In 2005, I was lucky enough to have Mr. Werner Munter, the father of the Avalanche Reduction Method, as my avalanche-course examiner in Switzerland. With his Lennon glasses and straight grey hair and beard, he’d impersonate an avalanche’s characteristic Whumph! by spreading his arms wide and collapsing them onto the lecturers’ table.
Mr. Munter is also the namesake of a famous knot: the Munter Hitch. Rumor has it Herr Munter brought this sailor’s knot to climbing during fall-arrest testing while training to be a guide in the 1960s. He felt that a hip belay didn’t offer enough friction and instead used the Italian (now Munter) Hitch.
Of all the tools in my climbing and guiding toolbox, the Munter Hitch is one of three I rely on the most: it’s fast, requires little gear, and is multifunctional. It should be second nature to all climbers.
When: Have you ever forgotten your belay/rappel device or felt that using it was too slow for shorter sections? Or was your rope so frozen you couldn’t get it through a device? A Munter solves all these problems. Tools: A rope and locking HMS — or pear-shaped—biner. Note: use an automatic or semi-automatic biner for rappels, to reduce the chance of the rope opening the screw gate. Tweaks: The Munter Hitch works mostly like any other belay system. Keep three details in mind, however:
Testing: Once you’ve built the knot, pull each strand to make sure the rope is running. The Munter is a bi-directional knot , meaning it should “flip” as the opposite strands of the rope are pulled.
Braking: To brake, bring the two strands parallel to each other — i.e., pull the brake end alongside the climber-side (hereafter called “weighted”) strand.
Twisting: You can prevent — or at least reduce — the kinks produced by a Munter by braking as per above, or by using a Super Munter (see “Super Munter to the Rescue” sidebar).
Build It: Here are my two favorite ways to build a Munter.
The two-handed Munter: With the rope in one hand, form a bight. Twist the bight 360 degrees, and then clip the locker through the bight’s eye and, below, through the gap below the twisted strands. Pull the strands to form a Munter Hitch. Lock the locker!
The one-handed Munter, directly on the anchor: This technique lets the weighted strand sit in the right place and lets you easily turn the Munter into a clove once your partner reaches the anchor. First, put your rope through your locker, which should be clipped to the anchor’s power point. With the unweighted strand, flip the rope upward to make a loop. Now give this loop a quarter-twist (90 degrees), and clip it through the locker to form your Munter. (If you don’t do the quarter-twist, the rope will come right out of the biner.) Lock the locker!
The “Locked-Off” Munter
With a few simple flourishes, you can create a Munter Mule or Clove Hitch — in addition to the auto-blocking Munter —to lock off the rope. Munter Mule: Create a loop with the unweighted strand as close to the Munter hitch as possible. Have the free strand go behind the weighted strand to form a bight. Now feed this bight through the original loop — coming in front of the weighted strand—and pull it tight, forming a loop long enough to tie an overhand-on-a-bight on the weighted strand. This final knot is essential because the weight of the hanging rope might otherwise undo the first loop’s overhand knot. (Note: the loaded end only auto-blocks once the mule snugs up to the power-point biner, so prep for a few inches of play in the system before the mule auto-blocks.) Clove Hitch: Having built your one-handed Munter, simply add another loop — do the same quarter-twist, and clip it in. Now you have a secure tie-off: the clove hitch.
Tricks of the Trade
The “Auto-Blocking” Munter: Clip a biner through the weighted strand and left side of the bight coming from the loaded strand (i.e., the left side of the Munter’s smile shape). This will prevent the knot from flipping, thus creating an auto-blocking system. To test it, pull on the brake-hand side — the rope should run smoothly; now pull the climber (weighted) side — it should block immediately. This is also good if you need to bring up two people on separate ropes—put the two separate lines in two separate lockers to create your two auto-blocking Munters.
Caroline George (carolinegeorge.blogspot.com) is an AMGA Alpine and Rock certified guide; she guides in the US and Europe. She’s also an athlete for First Ascent, Petzl, SCARPA and Julbo.