Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Climbing knots and ways of teaching how to tie them

         There are hundreds of knots that can be used in climbing and each one serves its purpose to a greater or lesser extent the ones i`m going to focus in in this blog are at the more common end of the spectrum and should be known by many people, I will also describe the different methods I have for teaching each one, some may be familar to you, others may be new.

Figure of eight knot

          This is the first knot that most people learn when climbing and usually for good reason, its a good stopper knot and is the beginning of the retied figure of eight which is used for tying into the harness with, many people pride themselves by being able to tie this knot while blindfolded or behind their backs or for doing tricks where they spin the rope and throw the end through to form a figure of eight. I have found two methods work best for teaching how to tie this knot, the "twist method" and the "floor method" each naturally has its advantages and disadvantages.
          The twist method involves holding the rope in one hand and twisting the rope a half turn twice (a full twist) with the other,
2 half twists
end pushed through

          This forms a loop to put the end of the rope through and this forms the figure of eight...this isn`t quite as easy as it sounds to teach however as you have to take into account left and right handed people meaning you need to work out whether the final "poke" through the loop goes in from the front as your looking at it or from the back, people over twisting and forming a figure of nine or under twisting and forming a overhand knot.
          The floor method involves learning how to tie the knot on the floor, this is a more time and space consuming method and is more suited to walls than rock faces, its advantages though are that every stage of the knot tying is broken down making instruction easier and these stages can be seen clearer by pupils. 

laid on floor with the initial loop  
end crossed over right to left
 end passed underneath left to right and placed into small loop

Retied figure of eight
          This is the usually where people start to go wrong with this knot and the most common way of teaching is to imagine a train or a racecar following its track and this is usually the best method however it can still be frustrating from a clients point of view as they make mistakes time after time until everything finally clicks into place and the best thing I have found is to take each client through each stage of this knot until it finally makes sense.


          This Knot isn`t really taught anymore which is a bit of a shame as it is still a useful knot the reason it isn`t really taught anymore is its major advantage is also its major disadvantage, it unties very easily after being loaded, meaning that a stopper knot is essential when using this knot, (its also required when using the figure of eight but isn`t AS essential) it is also slightly harder to learn to tie than a figure of eight and to this day I can only tie this knot one way. the classic method of teaching this knot is "the rabbit comes out the hole, round the tree and back in the hole" this method is probably still the best way of teaching this knot, first the hole needs to be created, this is done by twisting a small section of rope to form a loop, after this has been done the "rabbit" or the end of the rope can pass through the loop or the "hole" goes around the back of the rope (tree) and goes back through the loop from the same side it came out. 
forming the hole
the rabbit comes out the hole...
round the tree...
and back into the hole.
          the rabbit can go either way round the tree and the only difference is the end of the rope either ends up on the inside or the outside of the big loop.

Stopper knot

          As the name of this knot suggests it stops the main knot coming undone or the end of a rope from slipping out of something, it is very easy to tie this knot and in its simplest form involves turning the rope several times around itself and tucking the end through these twists, a more elegant and neater solution is to use the fishermans bend.

 Fishermans bend

          The next two knots, the Clove hitch and the Italian Hitch, aren`t really knots as they need something to work against, they are also moderately difficult to teach as they can cause confusion especially when forming the two loops and placing on top of or folding together of these loop, fortunately the start of both these hitches begin in exactly the same way, again there are two ways I teach of tying these hitches, both using the floor or ground, these are the floor method and the crossed arms method. The crossed arm method is much easier to teach but can cause problems after in keeping the loops formed whereas the floor method is once again more time consuming but allows clearer illustration of each stage of the hitches being tied.

start of the hitches

          Using the crossed arm method, start by laying out a long piece of rope on the floor, then cross your arms over pick up the rope and uncross you arms, this form the two loops required and the correct over/under sequence for each.

          Using the floor method. This method takes longer to teach but each step can be taught individually until clients understand the sequencing. starting with a horizontal line, create a loop (the left side from your view) making sure the rope going towards you passes ON TOP of the horizontal rope, create the next loop (right hand from your view) making sure the rope going towards you passes UNDERNEATH the horizontal

Clove Hitch

          To form the Clove hitch the loop that was formed by the rope passing underneath the horizontal is placed on top of the other loop and, in this an HMS karabiner, something then needs to be passed through the two loops, you`ll know instantly whether this has been done correctly as the hitch will either tighten or will just unravel meaning you will have to start again, this is a useful hitch to know as it is almost self tightening yet can still be undone easily once its been loaded.

Italian Hitch

          To create the Italian Hitch, once you have formed the two loops you need to close them together like a book and clip a karabiner through the loops, once again it is very easy to tell whether you`ve tied this knot correctly as it will tighten up around the karabiner although it will continue to move through the karabiner but should stop moving once pressure is applied, or just fall apart meaning you will have to start all over again. This Hitch is especially useful to know as it can be used as a belay, albeit very occasionally as it does wear the rope out, belaying using this method does have one massive advantage over belay devices in that the belayer can be in front of the karabiner and still belay rather than behind the karabiner, making it particularly useful when belaying from the top of a crag or teaching abseiling.

Alpine Butterfly
          This is my favorite knot as its the most practical on this list and looks cool as well, this knot can take a three way pull and can also isolate a section of damaged rope whilst you continue to use it. it is a difficult knot to tie and as usual there are many different ways to tie it. the way I tie this knot and the way I teach it is the wrap round method, this makes it alot simpler to teach but can make it difficult to judge where the isolation loop will eventually end up, another method is the twist method which makes it easier to judge the isolation loop but I find it harder to teach.
          the wrap around method starts by laying the rope over your hand 

wrapping the rope a second time around your hand crossing it over the first strand of rope

then wrapping around a third time following the cross of the second strand

the first of the crossed over strand is then taken passed across the top of the left hand strand and underneath everything else,
the loop is then pulled through and the two ends of the rope pulled out

There are many different knots to learn and many different ways of teaching them this blog very briefly covers just some of them and the best way to find out about more knots is to join a climbing wall. 

P.S there wont be a blog next week as i`m going to a music festival at the weekend...unless you really want to read about the kit i`m taking (and probably leaving) there.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.


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