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Applying Friction: The Munter Hitch

By Don Graydon.

The Munter hitch is a very effective method of using only the rope and a carabiner to provide the friction necessary to stop a fall. It amplifies the effect of your braking hand with the friction both of rope on rope and of rope on carabiner. It is probably the strongest method, in the stopping force it can exert, except the Grigri.
 
2 advantages of Munter hitch.

The Munter hitch is the only traditional belay method that provides sufficient friction regardless of the angle between the ropes entering and leaving it.

  1. First, no special braking position is required. The problem that a belayer taken by surprise by a fall might not pull back on the rope-doesn't occur with the Munter hitch: it will hold if the belayer just grips the rope.
  2. Second, it works well in the special situation where all of the slack rope is hanging down a wall. With the slack hanging below, you may be unable to raise your braking hand high enough, as required by a standard belay device, to arrest a follower fall. The problem is caused by the weight of the rope, the extra force exerted by the falling climber, and the difficult arm position. But with a Munter hitch, it doesn't matter, whether belaying off the harness or directly off the anchor.
The Munter hitch has some drawbacks.
  1. It kinks the rope more than any other method, producing snarls in the last few feet of rope after several pitches, especially if the same person always leads. To unsnarl the rope, shake it out while it is hanging free. After a big fall, the outermost layer of the sheath is glazed (which, like the effect of hard-anodized devices, is only cosmetic).
  2. The Munter hitch isn't good for rappelling because it twists the rope once for every 5 feet of descent, and makes ropes very fuzzy if used regularly. Every time the direction of pull on the hitch reverses, the entire knot first flip-flops through the carabiner oval. This can get a bit awkward when the leader clips into protection above, moves up toward it, and then passes it, because it requires the belayer to pay out, take in, and pay out rope in rapid succession, reversing the direction of pull on the Munter hitch each time. This reversal in the direction of pull also occurs when holding a fall, producing an additional drop of 6 inches as the knot pulls through the carabiner before braking begins.

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