A Tale of Two Hitches | Taut-Line & Blake’s Hitch
A Tale of Two Hitches
Taut-Line & Blake’s Hitch
As arborists, we find ourselves suspended amidst the branches, entrusted with the care of trees that have stood the test of time. But it’s not just my harness that keeps us safe; it’s the hitches that have evolved over the generations, each with its own story. In this blog, we’ll journey together through the histories of the two hitches that have helped spark the evolution of hitches: the Blake’s Hitch and the Taut-line Hitch.
Taut-line Hitch: Anchored in Tradition
Before the glorious modern arboriculture era that we are in today, the Taut-line quietly existed in various forms across cultures and industries. The Taut-line hitch has similar counterparts that can be found under the names: Rolling Hitch, Magnus Hitch, Rigger’s Hitch, or as mentioned in the Ashley Book of Knots: The Midshipman’s knot. Earlier mentions of this hitch can be traced back to Howard W. Riley’s Knots, Hitches and Splices book, which was published in 1912. Get this; the Taut-line has so many uses that even astronauts used this hitch during the second space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope! And before that, the Boy Scout Handbook includes the Taut-line hitch in its fifth edition, published in 1948.
Climbing with the Taut-line.
I’m pretty sure it’s a rite of passage in the tree care industry to start with a Taut or Blake’s Hitch; this way we are familiar with how to “self-bail” in the event of system failure or having forgotten equipment. But that could just be me beginning to show my age as there have been skyrocketing advancements in Arboriculture! I didn’t get the pleasure of climbing on hemp rope with the Taut-line, but I have heard that it was interesting until the rope is broken in. The Taut-line gained the reputation of “rolling out” as we moved in the crown of the tree and if you didn’t have that stopper knot at the end of the Taut, it could spell disaster. Wait, here’s a good one; having craved the need for speed, we used to remove a wrap, so instead of two-over-two, we used to tie it with one-over-two… DO NOT DO THIS! Later I came to find out, that this is what everyone called “The Sui-slide” (suicide slide) and that it was frowned upon. Why was the wrap removed, you might ask? The Taut-line was prone to binding.
Blake’s Hitch: A Climb in Modernity
Okay dig this; Heinz Prohaska first described the Blake’s Hitch in a periodical, in the year 1981 and then again in the Nylon Highway in May 1990. Soon after, 1994, Jason Blake separately created the knot, and he eventually published his discovery in a letter to Arbor Age magazine. As you can imagine, this took the Arborist world by storm and the name “Blake’s Hitch” was coined! This didn’t come without the standard backlash as it was something new to the industry and the Taut-line was tried and true for the moment. When those that were reluctant to try heard the rave about the Blake’s hitch, it was too tempting not to give it a shot! Continuing my conversation with those that were around when it was taking the industry by storm; it was mentioned that the Blake’s Hitch felt almost mechanical, it was so smooth! The Blake’s Hitch wasn’t prone to binding like the Taut-line, making it an instant favorite.
Have you heard of the Double Blake’s climbing technique? If you haven’t and you’re a diehard of the Blake’s Hitch AND would like to make your Blake’s self-tending; this is the technique for you! In addition to becoming a self-tending system, there is no need for additional gear, which is great news for many of us. Follow these steps and presto!
Tie your traditional closed system and leave a longer than normal tail end on the Blake’s Hitch.
Use the tail end of the Blake’s and tie another Blake’s onto the standing/termination leg the rope. Make sure to button up the system, load test on the ground, and adjust the bridge to the desired length. The bridge in a closed system dictates how much you gain on an ascent.
Assembly to the Double Blake’s technique is simple! But if you require a visual, here’s a quick video on how to set this up. Enjoy!