Unlike open climbing hitches in which only one end of the rope or cordage used to form the hitch is secured to the harness, closed climbing hitches are those in which both ends of the cordage forming the hitch are attached to the harness, usually through the use of a connecting link like a carabiner. In addition, a small pulley is often used in conjunction with the hitch and connecting link to provide ease of adjustment, but this pulley is not required for the hitch to work correctly. While open climbing hitches may be tied with the end of the climbing line or with a separate piece of cordage, closed climbing hitches require a separate piece of cordage to be formed, and may only be used in split tail/bridge climbing systems. The ends of the length of cord used to form the climbing hitch may be attached to the carabiner through the use of spliced eyes, stitched eyes or appropriately tied attachment knots, such as Double Fisherman’s knots or Buntline Hitches. Closed climbing hitches, due to their construction, tend to be closer to the body and can require the implementation and development of different climbing techniques and styles for new users.

Photos by Michael (House) Tain.
Left to right, the Schwaebisch, Distal and Michoacán closed climbing hitches.
 
Left to right, the Schwaebisch, Distal and Michoacán with arrows to illustrate the method for tying them.

Schwaebisch: The Schwaebisch was developed in Germany by Beddes Strasser, and when tied correctly, should look much like an asymmetrical Prusik around the climbing line. It is asymmetrical in that unlike a standard Prusik, which has an even number of coils or wraps each side of center, the Schwaebisch, if tied correctly, will have one turn on the bottom and multiple turns on the top. This hitch is formed by making one turn around the climbing line in a downward direction, then taking the end of the eye and eye tail, or piece of cordage, up above the original turn and making four more turns around the standing part of the line in a downward direction, going around the climbing rope in the opposite direction from the original turn. For example, if the first turn went in a clockwise direction around the climbing line, the last four will go around in a counter-clockwise manner. The ends should both exit from the same side of the knot beneath the bar, and are then secured to the connecting link either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.

Distal: The Distal, developed by Uli Distal, also in Germany, is tied in a similar fashion to the Schwaebisch, with one key difference. This hitch is formed by making one turn around the climbing line in a downward direction, then taking the end of the eye and eye tail, or piece of cordage, up above the original turn, and making four more turns around the standing part of the line in a downward direction, going around the climbing rope in the same direction as the original turn. For example, if the first turn went in a clockwise direction around the climbing line, the last four will also go around in a clockwise manner. The ends will exit from opposite sides of the knot beneath the bar, and are then secured to the connecting link either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.

Michoacán: The Michoacán was developed by Martin Morales, a climber and splicer from Southern California, and though it may at first glance appear very similar to the Schwaebisch and Distal, it is tied quite differently. The hitch is formed by making five turns around the climbing line in an upward direction, the upper end of the eye and eye tail, or piece of cordage, is then brought down and under the other end of the eye and eye tail, and capturing it before the hitch is completed by feeding the upper end between the standing part of the rope and the first turn. The lower end will exit from one side of the knot, captured by the upper end, which exits from beneath the first turn on the other side of the knot. Both ends are then secured to the connecting link, either through the use of spliced/stitched eyes or with appropriate attachment knots.

Photo by Tanya Peterson
The use of closed climbing hitches allows for their advancement by pulling the running end of the line beneath the hitch in an upward motion, particularly when using the Michoacán.The use of a small pulley, not shown in this photo, will make this movement even easier.

Although the primary use of these hitches is in dynamic climbing systems, their ease of use and consistent performance make them an excellent choice in a wide variety of tree care applications. They may be used in longer lengths to form a leash to secure a climber in the static secured footlock, to attach pulleys to a line or balance loads in rigging systems, or to form a means of adjustment and attachment on a work positioning lanyard. Users may need to add or subtract turns from the hitches, just as in climbing use, to achieve the desired effect. For example, in applications where the goal is maximum friction and gripping power, but ease of adjustment is desired, many more turns can be added to increase the surface friction of rope on rope.

The use of closed climbing hitches can increase speed and efficiency of movement for climbing arborists throughout the canopy, however their performance can vary with different factors, such as the fibers or cordages being used and their interaction with each other, climbers of varying weights, and simple differences in climbing styles. Individual users may need to add or subtract turns from these hitches, just as in non-climbing applications, to achieve the performance they desire for their given unique needs and situations. The Schwaebisch, Distal and Michoacán are all excellent introductions to the world of closed climbing hitches, and will perform well when tied, dressed and set appropriately.

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.