This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of our print edition.
Whether you’re a newbie aid climber, an aspiring photographer, or heading up El Cap to work the crux pitch on your big wall project, jugging ropes is a necessary skill that’s not hard to learn, but is tricky to master. As with many aspects of rock climbing, there are dozens of good ways to get the job done. The techniques listed here involve specialized equipment (ascenders, also called jumars or jugs) for rope ascension, as opposed to the minimal-gear methods you might use during crevasse rescue or retrieving a stuck rappel rope. However, the basic idea for all techniques is the same: You have two different movable connections to the rope, and you weight one while moving the other up, then alternate. Read up on the how-to of each method, then refine your knowledge with some insider advice from Senior Contributing Photographer Andrew Burr, who’s been jugging ropes for 85 years.
Long routes, following aid pitches, low-angle or vertical terrain
Two jumars, two daisy chains (adjustable models are best), two aid ladders. One jumar on the rope for each hand/foot, with an aid ladder and daisy clipped to each jumar. The dominant-hand jumar goes on top, and the daisy should be about 6” to 8” shorter than that arm’s reach (your arm should still be slightly bent when the daisy is at full extension). The lower jumar’s daisy chain should be shorter-—a few inches less than the length of your forearm.
Getting started can be difficult with this technique, as the rope needs to be taut in order to smoothly slide the jumars up. While standing on the ground with the gear properly rigged, slide the top jumar up and pull down to make the rope as tight as possible. You might need to disengage the jumar’s camming unit to slide it up; with a modern device, you should be able to disengage the cam with a finger trigger. Now slide the bottom jumar up; it might take some finagling to make it work, including deactivating the camming unit. Repeat this process until the rope is taut. The key to moving efficiently with this technique is to keep your weight on your feet. As with any type of climbing, your arms should only hold you upright while your feet propel you upward. Stand up in your aiders (your feet will start on the ground) with arms bent at about chest height. Slide the higher jumar up and step up with the same leg. Now smoothly slide the second jumar up (to right below the first jumar) and step up with that leg; this is the jumar that will hold your weight while you move the top jumar up. It might be tempting to pull hard with your arm after you slide the first jumar, but really focus on pushing with your leg and simply guiding your upper body with your arm. If you’re having trouble with this, aim to have T-Rex arms and make smaller moves with each slide and step. Fast and experienced juggers actually make many small movements instead of fewer big moves.
- Use auto-locking carabiners (not screw-gates)
- Dominant-hand jumar on top
- One aider and one daisy clipped to each jumar
- Low daisy should be short
Don’t let all climbing technique go out the window; look for ledges and features for your feet. On slabby sections, keep your feet in the aiders but try to stand on the rock, lean forward with your upper body, and basically walk up as you slide the jumars. For both jugging techniques listed, use auto-locking carabiners to attach the daisies and ladders to their respective jumars. There will be a lot of jostling and contact between the biners and the other gear or the rock, and a screw-gate locking biner can come unscrewed. You can employ this technique on completely overhanging terrain by only using one aider: Stand in the bottom aider with one or both feet, slide the top jumar up, sit back to weight it, then slide the second jumar up. Tie backup knots in the rope below you every few dozen feet on long routes, or if you’re spending a lot of time in one spot, tie an overhand on a bight in the rope and clip it to your belay loop with a locking biner.
Short pitches, overhanging terrain, faster descending and adjusting location on the rope
One jumar, one adjustable daisy chain, one Grigri, and one aid ladder. Connect the daisy (adjusted so it’s 6” to 8” shorter than your arm’s reach) and aid ladder to the jumar (using either hand). The Grigri is attached directly to the belay loop. Most people use the aid ladder with the leg on the same side as the jumar hand, but you can easily use it with the opposite leg. An optional non-locking carabiner can be clipped to the top hole in the jumar as a redirect, so you can pull down instead of up as you take in rope through the Grigri.
The rope needs to be relatively taut to start, so set everything up and slide the top jumar up as far as it will go. Pull down on it, then pull the excess rope through the Grigri. Once the rope is tight, put your foot in the aider, slide the jumar up, and, while stepping up in the aider, pull the rope through the Grigri. Sit back and weight your harness (held by the Grigri), then slide the jumar back up and repeat. If you’re on overhanging terrain, weighting the aider will cause it to point almost straight out, making it hard to keep the weight on your feet. Hold your body up with your arm while pulling the rope through. This technique is less efficient for jugging long pitches since it relies more on one arm, but it’s really fast and easy to switch from going up to going down. Just remove the directional biner from the jumar and the jumar from the rope, then clip it all to your harness—now you’re in rappel mode with the Grigri.
- Use a non-locker as a rope redirect for efficiency
- Aider and daisy on jumar
- Grigri on belay loop
A keylock oval carabiner works best for the directional, as you can rotate it all the way around in the jumar’s hole without snagging. Try to get into a rhythm for ascending, especially on steep terrain: Both hands go up first (if you are using a directional), then you stand and push your hips up as you pull down on the rope and the jumar.
Real World: Andrew Burr
The fastest way to kill your reputation as a photographer is to suck at jugging. Slow is bad. You have to be fast to move quicker than the team below, and you can’t drop anything—EVER. Repercussions are obvious. Be mindful of your feet, as you’re often over terrain that doesn’t get climbed, even if it’s only a few feet away from the route. Dust, lichen, rock—don’t learn the hard way.
With enough determination you can walk (read: bushwhack) to the top of nearly every route out there. It might be miserable, it might suck, it’s probably not worth it, but it’s usually possible. (Towers being the glaring exception.) Sans climbing the route yourself, this is your only option if the climber is only going to climb the pitch once. Personally, I love to shoot from the ground as much as from a rope, and I’ll have someone climb the pitch and hang my rope. This works great for single-pitch climbs, and you get to shoot two different angles. For multi-pitch, either string ropes up the entire mountain and strip as you shoot on the way up, or hire a rope gun and have him fix ropes, then jumar behind him as you shoot the team below.
Get good at your system of choice. It really doesn’t matter which setup, just become efficient at it. The best way to do this is to jumar a lot. It’s not a strength thing; it’s all about finesse. After jumaring up any sort of terrain, whether it is steep or slabby, you shouldn’t be worked when you get down. If you are, you’re doing it wrong. Use adjustable aiders that cinch down on your foot; it’s worth the investment since there’s nothing worse than having your foot kick out of the ladder all the time.
Have good rope management. Bring slings to tie off saddlebags for the extra rope as you move up, which will keep it out of the shot. Have extra slings to clip into various bolts or gear on the route to get your desired angle. Avoid traversing while jumaring because it sucks no matter what. If following your rope gun across a traverse, have him put a bunch of gear in and aid your way across. On roofs, use your foot to push away from the rock so you can slide your jumar up. Again, practice! Whether you’re getting into position to shoot some friends climbing or following an aid pitch, the best way to practice is to do the real thing.
Andrew Burr is Climbing's Senior Contributing Photographer. He once jumared a large pepperoni pizza to the top of of Cottontail Tower in Utah. Talk about delivery!