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Mountaineering Basics: Knots

Climbers rely most heavily on a dozen or so different knots and some hitches. These knots let you tie into the rope, anchor yourself to the mountain, tie two ropes together for long rappels, use slings to climb the rope itself, and much more.Climbers rely most heavily on a dozen or so different knots and some hitches to tie into the rope, anchor to the mountain, tie two ropes together for long rappels, use slings to climb the rope itself, and much more.
  • Practice these knots until tying them is second nature.
  • In some cases, more than one knot can perform a particular task, and the knot chosen is a matter of personal preference. Some knots may be preferred because they have a higher breaking strength. Others may be chosen because they are easier to tie or are less likely to come apart in use.
  • Regardless of the knot, tie it neatly, keeping the separate strands of the knot parallel and free of twists. Cinch every knot tight, and tie off loose ends with an overhand knot.
  • Always tie knots in perfect form so that it becomes second nature to recognize a properly tied knot. Then, when it's getting dark or you're tired, and you or someone with you ties a knot that's less than perfect, it will stand out immediately and you'll know to check it closely. Get in the habit of inspecting your knots regularly.
Overhand Knot:The overhand knot is most often used to secure loose rope ends after another knot has been tied. For instance, it can be used to secure rope ends after tying a square knot or a rewoven figure-8.

Overhand Loop:The overhand loop is often used for leg loops in prusik slings or to make a loop in a doubled rope or a length of webbing.

Water Knot:The water knot, also known as the ring bend, is used most often to tie a length of tubular webbing into a runner. This knot can work loose over time, so be sure the knot is cinched very tight and the tails of the knot are at least 2 inches long. Check the knot often in runners and retie any that have short tails.

Square Knot:The general-purpose square knot has many applications. It is often used to finish off a coil of rope.

Fisherman's Knot:The fisherman's knot can be used to join two ropes together. It has been replaced to a large degree by the double fisherman's knot and is shown here primarily to provide a clearer understanding of the double fisherman's knot.

Double Fisherman's Knot: The double fisherman's knot, also known as the grapevine knot, is the most secure and preferred knot for tying the ends of two ropes together for a rappel. It is preferred over two rewoven figure-8 knots because it is less bulky and tends to hang up less when the rope is being pulled down after a rappel.

Figure-8 Loop: The figure-8 loop is a strong knot that can be readily untied after being under a load.

Rewoven Figure-8: The rewoven figure-8 is an excellent knot for tying into a seat harness at the end of the rope. Finish it off by tying an overhand knot in the loose end. This knot also can be used to connect a rope to an anchor.

Double Rewoven Figure-8: The double rewoven figure-8 can be used by the middle person in a three-person rope team to tie the rope to the seat harness. Secure the resulting end loop with an overhand knot or a locking carabiner (the locking carabiner makes a cleaner finish and a smaller knot).

Single Bowline: The single bowline makes a loop at the end of the climbing rope that will not slip, and it can secure the rope around a tree or other anchor. The tail end of the rope should come out on the inside of the loop; the knot is much weaker if this end finishes on the outside of the loop. Tie off the tail with an overhand knot.

Double Bowline: The middle person on a three-person rope can tie the double bowline to the seat harness. Secure the resulting end loop with an overhand knot or a locking carabiner (the locking carabiner makes a cleaner finish and a smaller knot).

Rewoven Bowline: The rewoven bowline is another excellent knot for tying into a seat harness at the end of the rope. It can be used in place of the rewoven figure-8. If the rewoven portion of the bowline comes untied, you are still tied in with a single bowline.

Single Bowline with a Yosemite Finish: The single bowline with a Yosemite finish is the same as a single bowline, except that the tail retraces the rope until it is parallel with the standing end. This knot is easy to untie after it has been loaded, making it a good choice for a top-roping tie-in.

Butterfly Knot: The useful characteristic of the butterfly knot is that it can sustain a pull on either strand of the rope or the loop and not come undone. A connection to this knot is made with a locking carabiner through the loop.

Clove Hitch: The clove hitch is a quick knot for clipping into a carabiner attached to an anchor. With the clove hitch, it is easy to adjust the length of the rope between the belayer and the anchor without unclipping.

Girth Hitch, Overhand Slip Knot, and Clove Hitch: The girth hitch, the overhand slip knot, and the clove hitch are simple knots that can be used to tie off partially driven pitons or ice screws.

Friction Knots

Friction knots provide a quick and simple way to set up a system for ascending or descending a climbing rope. The knots grip the climbing rope when weight is on them, but are free to move when the weight is released. The best known friction knot is the prusik, but others such as the Bachmann and the Klemheist are also useful.

Prusik Knot: The prusik knot requires a few wraps of an accessory cord around the climbing rope, and it's ready to go to work. The cord is usually a loop (sling) of 5-millimeter to 7-millimeter perlon, wrapped two or three times around the rope. Icy ropes or heavy loads require more wraps than dry ropes or light loads.

  • The accessory cord must be smaller in diameter than the climbing rope, and the greater the difference in diameter, the better it grips. However, small-diameter cords make the prusik knot a little harder to manipulate than cords of larger diameter. Experiment to see which diameter of cord works best for you. Webbing isn't usually used for prusik knots because it may not hold. By attaching two slings to a climbing rope with prusik knots, you can "climb" up the rope. The prusik knot is also used to help in raising and lowering people and equipment during rescues.
Bachmann Knot: The Bachmann knot is used for the same purposes as a prusik knot. The Bachmann is tied around a carabiner, making it much easier to loosen and slide than a prusik. It has the virtue of sometimes being "self-tending" when it is used to help hoist an injured climber.

Klemheist Knot: The Klemheist knot is another alternative to the prusik, with the advantage that it allows you to use a sling made from either accessory cord or webbing. This can be a big help to a climber caught with an ample supply of webbing but little cord.

  • The cord or webbing is wound around the main rope in a spiral and then threaded through the loop of the top wrap. The Klemheist tied off is less likely to jam and easier to loosen and slide than the basic Klemheist. The Klemheist can also be tied around a carabiner, providing a good handhold.
Munter Hitch: The Munter is a simple hitch in the rope that is clipped into a carabiner to put friction on the line. It provides an excellent method of belaying a leader or lowering a climber because the hitch is reversible (you can feed rope out of the carabiner or pull rope back in through the carabiner) and because the hitch slides (yet is easy to stop if you hold the braking end of the rope). It can also provide the necessary rope friction for rappelling, though it puts more twist in the rope than other rappel methods.
  • The Munter hitch is very easy to set up and use, and the only equipment needed is a large pear-shaped locking carabiner. Even if you prefer to use a specialized belay device, this hitch is worth knowing as a backup for the time you forget or lose your device.


© 1997. Excerpted with permission of the publisher from Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 6th ed, edited by Don Graydon; published by The Mountaineers, Seattle, WA.
- Don Graydon


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