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133 The Clove Hitch 2009-10-05

clove hitch and carabiner

On one of my earliest trips to the mountains was for a month long mountaineering class in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I was semi-experienced as a rock climber before taking the class, but I wanted to get better. By knowing the basics, even though most of my climbing including leading was single pitch routes, I was an advanced member of the group.

On Pingora our group leader had climbed a couple of pitches and began feeling ill. He asked if I felt comfortable leading the rest of the way to the top and naturally I said sure. With the goldline rope I tied a bowline on a coil around my mid-section and started climbing the pitch. Weaving the rope from side to side along the ridge and using webbing to sling a few horns, I climbed to the next belay ledge.

Proudly I stood on the ledge and secured webbing around a chockstone rock wedged in a crack behind me. All I had to do was secure myself to the webbing with a clove hitch and belay the others up. I attempted to tie the hitch, but it didn’t look right. I tried again. Nope. Frantic, I continued to tie something, anything that vaguely looked like a clove hitch. I now know there are other knots that would have worked and perhaps were even better to use for securing yourself to an anchor; but the knot that I knew was the clove hitch and I could not tie it.

From below team members began to yell, asking me was everything okay.

I continued delaying them. As a least resort I tied a bowline using a bight in the rope (not a bowline on a bight). The bulky knot would suffice but was an eyesore. As quickly as possible I began belaying.

When the group leader arrived on the ledge with me, he told me good job, but then saw the knot. He was about my age, but had been climbing in the mountains for a number of years. Laughing together about the knot he anchored us and then retied the knot. He showed me a quick way to tie the hitch and told me to practice 100 times when we got back to camp.

I led the last two pitches to the top of Pingora safely, tying the knot correctly both times.

Back in camp I practiced tying the hitch 100 times. Soon I could soon tie it left or right handed, with my eyes closed, or behind my back. I could even tie the hitch while swatting mosquitoes.

Rope work and knots are an important part of climbing. I have never again forgotten how to tie a knot, but I admit that I do practice from time to time even when I am not climbing.

A couple of good books for reference are Mountaineering, Freedom of the Hills and Knots for Climbers.

Happy trails.


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