Add one extra biner to a Munter hitch for guide mode
Every climber should be familiar with the Munter, a simple but versatile hitch that has many helpful uses. We all know it’s a great replacement if you accidentally drop or forget your belay device, but it’s especially handy in alpine and ski mountaineering environments because it handles a frozen and icy rope better than traditional belay devices. As a matter of fact, the Munter can actually de-ice your rope and make it easier to handle in particularly cold climates. With one simple modification, this hitch can also become an auto-blocking belay system (commonly called “guide mode”) when belaying a follower directly off the anchor from the top of a pitch. This is a great trick for guides and recreational leaders alike since it requires little gear and can be set up quickly and easily.
Build your anchor like you normally would, with a pear-shaped locking biner (it’s possible to use biners with other shapes, but a pear will allow the rope to run as smoothly as possible) through the master point. (Make sure to lock the biner!) The Munter hitch should be in raise mode, so the hitch itself is flipped over the carabiner on the other side from the climber’s rope. (The Munter is a bi-directional hitch, so it is supposed to flip from one side to the other as you switch from raising to lowering.) Clip your second locking biner onto the load line (or climber’s rope) and the bight in the hitch closest to the climber’s rope. By including this biner in the system, the Munter hitch will not be able to flip into lower mode, therefore making it auto-blocking.
Test it by pulling on the load strand of the rope. If set up correctly, the hitch will lock on itself. Then pull on the brake strand to make sure the rope runs through smoothly. You can also use this system for belaying two followers: Put each follower’s rope on its own biner on the master point, and then use two more biners to set up auto-block mode.
Just like with any auto-blocking tube-style device, giving slack to your follower can be difficult. The easiest way to do this is to have your climber simply unweight the rope at a good stance. This is one reason why this technique is ideal for easy fifth-class terrain; the climber is moving at a pace where the belayer can manage the rope and easily go hands-free. This allows the belayer to multitask and prepare for the next pitch while the climber is safely moving up. If applied correctly in the right terrain, it all allows for quick and smooth transitions.
ASK A GUIDE
What are some tips for a person who is rappelling for the first time?
1. Always double-check the anchors that you are rappelling off, especially if you did not build them. They should be solid and redundant; plus, look at the whole length of webbing to make sure it’s not faded or torn.
2. Your hair and clothing should not be close enough to get caught in your belay device.
3. Take your time. Have your partner double-check your setup (both ropes through rappel device, biner clipped to device, ropes, and belay loop, and biner locked) before you go.
4. Weight your belay device and check your whole setup again before you remove your personal tether from the anchor.
5. Use a rappel backup—either a prusik or an auto-block—in case there is unexpected rockfall or you need to remove your hand to deal with tangles in the rope.
As a guide for RMI and Pacific Alpine Guides, Lindsay Mann leads mountaineering trips on Mt. Rainier, Denali, and throughout the North Cascades. She also teaches avalanche courses and works as a backcountry ski guide.