Passive-Only Trad Anchor


Original Post
Kyle Drott · · Denver, CO · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

Hey guys, I am a fledging trad climber. I have about 60 nuts and hexes going up to Camalot #3, but no cams. Honestly, I appreciate the history of passive protection, and would like to stay passive. Can anyone tell me how to safely build a trad anchor out of only passive pro? I am assuming that only placing the nuts downward would be awful during a hard catch. (You don't have to tell me how dumb I am for not using cams, my friends already did that for you!)

JFM · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,828

All-passive anchors sometimes happen even if you have a rack full of cams left on your harness -- or if you ran out while on the pitch.

Depends on the location of the anchor as to specifics, but ideally, you will have at least 3 pieces of pro and at least one of them will be set so that it will catch an upward force (this if you are doing multi pitch: you want the leader to have something besides just your bodyweight to counter a fall that will result in upward force on the anchor-belayer system).

If its a TR setup, maybe the upward-pull piece is less critical.

Many times, I try to set my anchor (passive or cams+passive) at chest level or maybe even above, then extend it so that I have a nice low center of gravity... so that belayers bodyweight will take some force if the leader falls, but a piece of pro that will arrest the upward movement of the belayer if s/he takes a ride.

The construction of your anchor isn't really going to change how hard the catch is-- that will depend more on belayer technique.

Varun R · · Anaheim, California · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 10

Hey Kyle,

I appreciate your attitude of staying passive. However, the fact that you are asking this question on mountain project concerns me about your ability to stay safe while pursuing an idealistic goal. Placing solid passive protection is a highly nuanced skill and needs a lot of practice. Placing a good passive protection on TR is hard enough; safely doing it while leading is advanced. Added to that you have to consider rope drag, run out, the direction of fall etc. using only passive protection, you are definitely asking for trouble. If you are serious about pursuing this goal, I would recommend gaining some experience leading in general with cams. It will give you a better idea of problems you might encounter while leading and how to deal with it. Even better find an experienced mentor or pay a guide. Once you are comfortable leading a certain route grade with your eyes closed, you can consider removing all active pieces.

My 2 cents.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Varun that's a bit hyperbolic. Some areas take passive gear better than cams (Devil's Lake), and many, many routes were put up before cams were invented. Just stay the hell away from Indian Creek...

J pretty much nailed it...your biggest problem is the lack of multidirectional pieces. A nut placed to resist upward pull will handle this, but you have to really know what you are doing. I hope that your partners at least don't share this ethos, as I'd be more concerned about your first piece not being multidirectional and zippering, which would lead to an anchor fall and upward pull...

Basically, YGD.

Mike Byrnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

Yep this just sounds like a zipper waiting to happen

Bill M · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 321

Kyle, no one can "tell you" how to do anything. And your reason for choosing an all passive rack is no more or less stupid than the reasons any of us climb; do what you want. My recommendation is take your rack out, build some anchors 1/2 way up a route you can top rope and test the shit out of it - while you are on TR.

Robert Michael · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 116
varunr89 wrote:Hey Kyle, I appreciate your attitude of staying passive. However, the fact that you are asking this question on mountain project concerns me about your ability to stay safe while pursuing an idealistic goal. Placing solid passive protection is a highly nuanced skill and needs a lot of practice. Placing a good passive protection on TR is hard enough; safely doing it while leading is advanced. Added to that you have to consider rope drag, run out, the direction of fall etc. using only passive protection, you are definitely asking for trouble. If you are serious about pursuing this goal, I would recommend gaining some experience leading in general with cams. It will give you a better idea of problems you might encounter while leading and how to deal with it. Even better find an experienced mentor or pay a guide. Once you are comfortable leading a certain route grade with your eyes closed, you can consider removing all active pieces. My 2 cents.
What?

Many people learn on passive gear. And people led on passive gear for years before there were cams.
Varun R · · Anaheim, California · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 10

I would disagree that multi-directional pieces cannot be placed using only passive protection. Leuben's rock climbing anchors book covers plenty of strategies to place multi-directional pieces. But, I agree that the OP is not yet experienced enough to do this on his own. Therefore, my earlier statement still stands.

Ted: I diverge from the post but I do not agree with your statement that DL takes passive protection better than cams. I know that there is a whole post dedicated to this. However, the evidence is anecdotal at best and is biased towards old school climbers, who possibly prefer passive protection. I can probably furnish just as many references who will swear by the cam at DL. But that's a discussion for another day.

Merry Christmas!

Varun R · · Anaheim, California · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 10
RMS wrote: What? Many people learn on passive gear. And people led on passive gear for years before there were cams.
My statement had nothing to do with if it is possible to learn with passive gear. It implied that OP needs more experience. And yes people led on passive gear for years before there were cams. People also led on wooden stakes before there were nuts and hexes.
Jay Morse · · Hooksett, New Hampshire · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 30

If you have to ask this question, you are not yet knowledgeable enough to actually make an informed choice on going "all passive".

More than anything, my concern with adopting this ideology would be a lack of partners to climb with, because I sure as shit wouldn't climb with someone who intentionally makes less than optimal anchors because of an ideology and I bet many would agree. And you're gonna be a BLAST to follow having to stop and clean 15 nuts that you most likely set in very hard to make sure all your gear doesn't zipper. And I can't WAIT to do unprotected traverses because a multidirectional passive placement wasn't available and I'm in line for a monster swing.

If you go forward with it, good luck, and make sure you have a strong knowledge of directional forces and zippering. And you should tell any potential partner up front before a multipitch, you would be a dick not to.

Personally, I think you should find a friend that shares this mentality (if you can) and just make it a side hobby - and own a set of cams for climbing with everyone else, and for climbing the MANY routes where you will want/need cams to make them not X-rated.

bkozak · · Sterling, VA · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 70

I love placing my nuts both on lead and in anchors, but why the vendetta against active gear? Saying you won't use them just because you like the history of passive gear seems like a pretty poor excuse for me. Do you still use a hemp rope and wear steel-bottom mountaineering boots?

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

If you want to use all passive gear, that's fine. Just make sure you know how place a nut in an upward constricting crack. Put in three good pieces for downward pull and then place a piece for an upward pull and clip that to the anchor. Leave just enough snack that the anchor can rotate about 170 degrees so that your pro doesn't get yanked upward.

Learn how to place opposed nuts and do that ASAP off the belay, preferably as your first placement

s.price · · PS,CO · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,348

Kyle, we all appreciate the history of passive pro but it's no reason to limit yourself.

Placing passive pro is a craft just as placing a cam is.

I place a lot of passive pro because I enjoy doing so and it is how learned to lead. I will sew it up with cams as well if necessary.

Definitely learn the craft of well placed passive pro. Tons of good info out there. Coming on here and asking is kinda like daring the bouncer at a bar to take you out back.

If at all possible find a mentor. At the very least practice at the base of a cliff until you feel solid. Then practice some more. Next tackle some easy line that just gobbles up gear. Put in a lot of laps on the same line. If possible rap the line and clean your own gear. Getting the piece out in an expedient fashion is just as important as placing it.

Good luck, be careful and try hard to get a mentor.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
varunr89 wrote:I would disagree that multi-directional pieces cannot be placed using only passive protection. Leuben's rock climbing anchors book covers plenty of strategies to place multi-directional pieces. But, I agree that the OP is not yet experienced enough to do this on his own. Therefore, my earlier statement still stands. Ted: I diverge from the post but I do not agree with your statement that DL takes passive protection better than cams. I know that there is a whole post dedicated to this. However, the evidence is anecdotal at best and is biased towards old school climbers, who possibly prefer passive protection. I can probably furnish just as many references who will swear by the cam at DL. But that's a discussion for another day. Merry Christmas!
For the record, I have argued very strongly in favor of using cams at DL. The nature of the rock, however, lends itself to more bomber passive placements, as there are a ton of constrictions and very few truly parallel cracks. Many routes can be safely led without cams, so if the TS climbs at a place like that, I could see the all-passive approach working.
Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,440
Kyle Drott wrote: Can anyone tell me how to safely build a trad anchor out of only passive pro?
A few things; Yes, we can tell you until we're blue in the face, but you're the one that has to go do it. General rules first- Make sure the rock quality is solid. If it's slick, or brittle or fractured all to hell, any anchor in it is suspect. Try not to use the same feature if at all possible for all of your pieces. If there's just a single crack, then so be it, but if there are multiple cracks or crevices, try to spread your pieces across all those.

You've shown some good forward thinking with regard to your anchor needing to protect against an upward pull. Most of the time passive pieces rely on the the downward and outward constricting nature of irregular rock- which of course is aided by gravity and friction. An anchor is mainly to protect against a climber falling and ripping all the pro out, but that does little good if the climber's pro holds and yanks you upward and the anchor along with it. There's good advice upthread about opposing pieces and upward pull pieces. Allow for some (upward) mobility if you can when building your anchor; set your pieces high so you can come off the ground/ledge/stance some if your climber falls without worrying about going too far past your anchor. You can also use a directional to allow you to come up a bit, but not pass your anchor.

I'm not going to call you dumb for not using cams. I will say though, that you're limiting yourself. Eventually, if you climb enough, you'll find a spot that you need cams. You'll need a directional that just can't be found in any configuration of passive gear, or if it can, you can't hang on long enough to fiddle with it. This is especially true if you're plugging while climbing at your physical limit. Don't delude yourself into thinking that finding and placing passive gear is a craft to be mastered and that cams are just plug and chug. While the nature of expanding active gear certainly leans in that direction, picking the correct size and placing bomber cams takes a modicum of skill as well, they're just slightly more forgiving if they're less than ideal placements.

I'll echo what others have said and suggest that you get a few cams. This will allow you to have better protected adventures and likely get more mileage with your passive gear in general. After you've garnered some experience and time under your belt, if you still have that ideal in mind, you can always subtract the active stuff from your rack. Have fun and be safe.
Mike Byrnes · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

I've already commented here once but I'm just going to say please get 3 or 4 cams. Place one as your first piece to prevent zippering and if you don't want to use the rest don't until the anchor. It's always better to have excess gear than not enough. This passive pro ideology sounds like an excuse for being cheap and not wanting to buy cams.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 230

Hex isn't really a passive placement. They can be placed like a nut but you also place them active as well...

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456
ViperScale wrote:Hex isn't really a passive placement. They can be placed like a nut but you also place them active as well...
Slick rock aside, cams are almost always going to be better than a cammed hex. I use my hexes more than the average joe trad climber and I almost never cam them. That being said, in some cases you can place it like a nut and also add some camming action to get a double whammy, but this almost never happens on lead because it takes a good amount of fiddling to do.
Kyle Drott · · Denver, CO · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

In my defense, I'd like to add that I started on this path because I'm a tightwad. It is more about cost savings to me than the ideology. Like, when I go up to Camalot #4 I am going to get a cam.

Kent Richards · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 83
Kyle Drott wrote:In my defense, I'd like to add that I started on this path because I'm a tightwad. It is more about cost savings to me than the ideology. Like, when I go up to Camalot #4 I am going to get a cam.
Until then...

A SERENE anchor doesn't care whether you use cams, nuts, hexes, 2x4s, stovelegs, etc.

"S" means "solid". If your passive pieces are solid and you have the rest of SERENE and an upward directional, you're as good as you would be with cams. Even cam anchors usually are better off with an upward directional.

If you don't know how to place solid passive pro, you shouldn't be leading on it anyway.

This thread needs more HealyJE
ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 230
eli poss wrote: Slick rock aside, cams are almost always going to be better than a cammed hex. I use my hexes more than the average joe trad climber and I almost never cam them. That being said, in some cases you can place it like a nut and also add some camming action to get a double whammy, but this almost never happens on lead because it takes a good amount of fiddling to do.
Yes but normally you build anchors at a nice ledge and you have all the time in the world to find a place to cam the hex.

Not that it matters I have built tons of anchors with nuts only. I personally prefer passive gear anytime I can find a placement over any cam.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply