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building anchors faster


Original Post
nicholas parsonnet · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 15

My biggest weakness is building anchors quickly. Thinking a little harder, I realized there are at least two things that slow me down significantly: (1) failure to quickly change strategy when my first solution isn’t working well and (2) having no clearly organized order of events. With that in mind, my question is: what are the systems that help you deal with tricky belays efficiently?

A little clarification…
(1) Adjusting Strategy: There are many possible factors that would result in needing to change strategy mid-assembly but some examples are uncomfortable stance (either while rigging or afterwards), gear spacing, or a tricky stopper. Your answer may be…Practice…but consider the scenario below…

(2) Order of events: Similarly, there could be many iterations here. The main factors in my mind are assembling a three point anchor, getting yourself onto the anchor, calling off belay, and getting your partner on the anchor, but not necessarily in that order. For example, you may clove in to a bomber piece first thing when you arrive at the belay, call off belay, rig the three-point anchor, and get your second on. Maybe you don’t ever rearrange yourself to the master point since that first piece was so great. Or perhaps you always build a three-point anchor first, then go into the shelf (this is what I used to do the most, probably misguided). Of course this will change depending on the quality of your stance (big ledge versus no real stance at all).

A scenario…
In an attempt to synthesize these two thoughts into one scenario, here’s one that I recently experienced. Arrive at a belay ledge with reasonable looking pro, find one good piece and clove in on an extra locker. I assess the rest of the obvious placements all are less inspiring than they appear (problem #1), but notice a great placement out of reach (5-6 feet above me). I untie my clove hitch (problem #2) and climb up, place the piece, extend it, and downclimb to my original stance. Now I’m trying and failing to place a tricky stopper from the ledge (problem #1…again), decide it won’t go, and spend some more time fiddling in another. Finally I rearrange myself (problem #2…again) to the master point (draw as intermediate, since at this point I’m off belay), yet by this time I’m frustrated, my partner is concerned that I’ve passed out, and I’ve had to deal with each problem at least twice! There is no doubt I have now spent too much time here, both then and now.

Yet after all that, my question remains…but perhaps this exercise has already helped me more than anyone else can.

keithconn · · LI, NY · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 35

Agree with your last statement.

P.C. · · Austin, TX · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 21

I hope, at either your future/previous job interview, when posed the question:, 'What is your biggest weakness?', you answer/ed with this

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

Arrive at stance. Find pro. Place pro. Connect pro with some kind of anchor system. Off belay. Pull rope. Belay on.

Unless it's a hanging belay with natural pro, this system allows for moving about to set the best anchor for the stance. For a hanging belay, I'll either take on a piece and/or clip in, depending on how gassed I am. But those are mega rare, I can't even remember the last time I had to build an anchor on gear at a truly hanging belay.

David Coley · · UK · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 70

1. video yourself
2. learn to do the knots bit super fast. You need to play with this not on a route, but at the bottom of the crag, or at home tying yourself to furniture. Aim for 15 seconds for a three piece (this is just the tying in, not placing gear - don't rush that bit)
3. don't tie into the anchor before all pieces are in, just clip the first piece incase you fall off and stay on belay. That was the strange thing in your little story.

patto · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 25

My first clove hitch to a piece is normally given plenty of slack if it is a ledge. It allows me to move around as I place more.

I'll call for my belay to be take off after clipping my first good piece if I have a ledge that I won't be falling off. It its a hanging belay I'll usually wait until I have 2.

Also why bother with 3 pieces if you have two totally bomber pieces? If the rock is good and your pieces are bomber do you really need 3? I don't.

David Coley wrote:3. don't tie into the anchor before all pieces are in, just clip the first piece incase you fall off and stay on belay. That was the strange thing in your little story.
I disagree with this. I will clove in on my first piece for expediency. Like I said if it is a ledge then I can call off belay and my partner can sort himself out like having a drink and putting on his shoes. I won't have him/her belaying any longer than necessity.

Note: My first clove as well as being my direct safety is also the first point in my 2 or 3 point rope anchor. I wouldn't normally use a locker. As I am building a rope anchor I'm chained to all the pieces anyway.

Thus a two piece anchor is place-clove==>offbelay ... place-clove-overhand==> anchor is done and ready to go.
Michael Douglas · · Yucaipa, CA · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 40

Good question! Efficiency is a vital skill to climbing and can always be improved. Spend more time climbing and hanging out with friends than tirelessly building anchors. Here is a diagram of the order of operations that I more or less use. Take it or leave it.

Order of anchoring
1. Clip in to a piece
2. Place your other pieces
3. Clove hitch your cordelette near its knot to the piece that will be furthest from the master point (this helps you keep that double fisherman knot out of your master point).
4. Clip the cordelette to the rest of the gear. *** be sure to clip the piece with the cordelette in a manner that allows you to unclip the rope to come clear of the anchor and not going through it
5. Equalize the anchor and tie a figure eight
6. Clip lockers to the shelf and master point
7. Clove hitch your rope into the locker on the shelf
8. Unclip your rope out of the pro
climber pat · · Las Cruces, NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 215

Maybe taking another moment visualizing your final anchor would help.

In your example you did not know where the redundant anchor points were going before you clove hitched to your first piece. If you had spend a moment looking around before clove hitching to your first piece you might notice the better crack higher up. Then you could have climbed up the that crack, placed the gear there, connected the belay to it, and downclimb to your stance.

It sounds like you were building the anchor using the rope rather than a cordellette which happens a lot if the pieces are separated by a significant distance. The trick here is tieing off the piece with enough cord so you don't have to go back up to adjust the clove hitch.

Personally, I always look for a secondary crack for at least one piece of the anchor so the anchor is also crack system redundant too.

mountainhick · · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 120

Agree with Pat: "Maybe taking another moment visualizing your final anchor would help."

And agree with Dave. "3. don't tie into the anchor before all pieces are in, just clip the first piece incase you fall off and stay on belay. "

-The thing that slows me down most is if I have already tied in with a knot/hitch then have to untie to rearrange.

-It's worse if I am using the rope rather than cord or slings to tie pieces together, the more pieces I am tied into, the more time it takes to rearrange anything. It can be helpful to use a cordellete for adjusting your tie in length to the masterpoint after the anchor is built. Or learn to leave yourself extra rope length from your harness from the get go when you are tying your first clove hitch

-This also pertains to finding the most effective comfortable stance before hauling rope and putting the second on belay. Even after more than 30 years building trad anchors, this one gets me, I'ff find myself on what I thought was a good stance only to find after I have done everything and have the follower on belay, if had I stepped a couple feet lower it would have been a better stance to belay.

-Look to build your anchor higher rather than lower relative to your stance. Being able to place an anchor higher gives you more leeway for belaying in guide mode, redirecting etc, without limiting your room to move. This can enhance your comfort/position which can facilitate your overall belaying efficiency.

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

My wife and I went utility cord shopping the other day (because we know how to party). Once we'd settled on something for some emergency prussics, the discussion of getting more for anchors came up.

I was firmly against a cordallete for the following reasons.

1. I have a perfectly capable rope tied to me I can build the anchor with
2. If we swing leads, it's more comfortable and efficient to do so
3. My gear expenditure is less (on a bolted belay, 2 biners only).
4. Less bulky shit to carry around
5. We never rig up TR's (fuck you n00bs).
6. Actual equalization doesn't really exist.

Her reasoning for carrying one were

1. Easier if leading in blocks
2. Have something cheap to leave if needed
3. It's sometimes nice to have something you can throw around a tree
4. It sure looks official.

I'm in a unique situation where both of us had hundreds, perhaps more, multipitch routes under our belts prior to meeting. We can discuss what works and where and change our gear situation based on route particulars.

If I were instructing the OP or Michael Douglas, I'd say too really consider what your goal is. Is it to build a an utterly textbook and bombproof anchor? If it is, are you willing to walk off everything in the dark or in the rain?

Speed is safety. If my anchor takes 90 seconds and holds 14kn (the typical strength of a well placed cam) and yours takes 10 minutes to assemble and 4 to disassemble, and holds 35kn, who is actually safer by pitch 11?

You need to have a default quick and simple anchor (bunny ears + 2 pieces or bolts in my case) and you need to set of situational reasons (bad gear, poor placements, ran out of good gear climbing, already know you're leading in blocks) why you'd do anything more complicated.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:Her reasoning for carrying one were 1. Easier if leading in blocks
Actually not true at all if a little planning is incorporated when building the anchor. IOW, make it easy for the second to duplicate the attachment points to the anchor *under* the leader's attachments. No macrame projects allowed!
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35
Marc801 wrote: Actually not true at all if a little planning is incorporated when building the anchor. IOW, make it easy for the second to duplicate the attachment points to the anchor *under* the leader's attachments. No macrame projects allowed!
I mostly agree with this. I think it depends on the stance. Obviously the better the stance, the easier it is to change out.

Setting the belayer up 2 feet below me while I take the gear back and transfer the rope works great. After the the leader is a few feet up, the belayer transitions to a more comfortable spot.

I truly can't remember ever using a cordallete. I was more referring to a belay with a sling or two instead of only the rope.
rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

First of all, remember that you are trying to decrease your average time. There will sometimes be situations that really do require a lot time to get good anchors. They should be rare.

I don't have a one size fits all approach. What I do depends on how comfortable and safe the stance is and what the gear opportunities look like in a quick survey of the situation when I arrive.

If the ledge is comfortable for me and I anticipate little difficulty in getting in pieces near to each other, than I clip the first piece with a tether and call off belay. The goal in getting off belay quickly is to enable the second to break down their anchor to one piece and do whatever else has to be done so that they are totally ready to climb when I go on belay. The tether means I don't have to place and then adjust a clove hitch until I'm actually setting up the anchor, and it also enables me to maximally break down the anchor when I follow the next pitch.

If the ledge is not comfortable and/or it appears that I will have to wander around to get in pro, then I clip the first anchor piece for protection and stay on belay for finding and realizing other placements. Depending on the situation with those other placements, I'll try to get off belay if possible so the second can start getting ready, but sometimes the belay from the second seems necessary for the entire anchoring process.

Once the pieces are in, I agree with David: 15 seconds to set up the rigging is an appropriate goal. Use the method that involves clipping in and adjusting the arm length before completing the clove hitch. By and large, if you are adjusting clove hitches after you've installed them, you're not as efficient as you could be.

BoulderCharles · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 80

Practice will make a much bigger difference than borrowing a system from someone else. As you can see in this short thread, there is not "right" system because everyone has different experiences and different perspectives. What works for me may not work for you.

Go to a local cliff and build a bunch of anchors (mixing up "easy" anchors with "tricky" anchors). As you get more comfortable you will find that the stress of figuring out an anchor will be reduced, helping you to move faster.

Beyond that, one thing I like is to put my belay device (in guide mode) onto the master point before I pull up the rope (I usually put the belay device on the master point just after calling off belay as I can't start pulling rope just yet). The benefit is that once you have pulled up the rope you don't have the hold the rope while fiddling with the belay device...you just pull up the rope and put it into the belay device.

Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268

I score my placements to equal 3, not necessarily 3 points.

Waist sized tree trunk = 3 1 point anchor, tied with rope or double anchor material.
large hand to fist size pro = 1.5 2 point anchor.
Finger sized pro = 1 3 point anchor
Micro nuts and or shitty rock I try to get 4 in.

I think tying into 1 solid piece on a good stance and calling off belay, then finish anchor, will probably be your best "cook book" approach to speeding things up.

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35
Rick Blair wrote:I score my placements to equal 3, not necessarily 3 points. Waist sized tree trunk = 3 1 point anchor, tied with rope or double anchor material. large hand to fist size pro = 1.5 2 point anchor. Finger sized pro = 1 3 point anchor Micro nuts and or shitty rock I try to get 4 in. I think tying into 1 solid piece on a good stance and calling off belay, then finish anchor, will probably be your best "cook book" approach to speeding things up.
In solid rock, is a .5 any weaker than a #4? (no)

You don't even mention bottle-necked medium to large sized stoppers.

I don't disagree with you so much as I think you've gone and applied rules where evaluation would be more useful.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

BoulderCharles Good point! Small stuff like this really adds up over the course of a day. Also learned the ";go higher, not lower"; rule the hard way when I ended up having to batman off a ledge into a hanging belay because I built my anchor too low, lol.

Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote: I don't disagree with you so much as I think you've gone and applied rules where evaluation would be more useful.
No, this is not literally what I do, just a generalized example. It is obviously much more nuanced than that. I doubt anyone wants to read 2 pages about my anchoring decisions.
Brian L. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 90
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote: In solid rock, is a .5 any weaker than a #4? (no) You don't even mention bottle-necked medium to large sized stoppers. I don't disagree with you so much as I think you've gone and applied rules where evaluation would be more useful.
Here's the "best" write up on a point system I've seen:
blog.alpineinstitute.com/20…

I think the general idea is smaller gear is harder to evaluate, and generally is in more questionable rock, so it has a slightly lesser point-value. Obviously subjective, and people are free to evaluate it differently.
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35
Brian L. wrote: Here's the "best" write up on a point system I've seen: blog.alpineinstitute.com/20… I think the general idea is smaller gear is harder to evaluate, and generally is in more questionable rock, so it has a slightly lesser point-value. Obviously subjective, and people are free to evaluate it differently.
It seems like it's perpetuating the myth that complex is better.

I like the general concept, I want to throw and kick things looking at the anchor examples though.
Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote: It seems like it's perpetuating the myth that complex is better. I like the general concept, I want to throw and kick things looking at the anchor examples though.
The basic problem with any of these point-based analysis systems is that they try to reduce an engineering problem that depends on situational analysis and application of concepts to a paint-by-numbers approach that can be done by rote. Building anchors just doesn't work that way.

Another difficulty is the rather arbitrary point assignment based on what, exactly? Just the size of the piece? We've all seen #0.5 cam placements that can hold 10kN and #4 cams that would rip at 2kN. Only 6 points for a "good bolt"? What ever would they do in some areas where a single bolt anchor is the norm?
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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