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
Current Snow Levels in the San Juans
A few of us have been out and about in the San Juan Mountains during the last week – including Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness. Recently the area has experienced a few significant storms that had a decidedly winter component to them. Below average temperatures and above average precipitation has been the general weather pattern for the past few weeks and the mountains are really starting to show it.
Based on the current forecast and amount of snow already on the ground, I would suspect that the majority of the snow of shaded aspects will remain there for the rest of the season – eventually being buried by subsequent snow storms that are sure to effect the area in the month of October. This can be good on a number of levels, including the potential for an excellent early season ice cycle. The ice climbs around Silverton and Ouray above 10,000 feet are dependent on ground water and robust melt/freeze cycles. With all the recent snow above those altitudes it’s setting up to be a banner November/December for early season backcountry ice climbs.
The recent new snow however can become “old snow” – but at this point in the season likely only on aspects and areas where the snow has blown in deep enough to eventually be buried by subsequent storms. This old snow, especially from the first few larger storms in October and November, can become problematic later in the winter as the faceting process starts to take over, helping to hasten the creation of the all-to-familiar depth hoar we commonly see at the base of our snowpack – the cause of many early season avalanche cycles here in the San Juans.
Below are a few photos taken of the Chicago Basin area, Engineer Mountain, and views of the Sneffels Range and Ice Lakes Basin from a distance. All photos were taken between 9/24/13 and 9/27/13. As always, watch the forecast, plan accordingly, and travel safe in the mountains. Late fall/early winter storms are nothing to be trifled with in the San Juan Mountains.
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
The last couple weeks have flown by! Here are some of the highlights…
Shawn, Nick and I climbed Sunlight(14,059′) and Windom(14,082′) in Chicago Basin.
I met Ken, Daniel and Aaron in Telluride to climb Wilson Peak(14,017′). While waiting in the gas staion parking lot at 4:30am I got to see who was making a mess by knocking over all the trash cans, and going through the contents. We were surprised to find a 1/2″ of fresh snow on Wilson Peak. It quickly melted as the sun came up and started heating up the rock.
Lastly Bob and I hiked up Noname Basin to climb Jagged Peak. We ended up climbing the rarely attempted Peak 6(13,705′) instead.
It was great climbing with all of you! Its hard not to have fun in the San Juans this time of year. Hell any time of year is great!
David did a big traverse with us in the Weminuche a month ago and decided he needed some more. For round two we decided to go for 8 days, climb a peak and spend some time in the very remote Ten Mile basin.
Day 1: David and I took the train to Elk park and hiked up the Colorado trail to the beaver ponds at 10’000′.
Day 2: We left the Colorado trail, crossed Elk Creek and headed south into Vestal Basin on the rough climbers trail.
Day 3: Summit day. We got up early and climbed Arrow Peak then headed back down to camp. David upgraded from having “Mad Skills” to having “Crazy Mad Skills” on the climb.
Day 4: We headed back up to the upper bench then traversed over to Vestal lake and over the strenuous Vestal-West Trinity saddle. Then descended to camp at the west side of Balsam Lake in Ten Mile Basin.
Day 5: Rest day at the seldom visited Balsam Lake.
Day 6: We continued the southern trend and hiked up and over the Peak 5/Peak 6 saddle into upper Noname Basin. Then dropped down to the second tier of Noname to camp.
The “Bruce Traverse” is a high alpine traverse that runs from the Vestal/West Trinity saddle down into Ten Mile and then exits Ten Mile at the saddle between Peak 5 and Peak 6. It’s named after a great explorer of the Weminuche.
Day 7: David and I hiked down Noname to a great campsite at the confluence of Noname creek and the Animas River.
Day 8: We finished the hike out along the Animas to Needleton and caught the north bound train to Silverton for lunch. Then caught the bus back to Durango, finishing off a great trip!
The blog post from our first adventure can be found HERE.
David it was great climbing, hiking, talking and joking with you! Game for next summer?
Kevin, Larry and Jerry all came to do a backpacking trip dubbed the ‘Best of the Weminuche’. I have spent a lot of time in the Weminuche Wilderness over the years, and I would have a very hard time coming up with an alternate 5 day backpacking trip that has the combination of great trails, amazing views, multiple basins and superb camping that this trip has. To top off the great trip Kevin, Jerry and I climbed Windom Peak(14,082′) on the last day before running down to catch the train back to Durango.
Thanks for the great trip guys! I hope to see you in the mountains again!
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!
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.
This was an incredible journey! We spent eight days playing in the great outdoors in Southwest Colorado! This included climbing at a local crag, climbing one of our great 13ers in the area (Snowdon Peak), and then traveling into the backcountry of the great Weminuche Wilderness to visit Chicago Basin, the 14ers there, and end hiking out high on Endlich Mesa!
The first day we spent climbing at X-Rock, one of our local crags. We climbed around on rock all day including climbing some of the harder climbs there, learning about building climbing anchors, and doing some rappelling down steep faces.
The next day we ventured to Snowdon Peak where we climbed the West Buttress, giving us a great view of the surrounding mountains including the Needles where we were headed the next day. This also gave us the chance to acclimate to the elevation so that the travels into the 14ers wouldn’t be as difficult.
The next day we went into Chicago Basin via the train and spent the next few days climbing the local 14ers. This included Windom, Sunlight, and Eolus. The time spent up high was amazingly beautiful and we were psyched to get some great weather!
After our time in the Basin, we moved up over Columbine Pass and Trimble Pass to the Silver Mesa and City Reservoir. This was a great miles day with views of the Needles the whole way and lunar landscapes up high.
Lastly, we ended the trip again gaining great elevation and hiked the remaining portion of the trip above 12,000 ft along the Endlich Mesa. It literally felt like Ireland up there with flocks of Sheep and all.
Mike and I had a great time hanging out and exploring what Southwest Colorado has to offer. There is much more where that came from, that is for sure!
Ed from Omaha came out to Durango for a few days in Chicago Basin with training for Rainier in mind. Ed will start climbing Rainier on Saturday, and wanted to get a little more elevation under his belt than the 900′ that is Omaha. Colorado is perfect for gaining altitude experience. We slept at about 11,000′ and climbed two peaks over 14,000′. Ed did great on the climbs and I’m sure will do great on Rainier.
Good luck Ed!
Ed on the summit of Sunlight.