Short-hauling Your Climbing Partner
by Mark Nelson
Short-hauling your partner with a guide-style belay
It's been a long day on the rock. If your partner can just finish this pitch quickly, you can be down on the trail before dark. But he’s exhausted, and a crux overhang has stopped him. “Take!” he yells. You give him tension, with your belay device rigged in guide mode off a cordelette power point. He tries again. “Take!” Again and again. Your coaching ends in futility, and the sun is getting low.
What you’ve got is a climbing partner hanging on a rope—not hurt, just stuck. It happens. What you need is a quick haul system to help him past five feet of steep rock. Easily done. The components are:
1) an anchor
2) a progress capturing “ratchet”
3) a “tractor” to grab the rope
4) assorted rigging to tie these all together.
The anchor and ratchet are already in place with your guide style belay system: your cordelette rig and your autoblocking belay device. For the tractor, take a sling (6mm perlon cord works best) and make a friction hitch on the loaded line that leads to the climber. I prefer the klemheist, but you can use other friction hitches, or a small device like the Petzl Tibloc, to grab the rope.
Slide this “tractor” down the loaded line as far as you can reach. Clip a carabiner into the tractor sling, then clip the brake-hand side of the climbing rope into that biner. Pull upward on the brake-hand rope and you have a Z-pulley, with the belay device providing automatic progress capture.
This system gives you a 3:1 mechanical advantage, which, in theory, will raise your partner with one-third the effort of a straight lift. In reality, friction in the system will make your job significantly harder, so get ready for some hard pulling. Gloves will help. For every foot of rope you pull, your partner will move up about four inches.
There are a few ways to increase the effectiveness of this system. Instead of pulling the load up, clip the haul-side rope through the anchor as a redirect; now you can pull down. You won’t gain any mechanical advantage—and will have even more friction—but pulling down might make the task easier.
Better yet, you can use another friction hitch to create a foot loop on this downward strand and stand in it (see illustration), so your leg does the work. If your power point is high enough, or you can add enough slack at your tie-in, it may also be possible to clip directly to this second friction hitch and use your body as a counterweight for the haul, instead of just standing in a foot loop. A small pulley or a DMM Revolver carabiner (which has a built-in roller) can greatly reduce the friction through the tractor or redirect points.
Once the terrain problem is surmounted and the rigging is no longer needed, you can dismantle the tractor and go right back into normal belaying.
- If you’re belaying directly off your harness, this system won’t work, and you will first have to escape the belay—a more difficult and complicated scenario, beyond the scope of this article.
- Your autoblocking device creates an “open” system. If you need to stop managing the haul and go hands-off to work on something else, tie a bight to close the back end of the system.
- The 3:1 with progress capture is easy to set up, but it’s not a cure-all. Practice this method to get a feel for how much dead weight you can actually manage.
- You will be hard pressed to do a long haul with this system. If that’s what’s needed, or there is a medical concern, consider other options such as retreating.
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