No nuts? Climb with knots!

Before coming to Dresden, save for a couple of quickdraws, my harness and a climbing rope I had absolutely no climbing gear.  When I first read about people protecting climbs in Elbsandsteingebirge with knots I was a bit shocked. “Reeelaaaax”, said a good friend, “that way you won’t spend a fortune to buy a full rack.”  After some years of experimenting with knots and slings as protection, I’ve started to like them. A lot.  It’s a great feeling to progress upwards using such a simple and clean system. I am still no expert, but I’d like to share a couple of things I’ve learned about using knots as pro.

A great advantage is the reduced weight. My full rack with several repeated “numbers” weighs just above 2 kg, and consider I am very paranoid when it comes to protecting pitches (unlike the local hard-men that use max 2-3 knots per 30 m of climbing…). An added benefit is that they allow for greater mobility inside chimneys and off-widths (so much for blaming the cams for my inelegant scrubbing!). So what to use? Here is my personal choice:

Wide? Time for the kinderkopf (monkey fist in purple) and 4-stranded eight knot

For the very wide cracks the kinderkopf or affenfaust (monkey fist) is very popular.  I’ve rarely used it and have heard from several experienced climbers it is hard to place and tends to deform a lot.  Alternatives?  You can tie a figure eight (or even nine) knot with 4-strands of 11 mm rope.  Yet if you have a love for the widest, then the best option is to buy thicker rope. Kanirope has a wide selection of polypropylen or polyamid ropes from 12-24 mm which you can buy by meter.  I have yet to get my hands on a couple to try them out.

For medium-sized placements there are lot of slings with different stiffness and handling

On the range 6-11 mm one can easily find the required slings in numerous shops. I usually tie them off with a figure eight knot, its main advantage being it will slip at higher loads than a simple overhand knot.  However, it is also bulkier and its harder to make with stiffer ropes, where an overhand is advisable.

For the smallest: “Stoppers” and my favorite: Kevlars (in black and blue)

For thinner placements, polyamide rope is no longer recommendable due to its low holding strength (in the case of a fall). My personal favorite here are kevlar slings.  They have higher holding strength and their increased stiffness makes them ideal for threading thin and contorted sanduhrs.  Also here come handy the “stoppers”, tubular webbing with knots at one end that you can wedge through small constrictions.

To round all up come the slings.  Most of mine are dyneema slings since they are lighter and thinner than their polyamid counterparts.  But I feel they also have less friction, crucial to protect small horns, and are much more expensive.  And talking about friction, the king here is the fusselschlinge or “sticky sling or hairy sling” which will literally stick to sloppery horns.

For threading or horns (from top to bottom): fusselschlinge, dynema and polyamid slings

Of course you clip into all of them with regular carabiners or quickdraws.  I’ve found the alpine single- and double- length quickdraws quite useful since: 1) you can decrease rope drag (a big issue in the longer routes) when you extend them, 2) you can use the sling to thread sanduhrs or loop horns.

My choice of biners

When you reach a ring, it is very common to clip two opposing quickdraws. Redundant or paranoid?  Tell me what you think when you have marginal protection before the crux for the next 20 meters… Alternatively, people also clip one single locking biner (but can become a problem with rope drag, unless the route is short and straight).  For the belay I always carry a wide HMS biner to clip into the Abseilöse (rappel ring)  These are big fat monsters, so regular biners will not fit.

So, to summarize, my top ten reasons for how I stopped worrying and learned to love the knots:

  1. Less weight (drawback: what to blame for my slow-pace?)
  2. Where else do you get all your toys for less than 70 Eur?
  3. You’ll grow a thicker skin faster when its your back and not your cams that scratch around in chimneys.
  4. You’ll feel less guilty when you drop or abandon them.
  5. All the endurance you’ll gain by knotting and re-knotting slings while climbing.
  6. All the patience you’ll gain by one-handedly knotting slings while several meters above your last knot.
  7. You can always amuse your friends by knotting a Kinderkopf
  8. All the parallel cracks you won’t be able to protect (I keep telling myself “mental-training” to convince myself this is an advantage)

    And to complete the Sächsisch attire: the crucial Spatel for placing knots in constrictions! Mine is very rudimentary, you can get fancy glass fiber ones…

  9. You look sooo cool with meters of rope and bizarre knots hanging from your harness and shoulders.
  10. Where else can a wooden spoon be an indispensable part of your climbing gear?

If you want to learn more technical details on strength of knots or how to place them some good references are Jörg Brutscher’s articles or Gerald Krug’s book. As with traditional methods of protection, the strength of the knot will depend on how solid the rock is and how well you place the knot.  Many times it will not be clear if it will hold a fall or not, and may serve only as psychological protection.  But as the saying goes:

nur was man nicht legt, kann auch nicht halten. (only what you don’t use cannot hold you)

Did you find this post useful? Would you like to learn more about using knots as pro? Then check out part 2 or leave a comment with your questions. I’ll try to answer all of them as best as I can.

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6 thoughts on “No nuts? Climb with knots!

  1. Hey really cool article I have a lot of questions because as a student this seems like a cost effective way of starting to get in to trad climbing!

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