Home/Mountaineering/Yosemite Rock information

Aid climbing with a three person team

Lessons from Zodiac

By Ken Younge and Q.-Tuan Luong

A Quick Trip Report

The route itself was quite enjoyable. It is consistently steep (slighly overhanging) with many traverses and a couple of wild spots. The climbing offers a lot of variety, from wide cracks to thin seams, and all the techniques (free, hooks, clean gear, nailing) have to be used.

One of my reasons for getting on this route was that I wanted to climb with my friend Ken Younge (who doesn't have much free time since he is starting a company). He turned out to be an excellent big-wall partner, even if the climb wore him quite a bit. The third person we invited was Amanda, well known to rec.climbers, who impressed both of us with her guts and toughness (she decided we were late on the second to last day, and went ahead and fixed a pitch solo starting at 10pm, after a long day, backcleaned entire section of pitches...) although Ken was the best for keeping down the mess generated by having three people, two separate haulbags and portaledges, and generally speaking too much gear and water.

The downside was that there were too many parties on this route. Basically, everyday, there was one party starting. One party fixed a rope, but didn't show up the next day, so we figured out we might as well start, but later they caught up with us and insisted to pass. Normally, the speed of four pitches per day would be enough to keep up with the crowd, but some were climbing faster than that. The amazingly fast team of the "Patagonian Brothers", Willy and Damian, did not hold us too long, but for rather circuitous reasons, we ended up letting two other parties pass us, although they were not really climbing faster than we did. This resulted in a lot of loss of time, and we had to get up relatively early and to go to bed quite late, spending three nights on the wall, out of a total of five days for the climb. I would say that this lowered significantly the quality of our experience.

One of my goals was to see if the three man team we could move faster. It seems that this could be the case, although it took a bit of time to get the system wired, and the interaction with the other parties prevented it from working as well as it could have. Ken and I are working on a report about the lessons we learned. The other thing that I wanted to see was whether it would be possible to keep the hardships down, but this didn't turn out to be the case. Big wall climbing remains a lot of work and little sleep.

Aid Climbing Sequence for a group of three

  1. Upon completing a pitch, the old leader fixes the old lead line.
  2. Old leader uses a ZIP line (trailed when on lead) to pull up two static lines and a new lead line.
  3. Old leader fixes static line to the heavier of two haulbags for the next leader to jumar.
  4. Old leader pulls up new lead line and stacks it, preparing for next lead.
  5. Old leader hauls up lighter haulbag & next lead rack while the new leader jugs up the fixed line.
  6. When new leader reaches the top belay, the cleaner below lowers out the second haul bag.
  7. New leader blasts off and the old belayer cleans the previous pitch.
  8. Either the old leader (now new belayer) hauls heavy bag while belaying (with a grigri), or new belayer waits for the third the clean the pitch below and they haul together.
  9. Repeat.

Lessons we learned by pitch 16 ….

  1. Get the new leader started as fast as possible. *** Very Important ***
  2. Don't take too much gear.
  3. Always rerack gear in a consistent, logical manner
  4. Take a Grigri (or two)
  5. Don't cross your lines.
  6. Practice with your partners first and avoid crowded routes.
  7. Every climber should carry with them a small roll of duct tape to pad sharp edges.
  8. Skip the extra 'day-use bag'


It takes a while to get the system wired. Once this is done, it works quite well:

Comments by Russ Walling

Russ Walling was, as always, most helpful in helping us figure this out. Here are the comments he sent to us:

>>Assuming that the bags would be too heavy for one person
to haul, what would be the most efficient technique ?<<

Usually the best way is to have the old leader and the new leader get
the bags off the station below and just let them hang until the
cleaner gets up there to help.  This is of course assuming that the
lead is going to take some time (as in hours) to make it worth your

>>I was thinking about using two separate haul lines to avoid
having to counterweight. Once the pitch is lead, one person jugs up
the free line, which is also the second haul line. In the while the
old leader starts hauling the (lighter) first bag and belays the new
leader. The second (heavier) haul bag is hanging from a fifi
hook. When the cleaner arrives, he helps hauling it. <<

the only flaw is that the fifi method is famous for getting hung up
unless the pitch is straight up and down.  If I was to do two hauls, I
would do as you say, but have the new leader help to free both bags
from the station below, and then just let the bags hang.  Then you can
haul the light one and wait for the cleaner to help with the heavy
one.  In the real world though, one haul is faster and less prone to
getting tangled, and if the two guys cant haul it in one shot, it
would be best to take less beer the next time.

>>1. You seem to asssume that two people are always enough to haul
the bags. What if everyone in the party is very light, or if there
is a lot of water to haul ?<<

That can be a problem.  I have always had more weight than needed
(good for walls I guess).  In this case (being light) I guess you must
do two hauls.

>>Also when there are 3, that adds up too. I remember that Ky-Van (my
ex gf) and I took ten days of water for Mescalito, but since she
weights 115 and me 135 hauling was a nightmare. We eventually
retreated and broke up :-(. <<

That's why they call El Cap "divorce court".  We had 13 gals of water
on the Salathe with two guys back a hundred years ago.  That was a
pain to haul.  Since you are pretty light, I guess the two hauls is
really the only way to go

>>2. If you let two bags hang on separate lines (Clint's suggestion)
wouldn't they get tangled and spin around each other when it is windy

Almost for certain.  You could do a fast haul of the first bag (water
bag or whatever) and then have the second release the next bag before
cleaning the pitch.  If you really crank on the first haul, the time
lost will be minimal.

>>3. Do you know why nobody uses a hauling system with mechanical
advantage such as a Z-pulley ?<<<
[Note: on Zod, we met Bird Lew who was using this system. It worked
but was extremely slow]

Probably because 90% of climbers can't set one up.  The other reason
is that with the advantage, each pull moves less of the actual rope.
So in effect you must work longer, but at a lower output.  It seems
that the "fast haul" and then a "real haul" would be the way to go.

Or you could go porta-city style and just fix ropes way up there off
of each bivy, and then haul the whole mess like every two days.  if
you are going slow anyway, this would work out quite well. And you get
to eat/drink 2 days worth of rations before each hauling episode.  It
is a good way to make the loads light in a hurry.  This method was
used by Slater/Barbella on the Sheap Ranch during the FA.  I used this
to a degree on Native Son on the first real day, using the time to
actually lead rather than haul.  I had to set up a 3:1 system to try
and free a stuck bag below the "Wing" since the cleaner could not get
over to the bags (it traverses).  Ended up stripping the sheath off
the zip line.  hooooooooboy it was dicey and heavy!  We were hauling
direct from Tree Ledge to the base of the Wing in one shot (220 ft?).
After that day, single hauls were still hard for my partner, but Ok
for me.  Before then he could not haul the bags solo.

View or add comments

Home/ Mountaineering/ Yosemite Rock information