Tech Tip- Snap Bowline with Yosemite Finish

The bowline is an excellent knot for securing your climbing rope around an object, most commonly a tree. You might be securing the bottom of a stacked rope while top-roping to “close the system” while also creating a handy ground anchor if needed, or fixing a rope for a single strand rappel while scrubbing your next project. In this short video I demonstrate the traditional “scouts” way of tying it as well as the alternative “snap” method (I refer to this also as the “handshake” method). I also demonstrate an alternative way of finishing the knot with a Yosemite finish. If you like this type of content please subscribe to the YouTube Channel and I’ll keep producing videos like this throughout the summer!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Space Available Wilderness Navigation Courses!

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles through dense forest.

I’ve partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club for years to teach my own custom 8 hour Wilderness Navigation course and one of the three scheduled courses are sold out but there are some spots available for the June 19th and Sept 25th courses. You can see more details and reserve you spot at one of these two links:

June 19th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/126518

September 25th

https://activities.outdoors.org/search/index.cfm/action/details/id/124874

I also offer this course locally on a private basis through partnership with Northeast Mountaineering. Rates for that can be found here:

http://www.nemountaineering.com/courses/wilderness-navigation/

I also can travel outside my local area to offer this curriculum to high school and college outing clubs. Just send me an inquiry at nealpinestart at gmail dot com (or use the contact form on my “about page”) for details.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Prepping Ice Screws for Easy Cleaning

A little pre-season maintenance can make cleaning the ice out of your ice screws a breeze. This is particularly handy for ultralight aluminum ice screws that are more prone to having tough to clean ice cores but is also useful with stainless steel ice screws.

If you found this video helpful please help me by subscribing to my YouTube Channel!

Links to the products below:

Hoppe’s #9 Silicone Gun & Reel Cloth

Petzl Laser Speed Light Ice Screws

Black Diamond Express Ice Screws

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Prism Ice Screw Case

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support the content created on this blog. When you make a purchase the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

New Half Day Clinics and Climbs!

For the month of October I am excited to announce you can now book a private half-day lesson or guided climb with me through Northeast Mountaineering! This offer is only valid for the month of October and is based on my availability which I will try to keep updated below. If you are interested in any of these three half-day custom offerings use the contact form below or message me on Instagram or Facebook with the date you would like to book. Once I confirm the date is still open Northeast Mountaineering will invoice you to lock the date down!

Pricing

1 person* $175 2 person* $250 3 person $330 4 person $400

Hours, you pick what works best for you!

8am-noon or noon-4pm


Beginner- Square Ledge Top-Roping

Rock Climbing Square Ledge
Foliage as of 9/26/20 from the top of Square Ledge

If you have never rock climbed before you can’t pick a better place to try it than Square Ledge in Pinkham Notch. A short 25 minute hike brings us to this 140 tall cliff with amazing views of Mount Washington and it is just covered in good hand and foot holds. There are climbs here that anyone can do! A great choice to see if you’ll like outdoor rock climbing, and the foliage right now is EPIC!


Intermediate- Guided climb up Upper Refuse

Rock Climbing Cathedral Ledge
Reaching the top of Upper Refuse, Cathedral Ledge, 9/27/20

This three pitch 5.6 climb on Cathedral Ledge is an excellent introduction to multi-pitch traditional climbing and happens to offer an incredible view of Mount Washington Valley. You should have some prior outdoor top-roping experience for this program. *only available for 1 person or 2 person groups


Intermediate/Advanced- Self Rescue and Multi-pitch Efficiency

Self Rescue Course Cathedral Ledge

This skills based program will help intermediate and experienced sport and trad climbers acquire the skills necessary to perform a self-rescue and improve your overall efficiency on multi-pitch climbs. The curriculum includes improvised hauling systems, belay escapes, smooth transition techniques, and rope ascension. A solid foundation in basic belaying, rappelling, and lead climbing will help you make the most of this program.

Dates Still Available*

October 10 (AM Only),11,13 (PM Only),17 (PM Only),18,23,24,25,26,27,29,30

Interested? Just fill out this form and include your billing address, phone number, the date(s) and which program you would like to book, including the AM or PM hours, and I will get back to you as soon as possible to confirm the date is still available and Northeast Mountaineering will invoice you!

Let me know if you have any questions and see you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Unweighted Passive Pro/Girth-Hitch Traditional Anchor

IMG_4890


Today’s tech tip is focused on multi-pitch traditional anchor efficiency. Of all the acronyms in circulation to help you evaluate an anchor (SERENE, RENE, ERNEST, NERDSS) I’ve always been partial to ERNEST as it addresses an often over looked part of traditional anchor building, namely “Timely”.

On a multi-pitch route efficiency is important and taking too long to construct or de-construct an anchor can cost a party valuable time that at best means they get less routes in during the day and at worst means they experience an unplanned bivouac.

When building traditional anchors on multi-pitch climbs most climbers build 3-piece anchors. It’s beneficial to the party to use some passive protection in the construction so that the next lead has more active protection (cams) available. In vertical crack systems I often try to find one or two passive pieces above a multi-directional active piece. Placing the passive pieces above the active piece makes it easier to create an anchor that can withstand an outward or even upward force if the belayer is lifted about the master-point while making a hard catch.

Cleaning passive pieces (nuts) that have been loaded can be time consuming and even impossible at times, so I look for opportunities to place passive pieces that are only seated with a light tug, and essentially backup other solid active pieces like the attached photo and video below demonstrate.

 

Combine arrangements like this with the low material cost time efficiency of a clove-hitch master carabiner anchor and you can create super fast efficient RENE, SERENE, ERNEST, NERDSS anchors in so many places! Give it a try!

Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point

Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point


One of the things I love about climbing is how we keep finding better ways of doing things. Sure, we get into ruts where we resist trying something different (why fix it if it ain’t broke mindset), but every 5-10 years I notice we make another leap forward because someone decided to think outside the box and try something new.

Most people who climb with me know I have an affinity for the “mini-Quad” when constructing my anchors. If you are not familiar with the “mini-Quad” check out my post and video about it here. The mini-Quad is still my “go to” choice when climbing in a party of three or more (mostly multi-pitch guiding), simply because having two separate master points is more comfortable for guests and helps with keeping things organized.

If I am climbing in a more common party of two though, I’m going to be using the Girth Hitch Carabiner Master Point a lot more frequently. It has some great advantages to other methods like;

Advantages

  1. Does not require long sling/cord material. For a typical two point anchor (bolts) a single shoulder length (60 cm) sling is sufficient.
  2. It’s super fast to tie. Try it two or three times and you’ll see how fast you can build this.
  3. It’s super fast to break-down. Since it is a “hitch” and not a hard “knot” once you remove the carabiner it vanishes. No welded dyneema knot to work on!
  4. It’s redundant. Testing shows if one leg fails or gets cut (rockfall) the hitch will not slip! Compare this to a “sliding-x” anchor with the same length sling and this is definitely better if direction of load is close to uni-directional.
  5. It’s “equalized” to the limitations of the physics. Yes true “equalization” isn’t quite possible but close enough.
  6. It has zero extension should a leg fail.

All of this adds up to a great SERENE, RENE, ERNEST, NERDSS or whatever acronym you like when debating or evaluating the merits or flaws of an anchor.

Disadvantages

  1. It requires an extra locking carabiner to form a master point.
  2. It is a “pre-equalized” method, meaning of the load direction changes you’ll lose load distribution (just like a tied off bight).
  3. Every one is attaching to the same master-point, so for party’s of 3 I might more often opt for the mini-Quad

Considerations

I plan on using one of my Black Diamond RockLock Magnetron carabiners as the master point carabiner for a couple reasons. It’s a fast carabiner to deploy and it auto-locks, but I prefer the added security of the style of locking mechanism since I am clove hitching myself into a separate locker attached to this master point locker, and will be belaying off a plaquette as well. While it should go without saying care needs to be taken when introducing this method, especially to newer climbers. Since the master point is a carabiner it is crucial no one mistakes this carabiner as their own attachment and removes it when perhaps taking the next lead. This perhaps is even more reason to use a Magnetron as the master carabiner and screw gate carabiners for your personal tether/clove hitch with rope attachments.

Regardless of what locker you use as the master point I would recommend having your belay plaquette set along the spine of the carabiner vs your own tether attachment for maximum strength and security.

Vs. The Clove Hitch Master Point Carabiner Method

Another similar looking method uses a clove hitch instead of a girth hitch to achieve many of the same advantages, however I find the girth hitch slightly faster and easier to tie.

Summary

The Girth Hitch Master Point Carabiner is a slick new solution to add to your repertoire.  It is not a “solve-all” solution but based on context I can see this option being used efficiently and effectively in many situations. As with any new anchor skill practice on the ground first before you use it 100 feet off the deck. Seek proper instruction from qualified guides and instructors.

More info:

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links support this blog.



Wilderness Navigation Online Course May 9th! (New course May 24th)

Wilderness Navigation Online Course Map and Compass


In 2008 having been on a few search and rescue missions for lost hikers I looked around for a quality navigation course and couldn’t find one I thought was comprehensive and effective, so I decided to create my own curriculum. I’ve since taught this course over 50 times for organizations like the Appalachian Mountain Club, Tin Mountain Conservation,  Eastern Mountain Sports Schools, Kennett High School Adult Education Series, Northeast Mountaineering, and for private high school outdoor programs like The Brooks School.

I’m excited to say I can now present the classroom portion of this course in an online live interactive format and I am announcing my first ever online Wilderness Navigation Course for Saturday, May 9th, from 9am-1pm EST. (NEW COURSE IS MAY 24th- invites have been sent to first 12 on waiting list)

So what will be covered in the course? Here’s a look at the curriculum:

Curriculum

Improvised (Survival) Navigation Techniques

Proper use of a Magnetic Compass

Reading Topographic Maps

Locating your position using terrain association

Locating your position using single-point resection

Location your position using triangulation

Navigating by altimeter

Navigating in a white-out

Creating accurate trip plans and estimating hiking time

A brief introduction to online mapping and smart phone app integration (this topic will be offered in detail in another online course soon!)


Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target .4 miles away through dense forest.

Course participants will also get a copy of the presentation for future reference and an invitation to connect to a private Facebook group to discuss any of the course content down the road as questions come up or information is forgotten.

For this first run I am limiting the class size to 10 students. (Class size increased to 12) If you are interested please read the next section carefully before registering!


Wilderness Navigation
Prior course participents learn how to use Terrain Association to located their position then confirm their beliefs with solid Resection and Triangulation compass skills

Student Requirements

Experience: You do not need to have any previous training or experience with navigation, reading maps, or using a compass. While this is an entry level course previous courses have shown me that even self described “experts” learn easier and better ways for performing some of these skills in this course.

Time Commitment: This course will run on Saturday May 9th from 9am-1pm EST. (New course is Sunday May 24th from 9am-1pm EST) You will need to be available during that time to fully participate.

Equipment: You will need a laptop or computer connected to the internet. While you could attend the course via a smartphone I think you will benefit from a full size screen. You will need a base plate style compass. I am a fan of these two models, the second one being my personal all time favorite compass and the one you will see me using throughout the course.

Suunto A-30L Compass

Suunto MC-2 USGS Mirror Compass <- my preferred compass

You will also need to be able to print three sheets of paper, two in color. There will be a single lesson worksheet and a color topographic PDF (both 8.5 x 11) emailed to you shortly after registering along with the invitation to the Zoom meeting. You will also receive instructions on how to print a local topographic map. Most of us have gotten familiar with Zoom over the last few weeks. If you haven’t attended a Zoom meeting yet do not worry, it is super easy and I’m happy to walk you through it 1 on 1 prior to the course so you are not stressed about that aspect!

Optional Equipment: A ruler or straight edge is handy but not required. A topographic map of your area can be helpful for a couple of the self-guided outdoor sessions.

There will be a couple self-guided outdoor sessions to keep us from sitting in a chair or staring at a computer screen for too long, so you will also need access to some “outside”… hopefully no one reading this is 20 levels down in a bunker right now.


How to Register/Tuition

If you meet all those requirements and would like to attend just fill out the short contact form below! I can answer any additional questions you might have and once I confirm I still have a spot available I will send a tuition ($50) request via PayPal or Venmo, your preference.

Cancellation Policy

If I need to cancel the course for any reason at any time a full refund will be made. If you need to cancel earlier than two weeks prior to the course for any reason a full refund will be made. If you need to cancel within two weeks of the course a 50% refund will be made. If you need to cancel within one week of the course no refund will be made.


I am really excited about my foray into online instruction. I love teaching adults the variety of mountain skills I’ve acquired over two decades of guiding people in the mountains and this is a method I’ve wanted to try for years! I have other courses in the works, perhaps the most requested from a lot of my avalanche course students, is a course focused on online mapping and modern smartphone integration. While I love using tech responsibly in the mountains you must acquire and practice the fundamental navigation skills if you don’t want to find yourself in a spot because your tech failed!

So that’s it! Let me know if would like to sign up by filling out the short contact form below! Also please share this with your outdoorsy friends who might be interested!

EDIT: 5/25 WOW! I’m humbled that this course SOLD OUT in less then 24 hours! Fear not I will schedule another one very soon! If the demand is there I could even offer this on a weekly basis. If you are interested in this course please fill out the form below and I will add you to the list and notify you when the next course is scheduled! (second course invites have been sent to first 12 on waiting list, feel free to join the waiting list using the form below to receive notifications of openings and new courses)

See you in the mountains (when we are back to traveling),

Northeast Alpine Start



Disclaimer: No course online or in person can guarantee your safety. You are solely responsible for any outcome resulting in following information or advice in this post or in this course. I strongly discourage any non-essential travel outside of your home while we are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Please stay local while practicing these skills. Affiliate links help support this blog. Thank you.

Tech Tip- Listen to Avalanche Podcasts

I find it hard to believe the avalanche course season is almost over! I’ve had a great time teaching courses for Northeast Mountaineering with an amazing group of co-instructors and despite a relatively inconsistent Mother Nature field conditions have been quite prime for our course objectives.

One of the seasonal components of the AIARE Framework is “Continue Your Education”. AIARE 1 students often realize quite early in the course that becoming safer back-country travelers is a lifelong process. There is no finish line when it comes to avalanche education. To that end I share with my students one of the ways I’ve continued to learn about a subject I’ve been studying and teaching for over 10 years is by subscribing to multiple podcasts related to avalanche education. Multiple students have asked for a list of what podcasts I listen to which was the motivation of this post. So without further delay here’s my current playlist with a quick recap of what to expect from each. If you like to play in the snow you should give a few of these a listen on the commute into work or your drive up to the mountains!

The Utah Avalanche Center Podcast by Drew Hardesty

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.01.39 AM.png

“The podcast that helps keep you on top of the snow instead of buried beneath it.” This one is at the top of my list and if you only pick one podcast to listen to this is the one I’d recommend most. So many great episodes I hesitate to call out just one but I will… The April 5th, 2019 episode “Low Danger” is a must listen.


Right behind my first suggestion is the The Avalanche Hour Podcast by Caleb Merrill.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.03.03 AM.png

“Creating a stronger community through sharing stories, knowledge, and news amongst people who have a curious fascination with avalanches.” What can I say this podcast is fantastic! The range of guests is great and I haven’t found a single interview to not be engaging and enlightening… add it to your library!


Third on the list is Slide: The Avalanche Podcast by Doug Krause.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.03.45 AM.png

Sadly it seems Doug hasn’t been able to keep this project going but the first two seasons are here for us to learn from. Doug focuses mostly on the human element and some of the episodes that have stayed with my had to do with effective communication in the backcountry and how we see ourselves in our stories (impaired objectivity). Definitely worth listening to the 1.5 seasons that are there and hopefully Doug can return to this project soon!

Honorable mention goes to the American Alpine Club’s Sharp End Podcast by Ashley Saupe. While not 100% about avalanches I’ve been a long time reader of the AAC’s Accidents in North American Climbing, a fantastic education resource in its own right and worth the annual cost of membership in my opinion! In each episode Ashley interviews those involved in climbing (and sometimes avalanche) accidents in an effort to learn what we can from these stories.

Well that’s the list. Within these 4 podcasts there are hundreds of hours of quality content that is sure to make you a more informed and safer backcountry traveler. If you found this post helpful please leave a comment below and if I missed one of your favorite podcasts please let me know! It doesn’t have to be avalanche related but outdoor recreation and risk management should be a consideration!

Happy listening and see you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start



Affiliate links help support the content created here. Thank you!

Tech Tip: Optimizing your First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness First Aid


We all carry a first aid kit with us on our adventures right? For today’s Tech Tip I want to share what first aid kit I use and how I customize it with a few extra items. While you can go to a pharmacy and piece together your own kit I prefer to start with the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .7 Medical Kit as it’s a solid foundation to build upon. Here’s the details on the kit:

  • Designed for life in the bottom of the pack, zippered rip-stop silicon nylon outer bag has 2 inner DryFlex™ watertight pouches to ensure contents are kept clean and dry
  • Wound care items: 3 butterfly closure strips, 2 triple antibiotic ointments, 3 antiseptic wipes and 1 pair of nitrile gloves
  • Bandages: 8 sterile dressings, 2 non-adherent sterile dressings, 2 conforming gauze bandages, 5 adhesive bandages and 3 knuckle bandages
  • 10 yards adhesive tape, 1 elastic bandage, 11 pre-cut and shaped moleskin pieces and 3 alcohol swabs
  • Medications: 6 ibuprofen, 2 aspirin, 2 antihistamine and 2 AfterBite® sting-relief wipes
  • Other equipment: splinter picker forceps, 3 safety pins and a 26 x 2 in. roll of duct tape

Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness First Aid
Manufacturer Image

Technical specs

Best Use
Hiking, Backpacking
Material(s)
Silicone nylon pouch
Dimensions
8.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches
Weight
8 ounces

This is a great start for only 8 ounces! AMK markets this as ideal for 1-2 people for 1-4 day trips. While I do find the suggestion a bit arbitrary I feel this is a great size for a group leader or guide to start from. There is a .5 version that weighs less than 4 ounces that would be good for trail running, casual hiking, or just to keep in the glove box. A very minimalist .3 version is better than carrying nothing.

Now let’s get into what I add to this kit to make it a bit more capable of handling any situation. The first thing I add is a Petzl Zipka Headlamp. This 2.5 ounce headlamp has great light output and the retractable cord keeps it from getting tangled with other things in the kit. I consider this a bit of a “back-up” headlamp. If I know I’ll be out after dark I bring my Petzl Actik Core Headlamp and have the Zipka available to loan to someone who forgets their headlamp.

Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness First Aid
Adventure Medical Kits .7 First Aid Kit and every else I squeeze in there!

I then add a simple small knife that can be used for cutting bandages, duct tape, and clothing to make slings & swathes if need be. Occasionally it might even have to cut some summer sausage and hard cheese.

Then I add a fire starter, usually just a small Bic lighter but you can go for a fancy windproof one if you want!

Next I drop in a little bottle of Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets. I use these to treat water in an emergency.

Then I have a small travel size Advil bottle that I carry extra Antihistamines (Benadryl) and pain/fever reducers (Advil). I prefer to use this bottle and refill it from home when needed and save the prepackaged medications for when I forget to refill this container. Don’t forget to check the expiration dates on the prepackaged medications!

I also squeeze in a small notebook with a pencil. This is important for writing SOAP notes or sending detailed information with someone. On longer trips I carry a Rite in the Rain Notebook separate from my first aid kit.

With still room to spare I now add my two EpiPens. While I haven’t been tested for a bee allergy I feel it is a good idea for me to carry Epi after getting swarmed and stung by over a dozen yellow jackets last year. There’s also the fact that some one in my care may have a unexpected severe reaction when we are over an hour away from definitive care and having Epi in the party could be a life-saver. I also add a super light disposable CPR Face Shield.

Finally I add about 3 extra pairs of Nitrile gloves in addition to the one pair that comes with the kit. It has been my experience on multiple rescues that one pair of gloves is never enough in the mountains as they will definitely tear while dealing with a patient, and bystanders who might be able to help often don’t have their own gloves.

These additions bring my first aid kit up to one pound 5 ounces. Considering that if I grab my first aid kit I have 5 of the “Ten Essentials” I’m more than ok with that weight! I also carry either my SOL Escape Bivy (summer) or my more durable Ortovox Single Bivy (winter or while on rescues).

Adventure Medical Kits First Aid Kits
Bigger more rugged bivy in the winter or when out on rescues… smaller lighter bivy for summer/day use…

I’ve also taken to sliding a Saywer SAM Splint down into the back panel of my pack. While I can improvise splints from my wilderness medicine training a real SAM splint is really nice to have for quick ankle/wrist fractures or as an effective neck collar.

I feel the above set-up is quite adequate for the amount of time I spend in the mountains both guiding and recreating. For expedition leaders or large outing club type groups I’d suggest looking at the Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight/Watertight PRO Medical Kit. It’s quite all inclusive with a SAM Splint, EMT Shears, precision forceps, and more.

Summary

Undoubtedly carrying a first aid kit in the mountains is a very good idea. Accidents will happen. The longer your recreate in the mountains the more likely you, someone in your party, or someone you come across, will need a touch of first aid. Hopefully it’s something minor like a blister or small scrape. Unfortunately we can’t remove all risk from our outdoor hobbies and will are going to break some bones, or worse. There’s two things YOU can do to make these situations better.

#1 Carry the right gear

#2 Get some training

Wilderness First Aid
Image from soloschools.com

Wilderness First Aid
Image from soloschools.com

Wilderness First Aid courses are offered all over the country! Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) teaches Wildness First Aid (16 hours), Wilderness First Responder (72+ hours), and Wilderness EMT (170+ hours). If you have zero medical training, and wish to play in the mountains for decades to come, do yourself a huge solid and sign up for one of these courses! You’ll be more prepared to handle what comes your way!

I hope you found this helpful. If you did please let me know in the comments below. If you carry something different or I missed a key item please let me know! Just so you are aware the links above (except for SOLO) are affiliate links. That means if you click on them, and make a purchase, a small commission is earned. That really helps keep this blog going, so if you do make a purchase thanks! If not maybe just share this article with someone you think could benefit from it!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Which Belay Device For Which Use?

What belay device should I use?

“What belay device is that?” was the question that popped up from my friend @sammyspindel on a short Instagram story clip of my anchor while belaying a client up the last pitch of Upper Refuse on Cathedral Ledge a few days ago. The question generated some great back and forth conversation and ultimately provided the motivation for this post, so thank you for the question Sammy!

What belay device I use is largely determined on what type of climbing I am doing. In this post I’m going to explain the advantages, disadvantages, and helpful strategies of some of the most popular options out there. I will attempt to break it down based on type and style of climbing (gym, sport, trad, alpine, ice, top-rope, multi-pitch, party of 2, party of 3). My hope is you’re able to make some informed choices over what belay device(s) you decide to use. I’ll try to work through these options from simplest to most complex.

Here we go…

The Munter Hitch

Every climber should learn how to use a Munter Hitch. This incredible hitch has served climbers well for over a hundred years. This skill can save the day when your partner drops their shiny new flavor of the day belay device off the top of the 3rd pitch of a 7 pitch climb or when your ropes are two icy from a dripping ice pillar in below freezing temps and you can’t get them bent through your tube-style device. All you need is a pear shaped locking carabiner. I prefer the Petzl Attache or Petzl William Locking Screwgate. Avoid auto-locking carabiners to facilitate tying the hitch onto the carabiner, something I demonstrate in this first video. The second video shows how this can be converted into an auto-locking Munter!

Practice this skill at home. Practice while watching the news. Learn to tie it with your eyes closed. Learn to tie it with one hand. Learn to tie it onto the belay carabiner on the anchor with one hand. Advanced users/aspiring guides: Learn to tie it on to a carabiner so it is already in the “belay” orientation. Learn to it on a carabiner so it is already in the “lower” orientation. Then learn to tie it in both those orientations when the carabiner is on your belay loop (I still struggle with mastering this last step as looking down at the carabiner turns my head upside down).

Some key points about the Munter Hitch…. IT DOES NOT “TWIST” THE ROPE! Improper use of the hitch will introduce serious “twists” and kinks into your rope. The solution? Always keep the brake strand parallel with the load strand. In that orientation you can watch the way the rope moves through the hitch without creating twists. If you hold the brake strand anywhere but parallel you will introduce twists. This is quite un-intuitive when using this hitch to rappel as our muscle memory wants us to pull back or down with the brake hand while rappelling. The proper hand position (and maximum braking power) is obtained by holding the brake strand straight up and parallel with the loaded rope. I know, crazy right? Moving on…

Standard Tube-Style Belay Devices

Almost every climber everywhere has owned and used a classic “tube-style” belay device. It’s as standard as needing a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag. There are more options in this category then ever before. While there are subtle differences in weight and design they all function relatively the same. While a summer camp or outdoor club might opt for the cheapest option I’d suggest for the majority of recreational climbers to go for one of the most popular models in use that includes a “higher friction” side to assist with braking and rappelling. The two models I see the most of are the Black Diamond ATC-XP and the Petzl Verso.

Some notes on this style device. I no longer carry one opting instead for the more versatile models that can be used in “plaquette” mode (more on that in a minute). That said for top-rope and lead, single pitch, gym, sport, and trad climbing there is nothing inherently “wrong” about choosing one of these simple devices.

Tube Style Devices with “Plaquette” Mode

For little additional cost and weight you can carry a tube style belay device that can also serve in “plaquette” mode. This is ideal for lead climbers who wish to belay their partner directly off the anchor after leading a pitch. This European style of belaying has become much more prevalent in American climbing in the last few decades for good reason. At its core it is more comfortable for the belayer and much simpler should the second climber need assistance to pass a crux. The time tested choices here are the Black Diamond ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4. Newer options that are gaining solid following’s are the DMM Pivot which makes direct lowered off the anchor while in “guide mode” easier and the Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide that is optimized for working with skinny twin ropes.

Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide
Black Diamond Alpine ATC Guide

DMM Pivot Belay Device
DMM Pivot Belay Device

Single Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This category covers devices like the Petzl GriGri, Petzl GriGri+, Black Diamond Pilot, and the new to the scene Wild Country Revo. While noticeably heavier (and pricier, except for the BD Pilot) than simpler tube style device than these devices have more applications then I think most people realize. Devices like the Petzl GriGri are just at home in the climbing gym as they are on large sandstone big walls (especially given the additional durability of the GriGri+). Some climbers may avoid using one of these devices due to needing to carry a second belay device for rappelling. Well, two things… first you can rappel with these (blocked-rappel options), but more importantly and something I will get into towards the end, what’s wrong with carrying two devices? It opens up a lot of options and solutions to potential climbing issues!

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review
Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Improved Belay Check
Petzl Grigri+ – photo by Alexandra Roberts

Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

Wild Country Revo Belay Device
Wild Country Revo Belay Device

You can see my full review of the Petzl Grigri+ HERE!

You can see my full review of the Black Diamond ATC Pilot HERE!

Double Strand Brake Assisting Devices

This covers some more niche options like the Edelrid Mega Jul,  Mega Jul Sport, and Mammut Smart Alpine Belay Device. These have the added benefit of brake assistance when lead belaying but can still allow for smooth double rope rappels. These are not as ideal for direct belaying off a top anchor like in a multi-pitch setting so I do reach for this option very often preferring my DMM Pivot or the standard Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4.

Lowest Friction Plates

Now we get to the device that sparked this whole post. My Kong Gi-Gi. This device’s most notable quality is that when used in plaquette mode it takes the least amount of force to belay two single rated ropes at the same time. I’ve found no device that comes close to the ease of belaying two single ropes when climbing with two seconds and using “parallel” technique, a common guiding tactic to belay two seconds at the same time.

Kong Gi-Gi Belay Device

While belaying directly off the anchor shouldn’t seem tiring I’ve known many guides who developed elbow tendinitis from the repetition of pulling two ropes through plaquettes up thousands of feet of moderate climbing over a decade or so of guiding. It can serve as a rappel device if needed, though that requires an extra locking carabiner and is a relatively low-friction rappel device (third hand back-up strongly recommended).

So what should you carry?

I guess it makes sense to break this down by end-use… there are so many tools available to us these days but here’s my take on optimizing your belay device load out:

Gym/Top-Rope Only

If you’re really not sure you even like climbing but want your own belay device you can keep it simple an pick up a simple tube style belay device like the Black Diamond ATC-XP or Petzl Verso. I think the higher friction side is worth the extra cost. If you are addicted to climbing you might as well invest in a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo.

Outdoor Sport/Single Pitch Climbing

At this point I think owning two devices makes sense. The Black Diamond ATC XP or Petzl Verso plus a a single strand brake-assisting device like the Black Diamond Pilot, Petzl GriGri, or Wild Country Revo will make weekend trips to Rumney or your local sport crag quite enjoyable!

Multi-pitch Trad

If you’re going more than one pitch off the deck a plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 is an easy pick. I’ve started carrying my Petzl GriGri on multi-pitch trad routes for a multitude of reasons since it greatly simplifies rope ascension in a rescue scenario but also works great for hauling bags on big wall. “Lifer’s” with big wall aspirations should seriously consider the added durability of the Petzl GriGri+.

Multi-pitch Ice

Here I’d go with the standard plaquette device like the Black Diamond ATC Guide or Petzl Reverso 4 and the knowledge of the Munter Hitch mentioned at the beginning to help deal with icy ropes. I leave single strand brake-assisting devices home when ice climbing as they tend to not work as well on ice ropes and weight is a premium. If you climb on really skinny floss like 7.7mm twin ropes you should look at the new Black Diamond ATC Alpine Guide!

Climbing in a party of 3 (Guiding-Style)

Parties of three typically climb in either “Caterpillar” or “Parallel” style. Basically “Caterpillar” is the leader climbs, then belays the first second, after the second arrives with the 2nd rope belays the 3rd climber. It’s slower but a better choice for harder routes and newer climbers as the other option “Parallel” means the leader takes both ropes and belays both seconds simultaneously. A lot of issues can crop up to make this a mini-epic. However for skilled leaders and guides this is often a method that can see a three person party move as fast as a two person party.

Combos

As I mentioned earlier carrying two belay devices can make sense in a lot of situations. These are the combos I find myself using most as a climbing guide:

Multi-pitch rock with one guest

Petzl GriGri + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Petzl GriGri + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Group Top-Roping

Wild Country Revo, Petzl GriGri (or Petzl GriGri+), Black Diamond Pilot, or the new Wild Country Revo

Guiding Multi-pitch Ice

Kong Gi-Gi + Petzl Reverso 4

or

Kong Gi-Gi + Black Diamond ATC Guide

Summary

At the end of the day there are an amazing array of belay devices to chose from. The above suggestions are just my personal experience with what has worked well for me. When I started this post I thought I would cover every device out there but there are just way to many options! Hopefully the suggestions and comments I’ve made help you pick a system that works for you! Let me know in the comments if I left out your favorite belay device or if you found any of this useful and…

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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