rope.
  7. As the following climber starts up the pitch, the leader can hand-over-hand haul the pack, while belaying.
    Tip: While hauling, the leader will want two quickdraws or large carabiners hanging from the anchor. Use these to quickly clove hitch the haul rope after bringing in several meters of slack. This allows the leader to let go and avoid getting pumped while hauling, and it prevents a dropped bag from falling down the pitch.
    Tip: A very heavy bag can also be put “on belay” using a hanging guide-style belay device (or Micro Traxion as described in Haul Method #2 below) parallel to the following climber. A belay device will add significant friction, but will capture and hold any progress as the bag is pulled up.

Alternative: When there is a large belay ledge

If the pitch begins from a ledge big enough to rest a pack, the follower can keep the rope running through their belay device after the leader has reached the anchor (they never take the leader “off belay”). The follower can then tie into the middle of the rope with a figure 8 on a bight. Or, as a faster solution, they may tie a large stopper/overhand knot in the rope on the brake side which will jam in their belay device in a fall. They then untie from the rope end, tie it to the pack, and stack the rope. The follower, now attached near the middle of the rope, climbs while belayed by the leader as usual. Once the follower has completed the pitch, both team members can haul the pack off the ledge.

Method 3: If the pitch is substantially more than ½ a rope length or too wandery to throw a rope down to the follower

  1. After leading the pitch as normal, fix the rope to the top anchor.
  2. Have the follower attach the bag to the rope by clipping it into a bight via a locker.
  3. Then have the follower untie and self-belay (aka TR Solo — explanatory post coming soon) up the pitch by attaching to the rope with a Petzl Micro Traxion, CAMP Lift, Kong Duck, etc.

In this scenario, the follower is untied while climbing the pitch but protected via their ascender devices. After the follower reaches the belay, both climbers can haul up the bag. During the climb, the bag may either rest on a ledge or hang in space from the rope.

2. Device-Assist 1:1 Hand Haul

Extra Gear
Micro Traxion (the authors favorite one-way pulley), 40-70m of 5-6mm static cord

When to Use

  • if you’re already using a tag line in order to make a long rappel (in this case the pulley adds just 85g)
  • your haul bag is more than 15-20 pounds
  • if you’re hauling on multiple pitches -or- pitches longer than 1/2 the rope

Note: One Micro Traxion won’t add any mechanical advantage to your hauling, so you’ll still be pulling the full weight of the bag. However, this will allow you to quickly and securely start and stop hauling the bag.

Method

  1. The leader leads as normal, bringing up the tag line.
  2. After setting up an anchor as normal, the leader rigs the tagline with a Micro Traxion (or equivalent one-way pulley) to a high point on the anchor.
  3. The follower grabs what they need from the bag (climbing shoes, final drink of water, etc) and adds to the bag anything they don’t need to climb (GriGri, jacket, etc) before clipping the bag to the tag line and then letting the bag swing away from the low anchor.
  4. The leader begins pulling in slack and then hauling the bag.
    Tip: Stack the tag line across a separate space (your shoulders, your foot, etc) from the lead line (which I usually stack across my personal connection to the anchor).
    Tip: To prevent the bag from swinging on a traversing pitch it’s helpful to tie the bag 10-15 meters from the end of the rope instead of directly at the end. When the lead climber pulls in slack then starts to haul on the bag, the follower unclips the bag from the anchor and manually pays out the final 10-15m, releasing the bag to a point plumb line below the top anchor. This prevents a swing if the upper anchor is not directly above the lower anchor. Since pitches are seldom a full rope length, especially when drawing a direct line between belays, it’s rare to run out of slack in the tag line. However, it’s necessary to keep an eye on it as the leader nears the end of their lead.
  5. While belaying and after hauling the bag, the belayer/hauler should manage the belay station by making sure the tag line is properly stacked, with the top end already “loaded” through the Micro Traxion and clipped to a medium-sized locker atop everything at the belay, ready for the next pitch, regardless of who leads.
  6. The last step leaving the belay is to clip the haul line’s carabiner to the back of the leader’s harness, on whichever side is less likely to scrape the rock.
    Tip: For difficult pitches that begin from a large ledge or the ground, have the leader climb with no tag line at all, allowing them to be a little lighter and less cluttered. Have the follower bring up the tag line. Just make absolutely sure it’s cleanly stacked, with no knots or loops. And make sure the bag is attached near the far end of the rope to ensure enough slack.

Gear Tips

It’s best to use thin static cord, such as the Edelrid Rap Line II (25g/m) or the Beal Backup Line (21g/m) for this setup. I like to make sure my lead line is a different color than the tag line, and when rappelling a rope-stretcher pitch, I make sure to thread the dynamic climbing rope through the anchor if both ropes are of theoretically equal length. This maximizes rappel distance by using the stretchier (ultimately longer) lead line to run through the rappel anchor, but it necessitates pulling the static line after the rappel, which adds a slight risk of losing contact with your dynamic climbing rope should something get stuck mid rope-pull.

Bringing a 7mm twin climbing rope also works for hauling, but will be heavier (most are ~40g/m) and more strenuous to haul with due to stretch and bounce. The advantage, crucial on adventurous and serious climbs, is the ability to lead on either rope.

3. Mechanical Leg Haul

Extra Gear

2 Micro Traxions (or equivalent), 40-70m of 5-6mm static cord, 3m of cord for foot loop

When to Use

This is the lightest and simplest method of hauling that doesn’t use your upper body to do the heavy lifting. It still doesn’t actually provide a mechanical advantage (a 2:1 or 3:1, for example) but it lets you rest your arms, hands, and shoulders. And with this same hardware, you can switch into a 2:1 mechanical advantage arm haul even during the same pitch.

Foot Haul Method

  1. Lead the pitch like normal, using a single dynamic lead rope and a thin tag line.
  2. In addition to the tag line you’ll need 2 separate one-way pulley devices (Petzl Micro Traxion, CAMP Lift, Kong Duck, etc). Clip one of these devices to a high point of your anchor, with the tag line running through it. To the non-haul side (AKA the slack, or pull-on-me side) clip the second device at chest height, with a light wiregate and a shoulder-length (60cm) dyneema sling hanging from it.
  3. While hanging from the anchor or standing on one foot at the belay stance, put one foot into this sling and stomp down, extending your leg until straight. Slide the locking pulley back up the slacked side of the tag line, and stomp down again. Each stomp will raise the bag by the distance you pushed down.
    Note: This is easiest if you find the exact distance (due to variance in body geometry) your foot loop should hang, then tie a piece of 5mm cord with a small loop that your stomping foot won’t easily slip out of.
    Warning: This is painful if barefoot, so you will probably need to keep one climbing shoe on your stomping foot.

 

3:1 Arm Variation

You can easily switch or mix the Foot Haul technique with an arm-intensive 3:1 haul, using the same hardware.

  1. Leave the top pulley in place on the anchor.
  2. Take your second Micro Traxion and put it on the tightened haul bag side of the haul line a couple feet below the anchor. Orient this one-way pulley to easily slide down the rope (so don’t drop it!) but not up the rope. It should grab on the rope (and haul bag) when pulled up.
  3. Clip a carabiner to this lower pulley, and run your slack (non-haul) side of the tag line through this carabiner.
  4. Now pull up on the end of the tag line.
  5. You’ve created a near 3:1 mechanical advantage, without the potential for losing any slack you’ve gained.

Gear Tip: If you use a round-stock carabiner, or better yet, a DMM Revolver carabiner (with integrated pulley) as this second pulley, you’ll minimize friction and effort. This method will tax your primary climbing muscles as you pull with your upper body, but it allows you to take your shoes off and will make your bag feel lighter than its actual weight.

Summary

Succeeding on multipitch free climbs, when they are technically challenging for us at our various levels, is largely dependent on being able to attempt the hardest leads when we are feeling our best. The only way to do this is to come equipped with enough food, water, clothing, and gear, as well as time and motivation, so that we don’t, quite literally, become weighed down with extra baggage. With these 3 haul methods, you can bring the needed provisions, gear, and creature comforts on a challenging climb, but you won’t be lugging a traditional bulky and heavy haul system.

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Blake Herrington

Blake Herrington

Blake Herrington is an outdoors writer, father, husband and amateur baker who lives in Washington state. He has dabbled in most forms of climbing, and flashed 5.13 and V8, and sent the Sunday NYT crossword free-solo. He likes being efficient, or lazy, and his climbing trips focus on long granite routes in remote locations.

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