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Alpine Anchors   

Tagged in: Alpine Climbing, Anchors, Gear, Knots, Trad Climbing
by Ian Nicholson
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Load-limiter knots and chaining 

In the mountains or on long rock routes, anchor efficiency can be the difference between a comfortable finish and a forced bivouac. Using a cordelette to equalize an anchor is easy and strong, but it takes a lot of extra time to set up, and even longer to break down. There is a faster, easier, and often equally safe solution: the "alpine anchor.”

An alpine anchor “chains” pieces by clipping together the full-strength loops and slings on nuts, cams, or fixed pro. These anchors are equalized, redundant, and have very little or no extension. Examples:
  • Clipping two or three cams and nuts in a row with non-locking carabiners (1); your master point is in the lowest of the cam slings.
  • Clipping two cams or nuts together, equalized with a third piece via a sling.
  • Incorporating a horn or tree by throwing a sling around it and equalizing with one or two pieces of protection (2).

Rock Climbing Photo: Alpine anchor

Alpine anchor
To equalize alpine anchors, many climbers create a socalled “magic X” (aka “sliding X”) by putting a twist in one strand of a sling connecting two pieces of protection. This system has the advantage of “auto equalizing” the pull on the pieces as the belayer moves around. The disadvantages are that the magic X is not redundant, and in most cases the slings climbers use are weaker than the bolts or pieces of gear they are equalizing. Why double up on what’s strong— the protection—and not on the weaker slings?

There is a simple answer: Load-limiter knots make the anchor completely redundant but still offer some range of auto adjustability.

First, clip the ends of the sling to the pieces of protection you are trying to equalize. Grab both loops of the sling and pull downward to gather them at the center. Twist one of the strands of sling to create a small loop, and clip a locking carabiner through this loop as well as the other strand (3). Pull this master point side to side to make sure it’s clipped correctly and equalizes the load on the anchors. This is the magic X.

Now unclip one strand from the protection and tie a load-limiting overhand knot a short distance above the master point. (4) Reclip to the pro. Repeat the process on the other side. If the protection at one end of the anchor sling fails, these knots will limit the sling’s extension and thus the amount of force the other anchor(s) have to bear.

If you don’t have enough sling to tie two load-limiting knots, put one in the longer arm of the sling. This will limit shock-loading in case the piece farthest from the master point fails, but there will be no redundancy at the clip-in point.

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Comments on Alpine Anchors Add Comment
By Curt Haire
From: leavenworth, wa
Jul 30, 2016
I prefer to climb with a personal anchor sling that lives on my harness. At the end of a lead, I place one piece and clip my personal anchor to that. Now I'm off belay. I build the rest of the anchor, and clip to that with the rope. Now my anchorage is equalized and redundant, using no cordelettes or runners from the rack. when my partner reaches the end of her lead, as soon as I hear she's off belay, I dismantle all of the anchor except the piece to which my personal anchor sling is clipped . when I hear I'm on belay, I have only one piece to remove and I'm on my way. it's fast and takes little or no gear from the rack = efficient.
By Josh Beckner
Oct 20, 2016
Most guides I work with forgo the magic X with limiter knots due to the fact that the knots are hard to get out after weighting them. The 'Quad', described in the video above has similar knots but are much easier to remove, even after heavy loading.

You can see more similar vids here:

Stay safe out there!
By taylor layton
Oct 22, 2016
I like Curt's comment. An anchor that you can partially or completely break down and stay safe while your partner is building an anchor can definitely speed up time. If you are on a big ledge with one piece you can be anchored into, this is easy!

As a general principle, I would emphasize flexibility in alpine anchor building. When I started in the alpine, I lost too much time looking for an anchor I was comfortable with on multipitch rock. Knowing how to use many different features (HORNS) and use a variety of knots and systems for equalization has been very helpful.

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