Tip 10: Big Wall Hauling and Dealing with Failure

TOPIC: Efficient Big Wall Hauling/Dealing with Failure
By Calvin Landrus

El Cap, The Nose, Pancake Flake


Pete Takeda says “Hauling is like the worst blue collar labor. It is the price you pay for summit dreams.” Last May, I volunteered to be “haul bunny” (someone who is along to do most of the hard work to save the climber’s strength) for a free-ascent attempt by two climbing buddies on Salathe route on El Capitan in Yosemite. What was I thinking! As the days unfolded and after too much blue collar labor, the payment never came. The rest of that story will come later. However, from that experience and other big walls, I have become very intimate with big wall hauling. I would like to share with you some tried and true tips on efficient big wall hauling. I will begin with some of the basics of big-wall hauling and then give some tips to reduce friction, the real enemy of hauling efficiency.

Big Wall Hauling

After the leader arrives at the belay stance with the haul line in tow (static or dynamic – see endnotes), the first step is to build an equalized bombproof anchor with a power point to clip into. Try to have the clipping point at least as high as you are tall. The reason for this is to allow you plenty of room for the longest possible gain for each pull-down. The standard method is to attach the pulley to the anchor with a locking biner. Next, pull-up all the slack in the haul line and run in through the pulley. Now you are ready to attach a weighted jumar, gear clipped to the top of the jumar hanging upside down, on the haul line to retain the load end. If you are using an auto locking pulley such as the Petzl Mini Traxion, you will skip this step. The rope is running through the pulley in the right direction if the slack doesn’t run back down the wall. Back-up the pulley or auto locking pulley with a sling and biner adjacent to the pulley on the opposite side of the haul bag. The other jumar then grips the haul line of the slack side of the pulley. This second jumar applies the hauling force. How the jumar is attached and pulls the load depends on the amount of effort it takes to lift the load.

The first option is to attach an aider and lift the load by stepping up into the aider and allowing the weigh of you step to pull down the haul line. This will move a haul bag near the end of your big wall (or if you are doing a small wall) where your bag is lighter and the angle is generally steeper. The next three options include attaching your jumar directly to your harness. (Please note that you need to be backed-up with the lead line tied into the anchor, leaving enough slack for the movement necessary during hauling.) Sitting back and down into your harness is the second option. This will give you more pulling power than the aider method. The third option is a bizarre process but is the most powerful (and taxing) for hauling. Here you bring you feet up as high as you can and begin pushing downwards in an inverted position. When I was hauling the 80-100 lb bags (yes, we were hauling two bags) up the low angle start of the Salathe, this was the only method that gave me a fighting chance to haul solo. With this option, real caution must be taken with the belay anchor as the forces generated are pretty huge and apply a fare amount of outward pressure. The final method that can be used (besides the obvious choice of dividing your gear into two haul bags with two ropes) is using a following climber as a counterweight. This is done by getting them to transfer their weight onto the slack end of the haul line (the opposite end to the haulbag!). This “space hauling” method will require the following climber to jumar back up to reset their weight. When using this method, be sure the counter-weighter is tied into the anchor and that the pulley is back up as previously explained.

Once the hauling system is set-up, the leader notifies the follower that the haul bag may be released (and lowered out with a belay device if necessary). Once the haul bag is hanging from the upper belay stance, the follower breaks down and cleans the pitch while the leader hauls the load. When the bag arrives at the belay, clip the bag as tight as possible to the anchor. Load the pulley and deactivate the weight bearing cam or jumar. Feed slack through the system, thereby transferring weight onto the belay and off the pulley. Back up the bag by clipping off the haul line. Re-stack the haul line and break the pulley system down. Repeat the process on the next pitch.

Tips for Efficient Hauling

Friction is the enemy in big wall hauling. Here are several ways to reduce friction and increase efficiency.

    #1 Haul Less

    Just because it can fit in your bag, doesn’t mean you should bring it. The place where you might tend to try and go light is with water because it is so heavy. However, plan right and take enough water, erring on the side of too much water…as dehydration stops many ascents and can also cause epics.

    #2 Avoid Low Angle Slabss

    The haul line and bag lying against the rock will result in much friction load being added. If you can avoid low angle hauls, do it. It will save you tons of energy. One time while doing the Regular Route on Half Dome, we quickly pulled ahead of a party who was hauling when we were carrying our stuff on our backs.

    #3 Pull the Haul Line Out

    When each pull-down is really hard even to get started take the haul line going to the bag and pull it out away from the rock and up a bit. This may allow you to get enough into it to start the downward momentum. While doing this, having gloves will allow you to avoid blisters! Or use a free jumar that is attached so that some up and out force can be applied.


    #4 Use the Right Pulley

    pro traxion

    The final place to reduce friction (and perhaps the easiest) is in the pulley. Lower end pulleys have bushings and not ball-bearings at the center focal point. My early 80’s Chouinard (now know as Black Diamond) pulley with plastic bushing is not very efficient. The second aspect to consider with a pulley is the diameter of the pulley’s sheave. The greater the diameter the more efficient the hauling will be by gaining the maximum mechanical advantage over the load. In the past, I have used the Mini Traxion. Its small pulley works OK but on this recent attempt, I used its bigger brother, the Petzl Protraxion (the lower pulley). I would highly recommend it over the Mini because of its higher strength and larger diameter pulley. When the bags where heavy and the angle was low, it allowed me to start hauling on my own. And then when my buddies jumared up to me, there was great confidence in its beefy strength when they would “space-haul” off it.

Perhaps you won’t be a “haul bunny,” but efficient big wall hauling will give you better odds on succeeding on your next big wall!!!

Living Tip: Dealing with Failure!

As was indicated at the start of this article, it was noted that there was more to the story concerning my “blue collar labor” for my friend’s (Doug and Steve) free attempt of the Salathe. Doug and Steve were positioned perfectly to take on the last 1/3 of route where most of the hard free-climbing would be found. They had freed almost 2/3 of route, including the very taxing 120 foot Monster Off-width and had taken a rest day. Early in the morning, some rain began to fall. Little did we anticipate that we would spend the next 24 hours in constant rain (afterwards we found out it rained more than one inch). All day long, we were hoping that it would let up by evening, but our hopes were busted as darkness fell with rain continuing to fall.

We had rested in the protected Alcove Bivi at the base of El Cap Spire. Steve had a portaledge with a rain fly and escaped the elements pretty well. However, Doug and I had only bivi sacks. We had spent the entire day under our portaledge escaping the direct assault of the rain. Our buns got sore from sitting in limited positions on the cold, wet granite cover by a thin insulate pad. As time passed, the rain began to flow down the wall, onto our little perch and soaked through all we had with us. At night, Doug and I tried several new positions and finally decided we could lie down and stick our feet out into the chilling rain, lying our feet on the bare, cold and wet granite. The night was a never ending attempt to move to a new position where our bodies would stop crying foul for a few minutes. Our clothes, light sleeping bags and bivi sacks barely kept us above the shivering stage and thoughts of hypothermia began to creep into our minds.

In the morning via a cell phone call, we heard the weather was going to be grim for several more days, so we decided to bail. Unfortunately, we had fixed several pitches above, to the Sewer Pitch – a place where water escapes from the rock to create a vertical garden. An appropriate place to be turned-around for the whole wall was like an over-flowing sewer. With our ropes anchored above that meant to go down, we had to go up first. Steve and I jugged backed up, retrieved our gear and ropes and carefully started down. A majority of climbing accidents happen on the descent, especially during the rappel. With our gear completely soaked and weighing 2-3 times more than it normally did, our ropes performing differently due to the wetness, and the fatigue of climbing for three days and being holed-up for 24 hours, we all knew a mistake could easily occur.

Luckily, since we had many fixed ropes already in place and being able to use ropes we had with us plus others found on the route, we were able to rappel all the way to the ground without “pulling” our ropes. However, that led to us rappelling separately, which meant each person was on their own to make sure we were doing our rappels safely. As the rope ran through the rappel device, water would be squeezed out of the rope in such volume our pants looked like we were constantly having an “accident” – and, perhaps we were. Our soaking continued for 15 rappels to cover the 1800 feet back down.

There was not much celebration, even though being on the level ground felt wonderfully good because no one had come close to accomplishing what we had set out to do. Doug and Steve didn’t even get to try, let alone re-point, the crux Head Wall pitches. Besides hauling, I was also along to video-tape the “real business” of the Salathe. We had worked hard but our plans were washed away.

When we fail, is it wrong to put a positive spin on it? Considering the alternatives, I think not! From a Christian perspective, I like what Cheryl Forbes said, "We never see God in failure, but only in success -- a strange attitude for people who have the Cross as the center of their faith." We've been taught that winning is everything and losing is to be avoided at all costs. As a result, we live a life desperate to avoid feelings of failure. The truth is that failure is a necessary component for our long-term success. Here are five principles from Larry Julian that will help you transform feelings of failure into motivations for success.

    1. Failure knocks our ego down a notch.

    Often, our egos give us a false sense of power, which ultimately can cause our demise. When our ego gets too big, it's easy to lose focus on what's really important because we try to control those things over which we have no control. Failure has a tendency to knock our ego down. While this can be painful, it teaches us to let go of things beyond our control. We learn that the world doesn't revolve around us. This is an important lesson because we come to understand that our work is about serving a purpose beyond ourselves. It's at this point where we begin to relax. Because we're no longer in control, purpose takes over where fear once resided, forgiveness overtakes our guilt, and hope replaces discouragement. How often does your ego prevent you from turning failure into success?

    2. Short-term failure is a stepping stone for long-term success.

    A common thread of all great leaders is their use of failure as a springboard to success. Rather than obstacles, failures become stepping stones for their personal growth. When we take the time to look, we find that every setback has a blessing in disguise. Just as success leaves clues, so does failure. The key is to look beyond the immediate feelings of failure and discover all the possibilities that wait. How can you use failure to your advantage?

    3. Failure gives us freedom.

    Too many people stay in situations they dislike simply because they're afraid of failure. They prefer to stay inundated with urgent daily pressure because their fear of failure makes them work harder and harder. Often these people try to keep their grasp on the façade of being successful. What these people don't realize is that failure actually gives them freedom. They now have the freedom to pursue other interests, to open a new business, to find a more fulfilling line of work, to secure a job with better hours or better pay, and even to design a life that offers a better balance between work and family. Before you dwell in the depths of failure, ask yourself, "How can my failure give me freedom?"

    4. Failure makes us grow stronger.

    Whether we like it or not, failure is a part of life. The question is whether it makes us weaker or stronger. An insightful person once said, "Life is a grindstone; whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you're made of." We can become victims of circumstance and let failure break us or we can grow in character and allow failure to shape us. Many times, it's not the big failure that harms us; rather, it's a series of small failures that wear us down and discourage us, which is the worst ill of all. Discouragement causes us to die a slow emotional death. It happens over time without our ever realizing it. It's during times of failure that our character is developed. We need to have the courage to move forward with perseverance when we have no energy and want to give up. Instead of letting feelings of failure rob you of hope, ask yourself, "How can I persevere today?"

    5. Our response to today's difficulty prepares our future destiny.

    Our beliefs and actions shape our future. Unfortunately, it's so easy to allow our failures and difficulties to overwhelm us. When we approach our life one decision and one day at a time, we can overcome our difficulties and become the person we're destined to be. No matter what challenges are put before us, when we take the time to realize how precious and special each day is--even the bad days--we can respond to every situation in a positive manner. To keep this perspective, do what one prominent CEO does. She routinely asks herself, "Am I willing to put my signature on today?" The signature we put on each day authors our legacy for tomorrow. As Charles Reade said, "Sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny."


With the passing of time after the aborted climb, I now see it as an excellent adventure. I found out how well good big wall gear can protect you from bad weather. It was great to see how much a team with solid character could endure without a sense of panic. I realized how significant the other free ascents on El Capitan are. I also realized how good God’s grace is. Psalm 103:14 says, "God knows what we are made of. He remembers that we are dust." God isn't surprised when I fail. He expects it. He knows what I'm made of. He knows I'm just human. He doesn't expect me to succeed every time. He knows our frame and He isn't surprised. Even if you or I do fail, God's not going to stop loving us. If you think that you have to be perfect in order for God to love you, you've missed the central message of the Bible. The central message of the Bible is this: God loves you not because of who you are or what you have done but because of who He is.

Will I be afraid to go back up on a big wall again? Perhaps! But in the big scope of things, it’s not a failure to regret. However, there is only one failure you need to fear. Hebrews 12:15 says, "Be careful that no one fails to receive the grace of God." It's possible to reject what God wants to do for you. It's possible to go your entire life without getting in contact with your creator, with the one who made you, who loves you, who died on the cross for you. Please don’t fail in that way.

Continue the discussion at the Where Climbers Gather Forums.

Date Posted - 12.27.13

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