Retrieving Draws from a Climbing Route

How can I safely clean quickdraws off a difficult route?

Hi Mike,

I’ve been indoor climbing for several years in Indiana and I went outdoor climbing in Kentucky last week with all confidence that I had enough technical ability to climb effectively, however cleaning the quickdraws without taking 35 foot swings trying to downclimb presented me with a problem that took the wind out of my sail. I’ve heard of a “trolley method,” however I can’t seem to find anything on this. What is the safe and proper way of taking down the draws without taking a substantial fall?


Mike says:

Let me see if I understand your predicament:

You roll up to an awesome route featuring a really nice overhang. The route is 100 feet long and measures a good 20 feet from the bottom of the climb to where the rope will hang free from the anchors above. Some big trees and rocks near the cliff give some nice shade from the afternoon sun. So you count up the bolts, rack your quickdraws, tie in, lace up, and head up into the sky. It is a tough route, almost out of your grade, but you’re feeling good and you manage to hit the chains just before your forearms explode and sweat completely blinds you.

Totally worked, you thread the chains, sit and look around, catch your breath, enjoy the view…and then you are jerked back to reality wondering how in the heck you are going to get your draws back! If you try to swing over and unclip them one at a time you are going to take some pretty good swings and maybe hit the nearby trees and rocks, not to mention that your kid sister you bribed into belaying you could never pull that off. And it would be next to impossible to downclimb what you almost didn’t get up (or feel like doing again).

So here are some options:

1. Man Up and Climb It Again – You can lower off, tie into the other end of the rope and climb back up retrieving your draws as you reach them, lower off and pull the rope.

2. The Trolley Method – Clip a quickdraw to your belay loop and the rope running up from your belayer. As your kid sister belayer (who you still owe an ice cream cone if you make it down alive with your draws) lowers you, your quickdraw tether on the rope will “trolley” you down and keep you within arms reach of the draws on the bolts. When you hit the last one, closest to the ground, you will clip in underneath it and finish lowering to the ground. Then you just have to boulder up and grab the remaining draw.

Either way you do it, it is a pain. But if climbing overhanging routes is your thing, you’re going to get pretty good at either one of the above mentioned options!

Climb Safe!

Now it’s your turn – ask me a question eh?

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