One thing you’ll notice between recreational and professional climbers at the crag or on multi-pitch routes is the pro’s Personal Anchoring Systems (PAS) is nowhere to be seen on their harness. It’s in their pack, used solely for the descent. Recreational climbers have adopted many techniques guides use, such as direct anchor belays and rope management strategies, but the way we use PAS’s has been slow to gain foothold. Instead, many recreational climbers keep their PAS girth hitched to their tie-in’s or belay loop and tucked between their legs or off to the side.
Why don’t professionals do this? Because, the rope is the strongest part of the entire system. Why would we use anything else to attach ourselves to the anchor when we are already tied into the rope when climbing? Arguments in opposition often suggest that the rope attachment isn’t adjustable. Look at how any professional anchors themselves with the rope and you will almost exclusively see the clove hitch, which is undeniably appropriate and fantastically adjustable.
Countless tests and videos have demonstrated the risk of using a PAS as a direct attachment to the anchor. It’s common knowledge that any small fall directly on an anchor with a PAS or sling generates forces significant enough to result in sling failure. In 2007, a climber on the Grand Capucin in Chamonix, France fell less than two feet onto a Dyneema sling attaching him to the anchor. It failed and he fell to his death.
How might this relate to us? Shifting around on an anchor and taking a small slip while pulling ropes, a foothold breaks, making a move that’s a stretch to thread the rap rings or just not paying attention and falling off a small ledge. Shit happens but accidents can be prevented. By keeping the PAS or sling tether fully loaded you have eliminated the risk.
Other reasons pro’s don’t keep their PAS tethered to their harness include; 1) increased wear overtime decreases its integrity when attached to the same points on the harness all the time, 2) it gets in the way of gear and adds clutter to the harness and 3) bottom line, it’s only a tool for transitions and descents.
PAS vs. Slings? Often I use a 48” nylon sling as a tether for descents on long multi-pitch routes because it’s multi-purpose and lightweight. I keep it on my harness and use it for anchors or sling extensions. Why is this okay here and not for a personal tether? Because, while climbing the rope is always part of the system and adds dynamic properties that absorb energy. When I’m not concerned with weight or I have to do many rappels, my Sterling Chain Reactor is always in my pack. It’s more elegant than a nylon sling tether and its full strength loops provide excellent adjustability to prevent me from allowing slack into the system, reducing the risk addressed above.
No mention of Daisy Chains? They have no place here because they are only intended for aid climbing, not personal anchoring systems.