An Introduction To Big Wall Climbing

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

What is Big Wall Climbing?

Big wall climbing is a guaranteed adventure. A big wall is essentially a vertical expanse of rock which is too big to climb in a single day. Food, water and other gear is taken up in a haul bag and nights are spent sleeping on a portaledge or natural rock ledge thousands of feet off the ground. Unless you’re a very good free climber, most routes require aid climbing to reach the summit.

aid climbing squamish

Due to their length, steepness and complexity, big walls present a multitude of mental and physical challenges which you are unlikely to encounter in other disciplines of climbing. Easier big walls, such as the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, are routinely climbed in a day by climbers with chalk bags instead of haul bags. Whereas obscure aid-intensive routes may take a highly experienced team over two weeks to complete.

Big walls aren't that common – the most famous, and accessible, is El Capitan in Yosemite, although there are many more in remote locations such as Baffin Island and Patagonia.

The Big Wall Climbing System – Overview

The leader ascends a pitch by aiding, free climbing, or both. They trail a haul line with them which is clipped to the back of their harness.

how to aid climb

Belay Setup
At the end of the pitch, the leader sets up the belay and hauling system. The follower releases the haulbag from the lower belay and the leader begins pulling it up.

how to climb a big wall

Hauling and Jumaring
Normally, the leader does not belay their partner up. Instead, they ‘fix’ the lead rope so the follower can ascend it.

The leader continues to haul the bag while their partner jumars up the fixed lead line, removing all the protection as they go. Once both climbers and the haul bag are at the top belay, the system can be repeated again.

how big wall climbing works

big wall climbing

What is Aid Climbing?

Aid climbing is the process of using gear to support your weight as you ascend. You attach fabric ladders (etriers) to gear and walk up them to gain height.

Conversely, free climbing is the term given to using your hands and feet to climb the rock and placing gear to protect from falling. This gear is not weighted unless you fall (you probably just call this ‘climbing’).

A knowledge of aid techniques allows you to climb routes which are way beyond your free climbing abilities. Aid climbing also has its own unique set of skills and problems that can be just as fun as free climbing. Beginner aid routes typically involve using the same trad protection (nuts, cams, etc..) that you’re already familiar with. More specialist aid gear (such as pitons and copperheads) is needed if you advance to harder routes.

Aid climbing is a useful skill to have even if you have no intention of climbing a big wall. Many alpine routes have sections that, in poor weather, may be impossible without using aid. Just a few aid moves may be all that is needed to reach a summit or a safer descent. Knowledge of aid techniques can also provide a way to safely move up or down a crag in an emergency.

Can I Climb a Big Wall?

Absolutely! The prospect of climbing a multi-day wall can be overwhelming, but when each part of the process is broken down into bite-size pieces, it becomes more of a realistic goal. Aid climbing, jumaring and hauling are all fairly straightforward skills to learn and well within the reach of any experienced trad climber. The important part is to go outside and practise (see Training). If you put the effort into getting these skills dialled, you’ll have a great experience on the wall.

Where Can I Climb a Big Wall?

With stable weather, simple approaches and plenty of easy routes, Yosemite Valley (California) is an excellent training ground to start your big wall career. Other beginner friendly places include Squamish (Canada), the Dolomites (Italy), Orco Valley (Italy), Catalonia (Spain) and Zion (USA).

Beyond that, big walls are spread across the world, often in wild and remote places which are expensive and difficult to get to, with extremes of weather and no rescue service. It is recommended to build up your big wall skills at easy venues first before you venture off to fulfil your wildest ambitions on a remote alpine big wall.

Choosing a Big Wall Climbing Partner

Choosing the right partner is probably the most important part of the climb. This decision can make the difference between having a great adventure or a total nightmare. The best wall partner is a person who you already know well, who’s company you enjoy, who shares the same goals and who you’ve climbed many multi-pitch routes with before.

Climbing a wall with a good friend will most likely be a fun adventure, whether you reach the top or not. Climbing with someone you just met on the internet is far less likely to work out well, regardless of their experience. You will be in close contact with each other for days; eating, sleeping and filling up poo bags immediately next to each other. It’ll make for a much better experience if you get along well.

How competent your partner is at big wall climbing should be a secondary consideration, since this is something that can easily be improved before the climb by training.

Keiko Tanaka aid climbing Fisher Towers

Choosing a Climb

Choose a route that you and your partner are excited about, a route that makes your stomach flutter when you think about it. You don’t necessarily need to be ready for it now – you only need to be ready when the time comes to climb it. Make sure to allow enough time to practise the techniques described in this book and be prepared to do an easier wall to ‘warm up’ first. Preparing for the adventure is part of the adventure.

Big Wall Climbing Etiquette

The rules on a big wall are very similar to those at any other crag. Generally, it all comes down to being polite, respecting other climbers and having common sense. Here are some basic etiquette guidelines:

- Don’t add extra bolts, rivets or bathook holes to existing routes (replacing old bolts and rivets is good though)
- Don’t chip holds or enhance placements
- Use clean aid where possible
- If other climbers arrive at a route before you, they get to climb first
- If you’re moving slow, it is polite to allow faster teams to pass
- Take your litter and human waste home

big wall aid climbing


To train for a trad or sport climb, you typically need to focus on improving your strength. However to train for a big wall, you need to focus on practising aid techniques and rope systems. Forget about climbing harder grades in the gym – that will make little difference. It doesn’t matter how good you are at other disciplines of climbing, big walling is a whole different game. It helps to be competent at leading 5.9 (HVS for the Brits), but climbing harder than that is not necessary.

Your first big wall begins by making a training plan which is focused on practising the techniques described in this book. Plenty of practise is essential. Skills such as hauling and jumaring are strenuous, slow and clunky at first, but with practise you’ll develop a smooth technique and then it becomes much easier. You should aim to reach a level of competence where you can set up any system without needing to refer back to this book.

However you choose to practise, always go with a partner and always back up any system which you are not familiar with.

squamish aid climbing

The following checklist should be completed before attempting any big wall. Review what worked and what didn’t work during each session and focus on improving the things you found most difficult. This list assumes that you are already competent at multi-pitch trad climbing and self-rescue techniques. As with anything worthwhile, it will take time to build up a good level of competence. Trying to shortcut this process is extremely dangerous and will probably result in disaster.

After you and your partner have become fully competent at all the skills listed, you can try a short wall (e.g: South Face of Washington Column or West Face of The Leaning Tower). Once you have climbed a few shorter walls, you can move on to a bigger objective (e.g: The Nose or Salathe on El Capitan). With the competence gained from training and the experience gained on shorter walls, you’ll not only reach the top safely and efficiently, but also have a great time doing so!

Placing all types of regular trad gear
Using cam hooks and skyhooks
Bounce testing
Leading a straight-up aid pitch
Leading an overhang
Leading a traverse
Passing gear between the belayer and leader during a pitch
Leading a pendulum
Switching between aid and free climbing during a pitch
Leading a tension traverse
Fixing mid-pitch
Setting up the belay
Releasing haulbags on a straight up pitch
Releasing haulbags on a traverse
Belay transitions
Cleaning a straight up aid pitch
Cleaning an overhang
Cleaning a traverse
Lowering out from a pendulum point
Jumaring a free-hanging rope
Packing a haulbag
Docking a haulbag
1:1 hauling
2:1 hauling
3:1 hauling
Space hauling
Hauling past a knot
Hauling low-angled terrain
Descending with a heavy load
Descending with a heavy load past a knot
Lowering haulbags
Lowering haulbags past a knot
Abseiling with a damaged rope
Descending low-angled terrain
Retreating mid-pitch
Setting up the bivi
Setting up a portaledge and fly (if applicable)
Using a hanging stove (if applicable)

If you plan to fix pitches, short fix, climb as a team of three or climb a route requiring pitons, copperheads or a bolt kit, you’ll obviously need to practise those skills too.

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

How To Practise Aid Climbing

Top Rope
Many of the skills can be safely practised with a top rope. This could be done inside at the gym or outside at a single pitch crag. Stay away from popular routes and ideally choose a crag with crack climbs that are easy to protect.

By setting up a top rope and a fixed rope as shown, you can safely practise placing gear, jumaring, cleaning gear, hauling and descending. With a sensible top rope setup, pendulums and lower-outs can be practised safely too. Progress to leading without a top rope back-up once you are confident moving up your aiders and testing gear.

top rope climbing

Rock Angle
Try setting up top ropes on different angles of rock. An angle which is vertical or slightly lower than vertical is a good starting point. Progress to steeper rock and overhangs after that. Leading and cleaning are more difficult on steeper ground and require a modified technique. You’ll need to practise them both.

Practise jumaring down ropes as well as up them. This helps you develop a good thumb-catch technique.

Hooks and Pitons
Stay away from established routes when practising placing hooks, copperheads or pitons. These types of gear can permanently damage the rock. Find a worthless lump of nonclimbable rock instead. If practising at ground level, bring a bouldering pad so you don’t hurt yourself if a piece blows unexpectedly. Aid-bouldering may not be the most fashionable form of climbing, but it’s a great way to learn the art of hooking and piton craft.

Start by hauling a light load to figure out the system and then progressively add more weight each time. Fill your haulbag with water bottles or rocks. Pad the inside of your haulbag well if using rocks (a few layers of cardboard or an old piece of carpet) so you don’t wear holes in it before even climbing a wall.

Time how long it takes to lead, clean and haul a pitch of similar length and difficulty to your chosen route. Remember to factor in time spent on belay changeovers too. Keep practising to improve your time and use this as a basis for calculating how long each pitch will take on the wall.

Once you’ve built up an understanding of big wall systems on single pitches, you can progress to a multi-pitch crack climb. Aid climb the crack (even if you could easily free climb it), set up a belay and practise your belay transition and organisation. Take a haulbag and a portaledge too. It’s much more difficult to set up a portaledge when hanging on the wall than it is when standing on the ground. Cook a meal in your hanging stove, spend the night up there and climb a pitch in the dark if you want a full simulation of life on the wall. A two-pitch climb can be done with a night’s sleep halfway and you’ll still be back down in time for work in the morning. Don’t forget your poop tube!

Aid Climbing Ratings

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

Every climb receives a grade which determines the length of time and commitment required to climb it, with big wall routes covering grades V to VII. With only three grades to describe the length of every big wall route, the system doesn’t work so well. Generally, Grade V’s require one or two nights on the wall and Grade VI’s require two to seven nights. It is recommended to start with a few Grade V’s before trying a Grade VI. Grade VII is reserved for extremely difficult aid-intensive routes on huge walls in remote environments, often with hostile weather and no possibility of a rescue.

Aid Climbing Grades - The Theory

The grades range from A1 to A5, and from C1 to C5. 'A' grades refer to anything that requires the use of a hammer (e.g: placing pitons or copperheads), whereas 'C' grades are used if the pitch can be climbed without using a hammer (i.e: ‘clean'). A1 is super safe. A5 is super dangerous.

big wall ratings

Aid Climbing Grades - The Reality

In reality, the grading system doesn’t really work. Aid ratings are based entirely on the danger involved. The rating does not tell you how physically challenging a pitch is, or how difficult it is to figure out the moves.

To add to the confusion, aid pitches get easier with more ascents. Piton scars widen and become more reliable cam or nut placements, copperheads become fixed, ‘chicken’ bolts and rivets get added and routefinding generally becomes more obvious.

Unfortunately, there is no way of accurately measuring how dangerous a pitch is – we can only guess. This works fairly well up to A3. But in the harder grades, it becomes a measure of fear. And fear is different for each climber and each situation.

sea of dreams el cap

Aid grades of A5 or harder impress the masses, but no climb can really be given the A5 rating without proof of certain death if you fall. Those tiny copperheads could hold, but you don't know until you fall off. And no aid climber is crazy enough to test this theory. Not even Ammon McNeely.

A grade of A5 cannot even be confirmed if someone falls off. This is because every climber protects pitches slightly differently. Some climbers place more gear, equalize pieces and add shock-absorbing slings. Other climbers back-clean, don't bring enough gear or miss out key placements in the pursuit of moving faster.

A3 gets upgraded to A4 due to fear. A5 gets downgraded to A4 due to lack of proof. Therefore, the grade of A4 becomes a vast spectrum of difficulty, which is only possible to describe when you've climbed enough of it. Here's my view:

el cap aid climbing

A grade of A4 could mean there is one well-travelled and straightforward section of fixed gear in solid rock which is really A2 if you spend time climbing it well (e.g: crux pitches of Lost in America, Zenyatta Mondatta, many El Cap trade routes). Or it could be a 30+ pitch nightmare of rotten rock and death blocks. On an average pitch, the unfortunate leader will suffer in a perpetual state of mind-boggling terror as they sketch from one horrendous placement to another.

It will often take over 30 minutes to construct a science-project placement which enables the leader to tremble one foot higher up the 3000-foot wall. Fear builds exponentially as they become further and further removed from anything secure and completely uncertain that they will ever reach a belay. After 8 hours in a new and unfamiliar state of panic, dehydration and delirium, the exhausted leader will be forced to mantle out of their aiders into a long free climbing section of unknown difficulty, protected below by a string of worthless ironmongery. This must be climbed while wearing a massive clustered aid rack.

Balanced at the top of these desperate runout free moves, the leader must stretch high to place a tiny copperhead and transition back to the final section of improbable aid moves to a belay which must be constructed from pitons and duck tape. Or at least that’s how I felt on The Central Tower.

Aid Climbing and Big Wall Gear

Big wall gear is expensive, but you don’t need to buy everything to start with. Many trad climbers already own most of the rack for a clean aid route, and sufficient bivi gear for a summer wall. If you’re not sure that big wall climbing is right for you, consider choosing your first route as one which does not require a portaledge.

By choosing a fairly fast route, you can get a smaller haulbag too. You will of course need to spend more money if you want to advance to harder, longer or more remote walls. If so, it is worth getting durable kit that will last many walls. An example kit list for a short clean aid wall is given below.

aid climbing el cap

3x sets of cams up to Camalot #3
1x cams size #4 and #5
1x set of small offset cams
1x set of regular nuts
2x sets of offset nuts
2x nut tools
2x cam hooks
2x skyhooks
10x regular quickdraws
10x extendable quickdraws
5x 120cm slings
20x spare snapgate carabiners
12x spare screwgate carabiners
2x cordelettes
1x hauling device

Personal Equipment for Each Climber
Pair of approach shoes
Pair of free climbing shoes
Pair of fingerless gloves
2x Aiders
2x Daisy chains
2x Jumars
Prusik cord
Sleeping pad
Sleeping bag
Bivi bag
Jacket and spare clothes

Group Equipment
1x full size haulbag
2x 60m dynamic ropes
2x rope bags
Knot protector
First aid kit
Sun protection
Small repair kit
Pocket knife
Poop tube
Hygiene products
A few stuff sacks

Big Wall Ropes

Almost every wall requires two ropes; a lead line and a tag/haul line. A length of 60 meters (for each rope) will be suitable for most walls. However, modern routes are often established with 70m ropes, so reaching the belay with a shorter cord may be impossible. The character of the route, the length of pitches and the abrasiveness of the rock dictate what ropes you should take.

Lead Rope
The lead rope is your most critical piece of gear. A burly 10-11mm diameter dynamic rope with a low impact force rating will stand up well to the abuses of aid intensive walls.

Free Climbing Ropes
For walls that you plan to mostly free climb, a lighter, 9.0-9.4mm rope will be much more practical but less durable. In this case, consider using a dynamic haul line so you have a spare rope in case your lead line gets trashed.

Dry Treatment
A rope with dry treatment will resist absorbing water. This increases its durability and maintains a low impact force when wet. The treatment also helps to stop dirt and sand getting into the rope's fibers, which means the rope will run across the rock and through carabiners with less friction than if it was untreated. It's worth the extra cost for a dry treated rope if you plan to climb wet/snowy walls.

Some modern ropes have a unicore design – the rope’s sheath is permanently bonded to its core. This eliminates sheath slippage, making it much safer for situations such as jumaring.

Haul Rope
The haul rope should be the same length or longer than your lead rope, and can be either static or dynamic. This rope is used for:
- Hauling your bags up the wall
- Passing gear to the leader mid-pitch
- Abseiling
- Jumaring (if climbing as a team of three

Static Haul Ropes
Because a static rope has almost no stretch, it is great for hauling and fixing pitches. A 8-9mm diameter static rope is a good lightweight choice for hauling light loads. A 9- 11mm rope is a better choice for hauling heavier loads and for climbing as a team of three. Fixing pitches with a static rope is much safer than using a dynamic if the rope is running over rough rock or sharp edges.

Dynamic Haul Ropes
A dynamic haul rope theoretically lowers the efficiency of a hauling system. However, once loaded, the extra stretch is barely noticeable. A single-rated dynamic haul rope also serves as a spare in case you destroy your lead line.

Tag Line
Tag lines range from 5.5mm (dyneema) to 8mm (perlon) in diameter and are used for hauling super light loads. A half rope could also be used. For fast walls, you may choose to use one of these instead of a haul rope. If climbing a slower wall with a thick haul rope, it is worth trailing a tag line to save weight on your harness. Tag lines (and half ropes) are much lighter than haul ropes, but are not strong or thick enough for jumaring or hauling heavy loads.

Rope Bags
Ropes can be stacked in slings at the belay, but stuffing them into rope bags is a better way to tame them when windy. You can buy expensive rope bags which have sewn clip-in loops, but Ikea bags work just as well.

Big Wall Rack

The rack requirement is different for each route. Most easier routes are climbed clean (without using gear which needs a hammer to place and remove). Generally, a triple set of cams to #3 Camalot and a double set of offset nuts will be a sufficient rack for many clean aid routes. For a hard nail-up, you may need 4-5 sets of cams, 50+ pitons, 100+ copperheads, a bolt kit and plenty of other obscure pieces of ironmongery. Even on clean aid routes, it is useful to have a hammer for removing stubborn nuts (hit your nut tool with your hammer).

In general, it is a good idea to have as great a variety of gear as possible, since one particular brand of cam may fit in a certain placement much better than any other.

Slings and Quickdraws
Slings and quickdraws extend gear to reduce rope drag, help insecure placements from dislodging themselves and direct the rope away from sharp edges or flakes. 60cm and 120cm dyneema slings are particularly useful for equalizing gear on lead. Take a mixture of at least 20 slings/draws on a wall.

Screamers (fall arresters) are energy absorbing quickdraws. A screamer activates (the stitching rips) when ~2kN force is applied. This reduces the impact force on your gear during a fall, meaning that it is more likely to hold.

Screamers are most useful when attached to the first few pieces of gear in a pitch when fall factors are the highest and also on fairly marginal gear higher in the pitch. A screamer can only be activated once, but it can be used as a full-strength extender after activation. Scream Aids work in a similar way except they activate at ~1.5kN and break completely at 7kN. They are only really useful on extremely marginal gear.

yates screamers aid climbing

You’ll need two cordelettes on a wall – one for each belay. A 7 meter length of 8mm cord is great for equalizing 3 bolts. Simply tie it in a loop with a double fisherman’s bend. You can then coil it up (like you would with a long sling) to rack it on your harness. A shorter length of cord is more convenient for 2 bolt anchors.

Long slings can be used too, but cordelettes are more durable and much easier to untie after loading. You could also get a pre-made cordelette such as the Trango Equalizer or the Metolius Equalizer.

big wall cordelette

Knots in slings can be difficult to unfasten after being heavily loaded.

To loosen up stubborn knots, tap them against the wall with your hammer.

unfasten tight knot

Hauling Pulleys
A pulley with a locking, toothed catch (such as the Petzl Pro Traxion) is essential for hauling heavy loads up the wall.

For hauling lighter loads, a smaller device (such as the Petzl Micro Traxion) will be fine.

For super heavy loads, you'll need a locking pulley plus two other pulleys to create a 2:1 or 3:1 mechanical advantage hauling system.

petzl hauling device

Some climbers use a swivel on their haul bag to avoid the haul line getting kinked as the bag is lowered out on a traverse. It's not essential, but can be useful.

You'll need lots! There are no special aid specific carabiners, but you'll need more than you would take for your standard multi-pitch trad outing. Aim for at least 12 spare screwgates and 20 spare snapgates in addition to the carabiners already on your gear.

big wall swivel

big wall aid climbing

Personal Big Wall Equipment

Helmets are essential on big walls. Leader falls can happen with no warning, rocks can fall and gear can be dropped. Wear one. The most important factor when buying a helmet is getting one that fits your head snugly – it shouldn't move when you tip your head. A sloppy fit reduces the helmet’s ability to protect your head.

Your helmet should adjust to accommodate a hat, and a ponytail if you have long hair. Also, make sure the headlamp attachments are compatible with your headlamp.

climbing helmet

Belay Device
Any type of belay device can be used for big wall climbing, though using an assisted-braking belay device (such as the Petzl GriGri) is the most useful. It requires much less effort to hold a climber while they hang on the rope (e.g: during pendulums or tension traverses), it can be used as a backup when cleaning pitches and is useful for hauling.

GriGri's are not auto-locking; you still have to hold the brake rope at all times, just like you would with a normal belay device. This is especially true with thinner ropes, very light climbers or if there is ropedrag on the route. To go hands-free at the belay, simply tie an overhand knot as shown.

petzl grigri

GriGri's are designed to work with the following rope diameters. Make sure you're using the correct rope for your device.

petzl grigri rope size

Any climbing harness will suffice, but getting a big wall specific one makes life a lot more comfortable. A typical big wall harness has:

big wall climbing harness

Some also feature a handy hammer holster. If your harness doesn't have a haul loop on the back, you can make one by tying webbing around the whole waist belt. It's worth going to your local shop and trying some on, rather than ordering online. Clip some heavy stuff to the gear loops and hang in the harness to simulate what it’ll be like on the wall. Good shops will have a facility for you to do this.

Waist Belt
The waist belt needs to go small enough to be tight over a t-shirt, with enough adjustment to safely doubleback the buckle when you’re wearing multiple layers.

Leg Loops
Some climbing harnesses have adjustable leg loops too. This is useful if you plan to climb in cold environments where you'll need to wear thicker pants, or if the fixed size options just don't quite fit. The leg loops should fit closely around your thighs without hindering movement.

The Rise
The rise is the distance between the waist belt and leg loops. Think of it as the measurement between your belly button and crotch. Women's harnesses tend to have a bigger rise, to fit women's body shapes better. If the rise is too short, you won't be able to get the waist belt all the way up to the smallest part of your waist.

Chest Harness
Many aid climbers also use a bandolier or chest harness to rack gear on.

Aid climbing gear is heavy – having that weight distributed between your shoulders and hips is much more comfortable. It also helps spread the gear out, making it easier to find.

big wall chest harness

Aiders, or etriers, are multi-stepped fabric ladders, sewn as either a ladder or in alternating triangles. They attach to the gear you place (together with your daisy chain) so that you can stand your weight on it. You'll need two of them.

If getting the ladder type, look for some that have a solid plastic reinforcement on the top step, as this makes top stepping much easier. Alpine aiders are the same design but made with thinner webbing. They are light and pack up small, making them great for occasional use. Alpine aiders are uncomfortable on the arches of your feet if you stand in them for long periods of time.

aid climbing ladders etriers

Daisy Chains
Your two daisy chains (lanyards) connect you directly to the gear which you place. Attach the daisies to your harness by girth hitching them through your harness tie-in points or belay loop. There are two main types available: Loop-style and adjustable. Which type you use mostly depends on the style of climbing you’ll be doing and personal preference. Adjustables save a lot of energy on complex aid pitches, especially overhangs.

The traditional loop-style daisies are generally better on easier, slabbier terrain when it’s not necessary to adjust your daisy so often. Combining either of these styles with an Allfrifi hook can speed things up too. Having a third daisy/aider is super useful for equalizing yourself between sketchy pieces when creeping up a hard aid pitch.

daisy chains aid climbing

Loop-Style Daisies
This traditional daisy is a full-strength nylon or dyneema sling with lots of sewn loops in it, designed to be used with a fifi hook or carabiner to adjust the length.

loop style daisy chain

The stitching between loops is very low strength, however. If you connect to a piece of gear by clipping a carabiner through two consecutive loops, the stitching could break, causing you to become completely detached.

how to use climbing daisy chains

Loop-style daisies should be shortened as shown so the daisy is still connected end-to-end and therefore remains full strength.

how to use daisy chains climbing

You could also use a personal anchor system (PAS) as a daisy.

pas climbing tether

Fifi Hook
A fifi hook is a metal hook that is girth hitched to your harness. It allows you to hook into a daisy loop, or directly into a piece of gear so you can weight it at the length you choose.

fifi hook

You can also use a snap gate carabiner instead of a fifi hook – it's a bit fiddlier but more secure. If using a carabiner, a keylock style gate (without a nose) is better, as it will snag less.

fifi hook aid climbing gear

Adjustable Daisies
Adjustable daisies use a buckle system for easy length adjustment. They are not full strength and should never be used as your primary anchor attachment. They are much quicker to adjust than the loop style and significantly less strenuous on overhanging terrain.

A few types are available with Yates producing an excellent design. Be warned that if you have the buckle facing into the rock, it can self-adjust when weighted. Other disadvantages are that the webbing gets twisted easily and wears out fast. Yates daisies are only 5kN to start with and soon become less. Consider replacing the webbing after each wall.

adjustable daisy chain

Metolius Easy Daisies should be avoided. They are very weak (1.5kN) and are nearly impossible to tension or release under load, making them useless on a big wall.

metolius adjustable daisy

Allfrifi Hooks
The Allfrifi is basically a fifi hook welded directly onto the buckle of an adjustable daisy. They are not essential for aid climbing, but can speed up the process a little and allow you to attach slightly closer to a piece of gear – useful when aiding on steep ground.

If you choose to use an allfrifi, you’ll still need two regular daisies since the allfrifi does not have a clip in point for an aider.

allfrifi hook aid climbing

Jumars, or ascenders, are used to ascend the rope when it's fixed in place. They're like a mechanical version of a prusik (friction hitch). You use them when cleaning pitches, jumaring up fixed lines and in some hauling setups.

For most walls, a pair with large comfortable handles is best. They are made in a left and right hand model, with the cam designed to be operated by your thumb. You'll need a pair – having two left jumars is like having two left shoes.

petzl jumars

Fingerless leather gloves with a clipin point help to prevent your hands getting destroyed on the wall. You can buy specially designed wall gloves or make your own out of hardware-store gardening gloves.

Often you will be overheating and sweating on lead, only to be shivering when belaying the next pitch. Temperatures drop significantly during storms or periods of high wind and it is often much colder high up on the wall than it is on the valley floor. Once you get cold and wet, decisions tend to be made poorly and disasters begin to happen. Prevent problems by bringing enough clothes to stay warm. Cotton has poor insulating properties, especially when wet. Merino wool and synthetic base layers and pants are a much better choice for walls. These materials insulate well when wet, are lighter, dry faster and stretch to accommodate movement when climbing. If you expect cold temperatures, bring a pair of gloves so you can belay with warm hands and then switch them out to climb. A thin hat that fits under your helmet is a very lightweight way of keeping you warm too.

Make sure to bring a good fleece, a waterproof jacket and a puffy synthetic belay jacket – even in Yosemite it gets cold high on the wall when you’ve been belaying for hours. For colder walls, you’ll obviously need even more layers including a super warm belay jacket. Down jackets are a poor choice in wet climates, but make excellent belay jackets in dry climates below freezing. Most down jackets will repel a small amount of moisture, but the feathers will clump together in a rain storm and you’ll freeze. They also tend to rip very easily on rock, so take it off for leading and cleaning.

Your shoes need to be comfortable enough to stand in aiders all day and durable enough to withstand constant rubbing around the front and sides. A stiff-soled, sticky rubber approach shoe is good for aid intensive walls that have sections of easy free climbing. For pure aid, a stiff-soled high-cut boot may be more comfortable on those long leads. You’ll obviously need your free climbing shoes too for leading free pitches. On free climbing walls, be ready to switch out to more comfortable shoes when needed – it’s painful to clean or lead aid pitches in free shoes. It also wears them out fast.

To make your boots last as long as possible, apply a thick coat of Shoe Goo or a similar strong glue-type product to the seams most likely to blow out (mainly around the toe). Tie in loops are great for clipping in your shoes at night – if you drop your wall shoes, the rest of your climb will be extremely painful.

Knee Pads
Your knees are often in contact with the wall when aid climbing and hauling. A pair of slip on knee pads can make things a bit more comfortable, but can get in the way when free climbing and snagged in your aiders when aiding. If you want knee pads, get the lightest and most low profile ones you can find.

Sleeping Bag
Bring a good synthetic sleeping bag which is rated to a colder temperature than you are likely to encounter. Not even the best portaledge fly will keep everything dry in an epic storm. Condensation builds up on the inside of the fly and your bivi bag. Your clothes and sleeping bag will get damp, reducing their warmth. Synthetic bags retain a decent amount of warmth if they get soaked in a storm, whereas down-filled bags are completely useless. The feathers will clump together in a wet pile at your feet, offering zero warmth for the rest of the wall. Take a synthetic bag instead. Sew decent clip-in loops on your sleeping bag rather than just clipping the cord on the zip.

Bivi Bag
Rain always seems to find a way into a portaledge fly somewhere. Usually it sneaks in through the seams, combines with condensation and soaks down into the edges of the nylon bed. A waterproof and breathable bivi bag will give you greater protection during those intense storms. You should definitely take a bivi bag if you don’t have a portaledge fly.

Foam Pad
A foam pad isn’t essential on warm walls, but it makes a huge difference in colder climates. To make a clip-in point, tie a loop of cord through a tape reinforced hole. An inflatable pad packs down smaller but is likely to pop when stuffed in a haul bag next to a rack of beaks. Take a repair kit if going inflatable.

big wall climbing

Group Big Wall Equipment

Haul Bag
For multi-day aid routes, you'll need to haul. Haulbags are generally made of thick vinyl fabric and are durable enough to be dragged up rough slabs all day. Different sizes are available, up to around 160 litres.

For day routes, a small haulbag will suffice. For two climbers on a shorter wall (two or three days) a medium or full-size bag is good. For long walls (a week or more) you’ll need a full-size haulbag for each climber. Many haulbags feature full strength clip in points underneath, so you can carry a durable stuff sack, portaledge or haul bucket without it taking up space in the haulbag.

haul bag

You’ll burn 3,000-6000 calories per day on a wall – twice as much as a day spent sat in the office. The best wall food:
- Has a high calorie per weight ratio
- Is in a durable container
- Doesn’t rely on a stove to be edible
- Is convenient to eat
- Is nutritious and tastes great

What food you bring largely depends on your style of ascent and what you normally like to eat. You can save time and weight with ready-made, plastic-wrapped food. Or go luxury with a cooked breakfast and fresh coffee every morning, and a warm meal with a selection of aged cheeses and fine wine in the evenings.

Organise your food into day-bags so you can keep track of your supplies. Cans weigh more than plastic wrapped food, but are much more durable. A mix of both is generally preferred with the less durable food being consumed first. If you choose to bring a stove, try not to bring food that requires cooking. You can eat cold canned food if your stove breaks, but chomping on bits of dried pasta or uncooked rice is miserable. Similarly for caffeine addicts, instant coffee can easily be hydrated in cold water, but tea bags or fresh coffee just doesn’t work.

Freeze dried food is lighter but requires water, thus negating any weight saving benefits. Once hydrated, the food itself weighs the same as food in a can. It is only the packaging which makes it lighter. However, if you are collecting water (i.e: melting snow) during the wall, freeze dried meals will save you a lot of weight.

It’s nice to chill out in the mornings with a coffee and eat warm food in the evenings, if you’re not in a rush. A propane stove with a screw-type canister (e.g: Jetboil Flash) is simple and reliable. For faster walls, you may choose to forego this luxury. A good quality stove is essential for winter walls where you’ll use it to melt snow. Propane canisters don’t work so well in very cold climates or high altitude, so a multi-fuel type (e.g: MSR XGK) running on white gas may be better. If you bring a stove, it’s recommended to buy/make a reliable hanging kit to reduce the chances of burning a huge hole in your portaledge.

Water is the heaviest item you will take on a wall. It can be tempting to skimp on hydration to save weight, but by doing so you risk putting yourself in a serious situation. Dehydration causes fatigue and poor decision making, which leads onto other problems. You can survive for days without food, but not without water. In cold temperatures, 1.5-2 litres per person per day can be plenty. In hot and sunny climates (e.g: El Capitan in summer), you may need 5-6 litres a day to stay hydrated. Keep track of how much is used each day so you know to ration water if you’re running low (or have a shower if there’s too much!).

Store your water in durable plastic bottles and compress them after use to save space in the haulbag. 1 and 2-litre plastic soda bottles work well for the main storage. A weak plastic bottle or one with a poor quality lid will likely explode in your haulbag, saturating your spare clothes and sleeping bag. It’s also useful to have a durable 0.5 litre bottle (Nalgene bottles are good) for passing up to the leader for a midpitch swig or carrying on the back of your harness during long leads.

jetboil hanging stove

You can create water bottle clip-in points in a variety of ways using duck tape and cord. A simple way using 3mm cord is to tie an overhand loop in one end as a clip-in point, and a self-tightening barrel knot in the other.

This cinches itself tight around the bottle’s neck. Make a few of these and swap them over to new bottles as you use up your water supply.

big wall water bottles

First Aid Kit
As a minimum, you should bring:
- Pain relief tablets
- Anti-diarrhoea tablets
- Anti-septic cream
- Oral rehydration salts
- A small selection of bandages
- Adhesive tape
- Sterile pads for cleaning wounds
- Tweezers

Stuff Sacks
Stuff sacks are excellent for combining many small items together, such as food and clothes. Get some with durable clip-in loops – Metolius make good ones.

Hygiene Products
To keep your personal hygiene at a socially acceptable level, you should bring:
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Moist paper towels (for having a ‘shower’ in the evenings)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Hand moisturiser (Climb On or similar is great for skin repair)
- Sun protection – sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm
- Any other hygiene or medical products that you would normally use in daily life (contact lens fluid, etc..)

Headlamps are essential on the wall. Finishing a pitch, or trying to descend in the dark can be incredibly difficult and dangerous. They’re also pretty useful to have in the evenings or if you need to get up in the night. Tape your spare batteries together in the correct orientation, so you can just plug the whole block in at once. This also means you won’t have random batteries floating around your bag and no idea if they are full or empty.

A topo is a handy illustration of the route which tells you where each pitch goes, how difficult it is, pitch lengths and sizes of gear needed. Print out a few pocket-sized copies, laminate them and keep one in your pocket for the duration of the wall. Take descriptions from adjoining routes too, as this will help you navigate. You can take photos of the topo on your phone as a back up. Don’t rely purely on your phone though – it’s better to save your battery for emergencies.

Having a phone is useful but can detract from the wall experience if you use it every day to post photos on Instagram. Consider taking an emergency communication device, such as a Garmin inReach, if you are climbing in a remote area.

Other Essential Small Items
- Small sewing/repair kit
- A roll of duck tape (this fixes everything on a wall)
- Athletic tape (finger tape)
- Pocket knife (make sure it has a folding blade which is impossible to accidentally open when attached to your harness)
- Lighter
- Spoon
- Can opener (if applicable)

Belay Seat
Aid leads can take hours, and belays are often on featureless rock. Having somewhere to sit is a saviour. You can buy a belay seat or easily make your own out of a piece of plywood and some cord.

Knot Protector
When a haulbag is dragged up blocky ground, over roofs or any other nonuniform feature, the knot will rub against the rock and damage your rope.

Adding a knot protector significantly helps to increase your haul rope’s lifespan. Simply cut a small plastic bottle in half and smooth the edges with duck tape.

Poop Tubes
With big wall destinations seeing a rise in popularity, it is no longer acceptable to drop a ‘mud falcon’ off the side of your portaledge. To be a civilized wall climber, you must use a poop tube. You can buy them or make your own out of hardware store supplies. To make your own, glue a PVC cap onto one end of a 6-inch diameter PVC pipe. Make sure the pipe is long enough to account for the length of time you’ll be on the wall. Use a second cap as a removable lid. Line the tube with a plastic bag. Collect your waste in durable plastic sealable bags (wag bags are good) and store your used bags inside the poop tube. Add a handful of kitty litter between each bag to keep it smelling fresh and fasten the lid tight. Take the whole thing down from the summit and dispose of it responsibly.

knot protector

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

A portaledge offers a luxurious island of comfort in an otherwise uninhabitable vertical world. A portaledge is comprised of a ripstop nylon bed which is stretched around a collapsible metal frame with six straps that join together to form a single clip-in point. They are available in a range of sizes, weights and levels of durability.

Single ledges are easier to set up than doubles, but are half the size, and so are really only useful for one person. You can fit two people on a single ledge in an emergency, but it’s a rubbish night’s sleep. Unless you’re planning to exclusively solo walls, it’s better to get a double ledge. Inflatable ledges are now available. They are lightweight, compact and excellent for fast alpine walls. Some routes have convenient natural ledges which are big enough to sleep on, but the majority will require a portaledge.


Portaledge Fly
A waterproof fly can be deployed from the clip-in point to cover the ledge like a tent. Having a fly is critical if there is any chance of rain or high winds. Basic designs cover the ledge and have a drawstring to cinch it tight underneath. These are simple to use and are comparatively cheap. Deluxe models fully enclose the portaledge and have one or two zip operated doors. These fully stormproof designs are excellent for cold walls in remote environments. Both types have a removable tent pole which pushes the fly out. This creates more living space and keeps the condensation-prone material away from your sleeping bag. In general, always expect a storm and practice setting up your portaledge and fly while hanging from a tree.

Portaledge Costs
Unfortunately, portaledges are very expensive. Before spending your life savings, consider what you will use it for most. If you plan to climb short routes in places with stable weather (e.g: Yosemite or Zion), a secondhand simple ledge will be a cheaper option. If you want to go for long adventures or explore remote walls, you’ll want a durable ledge with a fully enclosing storm-proof fly and a door.

Wall hammocks are cheaper and lighter than portaledges, but are much less comfortable and totally useless in a storm. Most designs can be suspended from a single point. Hammocks are best employed as an emergency bivi for single day walls so you have the option of spending the night on the wall without taking the extra weight and cluster of a portaledge.

Clip-in Loops
Everything you take on the wall will need some kind of clip-in point. Having a pile of stuff balanced on your knees while digging around in the haulbag is a guaranteed way of dropping something. However you do this, make sure the clip-in points are reliable.

Big wall gear is heavy. If possible, use the lightest gear you can, as long as it doesn’t compromise on safety. Carabiners and gear slings are good places to trim weight. Lead ropes and harnesses are not.

Used Gear
Pieces of equipment which your life depends on (e.g: ropes, harness, carabiners), should be bought new. You can save money on other gear (e.g: portaledge, shoes, stuff sacks), by getting it used or by making it yourself (e.g: poop tubes, wall gloves). The best place to get used wall gear is from people who have bought brand-new everything, then bailed off their first wall, claiming that ‘big wall climbing is shit’. These folks usually sell high-quality gear for cheap.

Looking After Your Gear
It’s important to inspect your climbing gear frequently and replace anything which shows significant signs of wear. Frayed or faded slings, or any metal gear which has been dropped off the wall should be replaced. Nylon gear (ropes, slings and harnesses) degrades over time and should be replaced every five years, even if you’ve barely used it. UV radiation from direct sunlight will speed this time up. Exposure to battery acid or acid fumes will significantly reduce the strength of nylon. Keep your rope out of the dirt. Grains of rock and sand can cut tiny fibres inside it. Wash your rope occasionally in lukewarm water and allow it to dry in the shade. Store your climbing gear in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. If any gear gets wet, let it dry completely before you store it away.

How To Climb a Big Wall – Leading

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

Step 1 – On Belay
Before you leave the belay (or ground), you’ll need to get set up for the lead. Both climbers tie into the rope and the leader is put on belay, just the same as for any other climb.

The figure-8 is widely recognised as being the safest knot to tie in with. An assisted-braking belay device (e.g: a GriGri) is highly recommended for belaying.

grigri belaying

Step 2 – Attach Daisies and Aiders to Harness
Girth hitch one end of each daisy through your harness tie-in points, or your belay loop. Going through your tie-in points means you can get closer to each aid placement, but it cinches your waist belt and leg loops together.

Going through the belay loop puts you further away but can be more comfortable. Try it both ways to see which suits you.

daisy chains climbing

Clip the other end of your daisies to your aiders with a carabiner.

Put your aiders on the 'gate' side of the carabiner, so the daisy is free to move up the back bar when top-stepping. If your daisy is on the gate side, it could get stuck in the gate or unclip (not good!) when you top-step.

dasiy chains and aiders

It's better to use a 'keyhole' style snapgate carabiner for your aiders/daisies, as it will be less likely to get stuck on slings and nut wires than a 'nose' style carabiner.

Step 3 – Rack Up
Fill your gear loops with enough rack to get going. You don’t need the whole rack – some things can be passed up later.

keyhole carabiner

Step 4 – Attach Haul Rope
Clip the haul rope to the haul loop on the back of your harness. If you don't have a haul loop, you can make one by tying a short piece of webbing around the back of your waist belt.

Don't clip the haul rope to a gear loop – they're not strong enough.

climbing harness haul loop

Another method is to trail the haul rope with the hauling device pre-attached as shown.

After leading a pitch, the device can be attached to the anchor before removing the rope from your harness. This means that you can’t drop either the device or the rope while setting up the haul.

harness haul loop

Step 5 – Prepare For Blast Off
Clip the lead rope to a high point of the anchor (just like you would on a trad multi-pitch) so you won't take a factor two fall onto your belayer if you fall on the first move.

After a final safety check, remove your attachment point to the anchor itself and you are ready to go.

big wall belay

big wall aid climbing

The Basic Aid Climbing Lead System

The basic system of leading an aid pitch is:

1) Place a piece of gear
2) Test the gear
3) Transfer your weight on to it
4) Clip the rope into your previous piece of gear
5) Get as high as you can
6) Repeat

These steps are described in more detail below.

Step 1 - Place Gear

Place a piece of gear and attach yourself to it with your free aider (the one you're not standing in).

Clip as high on the piece as possible (e.g; in the plastic thumb-loop of a cam, rather than the sling). This gives you more height, meaning less moves to the top.

how to climb a big wall

When clipping gear which only has a big enough hole for one carabiner (such as a rivet hanger or a piton), you can clip a quickdraw to it first and then clip your aider onto that.

This way you will be able to clip it as protection before removing your aider, therefore never being detached from the piece. It will, however, mean that you're a carabiner-length lower, so it may be harder to reach the next piece.

how to big wall climb

Step 2 - Test Gear

How you test gear depends on what it is and what the consequences of it failing are. A visual test may be all that is needed – if it looks bomber, just get straight on it. If you’re not sure, give it a ‘bounce test'. The point of bounce testing is to generate a little more force than your bodyweight alone. This determines whether or not the piece will continue to hold your weight while you are gently moving up your aiders and making the following move. It does not determine if the piece can withstand the higher force of a leader fall.

How you test depends on what the gear is. Burly gear (such as nuts, slings and pitons) can be bounced aggressively whereas more easily damaged or low-strength gear, (such as cams or micro nuts) should only be very gently bounced.

If you choose to test the piece, you should adjust your daisies so that you won't shock load your previous piece if it fails. Your position here is important. If the pieces fails, your goal is to transfer your weight as gently as possible onto your lower piece.

how to haul on a big wall

Adjust your daisies correctly, hold onto your lower daisy and leave one foot in your lower aider so you are ready to absorb the force if your top piece fails.

First, ease your weight onto the piece until it holds the majority of your body weight. Then bounce your weight on it by stamping in your top etrier with a slightly increased force each time (you could also bounce by sitting your weight onto your top daisy, but this is generally not as good). Essentially, you are shock-loading the gear. If it fails, you'll swing gently onto the lower piece, which should be strong enough to hold because you bounce tested it – right? Try not to look directly at the piece you are testing – if it fails, it'll hit you in the face!

Cam hooks or skyhooks shouldn't be bounce tested, as they would be damaged over time. To test these, weight the piece, press your body away from the wall and move side-to-side. This generates a little more force than bodyweight without the harsh impact of a bounce and simulates the direction you might pull the piece when you're higher up on it.

Bounce testing is the secret to hard aid climbing. With proper technique (which takes many climbs to develop), you will be able to move up whole pitches of marginal gear relatively securely. This still doesn’t mean that anything would hold a fall, but it does mean you are much less likely to fall.

Step 3 - Commit

Once you're happy that your upper piece will at least hold your weight, it's time to commit. Shift all your weight on to the top piece.

Step 4 - Reset

Reach down and clip your lead rope into your lower piece before removing your aider from it. If you're using adjustable daisies, fully extend it out at this point, then clip it to a gear loop, ready for the next placement.

aid climbing setup

Step 5 - Get High

Getting as high on your top piece as you can means less moves to the top.

On slabby terrain, use the steps of your aider to walk upwards. With practise you should be able to stand in the top step easily. Hold onto rock features for balance if possible. As you move up, your daisy will slide up the back bar of its carabiner. Adjust your daisy tight to give you some downwards tension for balance. This also means that if you lose balance you won't fall the full length of the daisy.

Vertical or overhanging terrain is more strenuous. Move up your aiders and cinch your daisy tight to create downwards tension. By pushing down with your legs and pulling upwards with your daisy, you will create a strange feeling of opposition which provides balance.

Once you are as high up as you can get, it's time to find another placement and repeat step one.

how to go aid climbing

How To Aid Climb - Leading Overhangs and Traverses

The system for leading a roof or a traverse is very similar to the standard method. Just place a piece, reach as far sideways as you can, and place your next piece. It may be difficult to bounce test from this position – try stamping in your aider instead of weighting your daisy. Remember that the follower will have to clip from piece to piece to clean the pitch, so try not to back-clean (remove) them.

How To Aid Climb - Leading Pendulums and Tension Traverses

king swing nose

A pendulum is a great technique for moving sideways across a blank section. Essentially, you rope-swing across the blank section to features where you can begin climbing again. An alternative to swinging is to semi free climb across with some of your weight on the rope. This is known as a tension traverse.

Step 1 – Clip Gear
Place a piece of gear which can hold a downwards and a sideways pull (you may want to equalize a couple together). This gear should be bomber, and you probably won’t be able to retrieve it later. This is normally a bolt or rivet on popular routes. Clip your rope into the gear and ask your belayer to take you tight on the rope.

Step 2 – Lower
Get your belayer to lower you. If you plan to pendulum, you can start swinging as you are being lowered. Do this by running sideways across the wall. Communicate with your belayer so you don't get lowered too far – make sure you know where you're trying to swing to!

Step 3 – Swing
Keep your momentum and swing a little higher each time. Often, you'll need to grab a hold, hook an edge or clip a fixed piece at the pinnacle of your swing, so be ready for this.

Step 4 – Continue Up
Once you've stuck the pendulum, continue climbing as normal, making sure to extend the next few pieces of gear after this to reduce rope drag. Depending on the size of pendulum, difficulty of climbing and consequences of a fall, it may be better to back-clean gear until level with the pendulum point to further reduce rope drag.

how to do a swing aid climbing

Pendulums with Two Lead Ropes
For big pendulums in the middle of a pitch, it is wise to use two lead ropes. Use one rope for clipping gear up to the pendulum point, and the other rope for gear after the pendulum.

It is recommended that the belayer uses two GriGri’s for belaying.

aid climbing pendulum

Switching Between Aid and Free Climbing

Sometimes it is necessary to switch from aid to free climbing in the middle of a pitch. To make this transition easier:

- Clip your aiders, daisies and other long tanglies away on the back of your harness so you won't trip over them in the middle of a free move.

- Attach a sling to your top piece. This will be your final foot step before you free climb.

- Ask your belayer to pass up your free climbing shoes if needed. You could also pass down your wall shoes and any other unnecessary heavy gear to your belayer.


On some pitches it may be easier to french-free. This means mostly free climbing while holding onto the occasional piece of gear to avoid difficult moves and therefore speed the climb up.

You can clip gear directly into your belay loop, or attach slings to some pieces to use as foot loops. Get your belayer to take you tight whenever you need a rest. There are no rules really – just do whatever you can to cheat your way up quickly. French-free avoids the clunkiness of a full aid setup and is great on pitches that you can mostly free.

Routing the Rope

As with trad climbing, you should route your rope away from sharp edges, flakes and loose rock. Make skillful use of quickdraws and long slings to allow the rope to avoid these hazards and run in a straight line.

Remember that the rope will be taut when your partner is cleaning the pitch, which means it will cut faster on sharp edges.

Sometimes you may need to add a re-belay for pitches that end above a roof or on a ledge. Attach a sling down from the anchor so the rock abrades the sling, not the rope. Add a rope protector or duck-tape the edge too, if needed.

climbing rope on sharp rock

Back Cleaning

Sometimes, you'll need to use a piece of gear which you've already placed. Obviously, it's better to leave it there as protection, but this won't always be possible. If you remove your previous piece be aware that this can mean a big fall if your current piece fails.

A safer way is to place two or three good pieces in a row, then lower down to retrieve earlier pieces of gear. Make sure your top ones are bomber before committing to this. Once you've retrieved some gear, you can either aid back up the pieces to your high point (on top rope) or ascend the rope.

If ascending the rope, it is easier to attach your jumars to the rope which is running through the gear (rather than the rope coming straight from your harness). Retrieving gear from a traverse or overhang is more difficult. You will need to clip across your gear in reverse (known as back-aiding) to get to it, and then re-aid back up to your high point.

Passing Gear to the Leader

You don't need to take your entire aid rack on every pitch. If you need something from the belay, your belayer can clip it to a loop in the haul/tag rope and then you simply pull it up.

A common method is to only take enough gear to lead the first half of a pitch, then get resupplied when your rack is running low. This keeps some weight off your harness and is also useful for passing water, jackets or food on those long leads. Remember to pass the rope back once you’ve finished (if you just drop the rope, it’ll probably get stuck on faraway flakes).

However, once you are over half of the rope length up a pitch (e.g; you are over 30 meters up the pitch with a 60 meter haul rope), the belayer will need to attach an extra rope to the end of the haul rope so they can get it back again.

A quick solution which provides a short amount of extra rope is to clip the end of the haul rope to the loop of spare lead rope. If you regularly need to pass gear late in the pitch, a much better setup is to use a tag and haul rope.

how to lead aid climbs

totem cams two lobes aid climbing

Passing Gear to the Belayer

A quick way to pass gear from leader to belayer is to simply clip it to the haul rope and let it slide down.

The belayer will need to wiggle the rope to slow the item’s descent so it doesn’t slam into their face at full speed.

how to aid climb

Regaining Your High Point After Falling

If you fall and are left dangling in space, you could jumar back up to your high point to continue the lead. But how secure is the piece that held you? If it blows while you are jumaring up, you’ll fall farther, but with the spiky toothed cams of your 5kN-rated jumars cutting into the rope – not good.

A better alternative is to ascend with a klemheist prusik and a GriGri as shown below. This way, if the piece above blows, you will fall on the GriGri and prusik instead.

how to prusik a rope

Racking Gear

It’s better to rack gear the same as you would for trad climbing so you are already familiar with where things are, though it can be nice to spread things out on a chest harness too. It’s good to keep hooks, beaks and heads separate from nylon so they don’t stick to your slings.

Cheater Sticks

Cheater sticks allow you to bypass a difficult/impossible section by clipping a distant piece of fixed gear. Simply clip a carabiner to a long sling and tape it to some kind of stick/ avalanche probe/ portaledge fly pole as shown. Tie offset overhand knots in the sling so you can easily aid up it.

Cheater sticks are useful when abseiling down a steep wall but present problems when used on lead. First, having a cheater stick relatively handy makes it very tempting to clip past moves that you could do but are too scared to try. This prevents you from progressing at harder aid. It’s a bit like pulling on quickdraws when sport climbing, or standing on the bolt hangers. If you get into the habit of reaching for the cheat stick when things get scary, what will you do next time when there’s nothing to clip?

It’s also very difficult to test a far away piece of gear, which means you might end up falling anyway, even farther than you would have and with a giant stick in the equation.

aid climbing cheat stick

How To Climb a Big Wall – The Belay

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

Setting up a big wall belay is more complicated than a standard trad belay but follows some of the same principles. Belays are bolted on most popular routes which makes this process much quicker.

If you're building a big wall belay from trad gear, you’ll need two or three points which are EACH as strong as a bolt. Three medium sized cams or nuts (well placed in good rock) equalized together are about as strong as one bolt (approximately 25kN).

Depending on your setup, the whole thing may contain many pieces of gear. Remember that much more force is applied to a big wall belay (with hauling and jumaring happening at the same time) than a trad belay.

big wall belay

To set up a big wall belay station, you will need to:
1) Create a central point
2) Tie yourself in
3) Fix the lead rope
4) Set up a hauling system

Each of these are described on the following pages.

Top Tip
It is good to get into the habit of fixing the lead rope before setting up the haul. If communication is difficult, the belayer will know that the lead rope is fixed when the leader starts to haul.

Unless you're standing on a ledge, you'll use your aiders to move around the belay while you set it up. These are omitted from the following diagrams for clarity.

Big Wall Belay - Creating a Central Point

Step 1
Clip a screwgate carabiner into each bolt.

Step 2
Clip a cordelette (a seven meter length of 8mm cord tied with a double fisherman’s bend works well) into each carabiner.

big wall anchor

Step 3
Pull the loops of the cordelette down and equalize it with an overhand knot. Clip a large screwgate into this central point and fasten all four screwgates.

These carabiners will stay locked for the whole time you have the belay set up. You will clip other carabiners into these rather than tying knots directly onto them.

This way, you won't end up with something stuck behind something else (e.g: the leader unable to leave the belay because the haulbag is weighted on their tie-in point).

big wall belay

You'll also never weaken the belay by opening one of the main screwgates (when heavily weighted, some screwgates will open but not close).

You could set up a simpler belay which involves less screwgate carabiners if you are confident that you won’t encounter any problems doing so.

how to clip carabiners

Central Point Tips

* Make sure your V-angle is less than 60 degrees. With widely spaced bolts, you may have to extend one of them with a sling.

setting up belay on a big wall

* If there are only two bolts, you can 'double up' your cordelette on one of them to keep your central point within reach of the bolts.

big wall belay setup

* It's better to position your screwgates with the wider side down, so you can fit more carabiners onto it later.

how to clip belay bolts

big wall aid climbing

Big Wall Belay - Tying In

You need to tie into your central point as you would on a normal belay, but leaving enough slack to haul with (approximately 2 meters). Your weight will be taken by your daisies or the haul rope while you're hauling, not on your tie in – this is there as your full-strength back-up.

Clovehitch the lead rope to the central point on a separate screwgate and back it up by clove-hitching the lead rope, with a little slack, to one of the bolts (with another screwgate).

To keep the belay de-clustered, do this on the opposite side to where you will fix the lead rope for your partner.

You can use other knots, such as an alpine butterfly, but clovehitches are super easy to adjust. At this point you can tell your belayer that you are ‘off belay’.

big wall anchor building

Big Wall Belay - Fixing the Lead Rope

Your partner will jumar up the lead rope – you don't belay them as you normally would on a multi-pitch. This rope needs to be 'fixed' so it doesn’t move while they jumar up.

Step 1
Pull up the extra lead rope until it's tight-ish on your partner and stack it away on a sling or a rope loop. This makes it easier for your partner by removing clutter from the lower belay, but puts it at the upper belay. In some cases, you may choose to skip this step. For example, if your partner needs to lower-out at the start of the pitch, they will need the extra rope to do so.

Step 2
Fix the lead rope by tying a large-looped alpine butterfly to one bolt and a clove hitch to another bolt so that the rope is equalized. Make sure this is in the correct direction for the pull they will put on the rope while jumaring. An alternative is to fix the lead rope to the central point and back it up to one of the bolts. However, having a weighted rope at the central point can interfere with the hauling system.

Step 3
Now you can tell your partner that the 'lead rope is fixed'. At this point they can attach to the rope with their GriGri and jumars.

how to make a big wall belay

Big Wall Belay - Setting up the Hauling System

Step 1
Clip your hauling pulley to the central point with a screwgate.

Step 2
Slot the haul rope through the hauling pulley and close it.

how to use hauling device

Step 3
Push down the catch, so the teeth bite into the rope.

Check that you have attached it the correct way around. Keep the end of the haul rope connected to your harness while you do this, so there's no chance of dropping it.

petzl pro traxion climbing

It is important to make sure the device is locked.

how to use petzl pro traxion climbing

Step 4
Remove the end of the haul rope from your harness and clip it away to the side of the belay.

Step 5
Pull the slack rope through the hauling pulley until the rope is tight on the haul bags, stacking it away in a sling or loop of rope.

Step 6
Put the slack end of the haul rope through your GriGri and attach it to your belay loop. Sit back to pull extra slack out of the rope. After a final check of your hauling setup, you can tell your partner that the 'haul rope is ready'. At this point, they can release the haul bags and leave the lower belay.

big wall climbng belay

Alternative Setup
The setup described on the previous pages keeps the belay neatly organized but uses a lot of screwgates.

You could set up a simpler belay with less carabiners if you are confident that you won’t encounter any problems doing so.

how to set up a big wall belay

Some hauling pulleys (such as the older style Petzl Pro Traxion) must have a carabiner clipped through their base to stop them from potentially opening mid-haul.

Read the instructions with your pulley to see if this is needed. If you’re not sure, then clip one through anyway.

petzl pro traxion

belaying grigri

Big Wall Belay - Rope Management

Having random loops of rope hanging down from the belay will create all manner of problems when they get tangled around flakes and poop tubes. Keep them tamed in a rope bag (best option) or by stacking them neatly.

However you do it, make sure that all rope ends are clipped to the belay when not in use (e.g: clip the end of the haul rope to the belay overnight). This is so the whole rope can’t blow out of reach or zip off the wall completely.

Stacking Ropes
Stack them in a sling or rope loop. Making smaller loops each time reduces the tangle factor when they feed out. Don’t allow loops of rope to get long enough to tangle underneath the haulbags – always keep the loops within reach.

If belaying from a portaledge or natural ledge, you could simply stack them on the ledge in a neat pile, if you are confident they won’t slide off.

how to stack a climbing rope

Stuffing Ropes
Stuffing ropes into a rope bag is the ultimate way of taming ropes on a windy wall.

Step 1
Clip one end to the belay.

Step 2
Run the rope through a high-point carabiner. Then stuff the rope into its bag, going hand-over-hand. This is much faster than picking up bundles of rope and dropping them in.

Step 3
Clip the top end of the rope on top of the other, so you know which end is which.

climbing rope bags

Keeping the Belay Organized

A well organized belay will help to speed things up. Tie-off your belay device while completing any of the suggested tasks below, or doing anything that requires you to let go of the brake rope (GriGri’s are not hands-free!). Watch the leader carefully and be ready to give slack quickly when needed. Remember that belaying is your priority – the other things are secondary. As well as enjoying the view while belaying, consider doing the following:

Get Food and Water Accessible
It’s useful to have a small water bottle (around 500ml) to pass up to the leader during those long pitches. A small bag with a good clip-in point is also useful for passing snacks, jackets, headlamps, cameras or other items which are difficult to clip in. Get these things accessible.

Organise the Rack
Having the whole rack organised and accessible makes it quick and easy to pass gear to the leader when they need it. For large racks, it’s useful to organise by type on racking slings. Attach a loop-style daisy chain between the belay bolts to provide plenty of clip-in points for the rack and any other things you might need during a long belay.

Eat Your Lunch
During belay duty is a good time to eat, hydrate, re-apply sunscreen (be careful not to get it on your rope or gear) and deal with other personal hygiene issues, without slowing down the ascent.

big wall anchor

Prepare to Pack the Haulbag
As the leader is approaching the end of the pitch, you can begin re-packing the haulbag. The rack can be packed away once the leader has enough to finish the pitch. It’s nice to have a water bottle and a few snacks on the very top because finding these is usually the priority after hauling. Aim to have the haulbag packed so you can lower it out as soon as the leader has the haul rope ready at the upper belay.

Belay Transitions
Ideally, the leader will have completed the haul, stacked the haul rope and organised the remaining rack by the time the follower has cleaned the pitch. Upon arriving at the belay, the follower will remove excess rack from their harness and immediately be put on belay, ready to lead the next pitch. The new leader will have a quick snack while the belayer stacks the lead rope. The leader will leave the belay within a few minutes of arriving at it.

A streamlined transition like this can happen, but it’s often slowed down by something such as a stuck haulbag, poor rope management or if the leader hasn’t finished hauling. Work together to solve any problems. There is always something you can be doing. If the haul isn’t complete, both climbers can haul together to speed it up. Make it a priority to finish the haul and then get the leader started on the next pitch. Things like organising the rack and adjusting your belay seat can wait until the leader is moving up the next pitch.

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

Big Wall Communication

Communication on the wall is best kept to a minimum to avoid confusion. Keep commands simple and practise them with your partner before the climb. Trying to shout 60 meters into the wind about some complicated rope setup to your partner who you can’t see could result in disaster. Standard commands are:

Off Belay
The leader is safely attached to the upper anchor and no longer needs a belay.

Lead Rope Fixed
The leader has fixed the lead rope. It is now safe for the follower to attach to the lead rope to clean the pitch.

Haul Rope Ready
The leader has set up the hauling system, pulled through the slack rope and is ready to haul.

Releasing Haulbag
The belayer is about to release the haulbag from the lower belay. This is used as a final check before lowering out the haulbag and informs the leader to begin hauling.

Each of these commands can be followed with ‘OK’ by the other climber to confirm that the message was understood.

Communication Breakdown
It’s important to have a plan for what to do when you can’t see or hear each other. For example, if the leader is out of sight above and the haulbag starts moving up the wall, it means the leader is off belay, the lead rope is fixed and the haulbag can be released. You know this because it wouldn’t be possible for the leader to be hauling if they’re still climbing the pitch!

Two-way radios can be useful in some situations. For example, on an obscure route or first-ascent when the leader frequently needs to ask for many different types of gear to finish a long pitch or make an intricate gear belay. To save batteries, keep your radios turned off until you need them. Have a signal for switching them on, such as a loud ‘monkey call’ or a series of tugs on the rope.

How To Climb a Big Wall – Following

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

Cleaning an aid pitch is different than cleaning a trad pitch. Instead of climbing the rock, you will use jumars to ascend the rope. There are two reasons for this:

1) It is much quicker and less strenuous to remove gear when ascending the rope than it is to clip your way up each piece of gear.

2) The leader is freed from the responsibilities of belaying. This enables them to do other things like haul the bags and organise the belay.

To follow an aid pitch, you will need:
- Two jumars
- A GriGri
- Your double set of daisies and aiders

Following an Aid Pitch – Leaving the Belay

Step 1
When the leader confirms that the lead rope is fixed, you can attach yourself to it.

Attach your jumars to the carabiner with your aiders as shown.

aid climbing jumars

Step 2
Pull the catch back on each of your jumars, slot them onto the rope and close the catch.

Step 3
Adjust your upper daisy to about half of its full length.

petzl jumars

Step 4
Place your feet on appropriate steps of your aiders, so that when your jumars are close together your feet are level with each other. Generally this will be one foot in your third step, the other in your fourth. Step into your lower aider to pull some of the stretch out of the rope. As you do this, push your upper jumar up the rope.

Then sit back, weighting your upper daisy, while pushing your lower jumar up the rope. Your hands do not need to leave their position on the jumars (using two hands to push one jumar is inefficient). Do this a few times until you've pulled all the stretch out of the rope, so you are no longer weighting the belay. This sequence is the basic technique, known as jumaring, that you will use to ascend the rope.

jumaring a climbing rope

Step 5
Jumars are not full-strength attachment points, so you also need to use a GriGri (or similar) to attach yourself to the rope. Take the slack rope from underneath your jumars and put it through your GriGri as shown. Attach this to your belay loop.

Step 6
While you are attaching yourself to the lead rope, the leader will be setting up the hauling system. When they tell you that the 'haul rope is ready', you can reply with ‘releasing haulbag'. Release the haul bag from the belay as described here.

Step 7
Detach yourself from the belay (but stay tied into the end of the lead rope) and begin cleaning the pitch.

how to ascend a rope

Top Tip
Your top jumar will slide up the rope easily because the rope is tensioned below it (by your lower jumar), but your lower jumar won’t act the same.

To move your lower jumar, you’ll need to pull the catch back slightly with your thumb. This moves the teeth away from the rope without disengaging the catch completely, meaning that it will glide up the rope. When you let go, the catch springs back and locks on the rope. This is a subtle movement which takes a bit of practise to develop.

how to jumar a climbing rope

big wall aid climbing

Jumaring on Slightly Overhanging Terrain

Jumaring on steep ground is hard work, but gets easier with practise. The technique is basically the same as for vertical terrain, but you must synchronise your movements to be efficient. Weight your lower aider while simultaneously pushing your upper jumar up the rope (you'll need to unweight your foot on the upper one to do this). Then sit back on your upper daisy while pushing the lower jumar up, pulling the catch back slightly to help it slide up the rope. You may need to adjust your upper daisy to a shorter length if you are hanging too low.

You should alternate between resting your weight in your harness (when sitting back on your daisy) and having your weight on your legs (when standing up). You don’t need to pull yourself up with your arms. Make sure the rope feeds through your GriGri as you are jumaring up. Sometimes the weight of the rope will do this for you, but often you'll need to stop every few meters to pull it through. It's a good idea to clip the rope to your belay loop every 10 meters or so. This helps to keep the rope from getting stuck around distant flakes when it's windy, and also acts as an extra back-up.

Jumaring on Slabs

Jumaring on lower-angle terrain is easier. All your weight is on your legs – you don't need to weight your daisies. But if you need a rest, just sit back and hang on your top daisy. You'll need to adjust your daisies longer and put your feet one step lower in each aider than you would on steep ground.

Removing Gear when Jumaring

Cleaning Straight-Up Sections
On a perfectly straight-up pitch, you can simply unclip and remove gear.

Don’t slam your jumar right up into a knot or piece of gear as it needs to move up a few millimetres before it can be released.

how to follow an aid climb

Cleaning Almost Straight-Up Sections
In many cases the gear will be pulled tight by the rope, making it hard to unclip. In this situation:
- Weight your lower jumar
- Remove your upper jumar from the rope
- Re-attach this jumar to the rope above the gear and weight it
- Now you can more easily remove or unclip the gear

how to second an aid pitch

Diagonal Sections
If you use the previous method to remove gear on a diagonal pitch, your lower jumar will get ‘sucked in’ to the gear. To avoid this:

Step 1
Jumar close to the piece.

Step 2
Pull slack through your GriGri and weight it.

how to climb a rope with jumars

Step 3
Remove both jumars (one at a time) and reattach them above the piece.

Step 4
Release rope through your GriGri so that you are weighting the jumars again.

climb rope with ascenders

Step 5
Now you can remove the gear.

jumaring a rope

Traverses and Overhangs
To clean a traverse or a steep overhang, you'll need to take both of your jumars off the rope and clip your aiders into the gear that the leader placed. Effectively, you are 'leading on top rope', belaying yourself with your GriGri.

Simply clip across the pieces, removing the ones behind you as you go. Make sure to keep pulling the slack rope through your GriGri and tie back up knots as you go. If the piece held the leader, then it'll (probably) hold you too. If it doesn't hold, then you'll fall safely onto your GriGri and/or back up knots. If the leader did some hook moves on the traverse, you’ll need to bring some hooks with you to repeat those moves when cleaning.

how to follow an aid traverse

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

Cleaning Pendulums and Lowering Out

When you reach the piece which the leader pendulumed or tension traversed from, you can't remove it or else you'll swing uncontrollably across the wall. To avoid this, you'll need to do a lower-out.

You'll need plenty of slack rope for a lower-out (around three times the diagonal distance of the lower-out). This usually isn't a problem halfway up a pitch, but if there's a lower-out near the start of a pitch (or straight off the belay), make sure the leader fixes the rope with enough slack for you to do this.

The following method describes lowering out by passing a bight of rope through a fixed piece, therefore not needing to untie from the end of the rope. For very long lower outs, you may need to untie (described later in this article).

Step 1
Remove your jumars from the rope and clip one of your daisies directly into the lower-out piece. On well-travelled routes this will usually be a bolt or a collection of fixed gear. Your weight will be on this daisy while you're setting up the lower-out.

carabiner on bolt

Step 2
Pull all the slack rope through your GriGri so the rope is tight to the upper belay.

Step 3
Take the slack rope from below your GriGri and push a bight of it through the ring or carabiner at the lower-out point.

how to lower out on a big wall

Step 4
Attach the rope to another belay device (such as an ATC) on your belay loop as shown (if you don't have one, use a munter hitch).

big wall lower out

Step 5
Lean into the lower out point and take in all the slack rope through the ATC so that your weight is taken by it.

Step 6
Keeping hold of the brake rope, remove your daisy and any other gear from the lower-out point. Then lower yourself out by letting slack through your ATC.

follow pendulum on big wall

Step 7
When you have finished lowering, put your jumars back on the rope above you, remove your ATC and pull the bight of rope back through the lower out point. You can continue jumaring the now vertical rope.

Top Tip
If you don't quite have enough rope, you can jumar up a little after lowering as far as you can. This will give you extra rope to complete the lower-out.

how to do the king swing

follow traverse big wall aid climbing

Longer Lower-Outs

The following technique uses half the amount of rope but involves untying from the end. This is useful for very long lower-outs or for lower-outs near the start of a pitch.

Step 1
Follow steps 1 and 2 as described in the previous section and add a back-up knot as shown.

how to climb the king swing

Step 2
Untie from the end of the rope and feed it through the lower-out point.

how to do the king swing on the nose

Step 3
Attach the rope to an ATC (or munter hitch) on your belay loop and pull the slack through so your weight is taken by it.

how to follow the king swing el cap

Step 4
Remove your daisy and lower yourself out.

Step 5
When you’ve finished lowering out, remove your ATC, pull the rope through the lower-out point and tie back into the end.

how to clean a pendulum point

How To Climb a Big Wall – Packing the Haulbag

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

A poorly packed haulbag is a nightmare on the wall. Small essential items will sneak their way to the very bottom, or you’ll be unable to get at your food unless you pull out all your water bottles and bivi gear, probably dropping most of it in the process.

Avoid this by packing properly at the base and re-packing in a logical order after a night's sleep on the wall. If you have more than one haulbag you can pack each one in the same way.

Step 1
Once you've carried all your stuff to the base of the route, position your haulbag where it will be hauled from. It will be difficult to drag it around the base once packed, so get it in the right position to start with.

Big wall haul bag

Step 2
Pack your loose equipment into 'stuff sacks'. Use stuff sacks (with a secure clip-in point) to group together food, clothes, toiletries and other small items.

Step 3
Remove the haulbag straps and drop them into the bottom of the haulbag. You won’t need these until you’re on the summit. Hauling with the straps on will probably break the straps, cause the haulbag to get stuck and dislodge rocks.

how to pack a haulbag

Step 4
Line the inside of your haulbag. Cardboard or old pieces of foam sleeping pads work well. This will help to prevent holes from wearing in the sides when you drag the bag up slabby ground. Don’t use your actual sleeping pad for this – it’ll be almost impossible to reposition back into a fully loaded haulbag.

Step 5
Haulbags like to be packed in layers, with the bottom layer providing structure. Without a tightly packed bottom layer, the haulbag will elongate and become narrower when hanging by its straps, which reduces overall useable space.

Pack the bottom layer tightly with stuff that you won’t need for the first half of the wall. Things like spare water, food and celebratory summit beers would be suitable items. Once you remove something from this layer when the haulbag is hanging by its straps, you probably won’t fit it back in. So factor this in when packing. Stack water bottles upright and cram your stuff sacks of food in between them.

how to pack a haul bag

Step 6
Fill the rest of your haulbag in a logical order. The second layer up should consist of things you don’t need until the following day (e.g: tomorrow’s food and water). The next layer will be things you won’t need until the evening (e.g: sleeping bag, stove).

Anything above this will be easily accessible. Fill it with stuff you might need during the day, making sure to keep a bottle of water and some food on the very top along with your first aid kit and some spare clothing.

packing a haul bag

Step 7
Streamline the haulbag. Fasten the straps and tuck away any loose pieces of cord to reduce the chances of it getting stuck.

Rack Bag
Spare rack could be packed in the top layer too. However, if you have a huge spare rack of obscure aid gear, it's worth taking an extra smaller haulbag (a rack bag) to de-cluster your main load. Attach the rack bag to the main hauling point so that it hangs alongside the main haulbag.

packing a haulbag

big wall aid climbing

If using a rack bag, group the same type of rack together on 'racking' slings. Use an internal clip-in system to clip your racking slings to.

packing haulbags

This way, you won't accidentally drop all your cams when pulling out your piton rack.

big wall haulbag

You can attach your portaledge to the straps underneath the haulbag, or to your main hauling point. The rainfly can hang on these straps underneath too (packed inside a durable bag) if there's no room inside the haulbag.

Be warned that if your rainfly is in a standard stuff sack, it’ll probably wear a hole in it if hauled like this.

Poop Tube
You could also attach your poop tube to these straps, but a better way is to attach it to a piece of cord (4 or 5 meters long) which is clipped to the main hauling point. This way, it hangs out of smell-range below everything else and can be pulled up quickly in an emergency!

big wall haul bag

Example Haulbag Setups

Which haulbag setup you choose depends on your personal preference, how many people are in your team and how much stuff you’re bringing. Here are some examples.

Suitable for 2 climbers spending 2 nights on the wall.

- Medium size haulbag (approx 100 litres)
- Poop tube

how to haul bags

Suitable for 2 climbers spending 5-7 nights on the wall.

- Full size haulbag (approx 160 litres)
- Medium size haulbag (approx 100 litres)
- Poop tube
- Portaledge
- Portaledge fly

how to haul on a big wall

Suitable for 2 climbers spending 2 weeks on the wall.

- Full size haulbag (approx 160 litres)
- 2 Medium size haulbags (approx 100 litres each)
- Poop tube
- Portaledge
- Portaledge fly

how to haul bags on a big wall

Preparing the Haulbag

Before you leave the ground, you'll need to attach the haul rope and a docking tether to the haulbag. The docking tether provides a releasable attachment point for the haulbag.

Step 1
Attach the docking tether to the main hauling carabiner (large auto-lockers are a good choice) by tying an overhand loop in the middle of it as shown. This provides you with two strands for docking.

Step 2
Along with a docking tether, you will need a back-up sling/cord. Incorporating a shock-absorber (screamer) with the sling is preferable. Attach this to the main hauling screwgate.

big wall hauling

Step 3
On most haulbags, one strap is shorter than the other. Clip the long one into the main hauling carabiner along with the docking tether and back-up sling.

how to haul on a big wall

When you fasten the main hauling carabiner, it'll remain closed for the duration of the climb. This carabiner will be constantly loaded until you reach the summit.

how to attach a haulbag

Step 4
Attach the shorter strap to the main hauling screwgate with another carabiner.

how to attach a haulbag to the rope

On heavy loads, it can be difficult to unclip this carabiner to access the haulbag’s contents. An alternative is to shorten the strap further by tying an overhand knot in it.

set up the haulbag on a big wall

Then attach it via a piece of 7mm cord tied with a releasable knot (such as a munter-mule-overhand) as shown. However you do it, make sure the haulbag’s weight hangs evenly on both straps.

how to set up haulbag on a big wall

Step 5
If using a knot protector (highly recommended), slide it onto the end of the haul rope at this point.

Step 6
Tie a figure-8 in the end of the haul rope and attach it to the main hauling carabiner with a separate screwgate.

haulbag docking tether

big wall aid climbing

If your route is slabby with many traversing pitches, it is worth using a swivel. This will help to prevent kinks in the haul rope. Tuck the docking tether and back-up cord away to further reduce snags.

haul bag swivel

Rigging Plate
A rigging plate (such as the Petzl Paw) helps to spread things out at the main hauling point. This is most useful if taking several haulbags.

haul bag rigging plate petzl paw

How To Climb a Big Wall – Hauling (Part 1)

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

There are different hauling systems you can use to get your equipment up the wall.

1:1 hauling is the simplest and most suitable for light loads. A 2:1 or 3:1 setup may be needed for heavy loads or hauling up slabby terrain. Space hauling can be used with any system to speed up the haul too.

It is easy to switch between systems once they are set up (e.g: You might start with a 3:1, and then switch to 1:1 space hauling once your partner has finished cleaning the pitch). All of these systems are described in detail in this chapter.

Big wall haulbag

Backing Up the Haul
Auto-locking hauling devices are very unlikely to break. The most likely cause of failure is the toothed catch becoming wedged open, causing the haulbag to plummet. This usually happens because something got stuck in it or there was a weighted rope pinching it into the rock.

Prevent this disaster by keeping the hauling device clear of anything else at the belay and add a back-up during the haul. With a 1:1 or a 3:1, this back-up will be your GriGri. With a 2:1, the back-up will be the cord. Neither of these are textbook ways to back something up – for added security, tie the haul line to the belay occasionally. If you need to remove a back-up, make sure to add another first (e.g: If switching from a 1:1 to a 2:1, attach yourself to the 2:1 before removing your GriGri).

Pulley Orientation
Hauling devices and pulleys should be used with compatible carabiners (ovals work best). This spreads the load evenly across the bearings.

Using an ill-fitting carabiner causes a sideways strain on the pulley and makes hauling even harder.

carabiner pulley orientation

On slabby terrain, the haulbag will drag up the wall, creating friction which makes the hauling more difficult. The same is true for blocky terrain where the tensioned haul rope rubs over rock features. The more the haulbag and rope contact the rock, the more friction is created and therefore the harder the hauling will be. The same weight hauled 1:1 on overhanging terrain may need a 2:1 on slabby terrain.

Some belays are conveniently situated above a nice ledge. This provides a great stance, but often creates unwanted friction when the haul rope rubs over the lip of the ledge. It is worth setting up the haul at the side of the ledge so this doesn’t happen, if the opportunity exists to do so.

Mechanical Advantage
The hauling systems in this section are described using their mechanical advantage. Adding mechanical advantage makes the hauling slower, but easier. Imagine you had to carry 75kg of equipment in a backpack along a trail (like when you are walking to the base of the route). Would you carry all 75kg in a single monster load (1:1)? Or would you split the load into 3 and carry a more manageable 25kg each time (3:1)?

With a 3:1 setup, three meters of rope must be hauled to move the load up one meter. This means you must haul three times the distance of the pitch. In theory, a 3:1 is three times easier than a 1:1. In reality, it’s more like 2.5 times easier. This difference between theoretical and actual mechanical advantage is primarily due to friction around pulleys and stretch in the rope.

Taking this lack of efficiency into consideration, it is still definitely worth adding mechanical advantage to a 1:1 if you’re finding it extremely difficult to haul. Which setup you use depends on the weight of the haulbag and the friction involved. Try a 1:1 first and go from there. It’s easy to switch between systems mid-haul if needed.

Hauling Systems – 1:1

A 1:1 is the foundation upon which all other hauling systems are built. Regardless of your chosen system, you will need to set this up first anyway.

- Simple
- Requires little equipment
- Often the quickest way of hauling

- Very difficult to haul more than your own bodyweight

Most suitable for:
- Light loads (less than your bodyweight) when the hauling is steep

You will need:
- a hauling device (e.g: Petzl Pro Traxion)
- an auto-locking belay device (e.g: Petzl GriGri)

The leader’s tie-in knot has been removed from the following diagrams for clarity.

Step 1
After leading a pitch, attach yourself to the anchor, fix the lead rope and set up the hauling system.

Step 2
At this point, your belayer will release the haulbag.

hauling on big wall

Step 3
Now the hard work begins. Lean your weight back onto your GriGri so it locks, and push out and down from the wall. The lighter your bags, the easier this will be. Pulling on the ‘up’ rope with one hand will give you a little extra help. If your bags are super heavy, you could try bracing your feet against the wall at head-height and pushing out using your legs.

Step 4
Once you have pulled some rope through the hauling device, step into your aiders and 'reset' by pulling the slack rope through your GriGri, as if you are taking in a top rope. With practise, you will develop a smooth hauling action, keeping your feet in the same position throughout the haul.

how to haul a haulbag

Step 5
Stack the rope away neatly as you haul so that it won’t tangle into the hauling device. Stop hauling when you still have around 30cm of rope left – be careful not to jam the knot into the device.

Step 6
To complete the haul, you will need to dock the bag.

Top Tip
Pace yourself. Have a rest every 20 or so pulls and stack the rope or have a sip of water. Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint.

big wall hauling

Hauling Systems – 2:1

- It’s much easier to haul the same weight on a 2:1 than a 1:1
- Enables you to haul more than your own bodyweight
- You can add or remove the 2:1 setup from a slack or tensioned haul rope, meaning it’s easy to switch between systems mid-haul

- Requires more pulleys than a 1:1
- Must haul twice as much rope as a 1:1

Most suitable for
- Heavy loads (a little more than your bodyweight)
- Hauling light loads up high-friction terrain

You will need:
- a hauling device (e.g: Petzl Pro Traxion)
- an auto-locking belay device (e.g: Petzl GriGri)
- two non-locking pulleys
- a jumar (or similar)
- a 2 meter length of 8mm nylon cord (don’t use dyneema cord – this material weakens with repeated flexing and will suddenly snap mid-haul)

Step 1
Set up the cord, pulleys and jumar as shown. If you don’t need the pulleys for anything else, it is worth leaving this set up for the duration of the climb.

- 8mm cord permanently tied through pulley. This allows the pulley to twist itself into position when hauling.

- Clovehitch tied on two carabiners. This knot is easy to unfasten after being loaded – just wiggle the carabiners to loosen it.

how to haul on a big wall

Step 2
Attach the 2:1 to the 1:1 as shown, either to the bottom hole of your hauling device (if there is one) or to the main anchor point. Whichever you choose, it’s important to orientate it so the haul rope and cord can move freely without rubbing against each other or anything else.

Step 3
Clip the double carabiners to your belay loop and adjust the clovehitch to a comfortable length.

Step 4
Lean back in your harness to haul with the cord while simultaneously pulling slack haul rope through the hauling device.

Step 5
To reset the system, stand up and slide the jumar down the rope.

The 2:1 can be fairly clumsy at first. Adjust the clovehitch and try standing in different steps of your aiders until you fine-tune the position which allows you to haul with a smooth rhythmic action. This system is very efficient once you get used to it.

how to set up 2:1 hauling
2:1 hauling

Hauling Systems – 3:1

- Even easier to haul than a 2:1
- You can add or remove the 3:1 setup from a slack or tensioned haul rope, meaning it’s easy to switch between systems mid-haul

- Requires more pulleys than a 1:1
- Must haul three times as much rope as a 1:1
- Resetting the system can be awkward depending on the terrain

Most suitable for
- Monster loads (twice your bodyweight)

You will need:
- a hauling device (e.g: Petzl Pro Traxion)
- an auto-locking belay device (e.g: Petzl GriGri)
- a small locking pulley
- a non-locking pulley
- a jumar (or similar)

Step 1
Set up the pulleys and jumar as shown. You can set the lower jumar and pulley as far down as you have rope available. Wiggle the rope to move the jumar and pulley further down beyond your reach, making sure they remain orientated correctly.

3:1 hauling

Top Tip
A carabiner clipped to the jumar as shown helps it glide down the rope more smoothly – useful when setting it out of reach.

Step 2
Haul in the same way as a 1:1. Depending on how far down you set the jumar, it may take a couple of pulls to get the stretch out of the rope before the haulbag actually moves up.

big wall haul bags
big wall hauling

Step 3
When the lower pulley gets close to the small locking pulley, flip the catch on it to release the locking mechanism. The main hauling pulley will now take the weight – check that the catch on the main hauling pulley is correctly engaged before moving onto the next step.

Step 4
Pull slack through your GriGri and push the jumar down the tensioned rope.

Step 5
Once you have pushed it as far as you can reach, flip the catch back down on the small locking pulley and continuing hauling.

how to haul on big walls

big wall hauling

Space Hauling

Space hauling means using your partner as a counterweight to assist with the haul. It can be used with any mechanical advantage system, and doubles the efficiency (e.g: Two people hauling with a 3:1 setup gives a 6:1 advantage).

- Because the hard work is shared, the hauling is easier and faster than the other methods
- For most of the haul, the lower climber will be within reach of the haulbag. This means they can guide it around features and prevent it from getting stuck

- Must wait until your partner has cleaned some, or all, of the pitch
- Can be difficult on overhanging terrain – the lower climber will have to jumar a free-hanging rope

Most suitable for
- Loads which are too difficult to move on your own
- Hauling up fixed ropes on less than vertical terrain

How To Space Haul

The lower climber weights the haul rope while the top climber hauls. It is VERY IMPORTANT that the lower climber stays backed-up on the lead rope while they do this. This back-up will need to be adjusted as the haul progresses. The lower climber will move down while the upper climber hauls. The lower climber will, at some point, need to jumar back up the rope. To streamline this process, they can ascend the rope at the same time as the upper climber hauls.

space hauling

Space Hauling Tips
- There will often be a part of the pitch which is easier for the lower climber to jumar up (e.g: a lower-angle section). Once at this point, they can ‘jumar on the spot’ while the other climber hauls. This also means there is no need for the lower climber to keep adjusting their lead rope back-up.

- Space hauling while wearing all the rack you just cleaned from the pitch is difficult. It is often better to finish cleaning the pitch and deposit the rack at the belay before you help with the haul.

How To Climb a Big Wall – Hauling (Part 2)

Docking the Haulbag

Once the haulbag is at the belay, you'll need to 'dock' it. This means attaching the haulbag to the belay in such a way that it is secure and can also be released easily.

Step 1
Attach a screwgate to the main anchor point and fasten your docking tether to it with a munter hitch. Tie the knot so that it won’t flip when weighted.

Step 2
Wrap the loose strands neatly around the docking tether beneath the munter hitch and finish off with a reef knot. The friction of these wraps stops the rope sliding through the munter hitch.

munter hitch tie off

Single Strand Docking Tether
If you are using a single strand docking tether, you can dock the bag with a releasable knot such as the munter-mule-overhand.

munter mule overhand

Step 3
Attach your back-up cord to a bolt, making sure there's the right amount of slack in the cord. It will need to be slack enough that the haulbag's weight is fully on the docking tether, but not so slack as to cause shock-loading if the docking tether were to unfasten itself. It can be a little tricky to judge exactly how much the docking tether will stretch when loaded. If you prefer, you can attach the back-up cord after step 5. Just don’t forget to do it.

Step 4
Haul a few centimetres of rope through the hauling device whilst flipping up the catch. This releases the auto-lock on the pulley.

how to haul bags on a big wall

Step 5
Lower the haulbag using your GriGri until it is weighted on its docking tether. If your haulbag is super heavy, brace yourself so you don't get sucked in to the pulley. Check that:
- The docking tether is fastened tight (push the wraps of cord together neatly)
- The haulbag’s weight is completely on the docking tether
- The back-up cord has the correct amount of slack – adjust it now if not

how to attach haulbag to anchor

Step 6
The hauling pulley and GriGri can now be removed. The haul rope can be removed too if you:
- need to sort out a rope tangle.
- prefer to swap ends of the haul rope.
- need to tie the haulbag into a different part of the rope to haul the next pitch.

Otherwise, you can simply leave it attached where it is. If you remove the haul rope, make sure to attach the end of it securely to the belay so it cannot fall irretrievably out of reach.

how to attach haul bag to belay

Classic Mistake
Docking the haulbag over a tie-in knot. Manipulating this knot out of the carabiner will be a herculean task. Haul the bag up again and dock it somewhere better.

attach hauling bag to belay

Classic Mistake
Docking the haulbag on the back-up cord. You dock the haulbag, but the back-up cord takes some or all of the weight. This isn’t an immediate problem, but when it comes to hauling the next pitch you will have a great deal of difficulty releasing the haulbag.

To solve the problem:
1) Flip the catch back down on the hauling device
2) Mini-haul a short distance to unweight the back-up cord
3) Adjust the back-up cord appropriately
4) Lower the haulbag onto the docking tether

how to put the haulbag on the belay

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

Releasing the Haulbag

When the leader has set up the hauling system at the upper belay, the belayer will need to release the haulbag from the lower belay. If communication is difficult, wait for the bags to be hauled up a bit to confirm that the leader has actually got the hauling device setup and ready. Visualize where the haulbag will go when you release it.

The haulbag will need to be lowered out slowly to avoid damaging its contents. Having a gallon of gatorade explode into your sleeping bag is not fun. On straight-up pitches, you can simply unfasten the docking tether. To lower the haulbag on a traversing pitch (most pitches traverse a little), you’ll need to use the remaining haul rope as a lower-out. Both methods are described on the following pages.

Releasing Haulbags on a Straight-Up Pitch

Step 1
Once the leader confirms that the hauling system is set up, you can make your final checks and then remove the back-up sling.

Step 2
Tell your partner you are ‘releasing the haulbag’, so they know to begin hauling. Begin unfastening the docking tether so you are just left with the munter hitch. Keep a firm grip on the docking tether as you do this.

hauling how to use docking tether on haulbags

Single Strand Docking Tether
If using a single strand docking tether with a munter-mule-overhand, release the knot as shown so you are left with a munter hitch.

munter mule overhand knot

Step 3
Release the munter hitch slowly until the haulbag’s weight is transferred to the haul rope (the haulbag may already be weighting the rope if your partner has begun hauling). The haulbag is now free from the lower belay and ready to haul.

Top Tip
If you can reach, tuck the docking tether and back-up sling away into the top part of the haulbag to help prevent them being abraded during the haul.

lower out haulbag

Releasing Haulbags on a Traversing Pitch

If your docking tether isn’t long enough to lower out the haulbag, you can utilize the haul rope too.

Step 1
Allow the leader to pull up a few meters of haul rope (so they have enough to begin hauling) and then tie the haulbag in with an alpine butterfly. Remember to slide the knot protector above this.

Step 2
Use the loose end of the haul rope to tie a munter hitch to the belay. Tie this to the side of the belay so the taught haul line does not rub across you and the belay as you lower it out.

how to lower out a haul bag

Step 3
Stack the haul rope so it will feed out smoothly and remove any knots (including the figure-8 from the end). Knots will get stuck in the munter hitch and probably also get stuck in cracks when you haul.

Step 4
Keep a firm grip on the haul rope and release the docking tether as described on the previous pages. The haulbag will then be weighted on the haul rope's munter hitch.

hauling a bag

Step 5
Lower the haulbag out slowly on this munter hitch. When you reach the end of the rope, just let it drop.

how do climbers use haulbags

Hauling Low-Angled Terrain

Hauling up slabby ground (e.g: the final pitch) is much more difficult due to the added friction. To make it easier:

Space Haul
Follow these steps and make sure to be backed up with the lead rope. The lower climber should stay with the bags to guide them around obstacles and loose rock.

Split the Load
Divide your stuff into two or three more manageable loads and haul them separately. For example, haul the portaledge, rack bag and poop tube as the first load. Then abseil down and attach the main haulbag as the second load.

how to haul a haulbag

Shuttle Gear
On low-angled loose ground, you can reduce the chances of dislodging rocks by fixing the pitch and jumaring up with a bag on your back, or with stuff clipped to your harness. You’ll probably have to make several trips but it may be the easiest way, depending on the terrain.

Tag Lines

A tag line can be used to help reduce weight on the back of your harness while leading (essential for free climbing). Tag lines are full length static ropes which are typically 5.5-8mm in diameter. Trailing a 5.5mm tag line (~ 1kg) is much easier than trailing a fat single rope (~ 5.5kg) – you’ll notice the difference towards the top of the pitch. While being very light, tag lines are fairly redundant – they cannot be used for jumaring, leading or heavy hauling.

Step 1
Trail the tag line instead of a haul rope while leading.

Step 2
Once you have finished leading the pitch, the belayer attaches the haul rope and anchor kit to the tag line. For long heavy hauls it’s nice to pass up water and snacks at this point too.

Step 3
The leader pulls up the tag line to retrieve the haul rope and gear. This can be pulled up hand-over-hand if you’re confident that you won’t drop it, or by using a locking pulley such as the Petzl Micro Traxion (only works with thicker tag lines). If using a rack bag, you could pass this up now too to reduce cluster and weight when hauling the main load.

how to haul when climbing a big wall

Stuck Haulbags

If your haulbags get stuck (which they probably will), stop hauling and see what the problem is (if you can see them). Don’t force it – this might make the situation worse as your haulbag wedges itself farther up into a chimney or loose flake. If you can’t see what the problem is, first try wiggling and pushing out on the tensioned haul rope. The slight change in rope angle might be all that’s needed to release it. If that doesn’t work, lower them a short amount and try again.

Step 1
Open the catch.

hauling bags on a big wall

Step 2
Lower the haulbag.

how to haul on a big wall

Step 3
Close the catch.

If that doesn’t work, someone will need to go down and manhandle them. In most cases, your partner will be close by and able to swing over. If not (e.g: because it’s a traverse), you’re better off waiting until they’ve finished cleaning the pitch. They can then descend on the lead rope to sort it out.

how to haul

big wall hauling past a knot

Hauling Past a Knot

Times when you may need to haul past a knot include:
- If you fix a few pitches with two or more ropes tied together.
- If you fasten a knot (alpine butterfly works best) to isolate a damaged section of the haul rope.

The following method works for 1:1, 2:1 or 3:1 haul setups.

Step 1
Haul the load until the knot is just below the hauling device.

how to haul past a knot in the rope

Step 2
Attach an inverted jumar approximately 60cm below the knot and add a back-up as shown.

hauling past knots

Step 3
Release the hauling device so the weight is transferred to the jumar.

hauling past a knot in the rope

Step 4
Extend the hauling setup with a sling and reassemble it so the knot is past the device.

haul past a knot

Step 5
Check the system. Then remove the back-up and jumar, and continue hauling.

how to haul past a knot

Flagging the Portaledge

For harder routes with time-consuming pitches, it is much more pleasant to belay from the comfort of a portaledge than to be crunched up on a belay seat. When it is time to haul, you can leave the portaledge fully set up and ‘flag’ it as shown.

Simply clip the corners and middle of your portaledge around the haul rope, making sure to clip the portaledge’s main point around the rope too. By clipping around the haul rope (not to the haulbag) the portaledge is free to spin around independently of the haulbag, and is therefore less likely to cause problems during the haul, especially if it’s windy. Tie pieces of 6mm cord to the corners of your portaledge to create clip-in points, if it doesn’t already have them.

Flagging works best on vertical or overhanging terrain. On slabby ground, your portaledge will likely get stuck, damaged and could dislodge loose rock.

flagging a portaledge

Un-flagging the Portaledge at the Top Anchor
In high winds, a flagged ledge will behave perfectly… until the moment you remove it from the haul line. Attach a back-up sling so you can’t drop your portaledge and have a plan of where you will put it while you complete the final part of the haul. If it’s super windy, slide it behind the tensioned haul rope to tame it until the haulbags are docked.

Big Wall Hauling- Summary

Hauling is hard work, but it gets much easier with practise. Practise at your local crag, climbing wall or large tree. Line your haulbag with cardboard or foam mats and fill it with rocks and water bottles. Start with a light weight first (20-30kg) to get used to the different systems and then add more weight to simulate what you will take on your chosen climb. Figure out exactly where to position yourself for each system and focus on developing a smooth rhythm that you can sustain for quite a while. Haul with your bodyweight, not by pulling with your arms. Practise makes perfect.

How To Climb a Big Wall – Fixing Pitches

Check out the full big wall video course, or download the e-book.

When to Fix Pitches on a Big Wall

It is common to fix ropes on a big wall. Often this is because you’ve climbed the first few pitches and want to have a final night of luxury on the ground before committing to the wall. This also means less food and water is needed on the route.

Fixing isn’t always the best strategy. If you fix a few pitches of overhanging rock, you’ll have to jumar a seemingly endless free-hanging rope which will probably be more effort than just taking the extra water and staying on the wall. Figure this out before you begin.

eiger north face climbing

You will fix ropes during the climb too if going capsule-style, or maybe you have time in the evening to lead a pitch, but not clean or haul it. You can leave it fixed and return to your portaledge for the night. Simply fix both ropes and abseil down the haul line. In the morning, jumar up the haul line and continue as normal. Ropes can also be fixed to avoid hauling over difficult/traversing terrain. For example, it may be better to fix a few wandering pitches and then do one long haul in a straight line, rather than two or three shorter more problematic ones.

Protecting the Rope
It is crucial that ropes are protected from sharp edges when left fixed. This can be achieved in a variety of ways:

- Stick duck-tape over sharp edges. Remove it when you’re finished.
- Place directionals to re-route the rope away from cracks and edges.
- Wrap a rope-protector around the rope at high friction zones.
- Use re-belays.
- Use good technique. Abseil and jumar smoothly to prevent the rope from sawing across the rock. Never bounce on the rope.

Jumaring a long line of fixed rope which stretches out of sight above can be unnerving and dangerous. If you can’t see the full length of rope to the next anchor, you can’t be certain that the rope isn’t caught behind a flake or loose block somewhere.

70 meters of dynamic rope stretches a lot when jumarred on, which increases the amount that it rubs against potential sharp edges. This danger can be reduced by adding re-belays where needed.

Tie the rope to a few appropriate pieces on your way down, creating mini-belays. When done correctly, this prevents the rope from coming tight over potential danger areas and also means you don’t have to wait as long for your partner to finish jumaring before you can start up.

climbing ropes on sharp rock

Belay Points
When attaching ropes to belays, try to use the ends of the ropes so you don’t have to pass knots mid pitch (this probably won’t be possible if you’re stretching your ropes up the wall). At belays, make sure to tie excess rope away so there is no confusion about which rope to attach to next. Accidents have happened when climbers have abseiled off the end of a short tail of rope, mistaking it for the fixed line. Tie the ends of all ropes into the anchor so this cannot happen.

Rope Tension
The ropes will need to be slack enough allow a climber to tie a knot (e.g: a back-up knot when passing re-belays or if isolating a damaged section) and to jumar and abseil on. But don’t make them so slack that they blow around in the wind and get stuck behind flakes. If your rope is wet, allow extra slack because ropes shrink as they dry. On the ground, attach your rope to a solid anchor out from the base of the wall to keep it away from the rock and stop it blowing up onto the wall.

Joining Ropes
Ropes can be connected together with a variety of knots. The one shown here offers a handy clip-in point so you don’t need to tie an additional back-up knot when passing through. Start by tying two overhand knots, then isolate them inside an alpine butterfly.

If you tie your ropes together with standard overhand knots, make sure to add a back-up knot of some kind when jumaring or abseiling past the knot.

alpine butterfly knot

VDiff big wall aid climbing book

Abseiling Past a Knot on Fixed Ropes

Step 1
Stop abseiling just before the knot and clip into the back-up point.

Step 2
Attach a jumar to the rope above you and weight it.

Step 3
Remove your belay device and re-attach it below the knot. If you can’t reach, attach your other jumar and ‘reverse ascend’ one move so you are weighting your belay device.

Step 4
Check the system, then remove your jumars and back-up point.

how to rappel past a knot

Ascending Fixed Ropes

Ascend fixed ropes as normal using two jumars and a GriGri. For added security, clip carabiners through the top holes in your jumars so they can’t pop off the rope. The tension of the rope from below should auto-feed your GriGri. Move smoothly to reduce the amount that the rope rubs across the rock. Always check each rope before you commit your life to it.

Don’t jumar up a rope which is stuck behind a flake or appears to be damaged. If you don’t trust the fixed rope, you can re-lead the pitch.

Alternatively, jumar the rope while being belayed on another rope, placing gear as you ascend in case the rope snaps.

jumar ascender on rope

Passing Belays
Always add a back-up when passing knots, anchors or re-belays. A simple method is to clovehitch the rope to your belay loop.

At the anchor, take the stretch out of the next rope by using your jumars to pull the rope tight. Then unclip from the anchor and continue up.

clove hitch

Fixing Mid-Pitch

If you can’t complete a pitch (e.g: because of darkness, fear or bad weather), you may choose to lower down and finish it off later. If you’re less than half a rope length up a pitch, you can simply lower down from your top pieces to the belay. However, this method puts twice as much weight on your lower-off point (the weight of you and your partner) and pulls all your gear at a weird angle when the rope is tensioned. For these reasons it’s better to use the following method. Also, if you’re more than half a rope length up, you’ll have to use this method.

Step 1
Equalize the top few pieces to make a good lower-off point.

Step 2
Clip the end of the haul rope to this point with two screwgates.

rock climbing anchor

Step 3
Attach the lead rope to the screwgates with an alpine butterfly knot.

Step 4
Attach your GriGri to the haul rope and get ready to abseil.

fixing half a pitch

Step 5
Check the system. Then untie from the lead rope and abseil down. Your partner keeps you on belay until you’re back at the anchor and safely tied in. If the lower-off point fails, you’ll fall and be backed up by the protection you placed during the pitch. Falling mid-abseil like this isn’t ideal, so make sure your lower-off point is good.

Step 6
If leaving the ropes overnight, tie them to the belay under a bit of tension to keep them in position.

fixing pitches

Fixing Mid-Pitch - Ascending To Your High Point

Step 1
Get put on belay in the same spot on the rope that you were previously taken off belay.

Step 2
Ascend to your high point using a klemheist prusik and a GriGri. This way, if your lower-off point fails, you will shock-load your GriGri and prusik, not the sharp teeth of your jumars. Use your jumars to ascend only if you’re certain the lower-off point is bomber.

Step 3
Tie back into the lead rope, clip the haul rope away on the back of your harness and continue climbing, leaving the equalized gear as a bomber piece.

ascend rope with prusik