The Stone Knot (aka Stein Knot): A Canyoneering Secret Weapon

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The Stone Knot (or Stein Knot) is a blocking knot technique that can improve safety and speed things up on canyoneering descents. A couple of nerdy technical points: first, the Stone Knot is actually the kind of knot called a ‘hitch’, since it uses an object to complete the knot; and second, the Stone Knot is a family of knots, since there are at least four forms that qualify as Stones, while being somewhat different.

The Stone Knot is made in a rope set-up for a rappel, near the anchor. The Stone isolates both rope strands, so each strand can be used independently. This allows the next rappeller to start setting their rig up while the previous rappeller is making their way down the drop. When conditions allow it (2-person strength anchor, no loose rock), the second rapper can start down as soon as they are ready. With the rope “Stoned”, a big-boned canyoneer can rap double-strand if they prefer.

The object that completes a Stone Hitch is a carabiner, and I find it best to use a large locking carabiner for this purpose, such as the Petzl William (shown) or a Petzl Attache. Using smaller carabiners makes the knot more awkward to set up correctly.


How to tie a Stone Knot

First, set up the rappel rope. Lots of options here, but in general, thread the end through the anchor ring and pull through enough rope to easily reach the bottom of the rappel.

1. Grab both strands of the rope with your hand, thumb down.


2. Turn your hand over to create a loop.



3. Fold the loop UP and center on the two strands coming down from the anchor.



4. Pull the two strands from the anchor through the loop, just far enough to clip a carabiner through it.



5. Clip a large carabiner through those two strands.



6. Rotate the carabiner around, and clip ONE of the top strands with the carabiner.



7. Lock the carabiner, then rotate it back around so the wide basket end of the carabiner is down, blocking those two strands from popping back through the loop.



8. Tighten it up. Voila!


Further comments

– Notice that the Stone creates a closed loop between the Stone and the anchor – a loop that can be used to clip your safety-sling off to. This can be useful when the anchor is a ways back from the edge.

– After the Last Person is down, how do we get the rope back? We do it by taking the Stone out before the Last Person comes down. Often, that means the Last raps double-strand, but the rope can also be re-rigged with a block to rappel single-strand. The Last might need communication from below to figure out which strand to block and rappel on.

– If the rap is longer than half the rope, a Stone can still be used. Unless setting the rope length carefully, the knot that bends the two ropes together would be above the Stone Knot, close to the anchor, between the anchor and the Stone, so both strands can be used, without anyone having to pass a knot. If converting to a lower, this might complicate things a little bit, but not a lot.

– While perhaps not as ready-to-go as a contingency anchor, like many single-rope techniques, the Stone converts easily and quickly to a lowering system. To set yourself up for success, tie your Stone Knot as close as possible to the anchor.

– When you make the Stone, it tends to put a full twist in the rope. When you take it out, it tends to put a full twist in the rope the other way. I find it better to just not worry about it until the end, then (with help from below) to get the strands straightened out before I come down last.

– The Stone can be made using an overhand knot or a figure-of-eight knot, and folding the loop Upward or Downward.

– If you are leaving a non-Stone-Knot adept person to go last, be sure to review with them how to undo the Stone knot. It is not as obvious as it might seem.


Four variations of the Stone Knot (Stein Knot)



The Stone Knot is an essential tool when using the Fiddlestick technique. We use the Upward, Overhand Stone as it seems to have the cleanest release. Here, we show a wooden peg stuck through where the carabiner normally goes. There’s more to using the Fiddlestick… but that’s for another Tech Tip Post.


Thanks to Dave Buckingham for providing hand-model services.

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About tjones

Tom is the progenitor of Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide, Utah's premier canyoneering information resource, and Imlay Canyon Gear, America's #1 maker of canyoneering-specific gear. If he's not canyoneering, he's probably snuggled up with a good book.
Posted on May 10th, 2012 Knots, Rigging the Rope  ,  ,  ,  ,

17 Comments

  1. avatar
    Bob Brengle

    Tom,
    Great pictures and I really love this stuff but want to be sure I get it.

    I’m not following the “Further Comments” 2nd paragraph. “The Last may need aid for(SB from?) below to figure out which strand to rappel on.” Last has just taken out the Stone knot and is ready to rappel 2 strands or he has blocked the rope and is preparing to go single strand. Last should not have been left at the top if he can’t figure out which side he blocked. IMO! I don’t see what help the bottom can give.

    I also stumble over the 3rd paragraph. “If the rap is longer than half the rope, a Stone can still be used. Unless setting the rope length carefully, the knot that bends the two ropes together would be above the Stone Knot, close to the anchor.” I guess I don’t see that it matters where the bend is as long as it’s not down so far that people would have to use knot(bend) passing techniques.
    Having a bend in the rope might complicate the conversion to a lower if that is required and this might be what your alluding to as you might have to pass the knot(bend) during the lower.

    Last might clip a splitter on the side with the knot so that when he gets to the bottom he knows which side to pull and it takes the twist out of the rope.

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      Thanks for the feedback, Bob. I made some edits to the piece to address these issues, including the tpyo.

      If you are going to put a block in after removing the Stone Knot, it is more efficient to block the free end, rather than the bag end. It is hard to distinguish the two from the top, without a little assistance from below. Put the block on, rappel.

      On a two-rope system, if you put the bend fairly high, then when you unweight the rope in the conversion, you can bend the two ropes together between the ropegrab and the lowering system.

      The un-twisting can be a big deal, because in many circumstances, each rappeller puts another 1/2 twist in the strands. With that many twists, a splitter often does not work very well.

      Tom

  2. avatar
    Bob Brengle

    Tom,
    Thank you so much for your reply. Good thoughts and it makes sense to me now……………..Bob

  3. avatar
    Reid

    Cool. A question, though. I can’t figure out from looking at these whether all four are ‘equal’. Ar there any characteristics which make one preferable over the others?

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      Hi Reid, they all work for double-blocking, the main use of the Stone Knot. But the Upward version ‘bangs’ when the fiddlestick is removed – so I only use the upward version when fiddlesticking.

  4. avatar

    Tom,
    Thanks for this, used it on my trip to Mystery Canyon, really helped us save time as our group is quite slow!

  5. avatar
    Steveo

    Hi Tom,

    Just a heads up. I think the final image of the Stone Knot in Image 7 and 8 are the done the opposite way than they are started in the earlier images. This gave me a bit of trouble in double checking if I was tieing mine correctly.

    If I’m not correct, then disregard this post.

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      Uh, well. No. They are in sequence. And beside, left/right… etc. I hope you will understand the knot so it does not matter which version is tied.

  6. avatar

    Very confused. What does this knot actually do that a figure 8 on a bight or a butterfly will not do?

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      A lot. As stated in the article. I guess I am unclear on your question, Doug.

      Tom

  7. avatar

    Tom,
    What is your thoughts on the idea of setting up a contingency anchor first and then put in a Stone Hitch underneath it. This was you get the advantage of having the rappellers setting up and rapping with the stone knot, but if one of them gets in trouble you can clear the other side, release the Stone and then work the contingecy anchor.

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      Hmmm. Not really seeing the point, Jared. You’d still have to do a lift to get the Stone Knot out. I would just do two separate contingency anchors, rather than a stacked, contingency/stone.

      Tom

  8. avatar
    JAB

    Can you take a second and speak to the pros and cons of the overhand vs the figure 8 versions? Why would one prefer one to the other? Any ideas on the relative breaking strengths of the two knots?

    • avatar
      tjones (Author)

      I like the overhand version as I THINK it falls apart more reliably when used as a FiddleStick anchor. I think the original presentation was of a Figure-8 version, and I know some people use the Figure-8 version.

      I expect it would go close to full strength of the rope. I don’t plan on getting anywhere near that.

      Tom

  9. avatar
    JB

    Great knot. Thanks. I would love to see further photos showing step-by-step how to go from a Stein knot to a lowering system.

    JB

  10. avatar
    Charles

    Yes I also would like to see a step-by-step going from the Stein to a lowering system.

  11. avatar
    Miles

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for this. It’s fantastic and really has me thinking!

    If I’m not mistaken, the overhand stone knot is basically just a slipknot on a bight with the slipping loop blocked.

    In your experience, how much time per rappel is saved doing this vs. a biner block with a figure 8 on the bight backup? Seems like less than a minute would be saved on a normal setup and retrieval.

    I feel like people can still rap down both sides quite safely with either a backed up biner block or stone knot. The advantage I see with a biner block is that the last person can rap down single strand with little effort on a tested block, whereas the carabinered stone knot wouldn’t generally allow that so the last person would need to a) rap double strand b) reblock for a single strand rappel [adds risk] or c) use a fiddleblock. Is that fair to say or do you see it differently?

    Also, have you ever tested the knot to see what happens when the carabiner is set up poorly? (e.g. only clipped in one spot with the small end on the rope) Seems like the stone knot would still be bomber under most conditions.

    Thanks again!

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