Arbor methods in rope rescue: Episode 1 - The Blakes Hitch

Recently, I began taking a deep dive into the world of tree climbing and have been fascinated by the techniques, equipment applications, and the correlations to other rope disciplines like technical rescue and rope access.

Several knots and hitches have captured my attention (not to mention rope progression techniques), and I’ll look into those in subsequent posts, but the Blakes Hitch seemed like an excellent starting point to begin this discussion. Its one of THE classic arbor knots.

The Blakes Hitch is commonly used in the world of arboriculture to advance an arborist further up a rope using the traditional hitch climbing method known as DdRT.

The Blakes Hitch, set and dressed with a stopper knot at the end.

The Blakes Hitch, set and dressed with a stopper knot at the end.

The attribute that makes the Blakes Hitch somewhat unique is that it can be paired to a rope of the same diameter and actually clutch once properly set and dressed.

Should this hitch actually clutch as well as a traditional friction hitches it could prove quite helpful in improvised rescue techniques - like building an auto-stop into a munter lowering operation with minimal equipment on hand.

It could also be useful as a travel limiter of sorts for edge attendants. Lots of options exist. . . IF it can reliably hold.

Since my initial curiosity was how this hitch could be applied to improvised rescue for climbers and mountain guides I ran through some basic tests using a 9mm dynamic Mammut Serenity rope.

The testing set-up. 10:1 mechanical advantage rig.

The testing set-up. 10:1 mechanical advantage rig.

Enforcer load cell to capture the forces.

Enforcer load cell to capture the forces.

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Peaking at 3.24 kn, the hitch constricted firmly with no slippage.

Peaking at 3.24 kn, the hitch constricted firmly with no slippage.

Releasing the hitch after it had been loaded was simple and effortless. Just work the collar momentarily and the hitch begins to go slack around the climbing line.

Releasing the hitch after it had been loaded was simple and effortless. Just work the collar momentarily and the hitch begins to go slack around the climbing line.

After introducing a 730 lb load to the hitch, I was surprised by how well it held and even more surprised by how easy it was to release after it had been loaded.

What I’d envisioned for an improvised mountain rescue technique now seemed plausible: a releasable munter auto-stop using only the back end of the climbing rope. The “auto-stop” is an essential tenant of rope rescue and ensures that the load at the end of the rope is caught should something happen to the operator of the lowering system.

Equipment needs are minimal.

Equipment needs are minimal.

Like any friction hitch Its absolutely essential that the Blakes is properly set and dressed.

Like any friction hitch Its absolutely essential that the Blakes is properly set and dressed.

Simple lowering operation with a munter or super-munter backed up with a releasable munter (or super-hunter) auto-stop.

Simple lowering operation with a munter or super-munter backed up with a releasable munter (or super-hunter) auto-stop.

Recently, I’ve even been guying tents in the mountains with this hitch as an improved version of the Taut Line Hitch. Its been a solid addition to my knot quiver.