The Munter Hitch: The Most Valuable Knot a Climber Can Know
How many people think the figure eight is the most valuable knot a climber can know? What about a bowline, clove hitch, or flat overhand?
What about the Bachman, prussik, or alpine butterfly?
While these are all great knots and hitches that every climber should know, our vote goes to the munter hitch!
Technically speaking, the munter is not a knot. It's a hitch. We know, we know: the title is misleading... But that's splitting hairs!
People always seem to think climbers know a ton of knots, but the reality is that we use a few in a lot of different ways. And the munter hitch is no exception!
Advanced Munter Hitch Applications
The munter hitch, or Italian hitch, is quite versatile and has many uses including belaying, load transfers, and can easily be turned into a clove hitch. Any self rescue that we perform as a climber is based around proficiency with the munter hitch and its subsequent knots, the mule knot and the overhand knot.
This combination of knots and hitches is the foundation for many other technical rope skills like those utilized by Single Pitch Instructors.
History of the Munter Hitch
The munter hitch is named after Swiss mountain guide Werner Munter. He was born in 1941 in Lohnstorf, Switzerland where he worked as a mountain guide. While he is known for the munter hitch, he is most famous for his contributions to avalanche education and risk assessment of avalanche terrain, which he later documented in many books.
Throughout his time as a mountain guide, he introduced the munter hitch as a friction device for belaying, rappelling, and lowering a climber.
Originally known as the "Mezzo Barcaiolo", or crossing hitch in Italian, Werner was a strong advocate for it's use in the mountains. Munter must have been easier to say and the name has since stuck.
Today, many mountain guides use the munter hitch for belaying, lowering, self rescue, and extending anchors. While it's not as common for recreational climbers to use, it should be a tool in the toolbox for all climbers.
Why Use the Munter Hitch?
The munter hitch has many uses in the climbing world. It is a belay device and crucial self rescue skill that all climbers venturing outdoors should know.
So what are the benefits of using the munter hitch over a traditional belay device?
The munter hitch is multidirectional - meaning it can act both as a raising device and as a lowering device
It generates more friction (or holding power) than a traditional belay device
When tied in combination with the mule and overhand knots, it is a releasable system
Simple and quick. All you need to tie the munter hitch is an HMS style carabiner and rope or cordellette
It can provide an incredible amount of security at the top of a cliff when setting up and extending anchors
So with all these benefits, why don't more climbers use it?
Well, the answer is simple. Climbers feel the munter hitch twists and kinks the rope.
While it does introduce some small amount of twist in the sheath of the rope (less than cleaning an anchor and lowering through Fixe rap rings), it can be easily mitigated. It all depends on where the brake strand is in relation to the load strand!