There are only a few knots any novice climber really needs to know, these being the figure eight, overhand knot, clove hitch and bowline. I would add one more to this, even though it’s not a knot that many people use unless it’s an emergency - the Munter or Italian hitch.
All climbers should know how to tie a Munter hitch and how it works, as well as practice using it regularly in place of their belay device, both belaying the leader and the second (so that when you have to use it you can). This is not about the Munter (loads of great info online about it), but here are some basics:
- The Munter works best on large diameter HMS krab, such as the Petzl William or DMM Boa, which all climbers should have anyway as part of their rack (I always recommend you carry 2 HMS krabs, one standard one for the belay device, and one extra-large for ropes/rescue). The largest HMS krabs such as the ones mentioned are also vital for exploiting the Munter’s ass saving abilities in a rescue, as the Munter can pass a knot - meaning you can lower someone two rope lengths in one go. Big krabs are also vital for the smooth operation of the Super Munter (which I’ll cover another time).
- The Munter locks in the opposite way to a normal belay device, with the brake rope being pushed forward (so both strands are side by side), so as to get the maximum friction from the rope. You can break the rope in the normal way but this provides less friction, which could be exploited where you need a less grabby belay (as long as you wear leather gloves and don’t allow the rope to get away from you (you need to practice dynamic belaying with a deadweight before trying it with a real live person on the end!).
- The ropes feed really smoothly with the Munter, but works best if you feed the rope in, as well as draw it out.
- Although it works fine for belaying the leader (as long as you can short circuit your natural instinct to lock the rope back), it really comes into its own for belaying up the second as a ‘direct belay’ (attached directly to the belay’s powerpoint).
- You can abseil on the Munter but I’d only recommend this in an emergency as the ropes get super twisted, so would go for a carabiner break instead, or a Super Munter if using thin ropes (which twists the ropes less).
- When tying always double-check that the Munter is set correctly, with the knot ‘flipping’ as it is weighted.
- The Munter will work with any ropes, including ropes that you may find too fat to fat to fit in your belay device (including icy ropes).
- Always try and have the break rope running next to the krabs spine, not its gate.
So if you learn the Munter don’t just stick it in the back draw of your toolbox, but get it out and use it regularly, especially when bringing up a second as a direct belay.
Anyway, this is not about the normal Munter.
One interesting way to use the Munter is as an auto-locking knot, allowing you to take it the rope as smoothy as you would usually with a Munter, but one that locks tight when it’s weighted. To do this you should tie the Munter as usual to a large HMS and then orientate the knot for bringing up the second (so not in lowering mode). Now take another locking carabiner (any type) and clip this into both the loaded strand (the strand going to the climber below) and the loop that wraps around the breaking rope (see diagram). You should now be able to take in the rope smoothly as normal, but it will lock down tight once loaded.
Cool, I know - but is this just another trick?
Well, what I like about the locking Munter is that, unlike any guide plate, you can be belaying someone up normally with a Munter direct to the belay, and instantly just switch it to auto-lock mode (say you’re roping are getting in a mess, or you need to to put on a jacket etc). Once you’re done you can just unclip the locker and you’re back to normal.
The Auto-locking Munter is also good for hauling a light load if you don’t want to haul it in one (If you have no pulley), and you need to keep an eye on a partner, working much better than the Garda knot (which I always find a pain to use in the real world).
Downsides with the knot are that it cannot be released under load (unlike a guide plate), which could be a big problem if you need to assist a second who can’t get their weight off it (you’d need to set up a micro haul with a sling and prusik, lift them a few inches and remove the locker from the knot). It also tends to work best on thinner ropes, and I best on single strands.
So is it a trick knot? Well yes - but….
Although a trick knot, and one worth adding to your book of tricks, the auto-locking Munter offers a climber an ace in a very common situation, as with knots or devices that lock, it can be used to climb a rope. There are many situations where you can find yourself with only one prusik loop, no slings or a guide plate (Reverso etc), but in a situation where you need to climb a rope (rap down too far in a descent, end up hanging in space etc). In this situation, you can use the Munter as your waist ascender, with a prusik above for your foot (if you only have a 1.5m prusik you can make a foot loop out of your rope). When ascending a rope with a Munter clip the main HMS directly into your leg and waist loop, and have the locking strand coming out on the right side if right-handed. Compared to using a jumar is far from easy still, but compared to using just your hands! Well, it’s much better than that!