Learn This: Efficient Transitions Using the Clove Hitch Backside

Use the backside of the clove hitch for faster transitions
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Use the backside of the clove hitch for faster transitions

As one of our most versatile tools in climbing, the clove hitch offers a fast, simple way to tie into the anchor. It’s adjustable, easy to untie once weighted, and it relies on the rope for security. Testing shows the clove hitch is strong, safe, and can be used effectively during certain rappel transitions. Specifically, using the “backside” of the clove hitch can increase safety, comfort, and efficiency. Read on for the proper technique.

The Process

The follower (left) attaches to the rope with a clove hitch on a locking carabiner. The leader is attached to the rope on the other side of the clove hitch.

The follower (left) attaches to the rope with a clove hitch on a locking carabiner. The leader is attached to the rope on the other side of the clove hitch.

The leader arrives at a rappel anchor at the top of a route. She cloves in, rigs her belay system for her second, and brings him up. While he climbs, she clove-hitches a locking carabiner to the rope on the backside of her clove hitch, which is the strand of rope coming out of her clove hitch at the anchor and leading to the rope stack. She clips this backside clove into her follower’s belay loop when he arrives, locks it, double-checks it, and takes him off belay.

Now the follower can untie, thread the rope, pull it through to the middle, then set up an extended, or pre-rigged, rappel. The leader can now rig her rappel below the follower’s, which allows her to stay tied in while rapping and makes going off the end of the rope impossible. With the second climber’s rappel setup pre-rigged on the rope at the anchor, this effectively fixes both strands of the rope so it can’t slip either direction through the anchor. This is best used on the first rappel (if making additional raps, switch to the standard system after the first rappel).

If the follower needs to rappel first, the former leader goes on rappel above the follower, the climbers double-check each other’s systems, the leader unties and drops her strand, and the second begins down. In this situation it’s important to tie knots in the ends of the rope. Once this backside transition becomes part of the team’s regular routine, it takes seconds to execute. As with any new technique, practice on inconsequential terrain, double-check each other, and don’t break out your new tool in a rushed situation. Master it first, then send!

Benefits

  • Rather than clipping in at the anchor with a personal anchor system or sling, the second climber clips in with a locking carabiner on the backside of the leader’s clove, so his tether is adjustable. This frees up space at the anchor, keeps everyone comfortable, and the team can spread out to sort gear, change shoes, or just lounge in the sun. No one is “trapped” by the length of his tether.
  • Anchoring in with the rope improves security because the rope is more dynamic and stronger than a tether or sling, so the consequences of a slip or fall, while not eliminated, are lessened. If someone slips at a belay stance, there’s less chance of the failure of a sling and an injured climber. By using the backside, the rope’s dynamic capacity is in the system, therefore protecting the team.
  • The leader, as described above, also remains tied in. Pre-rigging the team’s rappel devices also allows each climber to double-check his teammate’s rappel system, which will help catch a mistake.
  • The backside can help speed up transitions. At the rappel transition described previously, if the second clips into the anchor with a clove hitch on his end, he’ll have to remove it moments later to start rappelling.
  • When the rope becomes kinked because of traversing terrain or an awkward belay, the follower can clip into the backside of the clove hitch, untie and let the kinks out before tying in again.

Rob Coppolillo and Marc Chauvin are both IFMGA-licensed mountain guides. Marc owns Chauvin Guides in North Conway, New Hampshire, and Rob co-owns Vetta Mountain Guides in Boulder, Colorado. They’re working on a book, The Mountain Guide’s Manual, to be published by Falcon Guides in March 2017.