Simple truth: Attempting to go “light and fast” often means heavy and lame. To avoid the stigma of hauling a bag, many climbers feel the need to have everything clipped right on their harnesses. Water bottles, approach shoes, bullet packs—you name it—jangling o gear loops, wrapped around waists, getting in the way. If this sounds like you, strip down and haul! Here are a few reasons to haul, tips on how to do it, and some cautions gleaned from years of experience.
On long free climbs, you can’t often retreat with one rope, so it’s customary to bring two. Unless you’re climbing with a double-rope system—which most American climbers don’t—you usually drag up a tag line. It’s more efficient and less strenuous to tie all your gear to the end of that line, instead of lugging it on your person.
Not having to carry a pack on your back also means it’s easy to throw in a few cushy extras such as a warm hat and gloves, space blanket, and maybe even an icy beverage. You can be better prepared for bad weather, descents, or forced bivies. Plus, hauling allows you to climb harder. Carrying the big cams, approach shoes, water, and storm gear in a small haul pack frees the leader—and follower—to send as much as a number grade harder. If the climb is longer than 10 pitches, hauling might be too slow, but if the route is steep, with hard free climbing, hauling could be a huge benefit. You may be a little slower car-to-car, but you’ll have much more fun.
How to haul
Light-haul technique is simple. The leader carries the tag line as she normally would, clipped to the dedicated haul loop on the back of her harness. After she sets up the next belay, she’ll clip the haul line somewhere out of the way, and then pull up the free line and stack that into a sling that will eventually hold the entire haul line. At this point, she will tie off the rope again with a figure eight on a bight on the anchor, and prepare to haul up the bag. She will wait until she’s hauled to stack the rest of the rope into the tag-line sling. (If you’re lucky enough to have a nice ledge, you can skip stacking the rope in a sling and flake the haul line onto the ledge, separate from your lead line.)
At this point, yell, “Ready to haul!” to your second. If voice communication is difficult, agree on some sort of rope signal; I use three sharp tugs on the line to indicate I’m ready to pull up the bag. Be ready to hold the bag’s weight, but don’t start pulling immediately, since your second will need a few seconds to unclip the bag from the anchor.
The second can now free the bag from its clip-in point on the anchor. Unclip it and yell a voice command such as “Haul away!” and then gently ease the bag’s weight onto the line, or let the leader lift it out of your hands. I like to tie the tag line to the pack with a clove hitch, about 15 feet from the end of the line, so I have a “tail” section of line to gently extend the bag out on traversing pitches instead of letting it swing. If the pitch traverses even more, you can lengthen the tail, and on pitches that are a full rope length, you can shorten it.
The key to hauling a bag on free climbs comes down to one thing: energy conservation. Don’t be afraid to take a little extra time to rig an efficient system that saves your arms. With a lighter load—if you’re confident—you can simply haul up the rope and bag handover- hand. With a heavier bag, redirect the rope and the bag through a biner, as high as possible at the belay, and use a progress-capturing “ratchet.”
For a ratchet, you’ll need a specialized device. I like the Petzl Tibloc in “locking pulley” mode. With this setup (fig. 1), you pull up on the strand of rope leading directly to the bag, pull down on the strand on the other side of your redirect biner, and let the teeth of the Tibloc grab the rope and hold it between pulls. Rest as often as you need to, but if the bag feels at all heavy, take the time to rig a foot-sling assist (fig. 2), using a Wild Country Ropeman or other spring-loaded micro-device. Arms, not legs, give out first on long climbs, so don’t waste your guns on the hauling. Use the larger leg muscles to push the Ropeman down as it pulls the rope through the Tibloc, then pull slack through the Ropeman, which will move back up the rope.
Once you have your hauling system in place, bring up the bag and clip it in at the belay, somewhere out of the way but accessible. I usually let the hauled rope hang free until I’m done, and then restack the entire line so the leader’s end is on top. Now you’re ready to belay your second.
If all goes well, the entire hauling process should take about 10 minutes. That’s an extra hour for every six pitches, but you would hopefully gain most of it back by faster, lighter climbing.
Never use a skinny dynamic double rope as a tag line. Its stretchiness is terrible for pulling on rappel and very dangerous over edges if it has to be ascended. The best line for light hauling is a 60-meter 7mm or 8mm static tag line, which you can fi nd for about $100.
The tie-in knot is a high-abrasion point; on rough rock, you can quickly trash a haul line after only a few pitches, so I like to protect the rope at the knot with the cut-off top of a plastic soda bottle (fig. 3). Slide it up the cord before tying your knot.
Use a bigger pack. Super-compact “bullet” packs are great little hauling missiles, but they’re often too small for a whole day on the heights. A smaller pack is easier to haul pound-for-pound than a larger one, but only marginally, and a slightly bigger bag will allow you to reach the contents a lot more easily. Pick a bag specifically designed for hauling, or it will get shredded after only one or two outings.
Haul clean. Take a tip from multi-day big-wall climbers and make sure your haul pack hangs perfectly trim and plumb. Waistbelts and shoulder straps will snag, so remove or tuck them away. Never tie anything on the outside of a haul pack. When you cinch down the load, the top of the pack should be as tapered as possible so it moves easily past roofs and large features.
A hauled bag can cause rockfall, so be cautious when hauling from above and at the belay below. In general, the leader will haul the bag before he puts the second on belay (so the second can free a stuck bag if necessary), but let the follower climb clear of the danger zone before attempting a rockfall-prone haul. Also, be aware of parties climbing below!
On easier, lower-angled rock, such as fourth-class summit pitches or ridge traverses, stop hauling and let the second carry the bag. You may also need to do this on sharply traversing pitches. Make sure your bag can be switched to carry mode without unpacking it, and if the sack has removable straps, don’t bury them at the bottom of the bag.
Carry a second, lightweight pack stuffed in the bottom of the hauler, so the two climbers can more easily distribute the load for the descent and/or approach.
Don’t run pitches too long. More frequent belays help alleviate hauling snafus, and each hauling effort will be less onerous. Shorter pitches, with their lessened rope drag, also contribute to the main advantage of haul-style free climbing: a featherweight feel on difficult rock.