When Would I Use a Tag Line?
Also called “pull cords” or “rap lines”, Tag Lines are small and lightweight- most often used for doubling with a single rope to make long, full-length rappels. Proper Tag Line setup can be immensely helpful to technical climbers but should only be attempted by climbers with the proper training and safety knowledge. We recommend practicing with a guide before going out and using one.
Kitty Calhoun, co-owner and guide for Chicks Climbing and Skiing gives a few scenarios for when you might want to use a tag line:
When you are leading a long pitch and might want to haul up extra gear mid-pitch. In this case, you can just tie a Figure 8 on a bight to the top end of the tag line and clip it to the haul loop on the back of your harness.
When you are rappelling and you need two ropes to get down. In this case, you may want to use a Gibbs knot (Flat Overhand with extra pass though). This low profile knot will flip over to its flat side when pulled over an edge. The extra wrap on the Flat Overhand makes it stronger.
NOTE: It is advisable to thread the larger diameter rope through the chains because the thinner haul line will stretch more. If the larger diameter rope is threaded, the knot will likely butt up against the chains. Some people rappel on both ropes and some rappel on just the larger diameter rope. If you only rappel on the large diameter rope with the knot jammed in the chains, close this loop by attaching a carabiner on a bight on the haul rope clipping it into the climbing rope below the chains.
Gibbs Knot with Larger diameter through the chains.
When you have a sling-shot top-rope set up and your route is longer than half a rope length, you can extend the climbing rope with a tag line. In this case, you can also use a Gibbs knot.
a. You will need to pass the knot while the climber is ascending, so preparing for that in advance is a good idea. Since an assisted-braking belay device is more useful on a larger diameter rope, start belaying the climber with your secondary belay device on the smaller diameter haul rope. Once you get to the knot, tie an Overhand-on-a-bight knot below your secondary belay device (as a blocking knot), while you put another belay device (preferably a Gri-gri) on the larger diameter climbing rope above the knot. Leave the secondary belay device on the rope as it will be already set up when you start to lower. You could also clip this overhand into a carabiner on the upper tie-in point of your harness.
b. To lower and pass the knot, you will want to ask the climber to get back on the rock to take the weight off the rope once you run out of climbing rope and the knot reaches you. Then take the Gri-gri off the rope. Take control of the secondary belay device and release the blocking knot. You can increase friction by running a re-direct off your harness and even more friction with the rope looped through the carabiner.
Added friction on tag line when looped through the carabiner.
NOTE: Wear belay gloves when lowering on a small diameter rope!
Again, these are advanced techniques and if in doubt, seek qualified instruction.
Chicks Climbing and Skiing is dedicated to educating and empowering women through mountain sports, developing community, and fostering environmental stewardship. Their all-women’s ice climbing programs were the first in the country and they’ve now expanded to offering rock, alpine and skiing events. Sterling Rope is their Official Rope Sponsor. To learn more about Chicks visit their website at http://www.chickswithpicks.net.
Article photos: Kitty Calhoun
Thumbnail image: Andy Mann