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Single-Hitch Belay Escape   

Tagged in: Alpine Climbing, Belaying, Skills, Trad Climbing
by Eli Helmuth
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Learn this simple and efficient way to escape the belay  

Keeping it straightforward is a good credo for rescue and almost anything climbing-related, and this particular skill is a good example of how to streamline the act of escaping a belay. It uses minimal steps, equipment, and hitches or knots, especially when compared to more complicated methods that require lesser-used hitches and additional know-how. This technique is designed for belaying a following climber from the top of a pitch, and although belaying directly off the anchor with an auto-blocking belay device is convenient, there are times when it is preferable to belay directly off the harness. Two times I recommend belaying off your harness: when the master point is so low that the device would be in contact with the ground or a ledge, and when the anchor is less than full strength (common in blocky alpine environments). However, a lead belayer on the ground or on a multi-pitch with an anchor suited for an upward pull can also use this technique.

Figure 1 

Rock Climbing Photo: Figure 3  by Ben Fullerton

Figure 3
by Ben Fullerton

Once you’ve successfully stopped the fall with the rope in the brake position and you’ve determined that a belay escape is necessary, wrap the rope around the upper leg near the crotch with three to four wraps. Now bring a loop of tail up and through the wraps to secure it. These quick and easy leg wraps will allow you to operate hands-free in order to do the following steps. There are infinite scenarios where a belay escape is required: A seconding climber can be injured on toprope due to a pendulum, slack in the system, rope stretch, and falling rock, just to name a few.

Figure 2 

Rock Climbing Photo: Figure 1  by Ben Fullerton

Figure 1
by Ben Fullerton

If you (the belayer) are not already attached to the anchor with the climbing rope, use a locking biner and a clove hitch to attach yourself directly to the anchor from your harness. Then you’ll want to connect the loaded rope directly to the anchor with a sling or closed loop of cord and a non-locking biner. Use a prusik hitch if you have cord or make a Klemheist with a shoulder-length sling, which is easy and most effective at gripping an already-loaded climbing rope. Attach this hitch to the follower’s rope and clip the non-locker to the sling/cord, and then use the rope on the “backside” of your attachment knot to connect to the non-locker with a clove hitch. Adjust the clove hitch so this connecting section is tight.

Figure 3 

Rock Climbing Photo: Figure 2  by Ben Fullerton

Figure 2
by Ben Fullerton

Unwrap the rope from your leg and slowly load the sling/cord (feeding the rope through the belay device) to check that the hitch is holding securely. While the sling/cord setup holds the weight of the climber, attach the brake side of the rope directly to the anchor with a locking carabiner (or two non-lockers opposed and reversed) and a clove hitch, and then remove the belay device from the rope. Adjust the clove hitch so that this section of rope is tight, too.

Figure 4 

Rock Climbing Photo: Figure 4  by Ben Fullerton

Figure 4
by Ben Fullerton
You’ve successfully escaped the belay and secured the climber directly to the anchor. Now it’s time to make a plan for what to do next. Although each rescue scenario demands its own procedure, the best way to learn is to train directly with an AMGA guide. While there are some decent rescue books out there, most of them are not helpful for recreational climbers or modern enough in the techniques they teach.

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Comments on Single-Hitch Belay Escape Add Comment
By Jeff Scheuerell
Oct 25, 2014
I can tie a mule knot faster than wrapping the rope around my leg a few times. I think your simple is less simple. I think the mule knot would be faster tying and untying, safer, and more hands free. But if one does not know how to tie a mule knot then this way will do the trick. Learn the mule knot.
By rgold
From: Poughkeepsie, NY
Jan 23, 2016
This is a terrible idea. The belayer escapes the belay and leaves the fallen second hanging from a clove hitch on the anchor, a situation that will add substantial, possibly dangerous, and totally unnecessary complications to the next step. And why? Because the belayer can't tie a Munter mule and has to substitute a clove hitch, which is the wrong knot for this application.

Rather than promoting an ignorant work-around that creates a bad situation, why not give an effective procedure that won't actually make matters worse? The only change is a Munter mule on the anchor carabiner for the fallen climber's line---is that really so hard to learn and do?

There are other aspects of this piece that seem worrisome. The author suggests that a harness belay is appropriate when the belay anchors are questionable at the same time as promoting a transfer of the entire belay load to those questionable anchors.
By Ian Cavanaugh
May 25, 2016
I agree with rgold. this is actually going to complicate any situation down the line. there are no advantages to this unless your plan is to walk away and never return. in order to release this later you would need to set up a 3-1 system just to release tension on the cloves to remove. If the person has the capability to execute a 3-1 later then they should be able to Munter Mule the system in the first place. not to mention if they can do a clove then they can Munter.
The belay off the hip is also an issue, especially if its not full strength. Your partner is already injured, now you want to hang them off a marginal anchor as well, one your yourself werent confident enough to belay off of? Even in that very unfortunate situation where a marginal anchor is all you have at least set it up for easy release later.
By BigRed11
Feb 7, 2017
I'm fairly shocked that this page is still up - as others have commented, this is the wrong thing to be teaching as a belay escape.

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