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I'm off this weekend for a three-day big wall with two other friends. I read "Big Walls", by Long and Middendorf, but the book is too old and doesn't really mention strategies for a three-member crew. For a two-member crew, the strategy is quite standard:

  1. Climber 1 (C1) climbs pitch, attached to a lead rope (R1) and carrying with him a second rope (R2), which will serve as a zip-line and a haul line;
  2. C1 arrives at belay, fixes R1 and sets a hauling system for R2;
  3. C2 lowers off the pig (haul bag), which is then hauled by C1 while C2 jugs R1 and cleans the pitch;
  4. Repeat for next pitch;

P.S: If the pitch is long and horizontal, a third rope can make things easier: not only it'll be used to lower off the pig, but also to cancel pendula C2 might have to deal with during the cleaning.


Now, when dealing with one more person, things start to get a little weirder, since there are many possible strategies.

A possible one I was thinking about is Method 1:

  1. C1 sets off with R1 and R2, same way as before;
  2. C1 arrives at the belay, fixes both R1 and R2;
  3. C2 helps lower out C3, which will jug the fixed line R2;
  4. C3 arrives at belay with C2 still waiting. After arriving, C3 sends a signal to C2 to start lowering off the pigs;
  5. C2 lowers off the pigs and starts jugging the fixed line R1 and cleaning the pitch. Meanwhile, C3 and C1 are hauling the pigs;
  6. When hauling is done, C2 is probably halfway cleaning, and C1 or C3 can start leading a new pitch. Hopefully C2 will arrive at belay before the leader is halfway through, because most of the gear will be hanging with C2;

P.S: As always, another rope can be carried by C2 to help him clear the pendula and lower off the pigs.


Another one is Method 2:

  1. C1 sets off with R1 and R2, same way as before;
  2. C1 arrives at the belay, fixes R1 and pulls up R2 and two other ropes, R3 and R4. R2 in this case will be a very thin, 7mm zip-line;
  3. C1 fixes R1 and R3 and sets a pulley system for R4;
  4. C3 starts jugging R3 and leader starts hauling from R4 at the same time. C2 immediately sets off to clean the pitch;
  5. After C3 gets to belay and helps C1 with the hauling, he or C1 can already start leading the next pitch;

P.S: a fifth (!) rope can be carried to avoid pendula, etc.


I hope I was transparent enough in my descriptions.

Now, let's talk about the advantages of each method. Method 1 has the downside of C2 having to wait till C3 got to the belay to lower off the pigs, and only then start cleaning. But C3 is the fastest of the group anyway: he needs only to jug fast and tight. The main advantage of Method 1 is that C3 can help C1, which just leaded a possible A3+ and is thanking Odin for being alive, to haul the pigs. This method also involves a maximum of 3 ropes.

Method 2, on the other hand, can be faster: C2 starts cleaning immediately after C1 fixes R1. C3 can deal with lowering off the pigs and then can sprint up from a fixed line, to help C1 haul a little, and to lead the next pitch. C2 will be cleaning throughout the whole process, so the next leader will have available gear earlier than in Method 1. The problem is that at least 4 ropes must be carried, and that C1 will have to haul at least a little bit on his own.

Do you know another method? Does anyone have any experience with both of these methods and can suggest any improvement/comment?

  • 1
    Maybe it's because I haven't done Big Walls, but I got a bit confused near the beginning. What do you mean by C2 lowers off the pig (haul bag). Is this common terminology? I guess it confuses me to think that it's lowered (down?) to be hauled (up?)... So my next guess is: maybe I don´t know what "lower off" means. – Roflo Aug 7 '17 at 20:06
  • 3
    @Roflo No problem. It's common terminology and works like this: you want to haul the pigs up, but the down belay is not aligned with the upper one. This means the pigs will simply swing in plain air if you just let them go. If they swing and hit the wall, your water (or worse - you poop) will explode. This will end your adventure. So it's common practice to thread a line around the pig to let it sway gently and keep the contents intact. – QuantumBrick Aug 7 '17 at 20:35
  • Are you aiming for speed, to have fun, or something else. – StrongBad Aug 8 '17 at 2:16
  • @StrongBad I'm aiming for efficiency! And you're quite right: R2 was a typo. – QuantumBrick Aug 8 '17 at 3:25
  • read everything by andy kirkpatrick! and this ukc article is good too... oh look who its by... silly me. additionally consider contributing to his kick starter. – ldgorman Aug 11 '17 at 14:25
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One issue with Method 1 is that after C3 finishes jugging on R2, C2 needs to be able to pull R2 back to the anchor and attach the pig. If the lower end of R2 is attached to the anchor, then it may become difficult for C3 to tie in short as they are jugging since the rope could become taught. A way around this is to either attach the pendulum rope R3 to R2 to allow C2 to retrieve the lower end of R2. A slightly different system would be for C3 to drag a second haul line R4 as they are jugging.

One issue with Method 2 is there is a lot going on (two people jugging and one person hauling). It might be better if C2 lowers C3 and the pig out immediately and both C2 and C3 start jugging, but C1 does not immediately start hauling the pig. Then when C3 gets to the belay, they can start leading the next pitch immediately. When C2 finishes cleaning, they can then start hauling (sucks to be C2). This not only gets the next pitch started sooner, but also means only two things are moving at once (two people jugging, leader and cleaner, or leader and pig).

  • Regarding Method 1: in case of a very long (60+m) aid pitch, I think your suggestion of tying R2 and R3 together to lower C3 off if great. This is almost never needed, since aid pitches are not usually longer than 30~40m... But I'll keep it in mind. Regarding Method 2: this is indeed very stressful for C2. Cleaning a hard aid pitch is very often harder than leading it... But it is a possibility. – QuantumBrick Aug 9 '17 at 15:32
  • @QuantumBrick yes cleaning is often physically harder than leading, but generally does not take as much time. C2 can take a nice long break before starting to haul; they just have to clean and haul in less time then it takes C3 to lead the next pitch, but as I said sucks to be C2 on that pitch. As for rope lengths, you may be fine, but just be prepared if there is a long pitch. – StrongBad Aug 9 '17 at 15:45

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