Tech Tip: Tying a Clove-Hitch on to the Carabiner

I’d like to start sharing some tech tips on a weekly basis so I’m going to start with this Tuesdays Tech Tip with a super quick video showing how to tie a clove-hitch on the carabiner. With any new skill there needs to be a “why bother” clause… so here is why you should learn to tie a clove-hitch on the carabiner:

  1. Leader security. You’ve arrived at a small belay and established your anchor (or even part of an anchor)… if you can tie a clove-hitch on to a carabiner you can give yourself some added security while still holding a part of the anchor or your ice axe with your other hand.
  2. Efficiency. Many climbers will tie an “air-clove-hitch” then adjust it until they are at the right distance from the anchor carabiner for belay duties. Often times tying the clove-hitch on the carabiner can let you get it “right” the first try and save you time adjusting at transitions.

 

If this quick and short video was helpful please let me know in the comments below or on the YouTube video! I’d like to share a lot more info like this but I’d like to gauge interest so please speak up if you found this helpful!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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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Tech Tip- Saddlebagging your Rappel Ropes

Saddlebagging your ropes for rappelling is a great way to prevent mini-epics and is also more polite than dropping your ropes on parties climbing below you. It works great on low angle terrain where your ropes won’t fall free and in vegetated areas where every bush and krummholz conspire to lengthen your descent time. Last week I went out with Northeast Mountaineering to create this instructional video on the technique. Enjoy, and please like, share, and/or comment below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Winter Gear Prep- Part 1 The Essentials (and Instagram Contest)

Every year around this time I start getting excited about the arrival of my favorite season, Winter. To help fuel the stoke I go through my gear closet and take stock. What’s worn out and what needs replacing? What’s good to go for another icy season? I thought it might be helpful to provide a gear checklist with recommendations on what I use in all categories. In this first segment I’ll cover “The Essentials” a personally modified list of the classic “Ten Essentials“, along with giving away a brand new Petzl Summit Ice Axe (1st Gen)!

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Instagram contest details at end of post!

The Essentials

Maps– I use the free online mapping software CalTopo for all my mapping and trip planning needs. This powerful software has so much potential every outdoor adventurer should familiarize themselves with this tool.

Compass– I love my Suunto MC-2 compass which I reviewed in detail here.

Headlamp– I have a few different headlamps but they are almost all Petzl. The Zipka, Tikka XP, and Myo XP are all awesome. You really can’t go wrong with a Petzl headlamp.

Batteries– I put fresh lithium batteries in my headlamps every Fall. Days are shorter and I am much more likely to need a headlamp. Lithium easily out performs alkaline in cold weather so the Energizer AA’s and AAA’s are always on hand.

First Aid Kit– I start with the Adventure Medical Kit .7 then modify it a little. I add more gloves (acquired from visits to the hospital) and a bottle of iodine tablets (for emergency water treatment and wound irrigation), and a small refillable bottle of Advil.

Knife– Colonial makes dozens of great models like this one.

Bivy Sack– I carry a AMK Heatsheets Emergency Bivy on every single outing. It only weighs a few ounces and is worthwhile the extra insurance!

Handwarmers– I always carry 6-8 hand warmers in my winter pack. Pro-tip: If you need to use them… place them under your glove on your wrist, right where that artery is. Much more effective than placing it in the palm of your hand which reduces grip on ice axes/ski poles. Usually the glove can hold it in place though sometimes I’ll use a little athletic tape.

A “Buff– A very versatile clothing accessory! I have a few so I can wash them occasionally and always have one ready to go.

Glove Liners– I usually need to purchase a couple pairs of these because I do wear them out within a year or two. Totally worth the cheap price though!

Dermatone Sunblock– I always have a tin of this stuff with me in the winter.

Neoprene Face Mask– I like this simple style. It works well in combination with the Buff and my hat/hood. Bigger “fancier” ones make it difficult not to over heat. Pro-tip, if you have fogging issues when used with your goggles take a pair of scissors and enlarge the mouth holes.

Goggles– The one “essential” category I don’t skimp on. I need quality breathable goggles for the mountain work I do and this pair has not disappointed.

Well that’s it for my “Essentials” list. Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below!

Part 2 will focus on my various clothing systems specific for ice climbing, mountaineering, and back-country skiing.

Part 3 will focus on ice climbing gear and maintenance.

Part 4 will cover ski gear and maintenance.

If you enjoyed this post please share and subscribe!

INSTAGRAM Contest!

Show me your gear closet by posting a pic on Instagram with #mygearcloset and tagging me @nealpinestart between now and 11:59pm EST on 11/30/16. While you are there you can vote for entries as well (just like any that have been posted). On December 1st the gear closet Instagram pic with the most likes will win a brand new Petzl Summit Ice Axe!

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Petzl Summit Ice Axe

Submit as many pics as you like! Free shipping only within the US. International shipping paid for by winner if winner is outside US. 

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer- Every product mentioned above was purchased with my own money. This post contains affiliate links that help support this blog.

This Knot Can Save Your Life

Following a climbing fatality last month in Yosemite that involved a climber rappelling off the end of his rope and a more local albeit less tragic accident last month at Rumney, NH I want to focus this week’s Tech Tip on one simple but important subject.

Closing Your System!

stopper-knot
The common “stopper knot”, technically a “double overhand”, is a fast and common way to close your system when belaying and rappelling

I’m going to get into more detail on what I mean by “closing your system” but first some context as to why this is important. I decided to conduct a little research this past weekend to try to determine how many accidents in the last few years would have likely been prevented by the simple act of “closing your system”. I looked at data1 from the last four years of Accidents in North American Mountaineering2

Accidents in North American Mountaineering (Climbing)
Accidents in North American Mountaineering (Climbing), published yearly by the American Alpine Club

The result…


On average we have 7 reported accidents a year in North America that would have easily been prevented by closing the system.


While 7 does not sound like a lot consider that this type of accident involves complete belay/rappel failure which is likely to lead to serious injury and death. In fact the majority of the accidents I looked at from 2013-2016 involved fatalities.

So what does it mean to “Close Your System”?

Simply put, this means if there is a belay or rappel device attached to a rope there is no physical way to remove the device from the rope without unlocking and opening the belay carabiner. If you have 50 feet of rope on the ground with no knot I could essentially stand next to you and pull the rope through your belay device until the end of the rope passed through the device. This leaves the belayer (or rappeller) not attached to the rope.

This, is an “open” system, and it can sometimes cost a life.

Let us put it in context in relation to the two climber actions that are most at risk to “open systems”, lowering and rappelling.


Lowering

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Being lowered on the Thin Air Face of Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire

Lowering happens all the time when climbing. We get lowered at the climbing gym. We get lowered while top-roping outside. We get lowered after leading a hard sport climb. While we normally get lowered in a top-rope type format sometimes we get lowered from above. We’ve gotten better at backing up the brake hand in all these scenarios. Climbers are largely adapting to the Universal Belay Standard which wisely calls for two hands on the brake strand during lowers (and recommends closing the system).


Yet every year “attentive” belayers have the free end of the rope shoot through their belay device resulting in the climbers free fall to the ground.


The repeated theme in many of these accidents is that the anchor at the top of the climb is higher than half of the rope length and this is not discovered during the lowering until the end of the rope shoots through the belayer’s brake hand and device resulting in complete belay failure.

Why?

Common Misconceptions

  1. The route is half as tall as the rope
  2. The rope is twice as long as the route
  3. The belayer will notice if they are running out of rope

While the dominant length of climbing rope in use today is still 60 meters, some routes are developed with 70 meter ropes in mind. With routes close to half of your rope length care must be taken as any zig-zag in rope direction will mean less rope available for the lower. There have been multiple occasions when a partners rope was shorter than the victim believed, or even more rare when climbers simply choose to climb on less than standard length ropes which led to this accident last month at Rumney, NH. Finally, “attentive” belayers are typically looking up at the climber they are lowering, so when the unsecured end of the rope approaches their brake hand they often do not notice… until it is too late.

Luckily there is one surefire way to safeguard yourself from any of these potential errors…

Close Your System!


Rappelling

Rappelling off The Eaglet, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
Rappelling off The Eaglet, Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

The majority of accidents that could have easily been prevented with a closed system were actually rappelling incidents, not lowering incidents, so closed systems during rappels should be strongly considered for 100% of rappels.

Why?

Common Misperceptions

  1. The rope will reach the ground/next anchor
  2. The middle of the rope is at the anchor point
  3. Our ropes are equal length

Every single year we lose climbers who believed one of the above. Every. Year. Off-route, bad beta, wrong anchor, shorter than expected rope, in-accurate middle-mark, double rope setups that are not equal in length. The reasons one can rappel of the end(s) of their rope are many. The prevention is a simple single step.

Close Your System!


Solution

By now I hope I’ve made a solid case for closing your system every time you belay or rappel. There are many ways to do this and some make more sense for certain contexts than others. Since the most common lowering open system failure occurs after a climber has led a route and is being lowered back to the ground let’s look at the three possible “next steps” and what the best practice would be for each.

stopper-knot
This knot could save your life

Lowering

Leader will not clean route during lower and belayer will clean route on top-rope.

In this case the best practice would be for the team to simply knot the end of the rope with an appropriate stopper knot, half a Double Fisherman’s Knot being appropriate and oft used for this purpose. If the climbing rope is used to form a ground anchor in the case of a light weight belayer the system is already closed.

Leader will clean route during lower and belayer will climb route on top-rope.

In this case the best practice would be for the belayer to simply tie in to the other end of the rope. This closes the system and speeds the transition when the leader is back on the ground for the belayer to get their turn climbing. A knot check should still be conducted before the belayer ascends.

Leader will clean route during lower and belayer is not climbing.

In this case the best practice would be for the team to simply knot the end of the rope with an appropriate stopper knot, half a Double Fisherman’s Knot being appropriate and oft used for this purpose. If the climbing rope is used to form a ground anchor in the case of a light belayer the system is already closed.

Rappelling

When rappelling there are two common excuses I hear against tying stopper knots in the rappel ropes:

“I know the ropes reach”

That’s great! Why not add a quick safe guard in case you are wrong? Rappelling often occurs late in the day when fatigue from climbing can encourage short cuts. Weather or encroaching darkness can cause haste. Closing your system adds only seconds to your descent and allows for manageable mistakes and misjudgments.

“Tying stopper knots will slow us down and if we forget to untie them could lead to stuck ropes.”

In a multi-pitch rappel the first climber down can remove the stopper knots and pre-thread the anchor for the next rappel, all while maintaining a secure “fireman’s belay”. This best practice closes the system and speeds the next transition to the next rappel. It also reduces the chance of forgetting to untie the stopper knots before pulling the ropes.

Better yet, if you always close the system you will get used to always removing the stopper knots before the 2nd climber rappels (while maintaining a fireman’s belay).

If I haven’t said it enough above I’ll say it one more time. Close Your Systems!


The practice of closing your system takes seconds and while it won’t eliminate all risk from your climbing (nothing can) it will eliminate some potential for complete belay/rappel system failure.


 Final Thought

If you’ve found this post and read its entirety consider joining the American Alpine Club to help support their mission. I’ve been a proud member since 2004 and it’s definitely an organization every climber should consider supporting!


Did you find this post helpful? If so I would greatly appreciate it if you would share it via the share buttons below. Comments are also welcome below! If you would like to go one step further and really help support this blog a small donation (literally any amount, like one dollar) would be greatly appreciated!


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1 Data was looked at from the following accidents published in the American Alpine Club’s publication; 2013 ANAM pgs 35, 38, 50, 75, 80, 81 2014 ANAM pgs 69, 70, 78, 84, 85, 90, 105, 114 2015 ANAM pgs 74, 84, 87, 96, 102, 105, 115 2016 ANAC pgs 38, 47, 124
From 2016 edition on the American Alpine Club has re-named this publication Accidents in North American Climbing

One of These Knots Can Kill You

It seems every year we lose climbers to a simple user error that can occur when joining two ropes together for a rappel. Compounding the issue is some media outlets refer to the knots (or bends) in question with various misnomers that create further confusion within the climbing community. There needs to be more widespread standardization of the options available for joining two ropes together and it starts with referring to them with the correct nomenclature.

The first thing to understand is any knot used to join two ropes together is technically referred to as a “bend knot” or simply “bend”. While there are quite a few bends that are appropriate for joining two ropes together it is the Flat Overhand Bend that has largely gained popularity for multiple reasons.

Flat Overhand Bend (FOB)

Flat Overhand Bend
Flat Overhand Bend

Like any option this one comes with advantages and considerations.

Advantages

  1. Fast and easy to tie, especially with thick winter gloves on
  2. Low profile so less likely to get caught in cracks and on features while pulling the ropes
  3. Easy to untie even after a dozen high angle rappels
  4. Pull tests indicate a properly tied Flat Overhand Bend will not capsize unless loads exceed at least 1400 pounds, far more than any climber can generate on a rappel.

Considerations

  1. Like any knot this one needs to be “dressed and stressed” to be safe. After forming the knot tighten all 4 strands separately.
  2. Leave 12 inches (30cms of tail). This is more than sufficient in the unlikely event of the knot capsizing. There has been at least one fatality when a cautious climber left 3+ foot tails and then threaded a tail through their belay device ending in catastrophic failure of the system. Twelve inches is sufficient.
  3. Use ropes of similar diameter. UIAA recommends within 3mm of each other, which with today’s modern (often skinny) ropes is usually easy to stay within. If using a thin tag line consider adding either an overhand tied with the thinner rope over the thicker rope and cinched tight to the flat overhand bend. The idea here is it will help prevent the knot from capsizing but in reality should not be needed. The practice of tying a 2nd flat overhand bend a few inches down from the first seems to negate most of the advantages (fast to tie and less likely to get stuck while pulling) so this author feels that practice is not needed.

I’ve made it this far without calling this bend knot by its more common name. I’ve decided to leave the common name out. It serves no educational purpose and its use should be considered archaic in nature.

Now we get into the two options that really exacerbate this issue. One of the two knots below can kill you.

Reverse Traced Figure of Eight Bend (Flemish Bend)

Reverse Traced Figure of Eight Bend
Reverse Traced Figure of Eight Bend

Like any option this one comes with advantages and considerations.

Advantages

  1. Low profile so less likely to get caught in cracks and on features while pulling the ropes
  2. Super strong. If you look closely you realize this is the same option we use to tie into our harnesses. We can not generate enough force to get this knot to fail.

Considerations

  1. Like any knot this one needs to be “dressed and stressed” to be safe. After forming the knot tighten all 4 strands separately.
  2. Leave 6 inches (15cms of tail). Since this knot can not capsize by design it is logical to follow the same guidelines as using the knot to tie into a harness. Six inches of tail on a dressed and stressed knot is sufficient.
  3. Adding “back-up” knots to both tails greatly increases the likely hood of a stuck rope and is completely unnecessary given the strength of the main knot.
  4. Can be very difficult to untie after heavy load, especially with gloves on and slick new ropes.
  5. While tecnhically called the “Flemish Bend” adding the METHOD one uses to create it (reverse traced) to the common name will help differientate between the two.

Flat Figure of Eight Bend

img_2115
Figure of Eight Bend aka FATAL MISTAKE!

The above knot has a proven track record of killing climbers. It routinely capsizes and fails at loads easily generated in rappelling. So why is it still being used after years of accidents showing it’s not sufficient?

New Climber Perception

I’ve had hundreds of new clients look at the FOB (first knot pictured) and say “That’s it?” Having confidence that such a simple and quick to tie bend could be sufficient for joining two ropes together and committing our full body weight out over the abyss is not so easily won. Let’s be honest, its simplicity and small volume make people nervous regardless of its more than adequate strength.

So what does the new climber do? Well if one twist around the ropes forms a Flat Overhand Bend then two twists around the ropes must be safer right? That mindset creates the deadly Figure of Eight Bend pictured above… and kills people.

Misunderstanding

The common name I’ve heard used to describe both the Reverse Traced Figure of Eight (Flemish Bend) and the Figure of Eight Bend is the “Flat Eight”.

This needs to stop. One is a strong and suitable bend for rappelling. The other keeps killing people. We should not use the term “Flat Eight” as most climbers, especially new climbers, do not easily see the difference between the two. They tie a Figure of Eight Bend, thinking it is a “Flat Eight”.

Solution

In order to reduce or eliminate the amount of fatalities the confusion these options create, we, the climbing community at large, especially the widely read climbing magazines, need to step up and standardize our definitions of these knots and not use mis-leading negative sounding catchy names to describe safe practices. Using misnomers can encourage a new climber to switch to a different, and potentially much more dangerous option for joining two ropes together.

If every guide, mentor, instructor, and tenured climber starts referring to these knots with the correct terminology we will see a reduction in unnecessary loss of life.

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Tech Tip Tuesday-The One Handed Clove Hitch

In an effort to grow the Skill Zone of Northeast Alpine Start I’m going to start posting a tech tip every Tuesday. I’ll share some personal tips & tricks but I’ll also be highlighting lots of content around the web from other blogs, companies, fellow guides, etc. For our first weekly Tech Tip we are going to take a look at the one-handed clove hitch (and to a lesser extent the one-handed munter hitch).

The One Handed Clove Hitch
The One Handed Clove Hitch

But why one-handed you ask?

Without question I tie more clove hitches rock and ice climbing than any other knot. On a nine pitch route it would not be uncommon to tie the clove hitch more than a dozen times. There’s a few advantages to mastering this method of tying starting with the most important;

Security

Climbers have slipped while building anchors in all aspects of climbing. The ability to hold onto the rock (or your ice axe) with one hand while tying a clove hitch with the other increases your security when on an exposed stance at the end of a pumpy pitch. Ice climbers should especially master this skill as being able to clove into an ice screw with one hand beats taking a whipper while ice climbing (but try to stay within your ability!)

Speed

 Learning to tie both these hitches directly onto the carabiner is faster than tying them any other way. For the clove hitch start by pulling the rope snug from your tie-in. This not only makes it easy to start the hitch but when you arr finished you should be at the perfect length from the master point. For the munter hitch, assuming you’re using it to belay your second, clip the first strand as soon as you are off belay. You can pull the rest of the unused rope up faster this way and when it comes tight on your partner a quick twist of the rope is added to the carabiner and your partner is on belay! Great for icy ropes!

Slick

It just looks cool. And climbing is all about looking cool.

Before heading out to the cliff to shoot a quick video of the process I did a quick search to see if anyone else had made a video on tying one-handed clove hitches. Well lo and behold this is a hot topic! So instead of adding to the insane amount of how-to videos on this skill I’ll just share them with you all here with my personal favorite first, these guys are funny!






Did I miss your video? Let me know I’ll add it 😉

That’s it for this week’s Tech Tip. Stay tuned for a new one every Tuesday… well, almost every Tuesday.

Like this tip? Got a tip you think I should share? Let me know in the comments below and see you in the mountains!

-Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Only 2 days left to enter to win a brand new Black Diamond C4 Camalot! Details on how to enter that raffle are at the end of this DMM Dragon/C4/Ultralight comparison review!