Spring thaw is here, and with Spring comes the climbing season. Climbing can be a very dangerous hobby, and as such, all climbers should be practicing their skills all year round to stay sharp and be ready for all situations. This week's article will be a very long one, but a very informative one. You may want to grab a length of rope before starting, because this week we will be looking into...
Safety is your responsibility. No article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. Make sure you practice proper techniques and safety guidelines before you climb.
Few skills are as fundamental to climbing as working with rope. Your life literally depends on your mastery of the subject. This article and accompanying videos cover the most common knots, hitches and bends used in climbing. For starters, you need to understand the distinction between a “knot” and other key terms related to rope management: Knot: a knot is tied in a rope or piece of webbing. Hitch: a hitch connects a rope to another object like a carabiner or even another rope. Bend: a bend is a knot that joins two ropes together. Bight: a bight is a section of rope between the ends. Standing end: the standing end or part of the rope is the side that’s not being used during knot tying. Working end: the working end or part of the rope is the side that is being used during knot tying.
Essential Climbing Knots, Hitches and Bends
There are many knots worth knowing as a climber, but with these six essential climbing knots, hitches and bends, you can complete many of the most fundamental climbing tasks, like securing the rope to a harness, rappelling and building anchors:
Figure 8 Knot (Rewoven Figure 8 Knot/Figure 8 Follow Through Knot)
The Figure 8 Knot is the most common knot for tying the rope into your harness.
Grab the end of the rope in one hand; extend your arm and measure out a length from your fist to your opposite shoulder.
Pinch a bight from where you’ve measured at your shoulder and twist it one full rotation so that the standing part of the rope crosses over the working side, then twist it again so that it comes around to its original position.
Then pass the working end of the rope through the loop from front to back. The result should look like a figure 8.
To form the follow through, pass the end of the rope through both tie-in points on your harness, and pull the knot in close to you.
Now feed the rope back through the knot, tracing the original knot as you go. You want the working end to run completely parallel to the standing part of the original knot.
Once you’ve worked the end all the way through, dress the knot by making sure the strands are neat and run parallel.
Tighten the knot by pulling each strand tight individually. Make sure you have at least six inches of tail. You can check the knot by counting five sets of parallel lines.
The Clove Hitch allows you to secure a rope in place on a carabiner. It’s easy to untie after taking a heavy load, and quickly unravels when you unclip it from the carabiner. Many climbers use it to connect directly to an anchor. You can tie a clove hitch with two hands or with one.
Hold the rope in both hands, and form a loop by crossing the rope over itself.
Then form a second loop in the same way.
Now move the second loop behind the first, and clip both loops with a carabiner. Dress the hitch by pulling both strands tight.
If you’re at the anchor, you can also tie the clove while you hold onto the anchor carabiner with one hand.
Grab the rope in your fist with your finger pointing down the rope.
Bring your hand up so that your finger points up and toward you.
Then clip the rope into the carabiner.
Now grab the rope below the carabiner and do the same thing again. Grab it with your finger pointing down, bring it up so that your finger points up and toward you, and clip it into the carabiner.
Dress the hitch by pulling both strands tight.
The Girth Hitch is an easy way to connect a loop of webbing or cord to a fixed point like a tree, or your harness’s tie-in points. Here we show the hitch around a carabiner, but the process is the same on any object.
Circle one end of the loop around the object.
Then feed the other end of the loop through the first loop, and pull it snug.
Double Fisherman’s Knot (Grapevine Knot)
The Double Fisherman’s is a very secure way to join two ropes or form a cord into a loop. It’s very difficult to untie after it gets weighted, so it makes a good choice for Prusik loops. The Double Fisherman's is essentially two double overhand knots pulled together. You can make a Triple Fisherman’s by using triple overhand knots.
Bring the two ends of the rope together so that they overlap.
Hold the end of one rope in your fist with your thumb over the rope.
Then, wrap the working end of the other rope over your thumb and the first rope, bring it under, and fully wrap it over again to form an X.
Carefully slide your thumb out and feed the rope through the X you just formed.
Pull the knot tight. You should see an X on one side and two parallel strands on the other side with the other rope inside the knot.
Now pull the other rope through so you have enough slack to work with, and repeat the process. The rope that you pull through will be your new working end.
Form an X over your thumb, and push the end of the rope through the X. You’ll end up with two knots with two strands of rope between them.
Dress the knots by pulling them tight. Then pull the outer ropes to bring the knots together.
The finished Double Fisherman's should have two Xs on one side and four parallel strands on the other. Make sure that both ropes have plenty of tail (About 18 inches of tail is appropriate when tying two ropes together for rappelling. At least three inches of tail is required when making loops with accessory cord).
European Death Knot (Overhand Bend)
Commonly known as the European Death Knot, or EDK for short, the Overhand Bend is a simple, effective way to join two rappel ropes. The major benefit is that the knot flattens out when loaded, so it’s less likely to get stuck on the wall as you pull the ropes down. When setting up to rappel, make sure you don't accidentally tie a Flat Figure 8 Knot (sometimes called an Offset Figure 8 Knot). The Flat Figure 8 is not a suitable way to connect two ropes for rappelling.
Bring the ends of both ropes together and tie a simple overhand knot with both strands. Make sure the ropes run completely parallel throughout the knot.
Dress and tighten the knot by pulling all four strands tight individually. Make sure to leave at least 18 inches of tail, and tie a stopper knot in one of the tails.
Despite the name, the European Death Knot is very secure when properly tied. The name is said to have been coined by American climbers who declared the knot unsafe after witnessing Europeans using it. However, proper use has proven otherwise and the knot is commonly utilized.
The Autoblock is a quick, easy-to-tie friction hitch that can grip in either direction. It’s most commonly used to back up rappels.
Place your loop behind the two ropes so that you have a large loop on one side and a small loop on the other. The joining knot should be on the small loop, close to the ropes, and slightly offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.
Wrap the large loop around the ropes as many times as you need until you’re left with two small loops.
Then clip both loops into a carabiner.
Dress the hitch by making sure the loops run parallel and it grips the rope.
Make sure that the joining knot is offset so it’s not in the bend of the loop.
Additional Climbing Knots, Hitches and Bends
Though not listed as essential, these knots, hitches and bends are commonly used while climbing, especially for intermediate and advanced techniques:
The Bowline Knot is a useful knot for tying the rope to a tree or other natural anchor. It's unlikely to slip when loaded, but it might shake loose when it's unloaded, so be sure to back it up with a stopper knot.
Start by wrapping the rope around the object you're connecting to the rope.
Form a small loop in the standing side of the rope by crossing the rope over itself. The side leading to the working end of the rope needs to be on the top of the loop.
Now feed the working end up through the loop so that it runs parallel to the standing side.
Then bring the working end behind the standing side, around it, and back down through the loop.
Dress the knot by pulling on the two strands that come through the loop and the standing side at the same time.
Pull all strands tight individually.
Double Bowline Knot
The Double Bowline Knot is an alternative knot for tying into a harness. It’s easier to untie than a Figure 8 after taking multiple falls. But because of this, it has to be backed up with a double overhand knot.
Feed the rope through the tie-in points on your harness.
Grab the standing end and drape it over your palm between your thumb and forefinger.
Now grab the rope between your hand and your harness and wrap it twice around your thumb.
Slide the loops from your thumb, and rotate them so that the rope leading to the working end is on top.
Feed the working end up through the loops so that it runs parallel to the standing side.
Then, bring the working end behind the standing side, around it, and back down through the loops.
Dress the knot by pulling on the two strands that come through the loops and the standing side at the same time.
Pull all four strands tight individually.
Finish by tying a double overhand knot against the double bowline.
Climbing Knots on a Bight
These knots let