Five Anchors You Should Know

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  • By Climb On Staff (Eric and Katy)
  • Posted in climbing anchors
Five Anchors You Should Know

Being able to build a climbing anchor with traditional gear, both safely and efficiently, is a fundamental skill for climbing in Squamish. This post looks at five anchors that should be in your tool box. Each anchor has pros and cons and knowing when to pull out each tool will take experience. Please consider hiring a guide or getting a mentor to better enjoy the process of anchor problem solving.

Disclaimer: Climbing is inherently dangerous. The descriptions of techniques and procedures in this article are intended to provide general information. This is not a substitute for formal instruction, routine practice, and plenty of experience. When you follow any of the procedures described here, you assume responsibility for your own safety. The information below is a "personal opinion piece" and has been provided in good faith. It cannot be seen as "complete" as it does not cover every eventuality. We are simply offering readers useful information for such a complex sport. Hope you enjoy reading through this article!

Bomber1 Anchors - The Basics

Integrity

Whether you are building anchors off of trees, bolts, ice screws, chock stones, pitons or traditional gear, the underlying integrity is fundamental to every other technique you employ. Choose your anchor points wisely. Your life (quite literally) depends on it. If you are not sure, include an extra cam, double up your trees, dig into better ice, or pound in another pin ... but don't have your anchor points fail ... ever!

Doubled

Sometimes referred to as redundancy, every point in your anchor should be redundant, so if it fails you have a backup. To help you visualize this, imagine cutting any part of your anchor (sling, bolt, carabiners, etc.) and see if it would pull through, drop or fail completely. All good anchors will have redundancy built in.

Equalized

The anticipated load of a falling climber will impact the anchor. Since the fall is transferred through the rope and into the anchor, it should be shared as evenly as possible between each of your anchor points – cams, nuts, bolts, etc. Perfect equalization is not possible in the field because of all the variables, so use your judgement and equalize as best as you can.

Angles

If you are an expert on Newton's Second Law of Motion then don't read this section. However, if you are a climber without a physics degree, you will want to understand the relationship between the motion of an object and the forces acting on it. In brief, as angles increase, the forces on your anchor points also increase. In other words, the greater the angle, the greater the force is on each point.

For example, if you connect to a single-point anchor and weigh 180lbs, that single point holds 180lbs. If you connect to two equalized points your 180lbs of weight will be shared between the two points. However, once those two points have an angle of 120 degrees between them, both points will be holding 180lbs each, which is 360lbs in total. Weird but true! To help guide climbers (without protractors when climbing), it's best to keep your angles as low as possible, ideally below 60° but no higher than 90°! 90° is the easiest angle to measure from because it's a right angle.

Direction of Pull

Consider the direction of pull when building your anchor. Sometimes the direction will be straight down, sometimes sideways, sometimes upwards and sometimes it will vary throughout the climb. Determining the "load" (or direction of pull) will help you pick a suitable anchor solution.

Non-extending

"Non-extending" means that if one of the points in your anchor should fail you shouldn't have a situation where the entire anchor shifts a great distance with possibly the belayer being pulled out of position.

Sharp Edges

If you build an amazing anchor with perfect gear placements, but is over a very sharp edge, your anchor is essentially useless! Avoid sharp edges and highly abrasive rock as these will either cut or damage your anchor.

Timely

If you take 30 minutes to build an anchor on a 15 pitch route, you are going to run out of daylight. The ability to build anchors in a timely minor will get you up and down faster, which will enhance your safety.

For those who love to geek out on more anchors we recommend reading the Anchor Book (download the pdf version)

5 Anchors You Should Know

3 Point Equalette Anchor (The Classic)

Having three pieces of bomber1 gear in clean, quality rock is the foundation of traditional anchors. The three point Equalette, aka "The Classic", is one way to connect all three pieces together giving a clean central master point. This basic technique forms the foundation of the other anchors you should know and should be mastered. The cordlette is tied into a giant loop by connecting the ends together with a double fisherman's knot, with nice long tails. Clip the loop into each piece and pull down between each piece, this forms a "W" shape, keep pulling in the loading direction and tie an overhand/figure 8 knot in all the strands. The loop/master point in your hand will have three strands and should be large enough to accommodate at least 4 or 5 locking carabiners.  This anchor is equalized for one load direction only, it does not self equalize and in the case of an upward pull, the force would hit the lowest cam, which is set downward. The next anchor shows how to add in an upward pull piece.

The kit required:

  • Tips: The 3 Point Equalette doesn't self equalize, so if your anchor situation has a variety of directional changes, you should use a different tool. The overall strength (5mm = 5.5kN, 6mm = 7.5kN, 7mm = 13kN) of cordlette is less than most slings (22kN) so pick your material wisely; the 7mm is significantly stronger than 5mm, so pick your diameter carefully or switch it out and use long slings. For example, I (Eric) would be using a full strength sling on El Cap while I'm hauling a heavy load and my partner is jugging. The other major drawback is that once your cordlette is used to build an anchor, it is unavailable for other applications, such as rescue. While carrying a cordlette is common place in Squamish, elsewhere in the world it is not; this anchor can be built with a 240cm sling just as easily.
  • Tricks: The double fisherman's knot often move as you create the "W" and pull in the load direction, to get the knot out of the way, put it just below the top piece and clove hitch that piece, the knot no longer moves and wont be in your way. If your cordlette is too short, extend the highest piece by adding an alpine quick draw.

4 Point Equalette Anchor (The Multi-Directional)

Anchors don't always have to be multi-direction! However, if you anticipate the leader falling close to the anchor, which could potentially lift the belayer up, an upward pull piece should be considered. Thankfully, bolts are multi-directional, and well placed cams can be multi-directional too. Often the cruxes of climbs are further away from the anchor making the need for this anchor more rare. However, in the odd time you may need to utilize this anchor, there may be no substitute, so it's a good one to know. The Multi-Directional 4 Point Eqalette is built by adding an upward pull piece. Start by clipping the cordlette into this piece and then the two strands are clove hitched to the lowest piece in the regular anchor, then follow the regular step from above to complete the anchor.

The kit required:

  • Tips: The Multi Directional Equalette makes you look like a traditional master but uses up extra gear, takes extra time and is often unnecessary. This anchor is best when your bottom anchor piece could pull up and out, the climber is heavier than the belayer, the terrain is steep and the falls are close to the anchor; thank fully most of the time in these situations a shiny bolt is waiting for you.
  • Tricks: If you build your belay anchor and realize afterwards that an upward pull is a possibility, do not rebuild the anchor, just add the upward pull piece below and connect it to your master point using a quickdraw.

The Quad Anchor

The Quad Anchor is a relatively new anchor and is fast becoming adopted by climbers everywhere. The Quad allows you to equalize two or more pieces, creates two independent huge master points, is incredibly strong and is self-equalizing! There's really not much we don't love about it.

To make this anchor, fold a quad length (240cm) pre-sewn sling in half and tie both strands in an overhand knot about 6 inches from each doubled end. Clip the doubled ends into your protection carabiners. Simple, clean and easy! The 4 strands between the knots are your master points, two strands for you and two for your partner.

The kit required:

  • Tips: The quad anchor can be pre-tied before heading onto the wall, the range of self equalization in the quad allows it to clip onto a-lot of bolted situations without the need to re tie it. Choose a slightly wider 240cm sling, the very skinny dynema can weld the knots so tightly they are hard to untie.
  • Tricks: Look up at the next pitch and if the leader of the next pitch is heading rightwards, then belay them up off the right side of the Quad. This will remove the need to step over or around each other at belays.

Inline Anchor

When protection is spaced out or when more than 3 pieces are used in an anchor, the material required to create a "W" increases beyond the standard 5 meter of cord that climbers carry. In this example, pieces of protection can be enchained or built inline by connecting the webbing to furthest protection and then connecting each closer piece with either a clove hitch or overhand knot. This can be done on both ends of the cordlette and enables climbers to combine many pieces. As well as being used for extra pieces, this technique can also help if you only have a 120cm sling or have forgotten your cord. Adding extra tricks like this to your tool box helps you be more efficient with your equipment and helps build anchors in a timely manner.

The kit required:

  • Tips: When you clip the inline piece into the sling, do not immediately pull the overhand knot tight; pull it tight as you equalize the anchor instead. This will allow the knot to tighten as it starts to share the load.
  • Tricks: Make the sling reach even further by using a sling that isn't pre-sewn. Tie an overhand on a bite on both ends and clip that to the top and bottom piece, clove hitch the middle pieces and then create your master point.

Rope Anchor

At some in your climbing career you will either forget, use up or drop your webbing and cordlette, leaving you with nothing much left to work with at the anchor. Knowing how to build an anchor from the rope is a basic rescue skill, unless you are from the UK where building anchors with the rope is the norm. There are many ways to build a rope anchor. We have selected a basic one here, however feel free to head down that rabbit hole in your internet searches.

The anchor shown above is built by pulling up slack, clove hitching it to the top piece, pulling up more slack and clove hitching it to the bottom piece. When clipping the middle piece, you can now build the "W". Tie an overhand knot and then clip yourself back to your new master point.  

The kit required:

  • Tips: The Brits reading this will be appalled that I didn't recommend the highly popular UK system of clove hitches and rope loops to a giant HMS carabiner on your belay loop. While this technique is useful to know it has some huge limitations so didn't make this list. That being said the ability to build anchors from a rope will save you one day. The rope is the longest kit on you so has the ability to extend much further, this extension really shines if the gear is way back and you need extend back to the edge.
  • Tricks: Don't throw away your old ropes just yet, cut off the bad bits/ends and keep at least 10m of quality rope. If you ever need to extend an anchor, this extension rope becomes invaluable.

Summary

Your climbing tool bag can never be too big and the learning process never stops. If this post lasts on this site for 10 years, a newer set of techniques will have emerged and that's A-Ok. Materials will be developed and new hardware will be released, but the ability to learn, re-learn and adapt to the situation in front of you is the key to a long and enjoyable climbing career. This list is by no means exhaustive and newer girth hitch techniques and direct anchor belays are not even mentioned.

The list presented here is based on 5 anchors you should know, but that is just the start! You should probably know 30 to 40 variations. Enjoy learning, being adaptable, being efficient, being safe and being an amazing partner to all the climbers on your journey.

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Terminology

1Bomber - Climbing jargon that implies, "it would hold a truck". Bomber is incredibly strong and is totally reliable. Example of its use: "That anchor is bomber! I would drop a truck on that."

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