How to Tie an Alpine Girth-Hitch

Tie into the middle of the rope quickly and securely

The alpine girth-hitch.

The seldom-used alpine butterfly knot has long been considered the gold standard for climbers when tying into the middle of the rope. Prestigious guide services and hallowed tomes like Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills teach the butterfly for glacier travel and any other time you need to attach yourself to the rope quickly without having access to either end. Yet the butterfly doesn’t get used for much else, and such neglected skills tend to get rusty. Fortunately, there’s a faster, simpler, and more secure option that exists: the alpine girth-hitch. Unlike the butterfly, this method doesn’t require using an extra locking carabiner, and it relies on a basic technique that most climbers employ regularly. You simply girth-hitch yourself into the rope.

Step 1

Pull a large bight (about four feet) of rope through your belay loop in either direction.

Step 2

Move it up and over the back of your head.

Step 3

Drop the bight of rope behind your entire body and step backward out of it. Then pull the strands (not the bight) tight.

 

The Real World

Just like clove-hitching into a carabiner at an anchor, you can easily work a few feet of slack through the hitch in either direction to fine-tune your attachment point without ever disconnecting from the rope. In addition to tying into a rope for glacier travel, this is an excellent way to quickly attach yourself to a secondary point on the rope for shorter pitches when rock climbing. For example, if you had been belaying like normal up a long route, but now you want to keep less rope between you and your partner for a stretch of simul-climbing or a shorter pitch, simply stay tied into the end, throw a few coils around your neck, and girth-hitch yourself into the rope at the desired spot.

The only drawback I have found for this method is that you need a few feet of slack to connect and disconnect from the rope. When you initially create the girth-hitch around your belay loop, cinch up both sides of the rope to snug everything into place. Some benefits: It doesn’t need extra carabiners, uses less rope in its final form, can never be unclipped from your harness like a butterfly, is adjustable without completely undoing it, and is easy to remember. For a quick and easy on/off rope connection that eliminates the need for a carabiner in the system, keep this skill in your bag of tricks.

Blake Herrington writes and climbs in Leavenworth, Washington, and has done more than 15 alpine first ascents in British Columbia, Canada, Alaska, Patagonia, Colorado, and his home range in the Cascades. Follow his adventures at blakeclimbs.blogspot.com.


Comments

Glad to at least know about this option.

Forrest - 06/04/2014 10:33:08

Crazy idea! KISS indeed, this is not it. Bowline on a bight, or simple overhand, or fig 8 clipped into 'biner. Come on, please don't teach this stuff to beginners.

Andrew - 03/25/2014 10:09:00

What if you take a fall and tension is only on one of the two rope sections? Won't the girth-hitch slip? To my opinion, you should tie-off the initial loop with a simple hitch, then step through the loop and finally shift the simple hitch closer. Regards, Martijn.

Martijn - 11/27/2013 4:23:00

The concern for needing to potentially Untie while the rope is taut apply equally to a butterfly or 8-on-a-bight as you will need to take tension off the weighted strand (using a prusik, tibloc, etc) and then wiggle loose the knot (very easy with a girth hitch) before working some slack through from the non-taut end of the rope. As far as hitching into the belay loop or two standard tie in points - either is safe I say KISS.

Blake Herrington - 11/11/2013 9:40:41

Can girth hitches be loaded asymmetrically? I'm not so sure they can, otherwise there'd be no need to ever tie a clove hitch! I'd be leery of this "alpine girth hitch". As many have mentioned before, the ability to escape is compromised, but what if you're tied into the middle of a rope team and the person in front falls into a crevasse? Will the girth hitch slip??? Black Diamonds new Magnetron Gridlocker carabiner is ideal for clipping a butterfly or overhand into your belay loop. The Gridlocker keeps the biner from crossloading and the magnets make it autolocking! Quick, simple, secure... perfect! http://blackdiamondequipment.com/en/climbing-carabiners-quickdraws/magnetron-gridlock-carabiner-BD2102880000ALL1.html#start=2

Marc IFMGA - 11/07/2013 10:15:40

alpine butterfly, any day...this is to much work, and very dangerous if you need to get out of there,.

Patrick - 11/07/2013 9:40:04

probably the best is bowline on a bight tied through the proper two spots on the harness and then the bight end clipped onto the belay loop with a locking biner

Bob Milko - 11/06/2013 4:51:54

Bad idea. In so many ways. Who checks this stuff before publication?

David Dornian - 11/06/2013 1:06:24

This is great Blake thanks! Obviously, the are proper times when the butterfly knot should be used, but this is a great trick for the bag. I can see myself using this on longer alpine routes while simuling for sure. Awesome tip!

Alton Richardson - 11/05/2013 1:49:56

Pfffft just use the butterfly

Chris - 11/05/2013 12:27:19

You can chop your belay loop off if you need to escape.

Dan - 11/05/2013 10:13:34

I would never do this because of how difficult it would be to escape. What happens when you actually use this knot and you (as a middle) wind up hanging in a crevasse with a teamate unconscious or dead below you? The only realistic escape is to cut the rope below you in order to ascend your rope or allow yourself to be hauled out. Another tie-in option besides the alpine butterfly is a bowline on a bight, probably easier to remember, and more readily escapeable.

RP - 11/05/2013 8:14:41

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