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This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of our print edition.
Stormy weather moves in, and two climbers halfway up a 2,000-foot big wall lack the supplies to wait it out. At the same time, another party reaches the summit and now needs to descend the wall for a well-earned beer. Both groups must know how to rappel with a heavy haulbag, also called “riding the pig.” Improper technique can not only be dangerous, but it can easily tire out even strong climbers, which increases the risk of making a mistake. Members of Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) rappel often with heavy bags, so we use a reliable technique that puts the heavy weight onto the belay device instead of the climber. It also allows the climber to exit the system efficiently, mitigating risk and simplifying the descent.
- Pour out unnecessary water to lighten the load. If bailing, the team no longer needs five days’ worth of water.
- Keep ascenders and aiders clipped to the harness so you can go up if necessary. Attach daisy chains to your tie-in points for clipping in to each anchor.
- Girth-hitch two runners or daisy chains to the haulbag: one to clip to the rappel device and the other to clip the bag into the anchor before and after rappelling. With a weighty haulbag, anchor it to the wall using a Munter-mule hitch on the lower-out line. This will help ease the weight onto the rappel device and bypass heavy lifting.
- Set the rappel device up on the rope with a locking carabiner. This will be the central carabiner.
- Clip one of the haulbag’s runners to the central carabiner with another locking carabiner. Keeping the haulbag clipped to the device instead of the belay loop reduces the weight on the climber and provides a quick exit to the system.
- Girth-hitch a daisy chain to your belay loop, then clip that to the central carabiner with a locking carabiner.
- Use a prusik or autoblock hitch as a rappel backup.
- Ride the pig with the bag hanging between your legs; this allows you to guide it around rocks and down low-angle terrain.
- Clip yourself and the bag to the next anchor using the extra daisy chain or lower-out line and Munter-mule. This ensures it won’t be dropped.
- Repeat until you’re on the ground.
Overhanging or Traversing Terrain
- The first person takes the rack and any extra weight.
- Prepare two ropes for a double-rope rappel on the anchor, then pull up a few feet of rope and fix one rope by tying a double figure eight knot and clipping each loop to a piece of pro with a locking carabiner. The first person descends this rope while also keeping the second rope clipped through a quickdraw on their harness. This keeps it within easy reach. Rappelling a single line allows for easier ascension if the climber can’t reach the wall, which is necessary for the next step.
- As the terrain traverses or steepens, the first person will “down-aid” the pitch by placing gear every few feet to act as a directional and clipping both ropes to each piece. This will keep the climber close enough to the wall to keep moving in the desired direction.
- Arriving at the next anchor, the first person loosely fixes both ropes to the anchor with a few feet of slack and an overhand on a bight, which allows the second to pull in and lower out while cleaning the gear.
- The second person unfixes one line and prepares to rappel with double ropes.
- The second person “rides the pig.” When needed, pull on either rope to move closer to the wall and take out gear. Because the ropes are clipped to each succeeding piece and loosely fixed at the anchor below, the climber can slowly let slack out instead of swinging wildly, and continue downward.
Alexa Flower works for YOSAR and spends summers big wall climbing in Yosemite.