Tech Tip- Flipping A Plaquette (And Giveaway!)

Climb long enough and eventually you will rappel past the next anchor and need to climb back up to it. Or you will rappel past a tangle in your ropes assuming it will untangle itself from those bushes when you are below (it didn’t). You might also end up needing to ascend the belay side of a top-rope to assist a nervous (or stuck) climber or rescue an injured lead climber. For these occasions you’ll be glad you know how to “flip a plaquette” from belay/rappel mode into “guide” mode. In this configuration your belay device functions as a reliable improvised ascender.


 


The first thing you’ll obviously need is a plaquette style belay device. There are many out there to chose from but these are my current favorites:

Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC Guide Belay Device

DMM Pivot Belay Device

These and quite a few other suitable models can be found on Backcountry.com HERE.

The above short demonstration video shows the steps of flipping a plaquette while rappelling on an extension which happens to be the simplest situation. Let’s go over the more complex method first.


Flipping a plaquette when it is directly off your belay loop

There are a few scenarios where this might be a good solution. First, you are rappelling directly off your belay loop and realize you’ve passed your anchor. Second, you are belaying a climber on a top-rope system and they need assistance. Third, you’ve caught a leader fall but the leader is injured and needs assistance. So let’s break down the steps.

  1. While maintaining a brake-hand tie an over-hand bight a couple of feet below the device and clip this to your belay loop. This step is important because step 3 carries with it some risk if one is not careful.
  2. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  3. Carefully open the belay carabiner in a manner that traps the rope in the narrow side of the belay carabiner while removing the belay carabiner from the belay loop. This is best accomplished by rotating the belay carabiner so the narrower side is pointing away from you.
  4. On moderate low angle terrain you may be able to start walking/climbing back up while pulling the slack through your device which is essentially in “guide” mode now directly off your belay loop. If the terrain is steep you can add a friction hitch above your device and extend it to a foot loop.

Flipping a plaquette when it is extended off your belay loop

Since extending your rappel device away from you has lots of advantages more and more climbers are defaulting to this option. Yet one more advantage to extended rappel systems is the fact there is literally just one step to flipping the plaquette and you do not need to open the rappel carabiner at all!

  1. Clip a locking carabiner to the “ear” or “anchor point” of your plaquette and attach that to your belay loop.
  2. Ascend as in step 3 above.

So that’s it! You now know how to flip a plaquette and get yourself out of quite a few possible situations that undoubtedly will pop up over your long adventurous climbing career! Thanks for reading!

 

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References/More Info

The Mountain Guide Manual– pages 11-12

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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

 

 

Cliff Rappelling

Yesterday I took Dianna and Annie on their first outdoor rappelling adventure in scenic Pinkham Notch for Northeast Mountaineering. The weather was stellar and both of these thrill seekers took multiple rides down the 140 foot west face and the shorter overhanging south side, each time becoming more comfortable with the process and exposure. Here’s a quick clip of their adventure!


 


The Waterfall and Cliff Rappelling adventures Northeast Mountaineering offers can be an excellent way to have a little adrenaline rush while learning a little bit about a fundamental skill of the broader sport of climbing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t see Dianna and Annie back here for a rock climbing adventure in the near future!

Book any lesson on http://www.nemountaineering.com and use promo code “DavidNEM” to be entered in a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choice!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start



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Waterfall Rappelling, right before Flash Floods and Tornadoes!

Following Antonio’s 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral I re-scheduled his alpine climbing day to Monday based on the weather forecasts indicating some severe afternoon weather. It was with a little irony that by freeing up that day my boss asked if I could cover a Waterfall Rappelling adventure so he could attend Marc’s Guide Manual Clinic yesterday.

Avoiding getting caught above tree-line in a thunderstorm was therefore traded with standing in a river at the top of a waterfall. A closer look at the updated weather models though indicated the disturbances would not start until about 1 PM and I felt we could run our 6 guests through the course and be back at the cars before it got to hairy.

Everyone in the group got to rappel at least twice while I closely monitored the sky. It’s difficult to hear thunderstorms approaching over the roar of a waterfall but around 12 PM I felt the air change, the temperature drop, and an updraft develop. We had one pair returning to the top to conduct their third and final rappel when I heard the first boom, followed by a few big fat cold raindrops that lasted only a few seconds, then a second boom. I radioed my co-guide Peter that we were shutting it down and we packed up and casually hiked out reaching the parking lot in a light rain. 2 minutes later driving on Route 302 through torrential downpours I knew we pulled the plug at the right moment.

These storms would intensify over the next 8 hours and actually trigger at least three tornadoes in western Maine, just 15 miles west of North Conway! Thankfully no one was hurt through there was some property damage. I confess I am fascinated by extreme weather and to me this whole weather event was great to witness. Maine averages 2 tornadoes a year so three in one day is quite historic!

Tomorrow’s weather looks a lot nicer for an alpine objective so Antonio and I will likely be heading up high somewhere!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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16 pitches on Cathedral Ledge!

Yesterday I met Antonio from Madrid, Spain at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse close to Jackson, NH. Antonio had decades of climbing experience from Yosemite to the Andes & Alps and was super excited to sample some of the granite climbing of New Hampshire. The weather forecast called for rain by 2pm so we wasted no time getting to the cliff and started up our first route at 8:30am, Funhouse.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Starting pitch one of Funhouse

Antonio’s experience and ability was apparent from the start as he climbed with skill and grace.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing pitch 2 of Funhouse

We made our way from Funhouse up to Upper Refuse and quickly dispatched it in 2 pitches.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing Upper Refuse

With us both at the fence at the top of the cliff I checked my watch… 10AM. That is probably the fastest I have climbed Cathedral via Funhouse to Upper Refuse while guiding ever! Antonio hadn’t broken a sweat yet so I decided to let him sample some of the great cliff top climbing we have before we headed down for more multi-pitch fun.

Within an hour Antonio ticked off The Lookout Crack (5.9), last pitch of Recompense (5.9) Little Feat (5.9), and the last pitch of The Prow (5.10a).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
The Lookout Crack- Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Little Feat
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last pitch of The Prow
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Classic jams on the last pitch of The Prow

By North Conway Rock Climbs Antonio had climbed 10 pitches by the time we meandered over for a snack atop Airation Buttress. We then headed down to the top of the Thin Air Face and I short pitched us to the Saigon anchor. Antonio took a quick lap on the last pitch of Still in Saigon (5.8+) (historically called Miss Saigon).

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Last few moves (the crux) of Miss Saigon

We then did three quick single rope raps using Rapid Transit anchors and found ourselves at the base of an empty and open Thin Air right at noon. After another quick snack session we combined the first two pitches and topped out Thin Air at about 1pm.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio on the pitch 2 traverse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Belay stance selfie
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Just above pitch 4 crux

Finishing up the 5.8 finish that brought the pitch total to 15… but it wasn’t raining yet… and Antonio still had energy to spare! Even though my radar app showed some stuff coming within an hour we squeezed in a quick top-belay of Pine Tree Eliminate (5.8+) to finish our tour de force of some of Cathedral Ledge’s best rock climbing.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Finishing strong

We hustled down the descent trail reaching the cars right at 2 PM as the rain overtook the area.

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
My Radar App

In 5.5 hours we climbed Cathedral Ledge twice. Antonio racked up 1,110 feet of technical climbing according to North Conway Rock Climbs. It was definitely a fun day of moving quickly and efficiently on the cliff. It was great to get to practice some transition skills from the previous day’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic all for the purpose of giving my client the best possible day I could during his short visit. I shot some video during the day that I edited and uploaded here:

We are climbing again this upcoming Monday when the weather settles. I’m picturing something alpine. I can’t wait!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Antonio ready for more after 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral Ledge!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

Since my copy arrived this past May I’ve been steadily devouring the massive amount of information contained in Marc Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo’s recently published book, The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference- From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue.

The Mountain Guide Manual

This past Wednesday I attended one of Marc Chauvin’s Mountain Guide Manual Clinic’s; the first of three he is currently offering. I’ve heard rumors he will offer this in a few other locales outside of our Mount Washington Valley home turf and if one is offered in your area I would highly suggest you try to attend! If you can’t make one of the scheduled dates consider hiring Marc for a private day. The “guide of guides” who wrote the book on guiding is sure to give you a mind expanding day!

A friend who saw my Instagram story asked me what they should expect in a brief recap of the day and the type of material covered so I thought I could share that here for those who might be curious or on the fence.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic

First, if you are considering the clinic you absolutely need to buy the book first! A brief run through the first few chapters, especially the long chapters on various transition methods, will better prepare you for the day, but a solid understanding of any of it is not quite necessary (unless perhaps you are preparing for a guide exam and want to crush transitions). I’ll also say you don’t need to be or want to be a guide to benefit from this book or clinic. Two of my fellow clinic-mates where not guides and were there to become more proficient in their recreational climbing.

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
AJ, Lovena, and Zach practice a transition to rappelling while leading “parallel” style with two seconds

Marc will challenge the way you’ve been “doing things” for years. He will help everyone in the group re-program their climbing brains and get them thinking about things like “rope-end equations” and “back-side of the clove-hitch” in ways that actually simplify and streamline our processes. A simple example was introduced early in the day. We dissected how two climbers might climb a single pitch route with a single rope and then rig to rappel. Basically the “climbing to rappelling transition”.

Most of us would imagine both climbers tether into the anchor with slings, PAS’s, etc. untie from both ends, thread the rope, and rappel one at a time. Marc demonstrates how we can pull this off with greater security and speed by using what is already built instead of deconstructing and re-building a whole new system. This method also allows the leader to stay tied in, removes the need to tie a “stopper knot” in both rope ends, and is really pretty darn slick. This isn’t “rope trickery” but classic “think big picture/outside the box” type stuff. I’m not going to describe it fully here but it might make it into a future Tech Tip!

Mountain Guide Manual Clinic
Marc can teach so much without ever putting on a harness!

I’ve heard from a couple guides, some close friends, that they are kind of avoiding these “new” techniques. They want to stick with what they know and kind of have the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” type mindsets. I’d encourage any and all of my climbing acquaintances, friends, and colleagues to try to stay open minded in their full climbing careers, from day 1 to your last.

Seek to get better, learn more, go faster, safer, simpler, when ever and where ever you can. The fact that there is always something more to learn is what drove me to a career in mountain guiding and avalanche education. It is thrilling to know there is no finish line!

Thank you Marc for continuing to inspire and challenge me from the first course I attended in 2002 to today!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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Pinnacle in 2 hours! Wilderness Navigation! Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge!

Two weeks ago I wrote about my personal goal to climb the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle in under 2 hours car to car after doing it in 2:37. Last Thursday weather and a partner lined up for another attempt. We managed to shave about 10 minutes from the descent and some more time on the route by not swinging leads (I led the whole route via the 5.8 variation and Fairy Tale Traverse). After coiling the rope I checked the watch and was a little dismayed to see we only have 19 minutes left. I was pretty sure it would take me at least 25 minutes to reach the car at my pace. We started scrambling up the boulder field as fast as my lungs could handle. As we got closer I started to think we might make it. Then I started to get nervous that I would miss it by 2 minutes and have to try this whole thing over again. That prospect helped me dig down a little harder despite feeling like I would be dry-heaving from the effort. I was so stoked to make it with a minute and a half to spare! Here’s some action from our climb!


Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle
The author clips his first piece of protection on the exposed and beautiful “Fairy Tale Traverse”, a variation last pitch of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle photo by Matt Milone, @nightmutephoto

I’m happy to have checked this personal goal off my list. Quite a few have asked “why rush so much… enjoy the route… using the road is cheating… etc. etc.” To them say I have climbed this route at a more typical pace over a dozen times, I enjoyed this made up challenge, and I don’t think you can cheat on something that is 100% for you and not recognized by anyone else. I’m very thankful for all those who provided encouragement and especially Benny Allen and Matt Milone for the belays and hustle!


Over the weekend I had the opportunity to teach my Wilderness Navigation Course to 11 participants for the Appalachian Mountain Club. I really have a blast teaching this course and this group seemed to really enjoy the bushwhacking we did during our afternoon session.

Wilderness Navigation Course
A beaver dam on our way to our field session- Wilderness Navigation Course

Yesterday I had the pleasure of introducing Kellie of Exeter, NH to outdoor rock climbing. Kellie had been climbing indoors for almost two years and was quite enthusiastic to try the sport out on some real rock. Her natural ability and focus had her climbing close to 600 feet of climbing up to 5.8 without hardly breaking a sweat. I’m really looking forward to our next climb together!

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Kellie starts up Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Topping out Upper Refuse
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Lay-backing on Kiddy Crack
Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Sending the Mantle-shelf Problem 1st try!

Coming up!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Tuesday Tech Tip! A whole new round of gear reviews is en-route as well!

Book any course at Northeast Mountaineering and use promo code “DavidNEM” at checkout. This will enter you into a monthly raffle to win a free guided day of your choosing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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