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2 vs 3 point anchor, or bolts vs gear.


Original Post
Mason Stone · · Boise, ID · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

I have been using a three point anchor as described by rgold. Went out this weekend with a more experienced climber, he favored a two piece anchor and a sling. Is this more common with a particular school of climbers? It seemed safe enough and it made me think about 2 bolts vs 3 pieces of gear for anchors. I searched for a similar topic but could not find one and wanted to query the forum to see what others might think. Is this as I imagine situational or in the interest of speed, facility etc.? Do any of you use this method? if so, when or how or why? Flame away or add your comments as you can. As usual am open to a meet up where I stand for the drinks. Thanks in advance for any help.

Everett · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 10

Are you wanting to compare a two piece gear anchor to a three piece gear anchor, or a two bolt anchor to a three piece gear anchor?

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Everett wrote:

Are you wanting to compare a two piece gear anchor to a three piece gear anchor, or a two bolt anchor to a three piece gear anchor?

Or a sling anchor vs. a rope anchor?

bevans · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 5

The downside to written anchor instructions is people tend to start defining things in terms of “right” or “wrong” based on an overly simplistic assessment. There is no Rule that says you MUST have three pieces in every anchor. There’s no rule that even says you need two. Or even a single piece if we really want to get down to it. 

There is no single anchor “technique” that works in all scenarios. You fill up your “toolbox” with different ways of solving different problems and then apply the techniques where appropriate.

Rock quality, placement quality, and anticipated potential loads are major factors in determining how many pieces are necessary. Time spent climbing with an experienced mentor or a guide are what you need to develop this skill. Not a set of rules. Not time on MP forums.

Have fun!

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

I prefer 3 bomber pieces of gear over 2 pieces.

In some circumstances when speed is safety, I'll consider using 2 bomber pieces and a good stance. In those cases, however, protecting the belay from a high factor fall would be paramount so it's not a very good option if the climbing above the belay is difficult and/or hard to protect.

But people often use 2 or even 1 piece anchors backed up by a stance in alpine climbing. In that context speed really is safety, much more so than in your run of the mill multi-pitch trad route.

If I have to use a less than ideal anchor I'm going to build it with rope to stack the odds in my favor because the rope will reduce forces on the anchor. 

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 871

 So, you were wondering if you should put in two bolts instead of three pieces of gear? Use a sling instead of the rope? Something about school of thought? Wait. What’s the question? 

Mason Stone · · Boise, ID · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

Some clarification, thanks all for your responses, helped a lot. 

I am comparing a two pice anchor vs three piece anchor using gear on multi pitch climbs. And, comparing two bolt anchors at belays and comparing them to gear anchors whether two or three piece. And, if school of thought has something to do with it: Yosemite climbers vs Gunks climbers,or speed multi pitch climbers vs multi pitch climbers out for a day. This is not about sling vs rope or correlate. Bevans and eli poss, thanks much. 

Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 490

The traditional rule was that the strength of the pieces of an anchor should add up to the strength of the rope. Ropes nowadays are far weaker than back then so a reasonable alternative is the strength of a sling or karabiner (ca 20kN). After that it´s just a question of the reliability of the pieces, nuts and cams etc tend to sometimes suprise one with their failure so more is better generally. Bolts especially some of the ones used in the US aren´t above suspicion so a couple is a good idea. If it´s a gigantic steel bar cemented into the rock then one will do fine (a "traditional" bolt in the USA is a 1/4" buttonhead, in Europe a 3/4" steel bar about a foot long so the `single bolt is fine´ concept has a different meaning depending on where you are).

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 215

Jim Titt wrote:

 (a "traditional" bolt in the USA is a 1/4" buttonhead, in Europe a 3/4" steel bar about a foot long so the `single bolt is fine´ concept has a different meaning depending on where you are).

That may have been true 25 years ago but the more common bolt used now in the US are 3/8 x 3.5" or longer or 1/2".  Stainless bolts are just starting to become the norm here in the US but still have a ways to go.  Treat all bolts with suspicion but 1/4" button heads are becoming more and more rare.  

Paul Deger · · Colorado · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35

Great discussion! To the OP - rule of thumb: 2 bolts or 3 bomber pieces. As with any thumb rule, not written in stone and factors at the time may result in on the spot variations. What you use to link these (quick draws, sliding slings, rope, cordelette, equalized slings) depends on many factors.

Mason Stone · · Boise, ID · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

Again thanks all, and to Jim and Paul, thanks for that makes sense, my inclination is as you describe situational and strength dependent. I haven't had a lot of climbing partners but have noticed a difference in comfort level, skill and style on varied rock, and have considered that among the previously mentioned factors are geography, where you grew into the game, age etc. 

Kevin Mokracek · · Burbank · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 215

Many times you just make due with what you have and don't really have a choice, especially in alpine or trad climbing situations.  In many cases when alpine you may have one good piece and a few crap pieces.  In some cases you may have nothing at all and try and wedge yourself into a crack or behind a boulder and use your body as the anchor coupled with the friction of the rope over the edge, this is usually on easier long alpine climbs not on climbs where you are climbing close to your limit but you still need to be flexible and not climb with book knowledge blinders on and be open to all possible circumstances.  

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

Just to be clear, I don't think I've ever advocated for 3-point anchors over 2-point anchors, I've just posted an efficient rigging procedure for 3-point anchors.

For trad gear, the number of anchor points is situational, with the reliability of the pieces, the amount of gear being carried,  the need for speed, and the expertise of the climber all playing a role. Here are a few considerations.

  • If you are not yet very experienced in gear placement, then the redundancy of three pieces ought to be decisive.
  • On short climbs with little or no time pressures, might as well opt for the extra security of three pieces, although two excellent pieces are ok too.
  • On longer climbs or climbs where the party is carrying a light rack (two 3-point anchors use up 6 pieces from your rack), two excellent pieces---if they are available---usually suffice, unless the party is for some reason really worried about a factor-2 fall onto the belay.

There are also going to be exceptional situations in which the best you can do is a single anchor, or maybe four pieces seems prudent.  Such is life.

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

rgold wrote:

Just to be clear, I don't think I've ever advocated for 3-point anchors over 2-point anchors, I've just posted an efficient rigging procedure for 3-point anchors.

For trad gear, the number of anchor points is situational, with the reliability of the pieces, the amount of gear being carried,  the need for speed, and the expertise of the climber all playing a role. Here are a few considerations.

  • If you are not yet very experienced in gear placement, then the redundancy of three pieces ought to be decisive.
  • On short climbs with little or no time pressures, might as well opt for the extra security of three pieces, although two excellent pieces are ok too.
  • On longer climbs or climbs where the party is carrying a light rack (two 3-point anchors use up 6 pieces from your rack), two excellent pieces---if they are available---usually suffice, unless the party is for some reason really worried about a factor-2 fall onto the belay.

There are also going to be exceptional situations in which the best you can do is a single anchor, or maybe four pieces seems prudent.  Such is life.

Yep. Another thing to keep in mind for alpine type routes or other routes when you're climbing with a very slim rack is that 1 piece + a stance is often adequate to get your partner up and then you can place another piece or 2 once you have the whole rack to choose from. The you will have different needs to get out of the belay anchor for bringing up your second than for the leading the next pitch. 

Mason Stone · · Boise, ID · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

rgold,

 I also did not wish to imply such, rather, have liked using the three point system you posted. As I gain in experience, I have reasoned and am reasoning it out as you and others have described, situation dependent. Which, includes experience. I contemplated the answer to the question but thought it might be useful for discussion. It certainly helped me in thinking about fidelity to a given situation or system. As many on the board have said, reading about what to do helps but experience teaches more of what we need to verify what we have read. Your first bullet is what I currently opt for as I don't have a lot of multi pitch or trad experience. Your second bullet I exercise on single pitch climbs without bolted anchors as I am not yet fast enough to consider anything less than three pitches a short climb. My partners and I average an hour per pitch on pitches of 130-140 ft in length. Also, I like to have a significant daylight cushion for sorting out unexpected issues.

Your third bulleted point relates to what I was thinking about in doing Frogland with a friend recently where we stretched out pitches, I found myself running out of gear precisely I think because of the situation you describe, coupled with lack of placements for the gear and stoppers I did have. Thanks again for the advice and clarity of your posts they have helped a ton.

Patrik · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2010 · Points: 30

rgold wrote:
  • If you are not yet very experienced in gear placement, then the redundancy of three pieces ought to be decisive.

Nothing wrong with four pieces either. Place as many as you need to get those warm fuzzy feelings of safety. 

Occasionally, in addition to rock quality, size of available placements can suggest to use more than two/three pieces.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

Four or more pieces might be called for with small gear; hopefully a situation newish leaders wouldn't be faced with.  Examples might be finger-sized and smaller cams and/or very small nuts, particularly in many types of sandstone.  Even with multiple placements of small gear, one has to view the anchor as questionable, and this means that before committing to such an anchor, the leader should consider whether they could do better by climbing down or up a bit.  A hanging belay on good gear is preferable to a ledge with real bad gear, for example.

A very few number of times, I've been in situations in which such an anchor came below run-out climbing with no possibility of a protection piece for a long way.  The party should be very clear about what risks they are taking in such a situation.

Russ Keane · · Asheville, NC · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 150

Mason,

3 pieces is always better than 2.   As for what's better between a properly-built gear anchor and a 2-bolt anchor, they are equal because both are bomber.  

climber pat · · Las Cruces, NM · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 215

I generally build 3 piece anchor because that is what almost everyone is comfortable with.  However I am comfortable with a 2 anchor and can tolerate a 1 or 0 piece anchor in some circumstances (good stance, great piece, no other option).  

Generally all the pieces in an anchor need to be good enough that I would be willing to take a fall on it.  If a piece is not that good then it really does not belong in the anchor because it is not contributing to the safety of the system.  I suspect many will say that you can macrame several bad pieces to make an ok piece.  I am not convinced and would like the leader to to tell the me that the anchor is crap and I had better not fall.  In this case I would stop at the last good piece (assuming there is one)  set an intermediate belay and pass the rack up to the leader and have him lead a block pitch.  This way there is always at least one good piece in the system even if the anchor pulls.

I also consider the rock quality and try to be redundant with crack systems too.  If I can I will use two independent cracks or widely separate 2 or 3 pieces in same crack.   For example one piece near my waist and 2 pieces above my head. In the same vein, I am not impressed by anchors that have several micro-cams and small nuts next together in the same crack.  Sometimes that is what is available but I worry that something is the matter with the rock and all of the pieces are bad.  I regularly participate in trad 1st ascents where loose rock and blocks are a significant problem.  

Darren Mabe · · Flagstaff, AZ · Joined Dec 2002 · Points: 3,595

Three bolt anchors are nice

Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 13,870

Rgold and others pretty much summed up the situation.  And while rgold's final sentence "worried about a fall-2 factor onto the belay" touched on an important point,  I'm not sure that the situation where, on a multi-pitch climb, the leader falls before he/she puts anything in on the next pitch is really "appreciated.".  This is about the only way a fall-factor-2 occurs.  The important ramification of this kind of fall is that the direction of the force(s) of the fall is so completely different from an "upward" force (i.e. when the force of the falling leader goes through a piece above the belayer) that it is an extremely difficult fall to hold.

 > If the rope is clipped into the highest piece of the anchor that helps, but could seriously weaken the anchor if that piece fails during the "catch". (and also changes the dynamics as the belayer now has to deal with a "flying piece of gear" as well as the forces of the fall. )

 > If belaying off the belay loop without the rope clipped to the anchor, when the leader falls below the belay the rope now crosses over the belay device and probably runs over the belayer's hand, at least until the forces violently "flip" the belay device around from "looking upwards" to "looking downwards".

 > Years ago, in the training program of The Appalachian Mtn Club, they used to require trainees to catch a 140lb weight  falling below the belay with "nothing in". This was abandoned because it was just too dangerous. Most trainees, having already passed the usual simulated leader fall with the rope running through a "piece" above the belay, would fail this test. Rope burn (even with gloves) was common, as was the weight crashing into the ground. (The test used to be held above the route "CC" near the Uberfall in the Gunks)    Granted, that was "way back in the days" of the waist belay, but the trainees who passed this test said it was 2 or 3 times more difficult than the "normal" leader fall test, even though the length of the "fall" was shorter.  

  In short, a bomber piece, as soon as possible above the belay (even if the climbing is easy) is the best "life insurance" a climber can take out.  I know it has saved my life at least once when a foothold broke off on a 5.2 move.  
 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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