Tech Tip: Buntline Hitch

rock climbing tech tip Buntline Hitch

There are many situations in climbing where it makes sense to construct your anchor from the climbing rope you are already attached to versus reaching for a sling or cordelette; most notably when swinging leads or finishing a climb with a tree anchor followed by a walk-off. In recent years the Connecticut Tree Hitch (CTH) has gained popularity among both professional climbing guides and savvy recreational climbers.

The Buntline Hitch is also a suitable option that has a few distinct advantages over the CTH.

  1. The hitch does not require a locking carabiner
  2. The hitch forms a suitable master point for belaying your second (when using a CTH you must tie another bight knot to create a master point).
  3. If tied incorrectly it forms either two half-hitches or a clove-hitch which have a high enough slip strength. The CTH tied incorrectly will catastrophically fail.
  4. It is fast to tie and untie

Credit: Big thanks to Derek DeBruin for sharing this hitch with in the AMGA Professional Facebook Forum and for his continued work disseminating quality information. EDIT: Derek credits Richard Goldstone for teaching him this method.

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills on the ground and seek qualified instruction.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Rigging to Lower from a Sport Climb

Rigging to Lower from a Sport Climb

Rigging to lower from a sport climb is faster, more efficient, and safer than setting up a rappel. Here’s the why and the how!

Faster and More Efficient

When one rigs to lower one only needs to pull up enough rope to pass a bight through the fixed anchor and tie a bight knot that can be clipped to one’s belay loop. If one chooses to set up a rappel instead one needs to pull up at least half the rope (if the rope has an accurate middle mark) or the entire rope up (if the rope does not have an accurate middle mark). This is not only faster than setting a rappel, but safer!

Safer

As mentioned the fact that you do not need to locate the middle of the rope when being lowered leads to a reduction in risk. There are many examples of accidents that resulted from the two ends of a rope not being even during a rappel. When rigging to lower you also have the benefit of still being on belay. If you have led the route prior to rigging the lower the rope will still be traveling through quick draws below offering some protection against an unexpected slip. Finally this method keeps the climber attached to the rope in some form through out the process eliminating the risk of dropping the rope (it happens!).

How

The process isn’t too complicated but there are a few considerations and options.

  1. The first of which is whether or not to tether into the anchor during the process. The best practice depends on the situation, more specifically, the stance. When you arrive at the anchor if there is a decent stance you can omit tethering into the anchor and doing so reduces clutter and speeds the process. If the unexpected slip occurs at this stage your rope is still through the anchor. If you have passed a bight through the anchor some security can be obtained by keeping tension on the bight as you bring it down to your belay loop and tie the bight knot. However if the stance is small and insecure it would be best to tether into the anchor so you can rig to lower more comfortably. While there are a few appropriate tether systems out there one of the best options is the CAMP USA Swing Dynamic Belay Lanyard.
  2. Pull up some slack and thread a bight through the fixed rings on the anchor. Continue to lengthen this bight until it reaches your belay loop and pull it about 8 inches past (below) your belay loop.
  3. Tie a bight knot here. There are a couple bight knots you could use to attach the rope back to your climbing rope. An overhand on a bight works, but is harder to untie then a figure-eight on a bight. I often tie a figure 8 on a bight with an extra wrap or two around the two strands. This makes a secure bight knot that is very easy to untie after it has been loaded (sometimes called a figure-9).
  4. After the bight knot is tied connect it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. Some climbers might chose to add a second reversed/opposed carabiner (locking or not). If only using a single locking carabiner make sure it is locked and properly orientated when you call for “take” and weight the new attachment. Best practice here is to get a little closer to the anchor so when your belayer “takes” you can weight the new attachment and verify everything looks correct the next step.
  5. Untie your original tie in knot and pull the long tail through the anchor.
  6. Remove the quick-draws (or whatever your top-rope anchor was), weight the rope, and ask to be lowered. Watch that you don’t get tripped up on the long tail coming from the backside of the bight knot! Once you are on the ground remove the locking carabiner and bight knot and retrieve your rope by pulling from the belayer side (less rope to pull). Move on to the next climb or head to happy hour (depending on time of day).

Close Your System!

One important caveat to this system, and almost all climbing systems, is to be sure to “close your system”. Essentially this means during your partner check (before anyone starts climbing) you ensure that the unused end of the rope either has a stopper knot tied near the end, is secured around a ground anchor, or tied into your partner. In order to explain the avoidable accident we are preventing I’ll share this simple example. You successfully lead a 35 meter tall route without realizing you are climbing on a 60 meter rope. After rigging to lower your belayer lower’s you and when you are about 10 meters from the ground the unsecured end of the climbing rope slips through the belayer’s brake hand and belay device and you fall to the ground. As unavoidable as this sounds it happens every single year! Close your system!

“I heard lowering through anchors is discouraged as it wears out the fixed gear?”

Professional mountain guides and climbing institutions around the country are actively trying to correct this common public misconception. It stems from the very real and modern ethic that active top-roping through fixed gear is discouraged. Over time, depending on the fixed hardware, this can lead to pre-mature wear on the fixed anchor. It’s easy enough if you plan on top-roping for a bit to use your own carabiners to save some wear on the fixed anchor. Only the last climber will lower through the fixed gear, and modern stainless steel rappel rings and “mussey hooks” can handle this type of use for many years to come. The gains in efficiency and reduction in rappelling accidents justify this technique, and the organizations that promote education and conservation are the same organizations promoting this technique, namely groups like the American Mountain Guide Association, The Access Fund, and The American Alpine Club. There may be some areas where locals are still resisting this modern technique. It’s possible their routes have more aluminum fixed anchors or they don’t have an organizing body that works to keep anchors updated like the Rumney Climbers Association. In those areas it’s best to check with local climbers on accepted practices, but hopefully these areas can be updated to better support lowering as an option.

Rappelling Instead

All this said there are times where rappelling will be a better choice. The American Alpine Club created this video which covers the steps to rig a rappel from a sport anchor instead.

Summary

Rigging to lower from a sport climb is definitely faster and arguably safer than setting up a rappel. I hope this post has you thinking critically about your process while climbing and that it was clean and concise. At the end of the day double and triple check what ever system you are using especially during transitions and climb on!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous. Practice new skills at ground level and under the guidance of a qualified guide, instructor, or mentor. Climb at your own risk. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

Tech Tip- Tying a Clove Hitch on to the Carabiner (and $200 Gift Certificate Giveaway!)

I originally posted this tech tip back in 2017 but with any climbing skill a bit of repetition can’t hurt. Here’s the original YouTube video and a new one I posted this morning.

CONTEST- $200 Gift Card to IME, North Conway NH

rock climbing tech tips

I’m giving away a $200 gift certificate to International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH to a randomly selected YouTube subscriber on November 30th, 2021! This gift certificate can be used on anything in their retail shop like a new climbing rope, ice axes, crampons, clothing, etc, or on a climbing lesson or avalanche course with the International Mountain Climbing School! No purchase necessary, just hit that subscribe button on my YouTube channel to be sure you will be entered in the drawing!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Tech Tip: Rappel/Rigging Rings as Master Points

With the gaining popularity of the Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor option I am making the case for using a closed rappel or “rigging” ring as the master point instead of the commonly used locking carabiner. Some advantages of this choice;

  1. A closed rigging ring can’t be accidentally opened or left unlocked.
  2. Using a rigging ring means you save a locking carabiner in the anchor construction
  3. Adding a rigging ring to your regular kit means you will have one to leave behind should bailing be necessary (they are all cheaper than most locking carabiners)
  4. A rigging ring is “omnidirectional” so you do not need to worry about optimum loading, short axis loading, gate loading, etc.
  5. In most cases a rigging ring is lighter than a locking carabiner

Disadvantages of carrying and using a rigging ring in your kit are almost non-existent. One of the challenges is deciding which rigging ring works best for recreational/guiding in this system. To assist with that I purchased 5 of the more common rappel rings and will share the specifications and considerations for each to help you decide! Let’s start with this weight/strength/price comparison… I added a Petzl Attache Carabiner for comparison reasons.

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
SMC Aluminum Descending Ring12 grams14kN38mm$3.75
SMC Rigging Ring26 grams32kN28mm$5.95
RNA Revolution Ring, Small38 grams25kN30mm$5.99
RNA Revolution Ring, Large56 grams25kN40mm$6.99
FIXE Stainless Steel Ring86 grams35kN34mm$5.95
Petzl Attache Carabiner58 grams22/8/6 kNn/a$15.95

Now let us take a closer look at each option from lightest to heaviest and how practical each is for this application starting with…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
SMC Aluminum Descending Ring12 grams14kN38mm$3.75
Girth Hitch Master Point Rappel Ring Anchor

The lightest and cheapest option is by far a SMC Aluminum Descending Ring. While ultra-light weight I am slightly concerned about the lower strength rating compared to other options. 14kN is over 3,000 lbs, which is a much higher force than the master point of your anchor should ever see. In a response to a REI slack online customer asking about the strength of these SMC stated “If you over tension the slack line you may notice some flex as the units start to elongate around 800 lbs”. So while these are strong “enough” for use as a master point I’d prefer something rated higher so I’m not second guessing myself while setting up a haul system or the dreaded “fall factor 2” type scenario (should never happen!). They are super cheap and light though, and easily fit three or four locking carabiners.

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
SMC Rigging Ring26 grams32kN28mm$5.95
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

At about double the weight and 2.5 times the strength the SMC Rigging Ring seems like it might be perfect for this application, and it is, for two piece anchors and two person climbing parties. The issue with this ring is once you have a three-piece girth-hitch anchor internal space in the ring is a bit on the tight side to fit three locking carabiners (party of two) and impossible to fit four locking carabiners (party of three, guiding). Here’s a shot of this with a three piece anchor and you can see how tight it is.

It works but I don’t like how the carabiners bind on each other in this situation. So this would only be a good choice for two piece anchors and two person parties. Next up…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
RNA Revolution Ring, Small38 grams25kN30mm$5.99
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

A little more weight (38 grams) and a little less strength (25kN) with just 2mm more internal diameter the RNA Revolution Ring, Small works great on this three piece two person anchor. If you don’t often climb in a party of three this is a good choice. This brings us to what is becoming my favorite option…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
RNA Revolution Ring, Large56 grams25kN40mm$6.99
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

The RNA Revolution Ring, Large is my best in class for this comparison. While it weighs close to a Petzl Attache Locking Carabiner (56 grams vs Petzl Attache 58 grams) it still has a few advantages as a master point. It has plenty of space for more than 4 locking carabiners so this would be great for recreational and guided parties of 3+. It’s stronger in all directions than most aluminum locking carabiners (25 kN). It can easily accommodate a three or four piece girth hitch, and is easier to handle with gloves on (ice climbing FTW). We will finish with a quick look at the heaviest option…

ModelWeightStrength RatingInteral DiameterCost
FIXE Stainless Steel Ring86 grams35kN34mm$5.95
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System
Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor SystemGirth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

If you are not very concerned with weight the FIXE Stainless Steel Ring is a beast carrying a 35 kN rating with its 86 grams of weight. It can easily handle three lockers on a three piece anchor but a fourth locker would be pretty tight leaving this an option for two person parties.

Summary

Using a rigging ring is common in high angle rescue and industrial work and with the growing use of the Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor method recreational climbers and guides should consider the use of closed rings to create their master points for the advantages stated at the beginning of this post. No one anchor solution is appropriate for all situations and you should certainly practice this on the ground and seek qualified instruction and mentorship before trusting your life to any advice in this post. That said I think this method works quite well when appropriate and I expect it will be one of my common builds when multi-pitch climbing whether it be rock or ice (though I think this will really shine this winter while ice climbing).

Discount Purchase

After purchasing and testing these rings I let Rock N Rescue know their RNA Revolution Ring, Large was my “best in class” for this purpose and then they offered my readers a 10% discount on any purchases from their website with coupon code “AlpineStart10“. If you decide to add one of these to your kits you can save a little money on the purchase and at they the same time support the content I create here (this discount code will also earn me 10% of the purchase).

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Some links above are affiliate links. Making a purchase after visiting one of those links sends a small commission my way and keeps this blog going. Thank you!

Tech Tip: Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

Girth Hitch Master Point Anchor System

I’ve been using the Girth Hitch Master Point (GHMP) Anchor System for a little over a year now having learned it from the great educational social media feeds of Dale Remsberg and Cody Bradford. Recent testing on the method was conducted by Derek DeBruin and John Sohl the Petzl facility in Salt Lake City and they published these results.

TL:DR Version:

“The girth hitch is a viable solution for the master point for anchor rigging, provided that;

1) Approximately 5cm of slip is within the climbing party’s risk tolerance

2) The girth hitch is cinched snugly by hand and body weight prior to use. This applies to a variety of rigging materials, such as HMPE or nylon slings or cord, as well as material conditions, whether new or used, dry or wet.” – Derek DeBruin

Best Uses:

There’s quite a few places this system could be well applied. It is primarily a solution for multi-pitch climbing. This isn’t a great option for constructing anchors that will be used for top-rope climbing. On a multi-pitch route with bolted belay stations I might even consider keeping a sling rigged with this system (much like how I keep a pre-tied mini-quad on my harness). Even if the bolts at the next station are not exactly the same distance apart you only need to loosen the hitch a bit to properly adjust it. On a multi-pitch route with traditional gear anchors a double-length Dyneema sling is a light & fast option for rigging this system. Multi-pitch ice climbing is where I see perhaps the greatest benefit as rigging this with gloves on will often be achievable with just an alpine-draw and good ice.

Here’s a video I created showing the method along with some suggestions, namely utilizing a full strength closed rappel ring as a master point instead of a locking carabiner, which adds security and saves a locking carabiner for other uses.

Summary

Because this is a material efficient and proven redundant glove friendly system I plan on keeping it in my growing “tool kit” of options. I still carry one mini-quad with me when I prefer independent master points (more comfortable for a party of three) and use it often as a glove friendly redundant rappel extension. The advantages over tying a more traditional old school pre-equalized cordelette anchor are great enough that I see less and less reason for ever taking my cordelette off the back of my harness. I still carry it for self-rescue purposes but newer anchor methods like the GHMP and mini-quad seem to solve most anchor problems more effectively. I’m stopping by REI today to pick up one a SMC Rigging Ring which is almost half the weight of the stainless steel one I used in the video. You should consider adding this to your tool kit!

Product Giveaways!

I’m running two giveaways at the moment. You can enter to win a SOL Emergency Bivvy Sack before the end of the month in the raffle at the bottom of this review of SOL survival products! You can also enter to win a camming device of your choice* by competing in an anchor building contest that ends at the end of October… rules for that contest are at this Instagram post.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Climbing is dangerous, you could die following any advice from this post. Seek qualified instruction and mentorship. Affiliate links above support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start.

*cam will be selected by the winner from any in-stock cam at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. Free shipping within the US.

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

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.