The first thing you should know about climbing knots is that if you tie one wrong
you are in big trouble. There is no second thing. You say you can't walk a block
without having your shoelaces come undone? Not to worry. Climbing knots may seem
daunting, but there are only eight essential knots that climbers use, and anyone
can master them quickly.
THE TRACE EIGHT
Your tie-in knot, the one that connects you to the end of the rope, is the knot
to learn first, and is the only knot you'll use every time you rope up. Climbers
use various knots to tie in, but the trace eight is the easiest to learn and the
least likely to untie itself. Unfortunately, it cinches up tight after a hard fall,
making it difficult to untie. Consider this a small price to pay for security.
Practice this knot until you can tie it, rain or shine, in the dark.
Tie the knot as shown, making it and every knot you tie nice and neat, or dressed
in knot parlance. A sloppy knot is difficult to check visually. Also cinch up the
knot as tight as possible. A loose knot can come untied. Be sure to leave a 12-inch
tail extending out of the knot, and secure this around the rope with half a double
fisherman's (shown next).
Pay attention every time you tie in. Serious accidents happen each year because
someone becomes distracted while tying in and either ties this critical knot wrong,
or only partly ties it. Concentrate as if your life depends on it (it does), and
make certain you thread the rope through both the leg-loop strap and the waist
belt on your harness, as prescribed by the manufacturer. Never tie in through your
RING BEND AND DOUBLE FISHERMAN'S
Use the ring bend to tie webbing to webbing, and, less often, to tie bits of cord
into loops. The ring bend is secure and easy to get right because it is simply
an overhand knot traced through itself. The ring bend, like all knots, does tend
to loosen and untie itself -- inspect it before every climb, and always tie it
leaving at least two inches of tail on each side. The main use for the ring bend
is to tie loops of nylon into slings, or runners.
Joining two ropes of the same or different diameter, is a job for the double fisherman's,
which due to its many twists and turns, is less likely to untie itself than the
ring bend. Other uses for the proven double fisherman's include tying off cord
threaded through a nut and as a back-up to secure the end of your tie-in knot,
the trace eight. Some climbers use the double fisherman's instead of the ring bend
to tie webbing runners. Although the double fisherman's works well for this use,
it welds itself into an impossible to untie lump after it has held a fall. Since
you sometimes need to untie your slings to thread them around objects, such as
trees, the double fisherman's is less than ideal for this use.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to untie a runner, but can't because the knot is
too tight, tap and roll the knot against the rock to soften it, then use your nut
tool (or teeth) to pry apart the knot.
FIGURE-EIGHT LOOP AND CLOVE HITCH
The figure-eight loop and clove hitch are the two knots for mooring yourself to
a belay. A typical belay utilizes both knots, and places the easily adjustable
clove hitch closest to the belayer, where he can fine-tune his stance to get more
comfortable or better equalize the anchors. If, after tying yourself to the anchors,
you find you are too snug or slack against them, you can simply loosen the clove
hitch, adjust as needed, and cinch the knot back down. The caveat is that you must
never use the clove hitch to anchor the end of a rope -- if the clove hitch slips,
the tail could pull through the knot, untying it. Use the more secure figure-eight
loop to anchor the end of a rope.
Savvy climbers are masters of improvisation. They can turn wired nuts into runners,
jam stones into cracks and sling them as protection, make a cordelette from the
lead rope and, should they drop their belay device, tie a Munter hitch and use
this to belay or rappel.
The Munter hitch is a simple sliding knot that, when you pull back on the braking
side, cinches onto itself, creating enough friction to hold a fall or control a
rappel. You can use any size locking carabiner or two non-lockers with gates opposed
for a Munter-hitch rappel, but for belaying, a large, locking carabiner is necessary
to allow the knot to swivel, as it must when you are paying out and reeling in
Despite the Munter hitch's effectiveness, only use it in a pinch. The Munter hitch
twists the rope into unmanageable snarls.
The prusik is a useful friction knot that slides freely when it isn't weighted,
but bites down on the rope when you do weight it. Many variations on the prusik
exist, including the autoblock and klemheist, but for simplicity we'll stick with
the prusik. You can learn the other knots down the road. The most common use for
the prusik is to back-up your rappel device by tying a prusik on the rope below
your device. Details on that technique are covered in the section on rappelling.
Two prusiks placed on a rope and clipped to your harness with long runners let
you climb the rope by alternately weighting and unweighting the prusiks, inchworm
style. This technique is a lifesaver when you fall on an overhanging route and
are stranded in space, unable to get onto the rock.
To tie a prusik, use 4 to 6mm perlon cord tied into a 12-inch loop with a ring
bend. Thinner cord grips better than thick cord, and shoelaces will work in an
emergency. Wrap the loop three or more times around the rope until it bites well
enough not to slip. Webbing works in an emergency, but requires many wraps to grip
and is more difficult to loosen and slide.
The girth hitch has many applications, including
cinching a runner on a knob or around a tree, attaching a sling to your harness
belay/rappel loop, and hitching together several short runners into a chain to
make a long one. The girth hitch also works well to cinch a short sling around
the shaft of a fixed pin or bolt that sticks out too far, reducing leverage.