Tips & Techniques: Escaping the Belay 

Picking up where we left off, this week we’re highlighting a technique that is similarly useful to know on the occasion you are adventuring off the ground on a multi-pitch alpine route, mountaineering across glaciated terrain or climbing in a single pitch environment.  

Escape the Belay

Scenario:  Leader takes a fall.  The rope has been fed out past the halfway point or lowering the Leader would put them father away from you, the Belayer, and the anchor.  The Leader’s full weight is being held by your break hand and your belay device attached directly to your harness.  The first objective is to free your hands; next, transfer the Leader’s load to first a friction hitch; then, transfer the load from the friction hitch to the anchor.

Tools: Munter/Mule/Overhand combination, Friction hitch: Prusik or Klemheist
Equipment: 6-7mm 20’ Cordalette; 2 locking carabiners

1. Tie off Belay
Off of the back end of your brake hand i.e. hand that is holding/breaking the fall, pull a bite of rope through the belay device, and tie off the bite with a Munter onto the locking carabiner.  

Photo courtesy of Climbing.comAlternately, you can tie off the Munter hitch onto the load strand above the belay device (fig 15-17).  

This step frees your break hand for future tasks. 

2. Friction Hitch on Main Load Strand

Using your cordalette, place a friction hitch on the Main Load Strand (rope that is going from your belay device to Climber) at a location within arm's distance of yourself and the anchor.

I like using the Klemheist as a friction hitch here, however the Prusik would work just as well.  Your preference.

Secure the back end of the cordalette to the anchor using a Munter/Mule combination on a locked carabiner, then tie an Overhand knot to make the Munter/Mule catastrophe-proof.

(If you tie your cordalette with a double fisherman's knot, this would be the time that you regret using that knot as it will invariably get in the way in all applications of rescue.  However, if you tie the cordalette with a water knot, you may wish to maneuver the knot to be close to the friction hitch/load strand or close to the end of the cordalette.  Even better is to use an unknotted cordalette.)

3. Back-up Friction Hitch

On the back end of your belay device/Munter tie off (Step 1), secure the rope to the anchor using a Munter/Mule/Overhand combination onto a locked carabiner, making sure that the rope is underneath the friction hitch cordalette.  This system backs up the friction hitch in case of catastrophe.

4. Transfer load to Friction Hitch

Slowly lean towards anchor and friction hitch, unweighting your belay device, watching to ensure that the friction hitch is able to hold the entire load.  If the friction hitch is solid, you’re clear to untie the Munter and remove the rope from your belay device.  

Now, a large amount of slack will have built up between the friction hitch and the Main Strand Munter/Mule.  

5. Tighten Main Strand Munter/Mule

On the main strand Munter/Mule, untie overhand and mule knots, pop the Munter, remove the slack, and retie the Mule/Overhand.

6. Transfer load to Main Strand Munter/Mule

Slowly maneuver the friction hitch closer to the anchor, which will transfer the load to your main strand Munter/Mule.  

This completes the load transfer onto the main strand Munter/Mule.  From here, you're hands are free to execute whatever future steps required, such as rescuing the car keys from your clumsy partner, rappelling down, and grabbing a beer.  Pfew, close call!

Next up, Be the Best Belayer Ever!