I recently took a class on basic self-rescue skills. I wrote up some notes to help me remember things and figured it would be useful to others!
Before we start, none of this complicated stuff matters if these are not true:
- Always lock locking carabiners!
- Check your and your partners harness, figure-eight and belay setups!
- Wear a helmet!
There are a few different knots used in all technical mountaineering/climbing and it is best to be able to do them in your sleep, one-handed. They are:
- Figure eight
- Figure eight on a bight
- Clove hitch
- Munter hitch
- Munter + Mule hitch with overhand backup
Notes on the munter
An easy way to remember a munter is to create a loop towards the inside of the A formed by the brake strand and load strand and flip it over into the carabiner.
If you put another locker through the “tongue” of the munter and then capture the load strand, the munter becomes auto-blocking. To avoid rope twists when using the munter, try to keep the rope strands as parallel as possible (Parallel is also when the munter moves freely, anywhere else adds friction and increases braking)
The guide mentioned that in europe they are starting to belay leaders of the anchor. I’m not sure how exactly that works with quickly feeding rope in and out, since you can’t use your waist to maintain tautness on the carabiner. This is something to look into.
When belaying a second, using a prusik or autoblock on the brake strand is a quick, valid way to back up the system when lowering. Check all friction hitches before trusting them. Dress all knots neatly!
Setting up raising systems as a leader, from the top belay, is really easy. Compared to crevasse rescue, you already have an anchor ready, and no imminent danger of dropping the follower further into the crevasse.
The munter is not a progress capture (ratchet). An auto-blocking munter is. A guide mode belay device is. We can leverage this to go through a progression of raising systems.
- Have the follower french-free by pulling on existing gear.
- Simply yank on the load strand. This may help the person get to a hold an inch away, or take some weight off them.
- If the follower is close enough, throw them a strand of rope from the free end. They should clip this to their belay loop (does not need a locker since the belay device is the primary attachment. This is a 2:1 system. They can assist by pulling on the strand from the belay device to them.
- To create a quick 3:1, attach a friction hitch to the load strand. Clip a non-locker to the other end and pass the free end of the rope through it. Remember to mind the prusik, extending it back out once it reaches the belay device.
- To create a 5:1, attach a double length sling by a carabiner to the anchor. This is the fixed end. Pass both strands of the runner through the carabiner attached to the prusik on the load strand from step 4 (instead of the rope). Clip another carabiner to the other end of the runner. Put the free end of the rope through here.
- Any of these systems can be complimented by adding another carabiner on the anchor to change the direction of force so it is easier to pull. Remember: The weight on the anchor is increasing for every addition. Make sure it is bomber!
- Friction can be reduced by using a pulley in place of one or more of the non-locking carabiners.
Lowering is dangerous! You can lose control of the guide mode device once it is unlocked (has happened to me once, fortunately w/o bad consequences). Always back up the brake strand with a prusik attached to your belay loop, and tie a BHK (Big Honking Knot) for good measure below the prusik far enough to finish the lower. Unlocking the belay device has several steps, depending on the weight of the person and angles that make it difficult.
- Rotate the carabiner that is holding the rope through the belay device. This will let out a centimeter or so at a time.
- Put a carabiner through the small release-hole on the ATC and lever, using the carabiner as a handle.
- Put a sling through the small release hole (if possible). Girth hitch it, then redirect sling through anchor. Pull (You may need to use body-weight by attaching the sling to your belay loop and weighing it, or by putting your foot through the sling and pressing down.
- Load Strand Direct method: The intention is to use a carabiner to separate the load and brake strand where they enter the device, to remove the friction that creates the locking behavior. Clip a carabiner between the strands, trapping the load strand. Clip a sling to this carabiner and reroute through the anchor. Pull as in step 3.
Devices like the DMM Pivot are easier to release for lowering.
Knot passing and escaping the belay are simply applications of transferring the load from one system to another until it ends up going from one primary attachment point to another primary attachment point, in a safe and methodical manner. The standard sequence is something like:
- Initially the person is attached to one primary anchor, which we have to unclip for some reason (pass a knot or because it is on the belayer’s body and we want it on the anchor).
- Use a friction hitch from the anchor to the load strand as a secondary system. Use the free end of the rope to attach to the final anchor. At this time, the victim/person is attached to various places by 3 systems (the primary rope, the secondary rope, the prusik).
- Use a series of munter lowers and slack management to unload the primary rope and load the prusik. Since the prusik by itself is not load rated, we need the secondary attachment as a backup. Undo the primary.
- Take the slack out of the system. Use munters to weigh the secondary attachment (which has now become the primary). Undo the prusik.
- It is important in all cases to manage rope lengths so that the prusik does not go out of reach while it is being moved around!
To put this into context, here is a good video by Northwest Mountain School.
For passing knots (due to core shot isolation, or because two ropes are tied together), it is important to decide when to start the transfer to avoid 5 above. Also, do some creative slack management as required. We are not trying to pass an IFMGA exam here, so as long as the anchor is solid and the person on the load strand is OK with it, it is acceptable to induce some shock load on the anchor.
Mule overhands: The complete combination of using a prusik attached to an anchor by a munter, and then tied off (hands-free) using a releasable mule hitch and an overhand for backup, is referred to as a PMMO (Prusik-Munter-Mule-Overhand) in literature. The Munter Mule Overhand can also be used on the rope itself to go hands-free. A Mule Overhand can also be tied on a belay device. A mule is releasable under load unlike using an overhand or figure-eight to close a system. A mule is formed by forming a loop from the free end of the rope that captures the brake strand and the load strand on the same side and pulling a bight from the free end to finish the “trap”. Make this as close to the munter or belay device as possible. The bight is tied into an overhand that should capture the load strand. Leave enough tail out to ensure the overhand can’t untie. If there isn’t enough to tie an overhand, clip a carabiner through the bight of the mule and clip it back to the anchor or similar. Remember, the mule is releasable and we don’t want it to release just yet!
A rope MMO tie-off just by itself is considered completely secure and does not need any backups.
For passing the knot, we are going to use the scenario of us lowering a climber from an anchor. The system stays the same in other scenarios. Think through it in terms of steps 1-4!
- We are using a prusik on the brake strand to control the lower. Eventually the knot we want to pass approaches the prusik. Before this gets too close, stop the lower, release the prusik (careful!) and tie off the rope using a MMO. Now you can go hands free.
- Use a long cordelette to tie a prusik/kleimheist to the load strand. Attach another locker to the master point. MMO the prusik to this carabiner with no slack (pull the prusik close to the primary anchor).
- Add another locker to the anchor. This locker is going to replace the primary carabiner so we can pass the knot.
- Grab the free end of the rope past the knot. MMO this to the carabiner you just added. You have now “passed” the knot. We will use the system we set up to transfer the load — take out the little slack between the two rope attachment points — without shock loading the anchor.
- Remove the very first rope attachment MMO completely. Take the carabiner from the anchor if it is easy to retrieve. Otherwise you can grab it after the transfer is complete (Remember at this point you may have 4 carabiners through the master point!) It is also OK to connect the prusik carabiner to the carabiner holding you to the anchor via a clove hitch. Now, the prusik is holding the load, with the rope MMO as a backup.
- Undo the MO on the prusik and slowly lower the munter until the rope takes the weight. Remove the prusik setup. You are done! Release the rope MO and continue lowering.
Logically, the first rope MMO is solid by itself, so step 2 can actually be done after step 4.
When using a belay device instead of a munter, the process is only slightly different.
- In step 4, instead of MMO, tie a figure eight on a bight past the knot (leave 0.5-1 feet of slack between the figure eight and the knot to pass), and clip the bight to the second locker. While the prusik holds the climber, this acts as a backup knot.
- In step 5, after removing the first rope from the system, you will have the empty ATC at the anchor. Put the part of the rope between the backup and the knot to pass (the 0.5-1ft of slack we left) into the ATC. The ATC is now usable again.
- Again use the PMMO to transfer the climber onto the ATC. Then undo the backup and continue lowering.
This knot passing remains the same on top rope lowers, except all of these locking carabiners will be on your belay loop instead of on the anchor. When passing a knot on rappel, you will do the same, with the backup figure eight on a bight below the knot to pass, clipped to your harness so you only fall 2-3 feet if your prusik fails. Use the prusik, clipped to your belay loop, to hold you while you undo and redo the ATC. When raising, a knot can be passed by putting another ratchet on the climber’s side of the knot once they are close enough (a PMMO backed by a figure eight on a bight on the rope). Remember that unlike an ATC in autoblock mode, a prusik ratchet has to be slid down the rope and made taut for it to act like a ratchet.
Escaping the belay
Necessary when you were belaying off the body and now need to transfer the climber onto the anchor so you can go assist them or run for help.
- Lock of the belay device on your harness with a MO, so you can go hands-free.
- Use a long cordelette to tie a PMMO from the load strand to the anchor.
- Set up another MMO using the rope on the anchor. This is both a backup while you are escaping, and will eventually become the primary anchor.
- Load the PMMO by undoing the belay device MO and lowering until the prusik is taut and holding.
- Remove the rope from the belay device. Take in slack into the MMO if necessary. (This is important to avoid the prusik going out of reach).
- Release the PMMO and lower the climber onto the rope MMO. Remove the prusik. Boom! You are out of the system.
- Extending the belay loop is always a good idea for multiple rappels.
- Only the first descender needs a third hand. Everybody else can receive a fireman belay.
- Gloves are nice to have!
- If you need to ascend the ropes, remember that an autoblocking belay device is a ready-made progress capture for ascension. Use a locking carabiner from your belay loop to the guide mode loop on the belay device (This requires the device to be extended!). This will orient the device into friction mode when weighed. Haul up, let it lock. Haul up, let it lock!
- Use saddlebags on low angle, loose rock, or high wind situations.