Ask the Master: Building Anchors with Passive Pro

By Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide) | March 22nd, 2017

I’ve always been instructed that if you use passive protection for anchors (nuts, etc.), you have to place at least three pieces in different directions to accommodate different directions of fall. Is this true, or should I be able to get by placing less (can’t imagine)? Or do I need more? Thank you!



A solid nut placement for downward pull, in the constriction of a vertical crack.
A solid nut placement for downward pull, in the constriction of a vertical crack.

The easy answer is that it depends. We could just leave it at that, but I will try to elaborate. When building an anchor out of passive protection such as nuts, the quality of the placement(s) is much more important than the actual number of pieces in the anchor. This is true for all types of gear, but passive protection takes a little more finesse, because even minor changes in direction of pull could make that placement worthless.

One of the things you should look at when assessing the quality of the placement is whether or not the piece will still be strong if the load shifts to a different direction. A good nut placement will allow for small shifts in direction of pull. A great nut placement will allow dramatic shifts in direction of pull. For example, a well placed nut in a horizontal crack can be good for downward, upward and sometimes sideways pull. Combine that with a well placed nut in a vertical crack and you are starting to look pretty good.


Also read How to Climb: How to Place Protection


You shouldn’t have to design your three-piece anchor so each piece is placed for a different loading direction. Ideally, your three-piece anchor (or however many pieces you decide is enough) should be sharing the load equally and be able to handle the anticipated shift in the load. If you are pointing your three pieces in different directions you essentially have a one-piece anchor for each of those potential directions of pull—not ideal.

Being able to build a solid anchor out of passive gear is an important skill to have as a climber. It can really help you out when you’re trying to hoard cams for that hard pitch, and also helps you lighten your load. That being said, I usually feel much better when I have one well placed cam in my anchor, because they are better at dealing with small shifts in load direction and they are usually faster to place and clean.

—Jeff Ward


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