Munter Hitch Caution

The belayer must ensure he is wearing adequate clothing to protect his body from rope burns when using a body belay. Heavy duty cotton or leather work gloves can also be worn to protect the hands.

(1) Sitting Body Belay. The sitting body belay is the preferred position and is usually the most secure (Figure 6-22). The belayer sits facing the direction where the force of a fall will likely come from, using terrain to his advantage, and attempts to brace both feet against the rock to support his position. It is best to sit in a slight depression, placing the buttocks lower than the feet, and straightening the legs for maximum support. When perfectly aligned, the rope running to the climber will pass between the belayer's feet, and both legs will equally absorb the force of a fall. Sometimes, the belayer may not be able to sit facing the direction he would like, or both feet cannot be braced well. The leg on the "guide hand" side should then point towards the load, bracing the foot on the rock when possible. The belayer can also "straddle" a large tree or rock nubbin for support, as long as the object is solid enough to sustain the possible load.

Figure 6-22. Sitting body belay.

(2) Standing Body Belay. The standing body belay is used on smaller ledges where there is no room for the belayer to sit (Figure 6-23). What appears at first to be a fairly unstable position can actually be quite secure when belay anchors are placed at or above shoulder height to support the stance when the force will be downward.

Kho Kho Clip Art
Figure 6-23. Standing body belay.

(a) For a body belay to work effectively, the belayer must ensure that the rope runs around the hips properly, and remains there under load when applying the brake. The rope should run around the narrow portion of the pelvic girdle, just below the bony high points of the hips. If the rope runs too high, the force of a fall could injure the belayer's midsection and lower rib cage. If the rope runs too low, the load may pull the rope below the buttocks, dumping the belayer out of position. It is also possible for a strong upward or downward pull to strip the rope away from the belayer, rendering the belay useless.

(b) To prevent any of these possibilities from happening, the belay rope is clipped into a carabiner attached to the guide hand side of the seat harness (or bowline-on-a-coil). This "guide carabiner" helps keep the rope in place around the hips and prevents loss of control in upward or downward loads (Figure 6-24).

Belay With Body
Figure 6-24. Guide carabiner for rope control in a body belay.

b. Mechanical Belay. A mechanical belay must be used whenever there is potential for the lead climber to take a severe fall. The holding power of a belay device is vastly superior to any body belay under high loads. However, rope management in a mechanical belay is more difficult to master and requires more practice. For the most part, the basic body belay should be totally adequate on a typical military route, as routes used during military operations should be the easiest to negotiate.

(1) Munter Hitch. The Munter hitch is an excellent mechanical belay technique and requires only a rope and a carabiner (Figure 6-25, page 6-38). The Munter is actually a two-way friction hitch. The Munter hitch will flip back and forth through the carabiner as the belayer switches from giving slack to taking up rope. The carabiner must be large enough, and of the proper design, to allow this function. The locking pear-shaped carabiner, or pearabiner, is designed for the Munter hitch.

(a) The Munter hitch works exceptionally well as a lowering belay off the anchor. As a climbing belay, the carabiner should be attached to the front of the belayer's seat harness. The hitch is tied by forming a loop and a bight in the rope, attaching both to the carabiner. It's fairly easy to place the bight on the carabiner backwards, which forms an obvious, useless hitch. Put some tension on the Munter to ensure it is formed correctly, as depicted in the following illustrations.

(b) The Munter hitch will automatically "lock-up" under load as the brake hand grips the rope. The brake is increased by pulling the slack rope away from the body, towards the load. The belayer must be aware that flipping the hitch DOES NOT change the function of the hands. The hand on the rope running to the climber, or load, is always the guide hand.

Munter Hitch Knot
Figure 6-25. Munter hitch.

(2) Figure-Eight Device. The figure-eight device is a versatile piece of equipment and, though developed as a rappel device, has become widely accepted as an effective mechanical belay device (Figure 6-26). The advantage of any mechanical belay is friction required to halt a fall is applied on the rope through the device, rather than around the belayer's body. The device itself provides rope control for upward and downward pulls and excellent friction for halting severe falls. The main principle behind the figure-eight device in belay mode is the friction developing on the rope as it reaches and exceeds the 90-degree angle between the rope entering the device and leaving the device. As a belay device, the figure-eight works well for both belayed climbing and for lowering personnel and equipment on fixed-rope installations.

(a) As a climbing belay, a bight placed into the climbing rope is run through the "small eye" of the device and attached to a locking carabiner at the front of the belayer's seat harness. A short, small diameter safety rope is used to connect the "large eye" of the figure eight to the locking carabiner for control of the device. The guide hand is placed on the rope running to the climber. Rope management is performed as in a body belay. The brake is applied by pulling the slack rope in the brake hand towards the body, locking the rope between the device and the carabiner.

(b) As a lowering belay, the device is normally attached directly to the anchor with the rope routed as in rappelling.

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