Technical issues- anchors and attaching
Anchors and attaching
Once you decide to use a rope things inevitably slow down, but by using a simple system you can maintain the tempo with the benefit of some safety. This is best achieved by remembering the following pointers:
Carry three or four long slings (8 foot) and two short slings (4 foot)
- Keep gear to a minimum
- Select simple but safe anchors
- Use nuts etc only when necessary
- Have a foolproof tying on system
- Remember the key belaying factors
On the majority of scrambles the rock is often broken and featured, and usually abundant with blocks and spikes, so you can effectively use a sling and karabiner in most runner and belay situations. Carry three or four long slings (8 foot) and two short slings (4 foot). With a screwgate on each long sling and a snaplink on the short slings, plus a couple of extra screwgates, and you'll be able to deal with most situations where you need to use the rope.
Selecting simple, safe anchors
Natural anchors can often be used as single point anchors and these are quick and easy to use. These include solid trees, blocks or spikes of rock and threads where two blocks resting against each other to create a solid join around which a sling is passed. Although scrambling terrain is often festooned with blocks and spikes the majority of them will not be solid. It is essential to only use anchors that meet the following criteria:
Selecting safe anchors requires judgement and that is only gained through practice and experience. Never rush the process of selecting the best anchor, follow this checklist:
So, you have now determined that a block is solid, but:
- Scan the area visually to determine the nature of the ground. Is it fairly solid, or loose and fractured?
- Pick out two or three obvious blocks or spikes, and choose the biggest most solid looking ones. Check if they are part of the mountain or just embedded on the surface.
- With spikes, look for telltale fracture lines at the base or sides.
- With blocks check what is holding them in place - turf or other blocks? Check also how big and heavy it is, and does it look hard to shift?
- Once the anchor has passed this visual inspection, proceed with a physical test.
- Place one hand flat against the block and thump the block with the heel of your other hand. You will be able to detect any vibration as an indication of looseness. If you feel major vibration reject the block. Most blocks will vibrate slightly when thumped; in this case continue the test.
- Stand in front of the block in a stable, safe position and apply body weight by pulling on it gradually to detect any movement but without dislodging it. If it moves reject it. If it is solid, also check for:
- Sharp edges that may damage the sling or rope.
- Is it in a usable place?
- Is it in line with the direction of load?
- Will a sling seat on it without slipping off?
You will not always find a natural anchor, so you'll need to carry (and know how to place) various nuts. The most useful to carry are a selection of small nuts e.g. Wild Country Rocks or DMM Walnuts on wire or rope, and a couple of larger sized hexes or rockcentrics. Camming devices are not normally necessary.
A secure nut placement is one where:
- The nut is tightly wedged at a narrowing in a crack
- There is maximum contact between metal and rock
- It cannot drop down to a widening and fall out
- It will not lift up out of the crack too easily
- The rock itself is solid and unfractured.
If you are unfamiliar with this gear, get some expert advice on how to place and test them.
Key Belaying Factors
For the system to be effective you must be careful to ensure that the belayer is:
Tying Onto Anchors
- Attached securely and tightly to the anchor.
- In line with the anchor and anticipated direction of pull.
- In position to belay and operate the belay device effectively, and be ready to hold a fall.
There are many ways to attach yourself to an anchor and any system that meets the basic key belaying objectives is fine.
Outlined below are some simple, foolproof systems:
- Single anchor within arm's reach. Clove hitch directly to a screwgate on the anchor.
- Single anchor out of arms reach. Clip rope through the anchor karabiner, walk back to edge and tie off with a clove hitch on a screwgate attached to the rope loop or with a figure of 8 on a bight through the rope loop
- Two anchors out of reach. Simply duplicate the above system.
- Two anchors within arms reach. Clove hitch to anchor one, clove hitch to anchor two leaving the
- rope slack in between. Tie off back at harness as above.
Scrambling accesses beautiful places © Sergey Nivens
In some situations it may be simpler to centralise the anchors to one tie in point with a sling and then use the single anchor tying methods detailed above. Reasons for doing this could be if the leader intends to lead all the pitches so it facilitates the change over at the stance or when climbing as a party of three which can result in considerable rope confusion.
Attach a sling to each anchor and adjust with overhand knots to equalise. Divide a long sling using either: Overhand knot in single sling at load point, clip karabiner through both halves of sling. Or clip both anchors and tie overhand knot in the double sling to form loop.
Select your anchors carefully and scrutinise them thoroughly to ensure they are in the right place, are solid and don't have sharp edges. Attach yourself tightly to the anchor so you are in line with the climber and anchor. Ensure you're in a comfortable position to belay effectively.