Highlight on our Ropes/Adventure Course Chug — Part 2: Figuring on the Figure Eight!


From Michael Gerber, our Rosh Ropes/Adventure Course:

If you visit the Alpine Tower, you will see your child commit to jumping off a 50-plus foot platform and be lowered down on a rope.  It might make your heart jump a beat, and that’s natural.  I feel it with my own child, who I put up on this course today without hesitation, and myself as well.

And you might wonder ‘OK, it’s a really strong rope, I get that.  But in the end, you’re just tying a knot. Knots can be treacherous.  I’ll trust your rope, fine.  But that knot makes me nervous.  How do I know it will hold my child?  How do I know you’re going to tie it right?’

I’m glad you asked.  The knot we use is called a figure eight, and there are several variations but if you look for a figure 8 harness knot on-line you’ll probably find it.  We like this knot for several reasons.

It has a very clean, distinctive design and very easy to tie right, and to see if you’ve tied it wrong.  A properly tied knot is a series of parallel curves in the shape of an eight, and any mistakes will result in crossed lines and an ugly knot that won’t lie flat and shouts to be retied.  There’s an additional ‘safety’ knot, which helps us feel secure, but the real purpose is to keep what’s left over after tightening out of the way.

The figure 8 knot is ‘self constricting’, which is to say it tightens on itself the more you pull, so the more you fall the more secure the knot becomes.  And it’s easy to untie when you are finished; you can ‘break’ the knot, pushing it against itself to loosen in a way that’s different from untying.  So even though it’s been pulled tight with someone’s weight, it’s easy to work it loose when you need to put someone else on the belay system.

So it’s neat that we depend on the figure eight knot where the number eight has such great significance in the Jewish faith: days until brit milah, days and candles in the Hanukkah miracle, and a number of holidays spaced by seven days from each other, so that they fall in eighths the same way seven basic tones makes an octave.  I like the strong and dependable connection, both as a religious metaphor and a serious and literal connection I trust with my life.