Tying an Auto-Locking Munter Hitch

Continuing my almost weekly Tuesday (not always Tuesday) Tech Tip series this week I’m sharing how to build the Auto-Locking Munter (ALM) hitch. In last weeks post I shared how to tie a Munter Hitch (MH) directly onto a carabiner, a skill useful for any climber. This skill is a little more specialized and its usefulness can certainly be debated. I’m of the camp that believes more tools and options can be a good thing, if one is cautious as to when and why to apply such a skill. Let’s watch the video and then take a look at some scenarios where this skill can be useful and also address some of its limitations.

Now let’s take a closer look at this skill and where it might be helpful (or make matters worse). The first thing I’ll get out of the way is my mispronunciation of the hitch. “Munter” is correctly pronounced “Moon-Ter”. I apologize for my error and hope you’ll forgive me.

Another point that might seem important to some and minutiae to others is the lack of emphasis I place on tying the hitch with the load strand along the spine of the carabiner, which would essentially make the overall carabiner/hitch system able to withstand a larger amount of force. This author, along with some others whose comments can be found at the various referenced links I’ll include below, believe that the carabiner/hitch system will be able to withstand any potential load without carabiner failure. In fact I would argue if the system saw the amount of force that would make this load strand orientation important it would likely exceed the holding strength of a MH anyways, so I have decided to leave this out (except for this lengthy explanation as to “why”). By all means, if you strive for perfection you can spend some time mastering getting the load strand along the spine.

Carabiner Choice

We should mention that the MH, and therefore the ALM, work best with large pear shaped carabiners. My favorite two carabiners for this hitch are the Petzl William Screw Lock Carabiner and the Petzl Attache. I prefer screw gate lockers when building MH/ALM’s because various auto-locking carabiners’s can slightly slow down the process and I’ve always liked Petzl’s “red unlocked indicator”.

Usefulness

Next we should discuss the usefulness of the ALM, a skill some have claimed is more a “guiding” tool then something a recreational climber should employ. To that I argue if you’ve already been using the MH (because it’s a great tool) then I think it is not a far stretch to add this adaptation of a hitch you are already using to your tool belt… with some understanding of the problems it might create. Let’s start with the “good” first.

There are many situations where I’ll choose a MH over my plaquette belay device (Black Diamond Guide ATC, Petzl Reverso, GiGi, etc). Moving quickly in alpine terrain, converting a basic “biner” belay on low angle slab to a more secure option, iced up winter ropes; all can be good situations to use the MH. Generally speaking these are situations where I am not expecting a second to even take a fall. From here there are a few things that can occur that can make converting the MH into an ALM a handy skill to have.

The Un-Expected

Your new partner who said he could easily follow 5.x struggles hard at the crux and calls to you that he can’t get through the moves. You start regretting not using your plaquette so that you can quickly build a 3:1 raise and give him a little “help” through the crux moves. Luckily you know the ALM and have a 3:1 built in a few seconds giving him the tension he needs to get through the tougher moves and carry on with the climb. It should be noted you will lose some efficacy in the haul system as the ALM does create more friction then most plaquettes.

The Expected

Perhaps the pitch is 5.5 slab running up to a 5.9 thin bulge crux right at the end… you go with a quick moving MH and right before your parter starts moving through the crux you slip the 2nd locker into place and have just created a more secure belay… or maybe you just wanted to get a great shot of her stemming up the final corner and the ALM offers a bit more piece of mind while you lean out over the belay ledge to get the angle right…

The Improvised

You can use an ALM directly off your belay loop as part of a rope ascension system. A flipped plaquette, Petzl GriGri, Petzl Micro Traxion Pulley, or actual ascender will make rope ascension MUCH easier but this is a potential solution if you find yourself without any other tools. If you practice this at all IRL you’ll probably quickly decide to always carry a more efficient means of “progress capture” for rope ascension.

Concerns

The biggest issue with the ALM is the complications that arise if you find yourself in need of lowering your partner after they have loaded the ALM. The worst case scenario would look something like this… You’re climbing an overhanging route and decide to use the ALM while your partner follows the last pitch. He botches a sequence under the roof and ends up hanging on the rope 5 feet from the wall due to the nature of the climb. The ALM has done its job and is easily holding the climber, but now what? There is a great ledge just 20 feet below the climber and if you had been using a classic MH you would simply lower him back to the ledge (or ground) to try the climb again. You could haul, but a 3:1 even with better efficiency than an ALM would be near impossible to hoist a 180 pound climber who is free hanging… a 5:1 might work but lowering seems so much quicker and less complicated. In this situation a quick block and tackle may take enough stress off the load strand to allow you to remove the 2nd carabiner that makes the MH an ALM allowing you to lower them back to the ledge. Even without a simple load transfer a small locking carabiner without a notched gate can likely be removed from a loaded ALM with some aggressive wiggling but an understanding of load-transfers (or the fore-sight to perhaps use a different option in overhanging terrain) would be prudent. A tested friction-hitch back up would be a wise addition here before removing the 2nd carabiner.

Summary

Like most climbing skills the Auto-Locking Munter is an option and not a solution for every situation. I find it useful a few times a season and think it’s a good tool to add to your kit. You should practice it quite a few times in non-life threatening situations before using it 600 feet up your next route.

Comment below! Was this Tech Tip new to you? Old news? Want to see more? Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

More Info/References/Reading:

https://www.climbing.com/skills/auto-blocking-munter/

https://www.climbing.com/skills/munter-magic/

https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/107449883/tech-tip-auto-locking-munter-alm-dos-and-donts

http://www.karstendelap.com/2012/05/09/lockingmunterhitch/

https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/topic/108253899/garda-knot#a_108254353

 

 

Top Ten Climbing Instruction Books

I recently saw a fellow guide post a picture of his climbing book library and thought it might be helpful to share some of my favorite books in my own personal collection. Early on in my climbing career I simply could not read enough about climbing. Not only did I read every book I could find on the subject I also read the two popular climbing magazines of the day religiously. Here’s a quick run-down of my top 10 climbing books.

Top Ten Climbing Instruction Books


Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th Edition

Climbing Books
Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th Edition

One of the first two books I purchased when I started climbing in 1994. Since then it has been updated 5 times and is currently in its 8th Edition. This book is often referred to as “the Bible of climbing” and while it is not the only book you’ll ever want it is encyclopedic in nature. The scope of the book is massive and it’s an excellent resource to start building your basic skills. This one belongs in every climber’s collection!


How to Rock Climb!

How to Rock Climb!
How to Rock Climb!

The second book that set me on a direct path to becoming a climber was this iconic piece by John Long, an author I would go on to read just about every book he ever published. John’s way of mixing humor with instruction made reading this book cover to cover multiple times really enjoyable.


Climbing Anchors

Climbing Anchors
Climbing Anchors

An essential skill that tends to mystify many new climbers is that of building quality anchors for climbing. This greatly illustrated book came in clutch during my formative years and helped lay a foundation for advanced understanding during further training and practice.


Advanced Rock Climbing: Expert Skills and Techniques

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The first book I am mentioning that is targeted to an intermediate to advanced audience. This book assumes you’ve been climbing for awhile and have the types of skills covered in the first three books pretty dialed. Great prose and inspirational photography in this one!


Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher
Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

This was the first book that really started improving my efficiency in the mountains. While the first three books I’ve listed laid the foundation this work started me thinking more about optimizing systems and streamlining concepts to move farther and faster in the mountains.


Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, High, and Fast

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Another eye-opener that challenged a lot of conventional wisdom from previous works I still remember how this book really helped me update my clothing systems and speed up my transitions allowing to move more quickly and more comfortably in all types of winter conditions.


Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations
Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

Another essential skill that can seem over-whelming to learn, this book is one of the best on the topic I have read. Many of the systems described can be quite complicated and occasionally there is a newer and often simpler way to execute some of techniques described in this book so I’d strongly encourage newer climbers combine a day or three of qualified instruction from a certified guide to go along with this book.


Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue

Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue
Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue

The authors take a complex topic then gracefully break it down with easy to follow explanations and light-hearted illustrations. A great primer before or after taking a glacier skills course.


Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual

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For those contemplating getting into the guiding world this is a must have before you take your AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Course. Studying this text before the course will really help you get the most out of the program and having it for reference after will help commit skills learned to long-term memory.


The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue

The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference--From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue
The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue

The newest and arguably the most relevant addition to my library, this book is absolutely a must-have for aspiring and current guides and instructors. The authors assume the reader already has a fair amount of understanding (likely gleamed from the above books, previous instruction, and experience) but any climber will find skills in this book that can improve their climbing even if guiding is not the end-goal.


Did I miss one that would be in your top-ten? Let me know in the comments below! You can also purchase any of these books on Amazon by clicking the book below!


Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills 8th Edition

How to Rock Climb!

Climbing Anchors

Advanced Rock Climbing: Expert Skills and Techniques

Alpine Climbing: Techniques to Take You Higher

Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, High, and Fast

Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations

Glacier Mountaineering: An Illustrated Guide To Glacier Travel And Crevasse Rescue

Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual

The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference–From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Repentance, Black Dike, Ice Fest, Avy Course!

What a week it has been! This time last Wednesday I was just topping out the classic hard line Repentance on Cathedral Ledge with my old friend Tom and new friend and fellow Northeast Mountaineering guide Jordan. The route was in excellent shape and felt a few degrees easier than when I first climbed it a few years ago with Bob & Ryan.

Thursday I got to guide NEM regular guest Nick up an equally fantastic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff. It had been years since I’d climbed this route and it was in great shape. We did have to wait for a party ahead of us but completed the climb in 6 hours car to car with some of the best glissading I have ever seen on the descent trail!

Friday we started our 4th avalanche course of the season and students and instructors alike partook in evening social hours upstairs at International Mountain Equipment and watched presentations at the Theatre in the Woods.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Skinning out in Crawford Notch during our Observational Outing during day 2 of our AIARE Avalanche Course

On Monday I started a 2 Day Ice Climbing Course and had the pleasure of introducing father & son team Andy and Peter to ice climbing at Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. The snow was fantastic and I geeked out a bit over some of the snappy wind slabs we found along our route.

Later that night I heard of a climbing accident on the Black Dike. A climber had fallen during the final moves and severely broke his ankle in the 50-60 foot fall. I spoke briefly with Nick last night and he is in good spirits and incredibly grateful for all of those who assisted him off the cliff.

That brings us to today, a chance for me to do some laundry, get to the dump, and attend to other household errands that have been put off for a bit too long. Another round of snow inbound for tonight so I’ll probably find myself skiing tomorrow before our next avalanche course starts on Friday.

What an absolutely fantastic winter we are having! Hope you are getting out there and enjoying it!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

This winter so far…

What a winter this is shaping up to be! Finding time to blog about any of it is starting to get tricky as I balance 5-6 days a week of guiding with getting my kiddo out on the slopes, driveway cleared, lunches made, dinner cooked, laundry done, say hello and good night to my wife, and wake up and do it all again.

I’m not complaining! This is absolutely my favorite time of the year and for good reason. Skiing and ice climbing conditions have been quite far above par. The transition to a new guide service has been almost seamless and the stoke level is at an all time high!

I’m keeping this post quite short as I have a little more prep to do for tomorrow’s 3rd avalanche class with Northeast Mountaineering but I want to share a couple of my favorite moments this season so far!

Ortovox, DPS Skis, and Revo Ambassadorship

Avalanche Course
Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

Definitely the coolest thing that has happened to me since fatherhood is having these companies support me. A huge shout out to Matt Murphy of Life Style Sales for connecting me with DPS skis, the makers of some seriously legit back-country sliding pro-tech, and Revo Sunglasses, high-end goggles and sunglasses I’ve been sporting for everything from whiteout flat light Tuckerman turns to blue-bird sunny day ice climbing. And finally I somehow ended up on Ortovox’s Athlete Team. I’ve been using their avalanche gear for years and now I have the opportunity to test and promote their incredible clothing and pack line. I am humbled and motivated by this opportunity. Expect to hear a lot more about what they are doing with high-end technical clothing when the dust (snow) settles.

Ice Climbing

ice climbing
Photo by Brent Doscher Photography

I haven’t kept hard numbers the last few years since fatherhood but I can say without a doubt I’ve climbed more ice in the last two months than I remember climbing the last few years, including the first Grade 5 in probably 5 years. I feel strong and look forward to ticking off some routes that have long been on my wish list this season.

Avalanche Courses

avalanche courses
Photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

I love being in the classroom as much as the field when it comes to avalanche education. It’s hard to describe how stoked I can get the minutes before another 3 day avalanche course starts. The excitement of getting ready to engage another group of back-country adventurers and start them on their journey of life-long snow-study and critical decision making produces a natural high to me. Or it could be the triple shot Americano. Either way I love teaching these courses.

Speaking of which I have case studies and agendas to print out for tomorrows course so that’s it for today. Stay tuned for a ton of gear reviews from Outdoor Research, Black Diamond, CAMP/Cassin, Patagonia, Ortovox, DPS, G3, and more.

Oh, and if you book an avalanche course, or any course with us at Northeast Mountaineering, use promo code “DavidNEM” for a chance to win a free guided day.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

 

 

Intro to Ice Climbing

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to introduce four guests of Northeast Mountaineering to the joys of ice climbing. The North End of Cathedral is in great shape for early season climbing and we had a full day climbing on the North End Slab and the Pillars.

Yesterday I got out to Frankenstein for the first time this season and enjoyed an excellent condition Pegasus Rock Finish.

This is quickly shaping up to be one of the best ice climbing seasons in recent memory. If you’d like to book a lesson with me let me know, I still have some mid-week dates available.

http://www.nemountaineering.com/ice-climbing/guided-ice-climbing-1-day/

If you book online use coupon code “DavidNEM” to have a chance at winning a free guided day!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review

This Spring & Summer I climbed almost exclusively in the Petzl Hirundos and would like to share my opinion on this well received harness by Petzl. The Hirundos is a solid option for any climber looking to shed a couple ounces and gain a bit of comfort. Let’s have a look.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Stock photo from Petzl.com
Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Exploring Middle Sugarloaf whilst wearing the Petzl Hirundos harness- May 2016

WEIGHT/PACK-ABILITY:

I prefer lightweight weight harnesses that pack up small. My home scale weighs my size XL Hirundos in at just over 11 ounces.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
11 1/4 ounces

This is a full pound lighter than my Petzl Corax that I used last winter and if there is a slight loss of comfort in the design I have not noticed. I also prefer harnesses that collapse neatly and fit easily inside my climbing helmet as I usually pack my helmet towards the top of my climbing pack. Since I usually don my helmet as soon as I get to the cliff it is most convenient to pack my harness with it.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Efficient use of space

SIZING:

According to the official size chart I would have fit a large with 6 cms to spare but a similarly built co-worker suggested I purchase an XL and his advice was spot on.  My 5’9″ 180 lb frame with a 34 inch waist and thicker thighs definitely needed the XL despite the Petzl size chart.

References C36AO XS C36AO S C36AO M C36AO L C36AO XL
Color(s) orange orange orange orange orange
Size XS S M L XL
Waist belt 65-71 cm 71-77 cm 77-84 cm 84-92 cm 92-100 cm
Leg loops 48-53 cm 48-53 cm 52-57 cm 55-60 cm 57-62 cm
Weight 250 g 270 g 280 g 300 g 315 g

While this harness is marketed towards sport climbing (and alpine climbing) I would suggest anyone that has muscular thighs to consider sizing up if you can’t get to a gear shop to try it on. If you have more than a 36 inch waist you will want to look at other options.

COMFORT:

The Hirundos uses something called “Fuseframe” technology. A fancy word for a pretty straight forward idea. Instead of just adding padding around the structural strength of the waist belt Petzl splits the support with “thermo-formed foam” in a way that reduces pressure points and aids in weight distribution. It is extremely comfortable for a harness that weighs less than a pound! I also found the mesh to be breathable and quick drying even when the humidity was high.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
A day in July on Cathedral Ledge

The stretchy fitted leg loop material is more comfortable to me than any “adjustable” metal buckled leg loops I have ever used, and has enough range of movement that I have no concerns about adding some long underwear and some soft-shell ice climbing pants to this outfit for some ice climbing this winter (is it winter yet?).

Features:

The “DoubleBack HD” buckle provides quick secure on/off adjustment of the harness. While double-back  buckles have become standard in this category this small profile buckle adjusts more smoothly than larger style buckles that are in common use.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Slim buckle- stock photo from Petzl.com

As typical of this style harness there are 4 gear loops but Petzl has put more thought into them then just adding 4 loops. The front two are rigid, allowing easier clipping and un-clipping of quick-draws and protection. The rear two are flexible and soft which makes wearing a full size backpack a bit more comfortable (and aids in the compress-ability of the harness for packing).

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Well designed gear loops- photo from Petzl.com

There are two integrated CARITOOL screw/tool holder slots so I’ll definitely be using this harness once the ice season starts (is it here yet?) If you ice climb you should definitely pick a couple of these up:

Rounding out the features are detachable rear buckles that can help with sorting a tangled harness (and answering nature’s call) and the inclusion of high-tenacity polyethylene (instead of just regular nylon) at the tie-in points that helps reduce abrasion and wear at a high stress point.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Detachable butt straps- photo from Petzl.com

 

CONCLUSION:

After 4 months of climbing sport, trad, and alpine I can give this harness a hearty endorsement. It’s light, pack-able, comfortable, and well thought out. If you’re looking for a new rig check this harness out on Amazon here!

 

If you liked this review or want to plug YOUR favorite harness please do so in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: David Lottmann bought this harness with his own money. This post contains affiliate links.

Petzl Hirundos Harness Review
Cannon Cliff

Ice Climbing Willey’s Slide and Frankenstein

Yesterday Charlene, David, and Sam returned for an Ice Climbing 201 Course. A few weeks ago they went through our Winter Climbing 101 course and I posted that trip report here. With the basics out of the way we made our way to the famous Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch.

EMS Climbing School
Leaving the parking lot ready for anything
EMS Climbing School
Willey’s Slide is a II Grade 2 ice climb, 4-6 pitches in length. Average angel is about 40 degrees but steeper bulges keep it interesting

After practicing some self arrest we roped up and made our way up the right hand side for 3 full pitches of snow & ice climbing.

EMS Climbing School
Sam won the award for best color coordination. (She also climbed quite well!)
EMS Climbing School
The left side was busy with multiple parties
EMS Climbing School
At our high point we built a V-thread and rapped three times back to the base

I’m looking forward to my next day with these three in late March when we make an attempt on Mount Washington. David’s heading back to Rainier in August and I can’t wait to hear about his trip!

Today I had a day off, so long time friend and climbing partner Tom C., store  manager for EMS Nashua, met me for a day of cragging at Frankenstein. We headed toward Standard Route.

001
Bluebird everywhere today!
EMS Climbing School
Tom gets us up Standard Right all the way to Penguin P2

My first time on Penguin this year and the crux is definitely the first steep bit. A little brittle and awkward but once you reach the upper pillar the climbing is fantastic. Plastic fresh ice and bomber gear brings you to the top.

EMS Climbing School
Tom tops out Penguin

We headed down the descent trail, which is in the most technical conditions I have ever seen it. No snow in the gully makes the “gully proper” look like a valid grade 2 ice climb in its own right. I think the easiest down climb leaves the ridge a bit early rather than working down to the weird step down with great dry tool placements. YMMV.

We moved over to Dracula which had a party finishing the left side and a strong climber firing a steep line far right while a photographer on rappel snapped away. Once the left side was clear we cruised a very fun line in less than 20 minutes.

EMS Climbing School
First screw for me near the ice encased pin anchor then 5 more up steep, but hooked and easy to stem terrain

I lowered Tom and dropped the rope for him to coil while I hustled back down the descent gully. We considered hitting Pegasus Rock Finish on our hike out but our growling stomachs beat our motivation and we retired to the brewpub after a quick drive through the notch to check on other route conditions.

EMS Climbing School
I’ve eyed this line (to the right of Elephants Head) for years and it looks quite reasonable right now… but food & beer won out… if it lasts a couple more days I might be able to get on it

The ice is in fantastic shape right now, except for those south facing routes (Bob’s Delight is DONE)…. warmer temps bring softer (aka easier) ice climbing conditions, but keep your wits about you on anything getting baked above you.

See you in the mountains,

NEAlpineStart