by Brad

October 14, 2021

Climbing Anchors

There comes a time when you reach the belay stance only to realize that you placed everything wrongly. Perhaps you positioned the final runner on the nut, the last quickdraw on the cam, and probably tied the last bit of the cord on a natural feature. There is a solution for all that. 

While at the top of a rock or the snow, you might feel exhausted and exhilarated; therefore, you will need an anchor system that is foolproof, simple, and adaptable in each situation. Note that understanding how to build anchors for climbing, going on long pitches, or when you are out of slings. 

If you are a beginner or simply yearning to polish up and grow your anchor-making abilities, you are lucky to be here. In our guide, we will share details about climbing anchors and how to evaluate them for yourself instead of trusting other people to teach you. 

Let’s dive in!

What Is a Climbing Rope Anchor?

Anchors for Climbing

A climbing rope anchor involves some anchors connected systematically to have one master point for the rope and climber to clip into. 

Note that it doesn’t matter if you are a top climber or lead the climb, but you need to understand how to create the best rope anchor as your first skill.

It saves a lot of lives. However, there are various things that you need to know when building an anchor. Here is the breakdown of the two steps:

  •  Create the anchor points to use in the system.
  •  Connect the anchor points. 

Keep in mind that multiple variables are connected, but it’s not possible to cover them all. However, after this read, you’ll get to understand how the rope anchors work and master the perfect way to build an excellent climbing anchor. 

How to Build Rock Climbing Anchors

Identify the anchor points

Before you begin to build an anchor, it’s vital to consider what you need to use to construct the anchor points. The points you decide on lie on your current location and the available gear. Below are different anchor points:

Natural anchor points

These are a perfect form of shield while climbing snow or rock. They make it lighter and quicker for one to ascend, and you get to save on equipment and gear. Keep in mind that making use of natural anchors is environmentally friendly and neater. 

Sometimes, the natural anchors can be your only way of protection on the snow or rock; they tend to allow you to move faster. It means you will spend little time in any danger zone. Examples of natural anchor points include:

Trees 

Trees and bushes will provide a perfect anchor point. However, before you sling them, you need to check for stability and life. Also, avoid getting much resin on the sling and get rid of the trees that grow from cliffs. 

It’s recommended that if a climber has to put on a climbing helmet and pants to use a tree as an anchoring point, the tree should have a diameter of around 12 inches. 

Build Anchors for Climbing

The tree’s base is the most vital point; therefore, you need to circle the runner around the base and clip its end using a carabiner. While at it, ensure that the slings form an angle less than 60 degrees after the master connection. 

For rappelling, extend your sling so the rope goes under the wall ledge to be easier to recover your rope.

Rock features 

The most common rock features used as anchor points are the horns and chockstones. While you access their integrity, ensure they are solid and properly attached. They shouldn’t have any brittle or cracks that indicate weakness.

Chockstones are an excellent choice for both setting a belay point and protection. You should ensure it’s in excellent condition by probably pushing it to check its stability. 

Again, it’s faster to position a stitched sling via the bridge as it offers double strength, and you will save time from knotting its ends. With horns, you tend to loop your runner over the top and clip it to the rope. 

Fixed anchor points 

It’s a temporary gear that, if placed, will be permanently fixed on a rock. , you attach the rope by clipping quickdraws or runners to your gear. Bolts and pitons are some examples of fixed anchor points.

For the fixed anchors, you should check for any weak signs. In case of excessive wear, corrosion, or cracks, avoid it altogether. 

Removable anchor points

Stoppers and cams are used in places that are hard to find both natural and fixed protection. 

You pack the two anchor points in your backpack and position them accordingly as you climb the snow or rock. You should be careful, bearing in mind that their solidity is the key to keeping it safe. 

How to Build Climbing Anchors

Connect Your Anchor Points 

Now that you found the individual points, it’s time to connect them. While making the connection, ensure to have around two points, one that holds a downward pull as the other holds an upward pull. 

To connect the climbing anchor points, you need to attach the individual points to build a master point where you will clip into. Standard anchors will require two or three points holding downward pulls and one holding upward pulls. 

The most crucial thing when connecting the anchor point is equalization; it helps evenly distribute the load.

Equalizing climbing anchors consist of more than one point that you join together to ensure the load is shared equally; besides offering a vast anchor strength, it adds backup or redundancy due to the numerous points. 

There are two primary choices for equalizing anchors; self-equalization and also static equalization. 

1) Static equalization 

This is whereby the climbing anchor system incorporates multiple points that are well tied together. Once it’s tied off, it lacks adjustability or slack in it. 

Anchor points that feature static equalization are perfect for climbs consisting of a clear pulling direction such as the straight down. 

Cordelette Anchor: it’s one way to connect more than two anchor points when using static equalization. To make it, you need an 18-20 ft. long section of about 7 to 8-millimeter Perlon accessory cord that you tie into a massive loop with a double fisherman’s knot.

2) Self-equalization 

It’s an excellent approach for constructing an anchor that maintains the load equally on every anchor point and adjusts to changes in the pull direction. Mainly, it’s used while rappelling since the route often changes to the right or left while you rappel. 

However, it would be best if you only used it when need be because the individual points don’t work, the anchor extends and tends to shock-load the other points, or cause a complete anchor failure. 

After connecting the anchor points and ensuring that you equalize them accordingly, any climber can easily use a belay device or climbing harness to move up the snow or rock without encountering any fatal falls. 

So, if you feel your pull direction might change, self-equalizing the anchor is an excellent idea. Though, there are some considerations that you need to keep in place. Let’s get into that! 

Anchor Considerations

Build Anchors for Climbing

Multidirectional anchors

Typically, the top-rope climbing anchors are built to hold the downward pull. Therefore, multidirectional anchors are the best choice; they tend to handle a pull from all directions. 

To understand it, imagine what would happen to a belayer when a lead climber falls. That force from a falling climber pulls a belayer in the climbing direction of the lead climber, and it ends up delivering a tug in the same direction to your anchor. 

It not only slams the belayer into the snow or rock, but it will injure them and might end up causing the anchor to fail. Suppose it was only built to pull from just one direction. Therefore, it’s critically essential to construct a climbing anchor point that holds downward and upward pull. 

Solid trees, horizontally-positioned cams, and bolts are some of the anchor points that, when properly used, could hold pulls that come from all directions. 

Anchor forces and angles 

It’s yet another factor that helps in anchor considerations. The slings’ length and the anchor points that connect the points are paramount for a reliable climbing anchor. for a reliable climbing anchor 

It is so because the force applied on each anchor point relies on the angle that the slings will form after coming together. 

Note that the lesser the angle, the lesser the force that every anchor point receives, and conversely, the bigger the angle, the higher the amount of force that every point gets.

High masterpoint 

The master point is yet another consideration in anchoring. As you construct the anchor points, ensure the master point is positioned between your chest and slightly above the head. Generally, at a comfortable stance, it allows one to have an efficient belay.

When using a cordelette to construct the points, you can tie the figure nine knot instead of the figure eight to raise your master point. 

If you’re building an anchor using a cordelette, you can raise the master point by tying a figure nine knot rather than a figure eight. It is so because figure nine will use more of your cordelette, thus raising the master point. 

To tie the figure nine, you should begin like you are tying the figure eight, though you need to wrap your cord around one more time before you complete the eight. 

How to Build Anchors for Climbing

Anchor Theory

There are different types of anchors, and there are various points that you need to recall. A tool called SERENE-A is a good mnemonic that you have to memorize.

Until you understand that SERENE technique, you should always have a note in your pocket while constructing the anchor points. It saves a lot! 

Here Is a Breakdown of What SERENE-A Anchor System Is 

Solid: every component of your anchor should be entirely solid.

Equalized: you should ensure to rig your anchor to distribute the load between all the individual points equally. 

Redundant: the anchor points should be redundant. Suppose one of them fails; the rest are not supposed to fail automatically as well. Always use two anchor points that are more solid than the rest. The slings and carabiners should be redundant too. Keep in mind that redundancy is the best way to keep you safe if well applied. 

Efficient: You should efficiently use your gear and time when constructing the anchor points and avoid creating something that will be overly complicated. In this case, observe the Keep It Stupid Simple (KISS) principle.

No Extension: While constructing the points, there is no need for extensions. It simply means that they shouldn’t suddenly shock and extends other anchors whenever the anchor points fail. It’s vital for an X Slide.

Angles: You should consider angles that the sling creates or slings in the anchor system. A more significant angle will put extra force on the anchor, so you should ensure the angles are 60 degrees or less.

Now that you understand the two basic techniques and how to construct them, you should know that not all anchors are perfect, but it’s easy to build better and safer anchors using the SERENE-A approach.

But just because your anchor fits SERENE-A, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a perfect point. However, building them to meet the criteria is an excellent guideline for a safer anchor. 

Final Thoughts on How to Build Anchors for Climbing

It’s imperative to set up very secure and robust climbing anchor points. If a climber takes a fall, the solid anchor will be a matter of life or death. Note that the anchor is an excellent foundation for the entire system – from the protective gear, anchor points, carabiners, runners to the climbing rope. 

Though most people have moved away from the anchor points construction due to the advancements and changes in the anchor-specific gear, it is crucial to understand how to build one; it will save your bacon. It’s a fast and straightforward technique to master. 

With this guide in mind, you will have a good time constructing your first anchor points to save your life while outdoor climbing. 

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About the author 

Brad

Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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