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CLIMBERS’

CORNER

An Overview of Climbing Hitches By Mark Adams

rborists’ climbing hitches have • how easily the climbing hitch releases The tautline holds the climber securely

A seen tremendous changes and


improvements in the past ten
years. Techniques have been adapted and
to allow the climber to descend and
then grips once the climber has
reached the next (usually lower) work
in place for working, but it tends to tighten
under the load of the weight of the climber.
The tautline can become difficult to release
borrowed from various high-angle disci- station after some use and often requires a great deal
plines, and now there are numerous knots, • how easily the hitch breaks and of manipulation for the climber to descend.
a variety of ways to tie them, and an assort- advances when pushed by a slack Advancing the tautline can be a struggle,
ment of accessory cords that alter how the tender or the climber’s hand and then and usually the knot has to be loosened or
knot responds when in use. Because of the grips once the climber has reached the “cracked” to move it up the rope. The taut-
wide range of resources available, some of next (usually higher) work station line grips fairly well, but if it has been loos-
the climbing hitches are well known and ened to advance it up the line, it must be
illustrated; some are known but have been How well the knot holds refers to how set again when the climber needs to stop
published in only a few different sources; securely and reliably the hitch stays in place and work. The tautline also has a tendency
and some are known only by word of mouth. as the climber works in a particular location. to roll—the bridge gradually gets longer,
In many cases, the terminology is confused, Ideally, the hitch should not slide at all. Release the tail gets shorter, and the knot eventually
and discrepancies exist about the names of refers to when the climber pulls down on works its way to the end of the tail and
and how to tie some of the climbing hitches. the knot to descend to a new work station. completely unties itself. To prevent rolling,
One purpose of this article is to compile The hitch should release with minimal effort it is necessary to put a stopper knot in the
information and present standard terminol- yet should grip and hold consistently and tail of the tautline.
ogy with the hope that we can achieve some securely when the climber lets go of the hitch Many people have also used a “two under,
uniformity in the nomenclature used for our on arrival at the next work station. Break one over” version. Two counterclockwise
various climbing hitches. This article also is and advance refer to when the climber slides turns are formed down the line below the
intended to help people learn some of the or pushes the knot up the climbing line with bridge, then one counterclockwise turn is
similarities and differences between the vari- his or her hand or with a slack tender. The formed above the bridge. The two-under,
ous climbing hitches, but it is not intended hitch should break easily and advance with one-over releases and advances a little more
to teach all of the details of how to use a knot. minimal effort yet should grip and hold con- easily than the two-under, two-over, but it
Descriptions of knots are to clarify the discus- sistently and securely whenever the climber
sion, and photographs are for illustrative, pauses in the ascent or reaches the next work
not teaching, purposes. If you are not thor- station. Note that, when ascending, the
oughly familiar with any of these climbing climber’s hands are often above or below,
hitches, then you should attend an industry and not necessarily on, the climbing hitch.

Open Hitches
seminar or training session before trying to
climb with them. When you learn a partic-
ular climbing hitch, practice low and slow.
Tautline
As with all knots, climbing hitches need
The version of the tautline that is most com-
to be properly tied, dressed, and set. “Tie”
monly known by tree climbers is “two under,
means to form the knot, “dress” means to
align all of the parts of the knot, and “set” two over” (Figure 1). Two counterclockwise
means to tighten or load the knot before turns are formed down the line below the
actually using it. bridge, then two counterclockwise turns
For the purposes of this article, climbing are formed down the line above the bridge.
hitches will be assessed by three main criteria: (Note that the legs of the hitch exit the knot
in opposite directions. It creates a good Figure 1.
• how well the climbing hitch holds the mnemonic because the legs look like a T Tautline—two
climber in place for work positioning under, two over.
for “tautline.”)

©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.
Climbers’ Corner (continued) the loop makes a turn through the bight, it The tail is then dropped over/in front of the
creates two coils (sometimes called “fingers”) bridge, passed behind the climbing line, and
does not grip as reliably when the climber on the climbing line. If two turns are taken, then up through the bottom two of the four
reaches a new work station and often needs then four coils are created, and the Prusik looks turns (Figure 4). It is critical that, after being
to be set by tugging up on the tail of the exactly like the first Prusik that was formed dropped over the bridge, the tail is passed
hitch for it to hold securely. There are other using a single length of rope (Figure 3). This behind—not in front of—the climbing line.
variations in the number of turns, devised hitch is called a two-wrap, four-coil Prusik. Blake’s hitch has several advantages over
to accommodate climbers with different the traditional tautline and Prusik hitches. It
styles and body weights. When manila rope Figure 3. is not a rolling hitch. Thus, it does not need
was used for climbing, both the number of Prusik with a cord— a stopper knot on the tail, although it is still
four coils.
turns and the direction of the turns relative to recommended that one be used. Blake’s hitch
the lay of the climbing line were important. holds securely, but it does not tighten and
Prusik jam as much as the tautline and Prusik when
In the standard version of the Prusik, two the climber is working. It releases and advances
counterclockwise turns are formed down more easily yet grips reliably when the climber
the line below the bridge, then two clock- arrives at a new work station.
wise turns are formed down the line above
the bridge. Note that the tail changes direc-
tion when the turns are taken above the
bridge. This change causes the legs of the
knot to exit the hitch in the same direction
(Figure 2), whereas the legs of the tautline
exit the knot in opposite directions.

Figure 2.
Prusik.
Prusik with a loop—
four coils.

When used for the secured footlock, the


Prusik is formed around both legs of the
climbing line, and it is necessary to form a
three-wrap, six-coil Prusik. The cord that is Figure 4.
used for the Prusik should be smaller in Blake’s hitch.
diameter than the host line. Because the Prusik
cord is doubled, both legs of the loop share Although some frictional control is pro-
the weight of the climber, and the breaking vided by all of the coils, one part of the
strength of the loop needs to be the same as hitch—called the “hot spot”—receives a
that required for an arborist’s climbing line disproportionate amount of friction and
(as stated in sections 3.23 and 8.7.4 of the therefore burns more easily. The hot spot
Z133.1-2000 safety standards). occurs on the part of the tail that is tucked
When used in this configuration, the under the bottom two coils. In a long, fast
The Prusik has many of the same character- Prusik should be used only for ascending. descent, this spot can be glazed to the point
istics as the tautline. It holds the climber A climber should never attempt to descend of rope failure, so it is important to descend
firmly in place but often binds so that it may with the Prusik that is used for the secured slowly and always check the rope for exces-
be difficult to release and difficult to advance. footlock. Although the single line and the sive wear before and after climbing on it.
Although it is not considered a rolling hitch, loop Prusik look exactly the same, they per- The tautline, the Prusik (when tied as a
it is recommended that a stopper knot be form differently. Some authorities even con- climbing hitch with a single length of cord),
placed in the tail of the knot. sider them to be entirely different knots. and Blake’s hitch are all called “open” climb-
Many arborists are familiar with the Prusik When tied with a loop, the Prusik is also ing hitches because the tail of each hitch is
as a friction hitch for use in the secured foot- bi-directional—that is, it holds equally well left free (Figure 5). Therefore, they may be
lock. In this technique, the Prusik is tied when pulled in either direction and thus used in a closed (traditional) or open (split-
with a loop of rope rather than with a length can be used for a two-in-one lanyard and in tail) climbing system and may be tied to
of rope. A bight of the loop is placed on the some rigging situations. either a locking snap or to a double-locking
climbing line, and the other end of the loop Blake’s Hitch carabiner.
is passed through the bight, creating a wrap, Blake’s hitch is tied by making four counter- In a closed, or traditional, climbing sys-
or turn, around the climbing line. Each time clockwise turns up the rope above the bridge. tem, the climbing line is tied to a connector

©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.
Figure 5. Closed Hitches can be tied in several different configurations.
Unlike the traditional Prusik, however, there
Open climbing With closed hitches, the tail of the hitch is
hitch (note the tail incorporated into the climbing hitch. Both are different names to describe different con-
from the climbng
ends of the cord are attached to the connec- figurations of the French Prusik.
hitch) in a closed When tied with a loop of rope, the
(traditional) tor—usually a double-locking carabiner. There
is no tail coming out of the climbing hitch. French Prusik is called a Machard or a
climbing system.
However, closed hitches can form only Machard tresse, depending on how it is
an open (split-tail) climbing system because formed. When tied with a single length of
the hitch is always separate from the work- rope or webbing, the French Prusik is called
ing end (the lead) of the climbing line (Fig- a Valdôtain or a Valdôtain tresse, again depend-
ure 6). As with the Prusik loop, both legs of ing on how it is formed. The term “French
a closed climbing hitch share the weight of Prusik” includes all of these variations and
the climber and all of his or her equipment. is not specific to any particular one.
The hitches described in this section are The vast majority of tree climbers who
often referred to as high-performance hitches. use a French Prusik use a single piece of
When properly adjusted, they hold securely, rope or cord to tie a climbing hitch, so only
release with just a slight touch of the hand the Valdôtain and the Valdôtain tresse are
yet grip firmly after descent, break easily discussed.
when advanced, and grip firmly and reliably The Valdôtain is actually quite easy to tie.
when the climber weights them. Because The split-tail makes seven turns around the
these hitches require less manipulation, they climbing line (Figure 7). A carabiner is then
allow the climber to move faster and more attached to the eyes of the split-tail, and the
(usually a locking snap), and a long tail is
freely in the tree. Ascents, descents, limb carabiner is pulled down so that the legs of
left in the knot. This tail is then used to tie
walks, and swings all become more fluid the split-tail cascade into place (Figure 8).
the climbing hitch on the fall, or standing
and graceful. This hitch holds the climber securely, releases
part, of the climbing line (Figure 5). In the
open, or split-tail, system, the climbing line The hitches described below are highly with just a gentle tug on the hitch, and grips
is attached to the connector using an appro- responsive, but they have more variables to consistently and reliably when the climber
consider than the open hitches. Where the lets go of the hitch. It breaks easily and with
priate endline knot or an eyesplice. The
tautline, the Prusik (when tied as a climbing little effort. But, if the split-tail and the hitch
climbing hitch is tied using a short, separate
hitch with a single length of cord), and are not properly adjusted, then the Valdôtain
piece of rope called a split-tail; the split-tail
Blake’s hitch are all tied with a split-tail of may not consistently and reliably grip the
is attached to a second connector, which is
the same construction as or very similar to climbing line after it has been advanced
then clipped to the saddle (Figure 6).
the climbing line, the hitches described in with a hand or slack tender. It sometimes is
this section use a split-tail different from the necessary for the climber to hold the hitch
Figure 6. climbing line (note the wide variety of cords against the climbing line so there is contact
Closed climbing that are used for the split-tails in the high- between the split-tail and the climbing line
hitch (no tail) in
performance knots). and so the hitch will then grip the line.
open (split-tail) Ways to compensate for this problem and
climbing system. The performance of each hitch is highly
dependent on the length, type, diameter, and to adjust, or “fine-tune,” a climbing hitch
condition of the cord that is used for the split- are discussed at the end of this article.
tail and on the type, diameter, and condition The Valdôtain tresse (also called the Vt) is
of the climbing line. A particular split-tail tied in a similar manner as the Valdôtain but
may work very well with a particular climb- with one significant difference: Four turns
ing line yet be unpredictably loose or irritat- are made around the climbing line, then the
ingly tight on another climbing line. It
is imperative that the climber be aware Figure 7. Forming the Valdôtain.
of this fact and always test the compat-
ibility of the components of the system
before leaving the ground. Some of the
variables of the split-tail that affect the
performance of the climbing hitch are
discussed at the end of this article.
French Prusik
Like the traditional Prusik, described
in the section on open hitches, the
French Prusik can be tied with either a
length of rope or a loop of rope, and it

©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.
Climbers’ Corner (continued) is the top leg all the way down
Figure 10. With a carabiner attached, the
the hitch. When the hitch is legs could be pulled either up or down to
legs are braided down the line, below the advanced and pushed up the line form the Valdôtain hitch.
wraps/turns. “Braided” means that, as the in quick succession (as when
legs are passed around the climbing line, ascending to a new work sta-
each leg alternates between being on top of, tion), one leg stays at the bottom
then under, the other leg. After the first four of the hitch, and the other
turns are taken around the climbing line, loosens all the way to the top of
the top leg continues around the line but the hitch. The coils open, and
moves down (rather than up) the line and there is no overlap to maintain
is first on top of, then under, then on top of some contact with the climbing
the other leg. A carabiner is then attached line (Figure 11).
to the eyes of the split-tail and the knot is When the Valdôtain tresse is
set (Figure 9). When completed, the Valdô- formed, it is a series of
tain tresse looks much like the Valdôtain turns and braids.
English-language knot
(compare Figures 9 and 8). “Tresse” means “braid”
books to refer specifically
The Valdôtain tresse holds the climber in in French, and the
to the French Prusik,
place, releases easily and grips reliably, and braids create a dramatic
Figure but this terminology is
then advances easily and grips reliably as change in the way the 11. incorrect. “Autoblock”
well. But, while the Valdôtain may become knot functions. When When the
Valdôtain is
is a corruption of the
loose after being advanced up the climbing the Valdôtain tresse is
advanced French “autobloquant,”
line, the Valdôtain tresse stays together and pushed up the line, the
quickly, one which means “self-
more consistently maintains contact with shape of the hitch is leg stays at jamming.” It is used to
the climbing line, which means that it grips retained, and, if the the bottom refer to a group of slide-
more reliably after it has been moved up hitch is properly of the hitch
(arrow on
and-grip knots and is
the line. adjusted, both legs are
the right), probably better trans-
When first formed, the Valdôtain is simply held close to the climb-
while the lated into the English
a series of turns around the climbing line. ing line and have some other leg term “friction hitch.”
At this point, the hitch could be formed by contact with it (Figure loosens all
attaching a carabiner and moving the legs 12). This arrangement the way to Schwabisch
either up or down the line—that is, the allows the Valdôtain the top of The Schwabisch is
Valdôtain is bi-directional (Figure 10). This tresse to grip more the hitch formed by making one
(arrow on counterclockwise turn
feature probably would not be used in any quickly, reliably, and the left).
climbing system, but it may have some uses firmly than the Valdôtain. below the bridge, then
in certain rigging situations. Knowing that It must be emphasized, making three clockwise
the Valdôtain is bi-directional also helps one however, that the turns down the line
understand how the knot functions. When climber might have to experiment with above the bridge. This forms, in essence, an
the legs of the split-tail are pulled down to different types, lengths, and diameters of asymmetrical Prusik (Figure 13). Both legs
form the hitch, the leg that forms the top turn the split-tail in order for the Valdôtain tresse
Figure 12.
to perform to this degree. If,
When the
Figure 8. Figure 9. for example, the split-tail is Valdôtain
Valdôtain. Valdôtain too long, then the hitch may tresse is
tresse.
become loose after a long advanced, the
ascent and not grip immedi- braid helps
ately when it is pulled down.
The Machard is tied exactly maintain the
as the Valdôtain (a series of shape of the
turns), but the turns are hitch and keep
formed using a loop rather both legs in
contact with
than a single length of line.
the climbing
The Machard tresse is formed line, as
exactly as the Valdôtain tresse indicated
(a series of turns and braids), by the
but the turns and braids are arrows.
formed using a loop rather
than a single length of line.
The word “autoblock”
has been used in some

©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.
exit at the bottom of the knot, whereas, in Schwabisch performs smoothly over a wide Figure 15.
the conventional Prusik, both legs exit from range of variables. Its best performance is Distel—one
the middle of the knot (Figure 14). This probably not as fluid as the French Prusik, under, four
one-down, three-up version was the one but it is not as temperamental and does not over.
that was first shown in the United States for require as much fine-tuning.
use in trees. Depending on the split-tail that Distel
is used, however, many climbers are now To form the Distel, one counterclockwise
tying four turns above the bridge to create turn is made below the bridge, then four
more friction so that the hitch will grip after counterclockwise turns are made down the
it has been broken and advanced up the climbing line above the bridge (Figure 15).
climbing line. If the legs of the hitch are too The difference between the Distel and the
long, the hitch will become loose and not Schwabisch is that to form a Distel, the split-
grip when the climber stops his or her ascent. tail continues in the same direction when
the turns are taken above the bridge; to form
Figure 13.
the Schwabisch, the split-tail changes direc-
Schwabisch.
tion when the turns are taken above the bridge.
Note that this is the same difference that
distinguishes the tautline from the Prusik.
Thus, the Distel is very similar to the
tautline (Figure 16). For both hitches, a Figure 16.
turn or turns are taken below the bridge; Distel—one
the tail moves above the bridge and contin- under, four
over.
ues to make turns in the same direction as
the turn(s) below the bridge. The difference
between the Distel and the tautline is that
the Distel attaches both ends of the split-tail
onto the carabiner, thus forming a closed
climbing knot. The tautline leaves one end
Tautline—
of the split-tail off of the connector and two under,
therefore is an open climbing knot. two over.
The Distel holds the climber securely
and reliably in place for working. It releases
easily and grips reliably when the climber
stops his or her descent. In some situations,
it may become a little snug and not advance
The Schwabisch holds securely. It releases smoothly. The legs of the Distel exit the
much more easily than the tautline but not hitch in opposite directions, making it
quite as smoothly as the French Prusik, and necessary to push them in opposite direc-
it grips reliably after descent. It can bind tions to loosen the hitch. Some split-tails Schwabisch and the Distel are not as finicky
enough that it has to may not do this in their performance as the French Prusik,
be hit more than once Figure 14. without some but neither are they as smooth and fluid.
to break it, but, once Schwabisch— manipulation. Knut
loosened, it advances one under,
three over. In general, the The Knut hitch should not be confused with
easily. Breaking and Schwabisch and the the Knute hitch, which attaches a lanyard or
advancing are partly Distel are easier to tie halyard to anything with a small eye. I learned
a matter of technique and untie than the the Knut from Knut Foppe in November
and proper placement French Prusik. Once 2001. I have never seen the Knut described
of the slack tender. tied, the Schwabisch in a publication, but I have seen at least
Because both legs and the Distel stay three different people teach the Knut, each
exit the Schwabisch on the climbing line, of whom showed a knot that was different
in the same direction which makes it easier from what the others showed and that was
and from the same Prusik—
two under, to attach a carabiner different from what Knut had shown to me.
place, the hitch is two over. and slack tender. The Knut is formed by making four
easily broken by The French Prusik counterclockwise turns up the climbing
pushing both legs has to be held on the line. The top leg is dropped in front of the
back into the knot to line while the hard- bottom leg. A bight of the bottom leg is
loosen it. Generally ware is attached. The held in place while the end of the leg forms
speaking, the

©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.
Climbers’ Corner
(continued)
Figure 17. with a softer, looser the hitch. Similarly, a knot’s performance may
Knut—tied, ready to cord may not advance be changed simply by changing the diame-
be dressed and set. as easily, but it tends to ter of the cord that is used for the split-tail.
a clockwise turn down maintain some contact When properly adjusted, these hitches
the climbing line, with the climbing line perform well and can be used for various
around the climbing and thus grips more other climbing and rigging applications.
line and the (now reliably after it is moved Lanyards, false crotches, and mechanical
pendant) top leg. up the climbing line. advantage systems can be improved and
Finally, the bottom leg Using a slightly made more efficient through the proper use
is passed through the longer cord for the split- of a suitable climbing hitch.
bight (Figure 17). The tail results in a hitch These hitches can be seen on various
split-tail that is used in with longer legs. Longer Web sites; at trade shows and training semi-
this photograph is legs prevent the hitch nars; and in videos, books, and magazines.
longer than normal so from breaking as quickly Regardless of where the knots are seen or
that it can easily show when hit with a slack taught, it is up to the individual arborist to
how to form the Knut. tender or the climber’s learn and use them safely.
The split-tail in Figure hand. Once the hitch
References
18 is a length that does loosen and open,
American National Standards Institute.
would typically be however, it may not
2000. American National Standard for
used for climbing. have enough friction with the climbing line
Tree Care Operations—Pruning, Repairing,
The Knut holds securely when the climber to instantly grip and tighten when the hitch
Maintaining, and Removing Trees and
is working, releases easily, and grips consis- is pulled down. Using a shorter length of
Cutting Brush—Safety Requirements
tently after descending. It breaks easily, cord for the split-tail results in a hitch with
(Z133.1). International Society of
advances smoothly, and grips reliably when shorter legs, which helps keep the knot
Arboriculture, Champaign, IL.
the climber pauses to work or rest. An added tight and compact. The hitch grips the line
Ashley, Clifford W. 1944. The Ashley Book of
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Knots. Doubleday, New York, NY.
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Bavaresco, Paolo. 2000. Practical arboricul-
bight acts as a slack tender and advances may bind and be difficult to release and dif-
ture—Friction hitch fundamentals.
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Landscaper Magazine, March 3.
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Blake, Jason. 1994. The slip—or knot (letter
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to the editor). Arbor Age 14(5):40–41.
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Budworth, Geoffrey. 1999. The Ultimate
to tie and untie than any of the previous wraps (or twists or braids) are added or
Encyclopedia of Knots and Ropework.
knots. Like the Schwabisch and the Distel, subtracted, the knot’s performance also may
Hermes House, London, UK.
it stays on the rope after it is tied and, in vary depending on whether the changes are
Budworth, Geoffrey. 2000. The Complete
this respect, is a little easier to manage than made at the top or bottom of the knot
Book of Sailing Knots. Lyons Press, New
the French Prusik. (above or below the bridge).

Fine-Tuning: Variations
York, NY.
The eyes of the split-tail for the closed
Chisholm, Mark. Personal communication.

and Considerations
climbing hitches may be formed by tying
Confection du noeud machard
double fisherman’s loops
tressé. www. ffme.fr/
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than just a climbing
but it can be dangerous if the climber is not affect the performance of
hitch. Arborist News
aware of how subtle changes can drastically the climbing hitch. If the
8(2):49–50.
alter a knot’s performance. The following splices of both eyes are
Les noueds. membres.
are some of the variables to consider. tapered together in the
lycos.fr/climbrok/
Generally speaking, for a given length of middle of the split-tail,
Figure 18. Sommaire%20
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©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.
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Mark Adams is a Certified Arborist with


Downey Trees, Inc., based in Atlanta,
Georgia. He would like to thank the
reviewers for their many helpful com-
ments.
Photos by Dorothy Payne and Mark
Adams. Illustrations by Bryan Kotwica.

©2004 International Society of Arboriculture. Used with permission. Originally published in Arborist News magazine, October 2004.