Chicks Tech Tip: Personal Anchoring Systems

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.

2 replies
  1. HenriAlexander
    HenriAlexander says:

    Are you talking about connecting a single clove hitch into the master point of a 3-point trad anchor, or connecting two clove hitches into a two bolt sport anchor (one hitch at each bolt)? Also, are you suggesting this for the leader or the follower? Single pitch or multi-pitch? That is important to know because one is quick (trad with one clove hitch) and the other takes longer (two hitches on sport) than using a nylon sling with carabiners. (Imagine trying to tie two clove hitches while being pumped out of your mind on an overhung sport send.)

    “Why would we use anything else to attach ourselves to the anchor when we are already tied into the rope when climbing?”
    … because if there is a problem with the rope and you don’t have a sling or PAS handy, then you might have an even bigger problem.

    I use a nylon sling to tether into anchors. The sling is versatile. On trad, I can clip into different places on the anchor if my partner and I are in a awkward position. On a sport anchor with multiple bolt hangers, I can clip into other bolt hangers than the one my partner is using, allowing for more breathing room.

    Safety concerns? I ensure that the sling is tight (aka- lean away from the anchor) so that if I do slip/fall/etc., I’m not going anywhere and the sling won’t break. I use a 120cm sling and, with the knot on my belay loop, both ends are somewhat short. This means that I’m always close and tight to the anchor. Slack in any system is not cool. Yes, the rope is dynamic, but I don’t need my tether to be dynamic… I’m staying in one place.

    If I am pumped on an overhung redpoint and don’t want to have to start over, I can quickly clip in direct to a bolt hanger. If I am climbing multi-pitch trad and the last pitch ate up too much gear and I need more gear to make an anchor, I’ve got two carabiners and a sling right in front of me.

    I think the clove hitches are one way of doing things but not the best in certain scenarios. Each climbing situation dictates. Alternate or supporting thoughts are welcomed.

    Reply
    • Angela Hawse
      Angela Hawse says:

      Hi Henri, thank you for your questions and comments. In the article, I am referring to the top of a single pitch or a multi-pitch anchor which traditionally will have a single, equalized attachment point, aka Master Point. If it is a sport route and I am bringing my second up, I construct an equalized anchor or “Quad” that connects both bolts together and we both attach directly to the anchor, not to individual bolts. I can’t think of a circumstance when I would attach a clove hitch to each bolt, unless I was completely out of slings. If I am swinging leads on bolted anchors, I could use my rope as the anchor connecting it to two each bolt, then back to my harness, but that would be cumbersome as you describe. Typically I use a double length sling or a cordelette configured into a “Quad” for bolted anchors. Be it a traditional or bolted anchor, single pitch or multi-pitch climb, both the leader and follower attach ourselves to the Master Point or Quad with the rope via a clove hitch/locking carabiner.

      I said in the article…”Why would we use anything else to attach ourselves to the anchor when we are already tied into the rope when climbing?” You replied… because if there is a problem with the rope and you don’t have a sling or PAS handy, then you might have an even bigger problem.

      That is a very good point. I typically have a sling or 2 quick draws that I can attach myself to the anchor if need be, to sort out any issues with the rope. If I did not have two quick draws (so as to be redundant), I girth hitch a sling through my harness and use a locker or two non-lockers to attach to the anchor while I sort out any issues with the rope. Because rope issues are very infrequent for myself, I would rather reduce the clutter of having a PAS on my harness as I don’t need it on the ascent. If I did not have a sling, I could take my PAS out of my pack to use it temporarily but I have never had to do this.

      Your Black Diamond sling is a great tether with Nylon the the best choice. In both situations you mentioned, the way I would use a tether system is as follows. I would clip directly into the Master Point or Quad with a clove hitch/locking carabiner using the rope. If I needed to reposition myself, I would use a quick draw or 24” sling (in your case, your tether) to clip myself into one bolt, or maybe one piece of the anchor to adjust my position if need be. The Quad on bolt anchors enables two separate “Master Points”, which allows for a degree of separation. See link below. I find on hanging belays especially bolted anchors, I do use a QD or sling to tether in, but I am still always attached to the anchor with my rope first and foremost.

      As you know, on hanging belays it’s challenging to unclip from the anchor before launching upwards. The tether does eliminate this problem because I can hang all my weight from the QD or sling, then when I’m on belay (leading or following) I can unclip myself from the Master Point/Clove/Rope, while I remain hanging on the QD or sling. Then when I am ready to climb it’s a quick unclip to get moving. But to be clear, I am ALWAYS attached to the anchor with the rope, even if I am not weighting it.

      It is not entirely clear to me if I have all the facts straight for the question you are posing or the scenarios you describe. In a multi-pitch scenario, if you are belaying your partner(who is leading the next pitch) there would be a significant safety concern with being attached ONLY with your sling. In the unlikely event of a Factor 2 Fall (the leader falls before any protection is in place or clipped), your sling would most certainly fail, even if you were tight on it. This is why we are always attached with the rope. It won’t fail.

      You said…“If I am pumped on an overhung redpoint and don’t want to have to start over, I can quickly clip in direct to a bolt hanger.”

      Absolutely! And in this case my personal preference is to clip in with a QD or two linked together. I often have a 24” aka alpine QD that I will use solely for this purpose to rest if I am at my limit. However, it is not already attached to my harness, I clip it to the bolt, then into my harness for a rest.

      You said…”If I am climbing multi-pitch trad and the last pitch ate up too much gear and I need more gear to make an anchor, I’ve got two carabiners and a sling right in front of me.”

      That’s a perfect solution, but it’s threaded to your harness, requiring you to make an additional adjustment. I outlined in the article that on multi-pitch climbs I often keep a 48” sling on my harness that doubles as anchoring material and a tether if need be.

      You said…”I think the clove hitches are one way of doing things but not the best in certain scenarios. Each climbing situation dictates. Alternate or supporting thoughts are welcomed.”

      The beauty of climbing is every move, pitch, anchor and stance are different. The climber is the artist who gets to choose whatever tools she/he has available to work with to come up with the best, most efficient technique that outweighs any potential forces that could overcome it.

      Back to the basics, every anchor should be unquestionably strong, redundant, equalized with minimal to no extension possible. Although clipping in with a sling to the anchor may save time, there are serious safety concerns by not using the rope as the main attachment. A single sling is not redundant. The rope is considered redundant. It is unquestionably the strongest part of the system and the belay is potentially where the greatest impact forces could occur.

      Although you are likely familiar with the “Quad” referred to above, here is link to a tech tip I did a few months ago on how to construct one. http://www.chickswithpicks.net/chicks-tech-tip-building-climbing-anchors/

      Let me know if you have further questions or comments!

      Reply

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