Dropped Belay Device?
Use the Munter Hitch!
If you’re a rock climber, chances are you’ve done some multi-pitch rock climbing or are at least thinking/planning to do so in the near future. On multi-pitch climbs, you carry a lot of gear with you – cams, nuts, draws, slings, carabiners – and of course your trusted belay/rappel device. Over the years, I’ve seen people drop gear on climbs more often than you might imagine. The reality is, you’re going to drop some combination of your gear at some point in your climbing career so it pays to be prepared when you do. To be sure, dropping your #2 Camalot is a big deal as well, especially if your route offers up plenty of hand crack, but in most cases you can make do with other gear and plan your protection strategy for each pitch accordingly (if you’re climbing a trad route that is). Dropping gear like a cam, nut, or quickdraw does not normally require a higher level of technical knowledge or expertise. Conversely, dropping your belay device is a whole other matter. Your belay/rappel device is arguably the most critical piece of gear on your harness. So what happens if you drop it 3 pitches up the climb?
You can easily imagine a number of scenarios where dropping your belay could occur at the top of whatever pitch you may have finished or somewhere else along your climb. If this happens, you’ll need to be able to improvise another way to belay your partner up the pitch you’ve just finished.
Perhaps the best way to do this is with the Munter Hitch. I often use the Munter Hitch exclusively in alpine terrain because it is fast, and requires only a locking pear-shaped carabiner to build and use properly. It’s less desirable to utilize the Munter Hitch systematically for multi-pitch rock climbing, the reasons for which I’ll get into later in this article. But if you are unfortunate enough to drop your belay device 3 pitches up, it makes for an excellent solution for both you and your partner.
Building the Munter Hitch
The Munter Hitch is best created using a large pear-shaped carabiner like a Petzle Attache or a Black Diamond Rock Lock. This gives the hitch plenty of room to set itself properly on the carabiner and insures maximum efficiency for both belaying and lowering or rappelling. For belaying your partner up the pitch (standard top down belaying) it’s important to clip your Munter Hitch carabiner directly to the master point/equalization point/hot point on the anchor, and when doing so make sure that the gate of the carabiner is facing down and out (towards the climber). Orienting the carabiner in this fashion is an important step in using the Munter Hitch properly and will insure you have the best ergonomics for your belay.
Next, simply clip the rope running to your climber through the carabiner. If you’re at a ledge, you can actually do this right away without the need to pull up any additional slack in the rope like you normally would when using your traditional belay device. The pear shaped carabiner makes for a handy little ratchet the as you pull up the rope it will stack itself very neatly on the ledge – something that’s advantageous if you’re continuing up or heading down (organized ropes are important!!). After you’ve pulled up all the slack, what will become your brake strand will either be coming out of the left or the right side of the carabiner depending on how you are oriented at the belay. It doesn’t really matter which way you’ve set this up, just realized that if it’s coming out of the left side you will be using your left hand as the brake hand, and vice versa.
Next, you need to create the twist in the rope to create the loop which will then go on the carabiner to make the Munter Hitch. The written word can be difficult to explain this, so see the attached picture and/or video to get a better feel for what this looks like. In essence, using what will become the brake strand, simply make a loop/twist in the rope where the rope lays on top of itself and then rolls on to the carabiner. Once you’ve done this, you have created the Munter Hitch are are ready to belay your partner. Always remember to lock your carabiner before you start to belay!!
A Few Important Considerations about the Munter Hitch
A critical piece of information to consider when using the Munter Hitch to belay or lower your partner is that it is NOT a hands free belay device. Devices such as the Black Diamond ATC or Petzl Reverso are very common self-locking belay devices that many climbers use on multi-pitch climbs for good reason, as they allow you to operate the belay and perform other tasks all at the same time. Not so with the Munter Hitch. Never let your hand leave the brake strand while using the Munter Hitch to belay!
Another disadvantage of the Munter Hitch is that it will introduce twists into the rope – especially when you place it under a load such as a rappel or lower. Used systematically, you’ll definitely start to notice that your climbing rope will start to twist and generally be more difficult to deal with over time.
Dropping your belay device 3 pitches up a multi-pitch rock climbing can and probably will happen to you at some point in your climbing career. Practicing and mastering the use of the Munter Hitch can make the difference between successfully completing your climb, or figuring out a convoluted solution in a potentially stressful situation. In that case, you’ll also be glad you brought your cell phone and a headlamp. You’ll need them!
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
Andy and Scott recently joined me on an 8 day Alpine Leadership course.
Day 1: We started out at X-rock where we rock climbed in addition to learning climbing technique, belaying, rappeling, basic anchors and traditional gear placement.
Day 2: We climbed Snowdon via the West Buttress and descended the Northeast Ridge to the Northwest Couloir. All in all a great day where we learned about the basics of short roping and the kiwi coil. That afternoon we drove up to Silverton and hiked into Ice Lake Basin.
Day 3: We woke early and learned about self arresting, and cramponing technique, before climbing Fuller and Vermillion.
Day 4: We started out the day by climbing Golden Horn. We then descended and learned about snow anchors, before heading back to camp and hiking out to the van. Lunch in Silverton, then driving up the pass to camp at the trail head for Vestal Basin.
Day 5: We hiked in to Vestal Basin and set up camp. Then learned about/practiced knot tying, and cravasse rescue techniques.
Day 6: We climbed Vestal Peak via the Wham Ridge. Then learned about navigation in the mountains.
Day 7: We hiked out to the van, and headed back to town to switch out some gear and take a shower.
Day 8: We drove up to Ouray and climbed an apline ridge just south of town called Lightline. Andy and Scott got to practice the skills they had learned throughout the week, anchors, short roping, belaying, rappeling to name a few.
Great trip guys! I hope to climb with you both again in the future!
Robert just came out and joined me in some Fast and Light climbing. I had planned a standard solid itinerary but in quickly became apparent that standard was not what Robert came to Colorado for.
Day 1: We drove up to Andrews Lake and hiked into Snowdon planning to climb it on day 2. We got to our campspot ahead of schedule and decided to go for the summit. On the way down we went over snow school(self arresting, snow anchors, etc.). A full day ahead of scedule we decided to nix the day 3 plan of climbing North Twilight and go rock climbing at X-Rock and East Animas instead. So we packed up and headed down to Andrews Lake to camp for the night.
Day 2: We got up early to drive to Durango and get gear. We were climbing a 2 pitch route at X-rock by 7:30am. A few more laps and it was time to drive across the valley and head up to East Animas. A few more laps and a few trad leads for Robert, and it was time to head to Ouray and get ready for the Snake Couloir on the north side of Sneffles.
Day 3: We were walking away from the car at 5am. The Snake Couloir was in great condition we were on top at 11:15am. Much welcomed glissading down the East Slopes route got us back down to Blaine Basin. From there a short hike and we were back at the car.
All in all it was a great trip that goes to show the more you put in, the more you get out.
Thanks for working hard Robert!
Julie is training to climb Nun and Kun in Kashmir this summer. Julie came up to Durango and climbed with me in January during an Intro to Mountaineering course. She just returned last week for some more. We started out with two days of ice climbing. Day one in Cascade Canyon going over the basics, and day two in Ouray at the Skylight area and a little in the Ice Park. We then headed up to Snowdon to learn some crevasse rescue, how to ascend a fixed line, team rope travel, make a summit bid, and do some winter camping. On the fifth day we made a summit bid, but turned around part way up because of the avalanche conditions. We hiked back to camp, packed up, and were back in Durango by noon so we switched out gear and went rock climbing at X-Rock for a few hours. The last day we headed back to Cascade Cayon for some more ice climbing, before Julie started the drive back to Flagstaff.
Great climbing with you Julie!
In their October newletter, the AMGA highlights some of the issues (and what we as a climbing community can do about them), revolving around the attempt by the National Park Service to ban commercial guiding in The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In addition to The Black, the NPS is also attempting to reduce by almost 40% the amount of commercial guiding on Denali.
Essentially, the National Park Service is placing the rights of the independent climber ABOVE the rights of those who would choose to hire the services of a professional guide. In our view, both user groups should be afforded equal treatment and rights by the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.
Please take the time to read further and find out what you can do about it!
Comments due for The Black Canyon NP on October 27.
Comments due for Denali NP on October 31.
National Parks Access Threatened – Important Call to Action!
**************Comments DUE Saturday, 10/27********************
We are deeply concerned about the current threat to guiding access in our country’s National Park System. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park wants to completely ban guided climbing, which has a 50-year history in this unique climbing venue. This proposed ban does not only impact this incredible park in Colorado. This is a national threat, which could set a debilitating precedent for guided climbing in National Parks across the country. If you care about preserving wilderness guided climbing access in venues such as Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain National Park, New River Gorge and other important guiding venues, please read on.
The Black Canyon Backcountry Management Plan wants to ban guiding because “guided climbing does not support the goal for the inner canyon zone of providing a visitor experience that is challenging, self-reliant, and adventurous.” The NPS is making an uncanny argument for why guided climbing is no longer necessary in the Park. Your clients, friends and fellow climbers (who are not guides) need to submit comments to the Park. We have been told that the Park has already heard from guides, and what they really need are comments from the general public and clients.
What can you do now?
1. Email your client list, friends and fellow climbers today urging them to submit a comment by Oct. 27th. Use Facebook, your website, blog and any other communication vehicles to get the word out to your clients.
2. See below for a sample email to your clients, friends and fellow climbers.
It’s in all of our interests to raise awareness and take action on this important issue today. The deadline for comments is Thursday, October 27th. Thank you for supporting the future of the profession in the U.S.
For more information, visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov
The National Park Service wants to ban guided climbing and prohibit members of the public from being able to climb with a professional guide in one of our country’s most adventurous wilderness climbing areas. This is a national threat, which could set a debilitating precedent for guided climbing access in National Parks across the country. We are requesting your urgent support to help preserve guided climbing access in the Black Canyon as well as in other National Parks the U.S.
Here is how you can help:
Send an email to Ken_Stahlnecker@nps.gov today using the talking points below. Our goal is to have 500 people (who are not guides) contact Ken Stahlnecker opposing the Park’s plan to ban guided climbing in the Black Canyon and urging the Park to preserve guiding climbing access in this unique venue.
Dear Ken Stahlnecker,
Chief, Resource Stewardship and Science
National Park Service,
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
I am writing to urge you to keep guided climbing access available to the American public. Along with Yosemite National Park and Red Rocks National Conservation Area, the Black Canyon is one of only a few climbing venues in the country offering big wall climbing opportunities. There is often a scarcity of willing and adequate climbing partners to tackle the bold and remote terrain of the Black. Because climbing requires a team of two unless one is free soloing, my options for experiencing this unique wilderness area will be substantially reduced or eliminated altogether if guided climbing is banned in the Inner Canyon Zone.
Having the option to climb with a professional guide is necessary for me to be able to experience the vertical wilderness in the Black Canyon. Partnering with a professional guide will enhance my opportunity for an experience of adventure, challenge and self-reliance. I see no difference between climbing with a professional guide and climbing with a non-guide partner who happens to be stronger or more experienced than me. It is not uncommon for climbing partners to be of varying levels of experience. Climbing successfully in the Black always requires the self-reliance, commitment and personal fortitude of both climbing partners regardless of their varying experience levels.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide my opinion on this important matter.
Just got off a trip with fellow Michiganders Jen and Charlie. They were on a two week trip to climb and check out locations in Ouray for their upcoming wedding. I got them for four days near the end of their trip.
Climbed Ancient Art, Lizard Rock and two routes at Wall Street.
Chased shade in Indian Creek.
Maiden Voyage in the Black Canyon.
Casually Off-Route in the Black.
It was great climbing with you Jen and Charlie, I hope to see you this winter in Ouray!
Gary had been into Chicago Basin back in the 70′s, and had left with unfinished business. He had climbed Jupiter and Windom but bad weather denied them Eolus and Sunlight. Since the 70′s Gary has climbed peaks all over the North Cascades. When he decided to return to the Weminuche to finish the peaks in Chicago Basin, he wanted to make it a combo trip and visit Vestal Basin as well.
We started out the 7 day trip with a day of rock climbing at East Animas in Durango, finishing day one with a two pitch climb called Angel Dust. Day two we took the train into Elk Park and hiked into Vestal Basin where we were greeted with a great show from two moose. The next morning we woke early and climbed the amazing Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak. On the way down from Vestal we decided it was early enough in the day to climb Arrow Peak as well. The next two days were spent hiking over to Chicago Basin for the second part of the trip. We decided that it was most efficent to climb all the 14,000′ Chicago basin peaks in one day so again we woke early and climbed Eolus then Sunlight and were at 13,800′ on Windom when the weather started coming in and forced us down. Not bad for one day! The final day of this great trip was spent hiking out of Chicago Basin and catching the train to Durango.
Check out some photos below!
- Climbing ‘Yellow Pages’ at East Animas.
- On the hike in. Vestal and Arrow in the background.
- The two moose.
- Climbing Wham Ridge!
- Climbing Arrow Peak with Wham Ridge in the background.
- Hiking on the train tracks through the mud slide.
- Sunrise on Eolus.
New for the fall of 2011 is our 4 Day Desert Climbing Seminar. The seminar adds 2 days to our popular 2 Day Indian Creek Crack Climbing Course and expands on a number of topics including anchoring, protection placement, lead climbing, multi-pitch strategies, self rescue, and other valuable skills that will help you to progress your climbing.
The 4 Day Seminar is scheduled to run Saturday – Tuesday on select weekends in October and November to help us avoid the crowds on popular climbs such as Castleton Tower and other area classics. Days 1 & 2 of the program are spent at Indian Creek, and then days 3 & 4 are spent in the Moab/Castle Valley area.
Join us this fall in perhaps the world’s best cragging destination and find out why climber’s from around the globe make the pilgrimage to Indian Creek and Moab to experience the fantastic climbing, scenery, and camping of the Utah Desert!
Chris flew out from Chicago a week ago to do some cimbing in the Black Canyon.
We had our eyes on a route called the Tourist Route which is usually climbed in 10-14 pitches maxing out at 5.9. For the quality of climbing found on the Tourist Route It surprises me that it doesn’t get more traffic. Believe it or not the tourist route has a surprising amount of face climbing.
Below are some photos of the great day of climbing we had!
- Chris having a great time!
- Chris climbing a corner with some serious exposure!
- Ben, Chris and Bill on the top!