How To Big Wall Climb Book - Hauling and Bivy Gear


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 22 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 10, 2009 - 01:06am PT

How To Big Wall Climb Book - Hauling and Bivy Gear

This is part of my How to Big Wall Climb project that you can read more about here and see a directory of all Forum posts related to How To Big Walls book:

You can read about basic aid gear here

The links go to outdoor retailers, and if you then buy something from that online retailer after clicking on one of those links, we get a little piece of the sale. If you are thinking about buying some of the gear mentioned in this article, wed appreciate it if youd click on one of the links before you buy; it wont cost you anything extra, and it does help support this website. Thanks for keeping us in mind. Our affiliates are Altrec EMS Moosejaw Mountain Gear Mammoth Gear Backcountry Patagonia REI

I am not sponsored by any climbing companies nor do i receive any special compensation by recommending one product over another.

Click here to see what is currently on my El Capitan rack

The ideal haul rope depends on what climb you are doing. If i am doing The Nose or Half Dome in just one bivy and have a relatively light bag, I take a 8mm 60m static line. For most 2-3 day walls I take a 9.5mm static line because the bags will be heavier and the line will take more abuse. For massive loads, I would take a 10mm static line. A 10mm static is a little heavy if you are free climbing, so i usually also have a 50-100-foot 6mm tag line. For the first 100 feet of the pitch, i just trail the line. At 100 feet, the 10mm static is attached. Then when i get to the belay I pull up the tag line to get to the 10mm static. This involves a lot more rope management, but it makes leading more pleasant and means you can pull up gear all the way until you are 150 feet out from the belay.

Some folks like the option of hauling with a lead line. That way, if the lead line gets damaged, you have the haul line to use as a back up. This is a reasonable strategy. However, i find its so much nicer to use a static, especially a thin static, that its worth the trade off. Also, in 100+ walls, i have never damaged the lead line to the point i had to retreat. Usually, when i damage the rope, it happens close to one end. So i then just make sure to lead off the good end (using the tip above about having athletic tape).

A tag line is not always necessary. They are necessary on a route like The Nose that has giant pendulums (there sometimes is not enough lead rope left to be able to follow the pendulum). They are also necessary if you have a heavy haul line (see above) or you want to be able to pull up gear. I usually use 6mm to 7mm accessory cord in a length ranging from 50-100 feet.

There are three lower out lines i use:
 no lower out line: instead, tie in the haul bag with my 60m haul line so that there is 10-20 extra feet. This amount can always be adjusted during the climb. If i am lazy, i usually with this option because it doesnt require tracking down a lower out line.
 20-30 feet piece of 8 mil cord: Just find an extra piece and you are good to go. This is a good option because you get to keep the full length of your haul line and it useful when tie-ing in the bag with the munter mule knot.
 50+ foot 8mm lower out line. This is necessary on a route like The Nose where there are giant traverses an pendulums

Cord-a-lettes are your number one defense against bad belay clusters. They are mandatory for any wall with natural anchors. I make my cordalette by taking a 20-foot piece of 5.5 mil or 7 mil spectra cord and the tie a figure eight at each end. In general, you can equalize four pieces with this.

The downside with spectra, as described above in the daisy chain section and TK here, is that it does not stretch as much as regular old nylon. Therefor, on a massive fall onto the belay, there will be more force transfered to the pieces with spectra than with nylon. The downside to nylon is that it is going to be a lot more bulky and its harder to untie after loaded. I generally go with spectra but you will need to decide what your priorities are: weight and ease of use or ability to reduce shock loading if there is a fall onto the belay.

There are also some pre-made cordalettes like the Trango Equalizer and the Metolius Equalizer. I have never used them so i cant give much of a review. They appear to be easy to use and convenient. However, they are also more bulky and heavy than just buying some cord and making your own.

Hauling devices like the Petzl Pro Traxion are great because they are simple and efficient (unlike the old-school hauling method with a pulley, two ascenders, and extra weights and slings). In general, you want to have a pulley that is at least one inch in diameter. If my bag is really light, i will bring the Petzl Mini Traxion because it is lighter weight. If you have really heavy loads, you will want to buy a 3-inch diameter pulley and set up the old fashion hauling method with ascenders.

There are a lot of great haul bags out there that all use similar durable material and therefor all pretty similar in bomberness. Where haul bags differ the most is their size, closure system, and carrying system.

The size of the bag depends on both the type of route and how long you will be up there. For The Nose, I like to have one large haul bag so that everything fits in. On routes like The Nose, where there are a lot of low angle pitches and lower-outs, you don't want multiple bags or a lot of stuff dangling from the bottom of the bags. The more stuff that dangles the more stuff that can get caught on roofs, corners, or the haul line itself.

In contrast, on a route like The Zodiac, where many of the belays are hanging, it's nice to have two medium sized bags because it is easier to access what you need and you don't need to worry about the bags getting hung up because the wall is so overhanging.

When it comes to closure systems, there is a trade-off: the more watertight the closure system, the more material is used and therefore the less convenient it is to access the bag. Since I didn't experience my first big wall storm until big wall ascent number 103, I feel the trade-off for having a less waterproof and more convenient opening system is worth it. However, it just takes that one nasty storm to make you really appreciate having a watertight bag.

For a big haul bag, the Metolius El Cap Haul Bag carries well and is bomber. It has a does not have a perfect water tight closure: the bag needs to be filled just the right amount (4-6 inches over the top of the bag) for it to be water tight. But overall, the quality of this bag is excellent.

I have not used the Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag but it looks solid and is the currently the cheapest. It also does not have the best water-tight closure system, but will keep things reasonably dry in a storm if you are careful with how you seal it. Since i have not every carried one, i cant comment on the carrying system. If you are on a budget or not going to do a lot of walls, this is probably the best value. If you have a little extra cash, go for the Metolius.

The Yates Fat Sac Haul Bag. Does have an awesome closure system and is overall a great bag. However, its also over twice the price of the other bags out there and is heavier than the others. Its a great bag, but I don't know if its $300 better than the other bags out there.

If you are not in a rush, Fish offers the best deal on haul bags. I borrowed one for my first season, took it on 10+ walls, and was very psyched. I have not used any of the recently made bags but I assume they are similar in design and construction.

I have used the Metolius Half Dome Haul Bag a lot and really like it. Its a great size for a route like Half Dome but its hard to fit everything in it for a Nose ascent unless you pack real light and spend two nights or less on the wall. Bring two of these on a route like Zodiac or Mescalito and you are loving life. The closure systems has the same pros and cons as the Metolius El Cap Haul bag described above. Overall, this is one of my favorite haul bags ever and a great size: big enough to hold enough but not so big that you have to go spelunking to find that Snickers bar that fell to the bottom.

I have not used the Black Diamond Touchstone Haul Bag but it looks solid and is a good value. Its too small to be used as a single haul bag unless you pack really light on a route like Half Dome. It might be nice to pair with a larger haul bag like the Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag on a steep route like The Zodiac.

The Yates Rock Sac Haul Pack is a great bag. It has a good water-tight closure and is bomber. I actually use this to transport all the SuperTopo book orders on my bike from my parents house to the post office. I love this bag and am very happy with it. However, at $395 dollars, you could almost buy 3 of the similarly sized Black Diamond Touchstone Haul Bag

I really miss the old A5 ledges. They were light and simple to set up.

The current offerings of the Black Diamond Cliff Cabana
and Metolius Bomb Shelter Portaledge are both great ledges but they are HEAVY. I also find them much harder to set up than the old A5 and I had a friend have to delay his El Cap ascent by a few months when he tweaked his shoulder trying to get the spreader bar on (I wont name which brand it was, both spreader bars are equally cantankerous in my experience). Those gripes aside, once these ledges are set up, they are deluxe. Very comfy, very bomber.

What I am excited about are the new rainflys which are bomber. You can read a review of the BD one here i have not used the Metolius but i hear it is great too.

If you are not in a rush, consider a Fish portaledge. They are made to order and wait times can be 1-2+ months, but these ledges have many happy users and are MUCH lighter than the BD or Metolius ledges. They are also hundreds of dollars less. I have never used one so I can't give a review.

I don't mention single portaledges because I have only used one on maybe 3 of 100 big wall ascents and always wished i had a double. The reasons: it much easier to set up a bivy with just one double portaledge and there there used to be a giant overall weight savings to bringing one double ledge instead of two single ledges. However, that was when the widely available double ledges were only slightly heavier than the single ledges. Today, double ledges are so heavy, its not that much extra weight to bring two lighter weight single ledges. Its a personal call. I still prefer just one double ledge because overall you will save weight and it makes the bivy set up much easier. But soloists and people that really want their own personal space, may prefer a single ledge.

Misc. Essential Wall Stuff
headlamp. Make sure it will attach securely to your helmet. Carry spare batteries
Athletic tape. mandatory to fix minor rope dings (s)
Duct tape. Just the end of a roll, about three feet. You can wrap a strip around a water bottle, not to jacket the bottle (a needless project) but as a way to carry some tape. Among the uses of duct tape: protect sharp edges, cover holes that form in a haul bag.
Handi wipes
Lightweight Shell Jacket and pants
Stuff sacks with clip in loops. Can be hand sewn or bought pre-sewn.
Small Knife
Russ Walling

Gym climber
Poofter's Froth, Wyoming
Jun 10, 2009 - 01:25am PT
So, am I like blackballed or what??? Definite lack of FISH representation in there.

This section will need some work.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 10, 2009 - 01:34am PT
ill get you in there in the next fea days...i goytta heal my arm . right now typing with one hand
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 10, 2009 - 02:03am PT
separated shoulder after a very low speed bicycle crash. after all those base jumps this is what gets me... x ray is scary looking but aparently its not the worst injury

Barcelona, Spain
Jun 10, 2009 - 03:46am PT
bump climbing content

Trad climber
Provo, Ut
Jun 10, 2009 - 06:37pm PT
hope you feel better soon.

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
Jun 11, 2009 - 12:05pm PT
As someone whose newest piece of wall climbing gear other than a pair of Petzl ascenders is the ORIGINAL first edition Wall Hauler, and a prospective purchaser of a few new bits, I'd also like to see Fish gear compared with the other brands. It looks fantastic on the web site, is mostly much less expensive, and I'm always seeing posts about how bomber and functional it is. Tell us more!

Also, I vote for people to consider supporting your local climbing shop (no I don't work for one). Everyone loves to be able to actually check out the gear, but if you don't provide any income for the means of doing that, the opportunity will disappear along with a key piece of your local climbing community.

Big Wall climber
Jun 11, 2009 - 12:09pm PT
Hi Chris,

As someone from outside of USA (Canada/UK) it is difficult to get hold of brands such as FISH without paying an extreme amount on import duties, shipping, etc - it would be great to hear more about the bigger global brands that might be easier for us to get hold of over here. :-)

Cheers, Graeme.
the Fet

Supercaliyosemistic climber
Jun 11, 2009 - 12:20pm PT
After reading about the flex cycle test here:

I ditched my 5.5mm spectra cordelletes. I would go with 7mm nylon for cordelettes, but I've just gone back to sliding-Xs with limiter knots since they actually equalize.
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Jun 11, 2009 - 12:32pm PT
Sorry to hear that you separated your shoulder ... Make sure you take it easy and let it heal completly!

The paragraph about closure systems doesn't read quite right.I think you meant to say that it "does not have a perfect water tight closure....

"For a big haul bag, the Metolius El Cap Haul Bag carries well and is bomber. It has a does not have a perfect water tight closure: the bag needs to be filled just the right amount (4-6 inches over the top of the bag) for it to be water tight. But overall, the quality of this bag is excellent."

Looking forward to buying a copy one of these days!
Erik Sloan

Jun 11, 2009 - 12:35pm PT
Wow, thanks Chris. This is incredibly well written. much, much love.

This is exactly how I teach people to big wall climb.

Well, with one very minor exception:

Chris has gotten away from doing bivy style big wall ascents for almost a decade now so I don't agree with the suggestion to bring a 6mm tagline when running a 10mm static on a slower ascent. Chris would have never done that back when he was doing routes like that all the time. 10mm doesn't weigh that much. Keep your system streamlined--just climb with the haulline unless you're on an A4+ horror show in which case you won't be referring to this guide.

Russ: your gear is awesome. Each item seems to include a piece of your enthusiasm for the big stones. But it's hard to get. Really hard. But don't ever worry that small niche businessfolks like yourself will ever get eclipsed--especially in a small word-of-mouth kind of environment like the Yosemite big wall scene.

El Cap was so beautifully lit up gold with pastel storminess filling the valley behind as I drove done yesterday.

git sum!
love e

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jun 11, 2009 - 12:43pm PT
Speedy-recovery Chris!

I really dig my USHBA Russian Titantium hauler, but
don't know what happened to the company? Maybe still
find them on e-bay. The only disadvantage is larger
diameter haul lines greater than 11mm the cam doesn't
lock down, scary.That being said,it is bomber on the
smaller diameters. All this points to a valuable
lesson in writing a difinative guide. Climbers are a
resourceful bunch and may buy some older device in
Camp 4 parking lot!

It would also be good to see some of the advanced 2:1 etc.
systems explained, I weigh 215 lbs and can space haul most
loads, but the guy I climb with weighs 135 lbs so he sets
up elaborate systems!

I should be on the wall, back to your program,

Fish Products = Rock Solid!!!

Trad climber
Jun 11, 2009 - 12:56pm PT
when is pete going to show up to slag on the protraxion?

for a durable, not heavy haul line, i'm a huge fan of the 10.3 bluewater.

also, you made me think of it when you mentioned the lack of a drybag closure on the black diamond bags. i'm a huge proponent of using river bags to keep cloths, sleeping bags, and other essentials in.

no matter how hypothermic your partner is... don't let him pull his sleeping bag out of the drybag until AFTER you get the rainfly on... uhg.

isn't it always the dumb things that get you injured? two worst injuries over the last 5 years were both on my stairs... leaving to go climbing.... dumb.

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 11, 2009 - 01:01pm PT
Thanks for the feedback!

ok, i guess i am over reacting on the 10mm haul line being so heavy. maybe i am thinking about 10.5 being too heavy. ill fix that section. but my favorite haul line is defeinitely in the 9-9.5mm range. maybe not appropriate for really big loads... but climbing with really big loads is no fun!

so far this is just a first draft so i will add in more products. but overall i am going to limit it to products that can be purchased (not out of production products). There are pros and cons to that, and believe me, i wish the a5 ledges were still around so i could review those. But ultimately its not that helpful for there to be a long review on something that gets you all psyched to buy it only to find out you cant.

but if there are some products that i have not listed here, that you can buy, please post em up. I cant review them right away but they will be on my radar. and maybe i just forgot to include them.

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jun 11, 2009 - 01:05pm PT
These aid ladders have the coolest hourglass shape!


Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 11, 2009 - 01:50pm PT
the buy Russ a beer paypal link is hilarous... i couldnt resist clicking on it
Russ Walling

Gym climber
Poofter's Froth, Wyoming
Jun 11, 2009 - 02:04pm PT
Go with your urges! Don't fight them.....
Thanks Chris!

side note edit: HoldPlease Kate did a really good and thorough review of ledges a year or two ago..... never hit print since it got squashed by a giant corp whose product did not come out smelling as sweet as they wanted..... maybe she can forward that to you for some more background. It had all the dimensions, weights, materials, pros, cons, etc.
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Jun 11, 2009 - 04:05pm PT

Is this what you are referring to:

Hello P:

Here it goes. In order of what matters to me, anyway, and who wins IMO -

This is like Goldilocks and the three bears...I find the FISH to be too small (shorter and more narrow) the BD to be a huge monster and the Metolius to be just right...

* Length - On the double ledges, the FISH ledge is 6 inches shorter, at 6.5 feet long, while Metolius and BD are 7 feet long.
* Width - Width is where these ledges vary dramatically. The fish is 3'6" wide, the Metolius Double Bombshelter is 5'9" wide, whopping *5'3"** wide. This width makes the BD VERY difficult to assemble alone.

Weight varies dramatically and FISH wins by a long shot for a double ledge...partly due to size, and partly due to using cromolly tubing which is smaller but just as sturdy.

* MEDIUM Metolius double with bag: 14lbs and 1oz, fly is 7lbs 5 oz (FLY IS BOMBER.)
* HEAVY BD double with bag: 19lbs and 13 OZ. But hey, it has cup holders. Simple fly weighs 5lbs, lighter material than Metolius but still good.
* SUPERLIGHT: FISH - 10lbs, fly 6lbs. Nice.

The key features on a ledge tells you what they cater to.

* FISH - Caters to function!!! With daisy chains on the straps and sides of higher end models, dual adjustment straps, ventallation ports on the fly, more fly floor coverage than other ledges, lock down straps for the fly, and bombproof materials, this ledge eliminates the fru-fru and simply functions well.
* METOLIUS - Caters to comfort!!! For the bigger (wider, longer) ledges, a spreader bar is nice. This key comfort feature has now been replicated by BD, though.
* BLACK DIAMOND - Caters to people who, perhaps, should be at home with servents serviing them breakfast in bed. It includes cup holders, a spreader bar, three separation fins, for a total of 9 straps to this portaledge!!! Wee Hoo! You could sleep seven comfortably. I have seen these things set up from a distance and they are massive luxury ships, to be sure. The true party ledge.

FISH is the only double ledge that doesn't require a spreader bar for stability. This is huge. Simply huge, in my opinion. Spreader bars are a PITA, but also a liekly necissity as the size of ledges has balooned over time. Metolius and BD are the same, but the BD is tougher if you are alone simply due to size. Both require insertion of a spreader bar which can be a bitch.

COST: For Ledge and Fly - FISH WINS

* BD - $950 new not many on ebay, as just came out this ear
* Metolius - $950, with many used available as they've been out for awhile

Of all the models, the FISH has seen the fewest changes overall, is nearly 10 pounds lighter than other models, and is perfect as a simple, single ledge. Additionally, you can lose the bells and whistles and get it EVEN CHEAPER! The design is tried and true. If I had to buy a ledge for me, for all purpose climbing, I'd chose the FISH double whammy for all my climbing.

But what do I own? Older style A5 single, Older style BD single, Newer BD single, Metolius Double Bombshelter, and a new BD single. (Don't ask how or why...)

So yes, I know my ledges, and have spenttime on all except for the A5 models from 8-10 years ago, and NO, I am not going to buy a fish...Well, maybe I'm not, not yet, anyway...)

Gearwhore, reporting. :)

Russ Walling

Gym climber
Poofter's Froth, Wyoming
Jun 11, 2009 - 04:11pm PT
Good find! That is probably the review, in shortened form.


Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jun 13, 2009 - 01:10pm PT
Bump for climbing content!

Messages 1 - 20 of total 22 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta