Rigging 101, from the worst to the best types of anchor systems, including the sliding-X, standard equalized and the quad.
How you construct a station depends on the features of the rock, your rack and the availability of fixed gear. The textbook anchor has at least three separate, cam-and-nut-eating cracks, or three bomber bolts.
In real life, anchors aren’t usually so perfect. On multipitch or trad climbs, your anchor will often consist of a bit of everything—a few nuts, a cam, and, on popular routes, a fixed pin or bolt—strung across the stance. The shape of the cracks and availability of fixed gear will dictate what you can arrange, but you should always try to set gear so each piece complements the other. Place a multidirectional cam, for example, to keep other anchors, like nuts, from being pulled up and out. String everything together so it’s equalized, meaning that each piece would bear an equal load. Study this chapter thoroughly, even if you’re a gym climber.
You never know when you’ll have to set up a bomber anchor—it’s smart not to rely on your crag-savvy friend’s anchor skills, in case he or she is injured on the wall.
GIVE AND TAKE
There is no single one-stop-shop for constructing an anchor, and, in reality, no anchor is perfect. In a lab setting you might eventually build the ideal anchor, but in the field there are just too many variables. Fixed gear, for example, will have an unknown strength (Is it rusted? Has freeze/thaw loosened that pin? How strong is that faded webbing?). A cam in granite might hold a Mack Truck, but a cam in sandstone could shear through the soft rock. Even the best of the various equalized systems can’t be 100 percent equalized—there will always be slack somewhere and the stretch rates of cord, rope and sling are all different, placing different loads on the various pieces.
Understanding the limitations of anchors will make you a cautious climber, one who always strives for the perfection anchor. With that in mind, you’ll constantly adjust your system to make the most of what you have, which is why you need to know a multitude of ways to make an anchors, and understand the principles that make an anchor you can trust your and your partner’s lives to.
The rules for creating a lead or toprope anchor station are the same: Both must always be SERENE.
S = SOLID
Every piece of the anchor is strong enough to hold the entire load by itself.
E = EQUALIZED
Each anchor placement should carry a load equal to that of the other placements. You’ll use slings, sewn chains, the rope, or a cordelette to adjust the distances from each placement to the “master point,” so each placement bears the same load under tension.
R = REDUNDANT
At least two pieces of gear. On sport climbs this will usually be two bolts, but on gear routes you’ll often have three placements, even more. Never rely on a single anchor. Double up all key components. Even an equalized anchor is a disaster if you clip to the master point with just one carabiner, and that carabiner breaks. Double up all critical slings, and compound your anchor by placing at least three cams or nuts instead of two.
E = EFFICIENT
The anchor should be simple, so you can easily inspect it, and it shouldn’t take more than a moment to construct.
NE = NO EXTENSION
If a piece fails, the anchor sling on that piece won’t allow for any drop, which would shock-load the remaining placements.
Types of Anchors
AMERICAN DEATH TRIANGLE
A crude method for joining two or more anchors is to string them all into the loop of a sling. At a glance, the “American Death Triangle” might seem fine, but if one anchor fails, the collapse of the triangle shock-loads the surviving anchor with up to a ton of force. Do not use the American Death Triangle.
In those rare situations where you are forced to use this configuration because it is fixed on the anchor (common at older, fixed rappel stations), make sure the sling is at least doubled up, and back up the anchor if you can. The example we’ve shown here is especially bad because the cord is slung through the bolt hangers. This is a common situation at older rappel stations, where the first ascentionists were skimping on carabiners (maybe they didn’t have enough). Don’t follow their lead: never run rope, sling or cord straight through a bolt hanger. The sharp radius of the hanger can cut the nylon. Always use carabiners to connect nylon to metal.
When you take a sling, give it a half-twist and clip through the twist you create the Sliding X, a common, simple and highly effective equalization method for two anchors that has the additional benefit of readjusting itself when the angle of loading changes. Nevertheless, it is not recommended. The single sling is not redundant, and if either anchor point fails, the remaining piece is subject to a shock-load of up to two tons, depending on the distance between the two anchors.
IMPROVED SLIDING X
Tie an overhand loop in both sides of the sling or cord above the X, and you dramatically decrease the shock-load potential. The trade off: The closer you tie the overhand knots to the X, the more you reduce the system’s ability to equalize. Despite this limitation, the Improved X is a good alternative when you are low on slings. It is also a good method for equalizing pro on lead, and equalizing two anchors that are in turn woven into a cordelette-rigged belay.
CORDELETTE – Standard Equalized Anchor
For simplicity, redundancy, ease of use and low-potential shock loading, the cordelette is one standard for equalizing anchors. A cordelette is a dedicated 9-foot loop of 7- or 8mm cord, typically tied with a double fisherman’s. Numerous companies produce pre-made cordelettes, in various lengths with the ends of the knots sewn down so they can never come untied. To use, ( 1 ) clip each anchor into the loop, pull down the cordelette between each anchor, gather these to an equalized point, and ( 2 ) tie them together with a figure-eight loop. The loops formed by the figure-eight are the power-point. The crux to properly setting a cordelette is guessing the direction the anchor will be loaded. For instance, if you know the anchor will be loaded off to the left, tie the cordelette so the power point is off to the left. Since a cordelette only equalizes in one direction, you need to get this right. Guess wrong, and just one piece will bear the brunt of the load.
Properly rigged, the cordelette will equalize the anchors; if one point fails, shock-loading will be minimal.
NOTE: WIDE ANGLES = LOAD MULTIPLICATION
With any anchor, keep the angle formed by the connecting slings as acute as possible. When the slings form wide “wings” as you see in this illustration, the load multiplies on each anchor because the pieces pull against one another, creating inward as well as downward load. When the angle formed by the slings is 60 degrees, the load on each equalized anchor is 58 percent. Increase that angle to 90 degrees, and the load on each anchor increases to 70 percent. Go up to 150 degrees, a realistic scenario if anchors are connected with short slings, and the load on each anchor can reach 200 percent!
An angle of 60 degrees or less is ideal. Achieve this angle by using long slings or a long cordelette-type connector.
HITCHES, SLINGS AND THE ROPE
Piecing together an anchor when you don’t have slings, or when slings are all you have, isn’t ideal. These “old school” methods have pinch-hit since climbing was invented, but modern systems such as the cordelette and the “quad” are always preferred.
(1) Clove hitching the rope to the anchors is especially weak. This system doesn’t equalize at all. If one anchor fails, the remaining anchor would be shock-loaded.
(2) Tying a figure-eight on a bight and clipping the loop through the anchors, though quick and easy, has the same flaw as the American Death Triangle: If one anchor fails, the other is shock-loaded.
(3) Using slings of varying lengths to equalize an anchor can be fine, but it is unlikely that your slings will be the exact length to fully equalize the anchors. In our example, the sling lengths are close, but because the left slings are shorter, their anchor will take more than half the load—a typical real-world outcome. This anchor is also shown with non-locking carabiners, another no-no.
The sewn loops on a daisy chain make it seem like a simple tool for setting up an equalized anchor. Never use a daisy chain to rig an anchor. The loops were not designed for safely catching a lead or toprope fall. If you whip on a daisy chain, the stitching that divides the loops could rip out of the webbing. However, it’s O.K. to use a daisy chain for aid climbing.
PERSONAL ANCHOR SYSTEMS, ANCHOR CHAINS AND EQUALIZERS
Numerous companies make sewn slings that look similar to daisy chains, but are fundamentally different because instead of having sewn pockets like a daisy chain, which as just noted can break, these have small, individually sewn loops that connect like the links of a chain. Each link is belay strength, and these are intended to be used for rigging belays, and for tethering yourself to the anchor.
Often called “personal anchor systems,” or PAS, these slings—you’ll need two—are convenient attachments for using on multipitch routes, and for anchoring to rappel stations. There are at least two types, one for connecting yourself to the anchor, and another, usually a longer version, that you use to rig and equalize the anchor. Redundant, efficient and equalized the PAS systems fulfill the needs as long as the load is in between the anchors. When the load is to one side, one anchor will receive more than 50 percent.
A PAS system of links is easy to adjust, one of its benefits.
As its name implies, The Quad uses four strands of a cordelette to provide anchor points for two, three or even four anchors, but is most often used to connect a two-piece anchor such as bolts.
The Quad is a self-equalizing anchor system that adjusts to off-center loading, an advantage over the standard cordelette. The Quad is quick to tie, works in most situations, and provides separate clip-in points for the belayer and climber, preventing them from jamming up at the same master point. On routes where you have bolted stations that are approximately the same, you can keep The Quad tied, making it even more efficient.
Since The Quad is a doubled cordelette, it does lack a cordelette’s reach, a problem if you are rigging gear anchors where the placements are far apart, however, you can anticipate this by making your cordelette four to six feet longer than usual.
Use two strands of the master point to anchor yourself to, and the other two to clip your partner to. If you have a belay device that works in “guide mode,” or an “assisted- brake” type device, you can clip the device to the second loop and belay directly off it.
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