Dropping your belay device on a multi-pitch route is the single worst feeling ever.
You know what’s the second worst feeling ever? It’s when you finally arrive at the crag after a long, long drive, and realize you’ve forgotten your belay device.
I think you get the idea. Climbers feel like their belay device is their lifeline.
And it kind of is; It’s what saves your life if you fall… but the important thing to note is that it’s not your only lifeline.
There’s an easy way to belay when you find yourself without a belay device for whatever reason, and what’s so great about it is that it doesn’t use any more equipment than you already have, and you won’t even have to belay any differently.
“What is this magical method that you speak of?” you ask, eyes open wide.
It’s called “belaying with a munter hitch.”
How to Belay with a Munter Hitch
Belaying with a munter hitch is exactly like belaying normally. The difference is in how you set up the belay.
With a munter hitch, you’ll be belaying directly off the locking carabiner that’s going through the belay loop of your harness.
The way that you actually create a munter hitch is simple.
Take your rope and make two loops in it side by side, so that they’re going the same way. Then fold those two loops up together as if you’re closing a book, and clip them into your locking carabiner together.
That’s it! That’s all there is to it.
Funnily enough, munters are reversible, so it doesn’t matter which rope is your live rope and which one is your dead rope. Try paying out slack and you’ll see what I mean.
Of course, you can always clip your munter’s two loops the other way around instead if you want your brake side on the opposite side.
The only thing to mention, is that munters actually lock off with the brake hand in an upward position. If you pull your brake hand down, it’ll still brake fairly well, but just remember to lift your hand up if you’re bracing to catch a big fall.
One final thing to note is that you should make sure that the gate of your locking carabiner isn’t on the side that your braking side is on. You’d end up putting pressure on the gate that way, which is always the weakest spot on any carabiner.
And, speaking of which, it’s always best to do this with a pear-shaped carabiner. You might also have heard them being called “HMS” carabiners. Interestingly, HMS is an abbreviation of the German name for a munter hitch.
Why Not Do This All the Time Instead of Using a Belay Device?
It’s because there’s a huge drawback to belaying with a munter:
It twists your rope.
Now, you’re not going to run into any problems if you’re only doing it for a session or two or in emergencies, but if you were to forego your belay device completely and just belay with a munter all the time, you’d quickly ruin your rope.
The reason why a munter twists and kinks your rope is to do with the shape of the hitch. It introduces a twist in the rope as it moves through the hitch, but it doesn’t twist it back after the rope has passed fully through.
Now, it is possible to counteract this twist by using an alternate variant of the munter called the “super munter.” However, it’s practically useless due to how much friction it causes. You can’t really belay properly with one, unless you had strong arms and a lot of patience.
A super munter fixes the twist problem because it’s essentially a doubled-up munter, but with the “second munter” undoing the twist that the “first munter” caused in the first place.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Twists in your rope are pretty hard to get out as well, and it can only be done when the rope’s not in use. Even then, you’ll never get the rope 100% straight again. The little kinks in it will come back as slight wrinkles in your rope even if you get them out completely.
Really, the best long-term strategy for losing your belay device is to not lose it in the first place – or bring a spare. A munter hitch can be a great alternative whenever you need to belay or rappel without a belay device on the off time you forget it, but using a munter too often really will mess your rope up.
In the end, it’d have been cheaper to just buy a second belay device as a backup that you just leave in your car all the time. It’s better than having to buy a whole new climbing rope every few months.