Using a thin tag-line to haul and rappel

When I went to Chamonix a few months ago, I bought a 60x6mm accessory chord to accompany the 60m single line I was flying out with me.  My intention was to use the thinner chord as a rappel tag-line in situations where the my partner didn’t have a set of halves, or at least a single half line to pair with my single.  Luckily enough, my partners were always well-prepared.  Even so, I’ve found use for the rope while in Chamonix and back here in the stateside.

Here are the two major uses I’ve found for a tag-line/accessory chord:

1) Longer rappels

Essentially bringing up a tag-line in your pack means you can rappel the full length of your rope when necessary (assuming they are the same length).  Your rappel setup will consist of one larger diameter rope (your lead line) and the thin diameter line (your tag-line/pull chord).

Some things to think about when considering rapping with a tag-line or accessory chord.

  • When rappelling on ropes with large differences in diameter, you need to be careful about which side the knot goes on.  As you rappel, one of the ropes in your device will be much bigger (the lead line), and it will be this rope in your device which creates the friction allowing you to descend in control.  If the knot is the side of the larger rope, it will slip down away from the anchor (a scary thought). The best case: your ends are uneven when you reach the bottom of the rappel, The worse case: you cannot create enough friction on the small rope, and you’ll be descending much more quickly than you anticipated.  For this reason, the knot must always go on the side of the small rope (the tag-line side), thus preventing it from drifting.
  • Thin accessory chord (6 or 7mm or so) can be difficult to pull due to its highly dynamic nature and small diameter.  I often find it necessary to wrap the chord around my hands for friction when pulling it.  If it becomes twisted with the larger line during your descent, friction in the setup might require you to setup some type of haul, probably involving you running down-hill with the small rope in hand.
  • Because you area always pulling the accessory chord (knot is on this side as discussed above), you might end up S.O.L if your ropes get stuck.  Consider the case where the ropes pull and get caught on the way down.  Now you and your are partner are left something like 20m of accessory chord.  Not something I would want to lead on to go deal with a stuck rope!

This last point is the real kicker when considering the use of a tag-line for rappelling.  In situations where you are planning to make a large descent and NEED to rappel, its safer to have a larger diameter rope, which can be led on should your ropes get stuck.  You might consider leading on double ropes, or at least bringing a small diameter, single-rated half rope, which now seem to be available from multiple vendors.  If you don’t expect to rappel, a small tag-line can be a good emergency option for making it down the climb more quickly.

2) Hauling the pack

The use case I would stand behind more quickly for a thin-tag line is hauling a pack up a steep climb to make things a bit more enjoyable for the follower (Ben and I did this on the Passenger).

Our setup was the following:

  • Leader always takes one end of the haul chord up with him, attached via a locker to the back of his harness.
  • The other end of the line is attached to the bag, ideally on more than one hard point.  In the photo below, I’ve attached the bag via an alpine butter-fly to a locking carabiner, which is connected to one strap on the pack.  Another locking carabiner is attached to the other strap on top of the pack, and can be attached or detached from the first biner to provide access to the bag at the anchor. There is an extra 10m of chord extending from the butterfly knot that can be used to lower out the bag.
  • At the end of the pitch, the leader brings the haul line up first (stacking it neatly), until the line goes taught.  Leader: “Ready to haul”.  Follower: “Haul away” (releasing the back and lowering it out via the haul-line).
  • Leader hauls pack through a lightweight one-way pulley (we used a RopeMan) and keeps follower line taught at the same time (or can haul the bag completely first – the team should agree on this).  Climber always follows below the bag to clear it if it gets caught in a roof or a crack.

If you are interest in learning more, search for big-wall hauling techniques on the internet or in books for tie-off and hauling procedures.

My pack on the way up to Ben. He's hauling it through a Ropeman at the anchor. The pitches are less than 60m, so the bag is tied of with a bit of extra rope to lower it out as needed.
My pack on the way up to Ben. He’s hauling it through a Ropeman at the anchor. The pitches are less than 60m, so the bag is tied off with a bit of extra rope to lower it out as needed.

Storing and carrying small chord

Small diameter ropes seem to get into knots very quickly and have a life of their own.  Keep it well wrapped in your pack on the hike up. ALWAYS uncoil it in an organized fashion instead of just pulling the coil apart.  If you walking in sans pack, you can get a bit clever, like Jean has in the photo below. She and I planned to haul a pack, so we would be using the tag line along with our single rope when we got to the base of the climb.  Given this, she made a backpack with both ropes, starting with one end of each.  When un-done, it was ready to lead.

Jean modeling a fancy rope backpack where the single and tag-line were wrapped as one.
Jean modeling a rope backpack where the single and tag-line were wrapped as one.

When does it make sense to haul the pack?

Hauling a pack tends to be more useful when there are many harder, or at least straight up (vertical), pitches.  In situations where the climb wanders (usually routes of more moderate grade), hauling a pack can be more trouble than it worth (bringing extra weight, managing extra rope, clearing the pack through features on the pitch,etc). During my first attempt at climbing Freeway in Squamish (many steep pitches of 5.10 and 5.11), Ben and I noted the party ahead of us doing this, which seems to be an ideal route for this kind of setup.  Hopefully I’ll get to repeat that climb with this approach in the next couple weeks!



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