Single-Hitch Belay Escape

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 Figure 1

Figure 1
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 Figure 2

Figure 2
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 Figure 3

Figure 3
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 3.1 Figure 3.1

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. My website ( provides some instructional videos, and I offer monthly self-rescue clinics all summer. Reach out to your local guiding services to find clinics near you.


1) Tie a mule knot and overhand backup 2) Tie a figure eight backup knot in the brake hand side and clip it to your anchor 3) Wrap a prusick around the rope to the climber 4) Wrap the prusick (or a sling extension) around a biner to the anchor in a mariner’s hitch or munter mule 5) Slide the prusick up and weight it 6) Release the mule knot 7) You have escaped the belay and you have never had the climber just on a prusick See the thread on Mountain Project were many people have a problem with your method.

Brian - 07/14/2014 7:41:45

Nice article, thank you. Utilization of the KISS principle is always appreciated in high stress situations. In a real world scenario the second clove hitch could be loosened to introduce a lowering device, while it would be possible to transfer the load to the device by loosening the loaded clove hitch or prusik. Adding a munter/mule to the prusik would make the transfer easier but would also add another layer of complexity to the process.

Allan H - 05/07/2014 8:19:36

This technique doesn't provide the same flexibility as a Munter-Mule Overhand (MMO). At some point, the climber will need to either ascend or descend. Using a clove hitch means that the belayer does not have the ability to belay the climber after escaping the belay. At the very least, the article should mention the MMO, and provide references for climbers to learn more about these "Lesser-known hitches." Time is of the essence in emergency situations, and setting up the proper rig will save time down the road when it comes to moving the climber up or down. Of course, doing the MMO correctly does require practice. But, if a climber doesn't want to invest the time and effort to learn these skills, they should probably avoid the higher stakes game of multi-pitch climbing.

James - 04/23/2014 12:41:33

Richard, with due respect, I think you fail to comprehend the method described and its intent. Firstly, the intent of the article is to provide a simple method to escape the belay using a knot or hitch known by most climbers. Secondly, the method does not, at any point, leave the partner secured by only the prusik cord. Let's clear away the superfluous info and summarize the method. Step 1. Lock off the belay with leg wraps. Partner still "on belay" but belayer has both hands free. Step 2. Attach prusik cord to live rope with some kind of "prusik" knot and attach this to the anchor with a clove hitch. Partner is still "on belay" (albeit locked off around leg). Step 3. Un-lock the belay (release the leg wraps). Partner is still "on belay." Step 4. Feed rope though belay to load prusik cord and unload the belay rope. Partner is still "on belay" now actively but with slack and the prusik cord taking the load. Step 5. Tie brake rope to anchor with clove hitch. Partner still "on belay" but belay now locked off with the clove hitch. Step 6. Remove belay. Partner held by prusik cord which is backed up with the main rope, which was clove hitched to the anchor in step 5. There is a risk of shock loading the anchor at this point should the prusik fail in some way but at least the back up is with a dynamic rope. Step 7. Pull slack in the rope through the clove hitch so that both the prusik cord and the climbing rope are approximately equalized. The clove hitch allows the slack in the rope to be taken up quickly and easily minimizing the window of time during which a potential shock load could occur. Yes you could use a "real knot" but I am of the opinion that the clove hitch gives the best balance of safety, simplicity, ease of use, and rapidity of adjustment in the situation. I agree about not trusting ones life to a prusik cord without some sort of back up, (although desperate times can call for desperate measures, Joe Simpson covers that topic...). However, with regard to trusting your life to a clove hitch, I would say that most experienced climbers and IFMGA guides use a clove hitch as their primary method of attaching to anchors on multipitch climbs and trust their lives to this very useful little hitch.

Jade - 02/18/2014 2:15:59

In order to avoid any time at all when the second is being held with only a prusik (of any sort), I'd suggest anchoring the belay rope before unwrapping from the leg. [The description above is confusing as it looks like perhaps the prusik is being backed-up with a clove hitch - if so, I'd rather have the back-up be a real knot rather than a hitch even if it allows a couple inches of slack. Once the knot is attached, the slack can be worked through without untying the knot.] There will necessarily be slack in the system for a few moments, but better that than nothing backing up the prusik. Asap unwrap the belay rope and anchor it as tight as possible to back up the prusik without any slack. The point being, don't trust your partner's life to any kind of prusik or hitch without a back-up, even for a moment.

Richard D - 01/16/2014 2:57:17

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