Aid & Big wall
08 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
A haul line is used by the big wall team to pull up their haul bags, and so is one of the most important pieces of the big wall system. Haul lines generally are matched by the length of the lead line, and the rope employed is either dynamic or static – depending on the route type, length and personal preference.
The haul has to be the same length as the lead line for obvious reasons, with the best length being 60+ metres. On most pitches the actual distance between belay stations will be far below 60 metres as the rope will go directly between the belays, wear as the lead line will meander, never the less this isn’t always the case! Having a long line can prove very useful when fixing pitches, or lowering out haul bags (see hauling), and the more rope you have the more flexibility.
There are pros and cons of using either a dynamic or static rope that must be assessed by the climber, with the conclusion being dependent on the route.
The main advantage of having a dynamic rope as a haul line is that you then have a spare lead line in the system – in which case the haul line must be a UIAA certified single rope, important if your lead line should get damaged. A secondary benefit is if the bag should come adrift off the anchor and falls the full rope length the shock load on the belay will be much more dynamic – which could make the difference between a nasty shock and finding yourself at the bottom of a very deep hole!
A ropes dynamic properties does lower the efficiency of the haul system compared to a static line, but in my experience, once the rope is loaded it actually has much lower dynamic properties. Climbing ropes are also not as tough as dynamic ropes, or as strong, with the sheath being designed for more industrial use rather than the leisure market.
Stronger, tougher, and obviously static, which makes hauling a little easier, especially when doing a Z haul. If you want the maximum life out of a haul line then it has to be static. Fixing a static rope is also far safer, as there will be minimal stretch making jumaring far safer if the rope is running over any sharp edges. It can be easier to pull down a thick lead line on abseils using a static rope.
See dynamic pros.
The diameter of your haul line depends on the expected route wear and tear, the load it’s expected to take and the number of routes you want to get out of it. These are the typical haul line diameters
(5.5mm Dyneema/spectra – 7.5mm or 8mm dynamic rope, or 7mm to 8mm perlon). This type of haul line is used for very light loads, loads so light that the second may actually climb with the sack for speed if possible. This rope may also double up as a second rope of a double rope system if dynamic, with the leader clipping the rope into the gear as they climb, and the second unclipping it as they jumar while the leader hauls. If the rope is static then it will be both used for hauling and as an abseil line. With ropes this thin it’s not necessary to employ a pulley, with the bag best hauled by hand or a Wild Country Ropeman.
This is a good system for short multi-day walls, being lightweight (important if free climbing), and ok for moderate loads. Using a skinny half dynamic rope means that fixing can be risky as they aren’t great when jumared on, especially if they are passing over sharp edges. A better dynamic alternative is a full-strength skinny single rope (9.2mm to 9.5mm), which are not only stronger but can also be lead on and is a much safer line to jumar. A 9mm dynamic is very strong, and safer to jumar, and is lightweight and tough.
This is what you should be used on most walls, with the length and abrasives of the rock dictating the diameter and type of rope used. With the thicker ropes, it’s well worth employing a tag line rather than trail the rope, as the weight is considerable. The thicker static ropes are also perfect for heavy use, fixing and super heavy hauling. If employing a three-person speed climbing system then the haul line should be of this weight, as it may often have to support the weight of both the bags and one team member, with one climber jumaring the haul line on every pitch.
The haul line should be finished off with a neat strong knot – either a figure of eight or a fisherman’s knot – and clipped into a lightweight locker. Next clip the line through your hauling device as if you were about to begin hauling, then clip the lines locker into the hauler’s locker, then clip the whole rig onto your haul loop. If your harness doesn’t have a haul loop then thread on a 15cm extender. If this isn’t possible then tie a loop of Dyneema rather than webbing, as webbing tends to come undone, and being behind your back you may not notice this happening (‘hey dude where’s the haul line?). When you reach the belay and set up your anchor you first unclip the haul lines lock and clip this into the anchor, pulling slack through the hauler on the back of your harness as you do so. Then you can unclip the hauler and clip this into the hauling point. The beauty of this system is that there is no way you can drop your haul line. If you’re using a zip line then you can do the same thing if you’re carrying a hauler, but if you’re going light then you can clip it into one of your jumars instead.
It’s vital that all wall climbers know how to pass a knot when hauling. This often crops up when hauling your bags up a string of fixed lines in one haul (rather than hauling up at a pitch at a time), necessitating that you pass each knot. This may also crop up if forced to haul the bags on a combination of a haul and zip line (see overcoming drag). Knowing how to pass a knot is also crucial if you’re hauling line becomes chopped as you’ll then have to tie the damaged pieces together.
The process of passing a knot is best done in the following way: -