Attachment knots and hitches are what climbers use to attach or secure themselves to the end of their climbing line. Before the development of modern tree climbing harnesses or saddles, attachment knots were not needed, as climbers simply formed their harness out of the end of their climbing line, leaving a long tail to tie their climbing hitch around the standing part of the rope. The development of manufactured harnesses and an attendant need to secure climbing lines to them has led to a variety of knots and hitches in use. In addition, the use of connecting links, such as snap hooks and carabiners, along with the development of split-tail/bridge climbing systems, has made the choice of safe, efficient attachment knots and hitches an even more important decision. Many factors may influence which knot or hitch a climber uses to attach himself to the climbing line, but the primary concerns should be safety and security. Safety refers to how much strength loss a particular knot or hitch will cause in a rope, while security is concerned with how secure it will remain when loaded and unloaded repeatedly through the course of a climb. Knots or hitches that can move around on a connecting link, particularly carabiners, during climbing operations can easily lead to dangerous cross or side-loading of the carabiner. Ease of use or efficiency may also play a lesser role in attachment knot choice. Knots or hitches that take a great deal of time to tie, dress and set, those needing a great deal of line to form, or ones that require extensive backup knots to ensure security may not be the best of what is available. Three attachment knots or hitches that perform well in these critical areas are the Buntline hitch, the Triple Fisherman’s or Scaffold knot, and the Anchor hitch.

Buntline hitch

This hitch is a secure attachment knot that may be used in both fixed and split-tail-bridge climbing systems. This hitch tightens securely onto connecting links, reducing the chance of cross loading a carabiner, and is relatively easy to untie after loading. It does not require a backup or safety knot when tied correctly. The tail of this attachment knot exits out the side of the hitch, and if left long enough, can form the climbing hitch in a fixed-bridge climbing system. The Buntline hitch is formed by making a turn around the connecting link, then making a turn around the standing part of the line, bringing the tail below the turn that is around the standing part of the line, and making a half-hitch around the standing part of the line. Draw the turn and half-hitch tight, and tighten the knot around the connecting link. This hitch, when properly tied, dressed and set, looks like a clove hitch tied around the standing part of the line.

Photos by Michael (House) Tain.
(l to r) The Buntline hitch,Triple Fisherman’s or Scaffold knot, and Anchor hitch, witharrows to illustrate the path the rope takes when tied, dressed and set correctly.Note that all cinch on the carabiner and load it appropriately. (l to r) A Buntline hitch used as an attachment knot in a fixed-bridge climbingsystem. Note that the tail of the attachment hitch is left long to form theclimbing hitch, in this case, a Blake’s hitch.

Triple Fisherman’s or Scaffold knot

This knot is the most complex to tie of the three discussed here, but also causes slightly less rope strength loss than the other two. It may be tied with either two or three wraps, known respectively as a Double or Triple Fisherman’s knot. The use of three wraps will help provide additional friction making the knot easier to release after loading. At least 2 inches of tail should be left exiting this knot in a split-bridge climbing system, but may also be used in a fixed-bridge system. This knot also tightens securely onto connecting links, reducing the likelihood of side or cross-loading, and does not require a backup or safety knot when tied correctly. The Triple Fisherman’s knot is formed by making a loop in the line, forming a round turn in the same direction around the loop down toward the attachment area, and passing the tail beneath all three parts. Draw the loop together and tighten it around the connecting link.

Anchor hitch

The anchor hitch is the simplest knot to tie of these three, and also may be used in both fixed and split-bridge climbing systems. This attachment knot will tighten on carabiners and minimize side-loading potential. It does not require a backup or safety knot when tied correctly. It does require enough room within the connecting link for two parts of the rope and to avoid interference with the connecting link mechanism. For this reason, it may not be an appropriate choice for a snap hook, captive eye carabiner or a carabiner that’s locking mechanism must move downward or upward in preparation for opening. The tail exits to the side out of the hitch and may be left long to form the climbing hitch in a fixed-bridge climbing system. The anchor hitch is formed by making a round turn around the connecting link, then passing the tail around the standing part of the line and beneath both parts of the round turn.

These three knots/hitches are excellent choices for attachment knots, and in break testing, outperformed such traditional choices as the Bowline and Clove hitch. Additionally, they provide greater security by not moving excessively on connecting links causing cross loading. However, there are many other options available to modern climbers, including spliced and stitched eyes. Whichever option is chosen, it must be closely examined for safety and security. After all, a life depends on it.

Michael (House) Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions/Arbor Canada Training and Education, currently located in Lancaster, Ky.