Single-Hitch Belay Escape
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
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.
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.
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.
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 (climbinglife.com) 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.