Trees like spikes, are great placements but not many climbers are experienced tree surgeons so it is difficult to be sure of them. First look up, the tree should look alive, with either leaves or in the mist of winter some fresh buds or healthy looking branches. Then look down to see if the roots look healthy and strong. As a rule of thumb the thinnest diameter of trunk that is suitable for using as a anchor is roughly the thickness of you thigh, If it as thick as your waist then it could be used as a single point anchor. Just like metal spikes tying around a tree low down will reduce the leverage on it.
Back up in situ metal protection like spikes, pegs and bolts where possible with other protection. Metal spikes and pegs will be most corroded below the surface and whilst you can test to see if it’s wobbly there is little more you can do to check how sound it may be. Rust may appear superficial but hidden below it may have taken hold. Tying off the spike or peg as low as possible will minimise the leverage on it.
Bolts are a little different as there may be notes on their history in a guidebook. Knowing when the bolt was placed and what type it is will help your judgement. Stainless Steel is less likely to corrode than plain steel. Resin bolts have a longer lifespan than simple expansion bolts. Some of the bolts on crags are little more than 8mm thick and 30mm long and may have been in place for over thirty years. If the bolts are subject to the salty conditions of a maritime environment, treat them with further caution.
Using different metals for the bolt, nut and hanger can cause an electrolytic reaction which will rapidly corrode one part or other. If the bolt has signs of rust and the hanger doesn’t its an indication of mixed metals reacting with each other. Some aluminium hangers react with the bolt, resulting in oxidisation.
One way to lookout all fixed metal equipment in a cliff is that is is essentially abandon equipment with a dubious history of use and abuse. Whilst in many sports climbing areas there are voluntary groups that check the bolts and re-equip the routes from time to time. This is not always the case.
Even if some bolts are not that old, there are other issues, some bolts have failed as they have been overused and in soft rock. This has lead to bolts pulling out almost by hand after only 5 years of heavy use.
So look at bolts carefully, do they look OK? Do they feel OK? Do they move?
When using rock spikes and threads as forms of protection you need to consider the 3 S’s.
- Solid – is the rock solid? If it is a thread are both parts solid?
- Shape – is the shape of the rock suitable for the direction of pull?
- Size – If it is a stand alone block is it big enough to not move?
As a general rule of thumb a free standing boulder needs to be at least twice the size of an adult curled up in a ball, as well as in a position where it can’t be pulled over the edge. For the scientist 1 metre cubed of rock is about 2 tonnes.
The shape of the spike needs to be angled back away from the direction of force so that the sling or rope that is a round the spike doesn’t ride up over the top and off the spike. To check this make a sawing motion with sling or rope in the direction of the likely load. If it rides up the placement will be comprimised.
Like any placement, a spike will only be any good if it is solid. To check for this at rst try rocking the boulder, but be aware that if it on the edge of a cliff, it might topple off onto people! If it doesn’t move, try giving it a kick with your foot and feel for vibrations in your hand.
In the case of spikes that are part of the mountain, the size of the ake is often unimportant. It will just be the shape and solidity that are vital.
The judgement we need to select a placements for Hexes and Tri cams is very similar to selecting a nut placement. First off is the rock secure than then you need to look at how well the device sits in the shape of crack.
How they are placed is slightly different, as both Hexes and Tri-cams can be placed as passive nuts, however they are designed to cam into placement and become more secure the greater the load placed on them. It is also important to seat them in the placement by applying a shock load by jerking down on the tape.
Nuts, Rocks and Wires stem from the original running belay placement for cracks were simply small pebbles, rocks or stones placed by climber as chockstones and threaded with a sling; over time climbers started to drill out machine nuts and use them instead. In modern days various companies make a variety of different shaped and sized wedges. They work by being placed in natural constrictions in cracks, wedging themselves in. The constriction stops the nut from being pulled through. When placing a nut you need to consider several things:
Quality of the rock
Avoid using loose or hollow sounding rock, along with superficial flakes. Check the rock by tapping it with a karabiner, a hollow sound will indicate poorer quality. If it is a flake try moving it by giving it a good shake, or hitting the flake with the palm of one hand whilst feeling for vibrations with the other. However you check the rock remember that you are at the top of a cliff and possible unroped, there is the possibility of people being below, so take care not to send anything over the edge of the cliff, especially yourself.
To select a good nut placement, you rst need to identify cracks in line with the route you are climbing. You then need to nd a natural constriction in that crack where a nut can be wedged in, and won’t pull through. There may be signs of smoothing/wear and tear on popular climbs, often but not always an indication of a good placement.
When the nut is securely wedged in the crack the greater the surface area of the nut in contact with the rock the better the placement.Try or simple turning the wire round or a different sized wire.
When the nut is securely in place there need to be a reasonable overlap between the width of the crack and the width of the nut. The reason for this is that if there is an extreme load on the placement it may simply pull the nut through the placement.
Does the gear stay put when left alone? First you must seat the nut securely. Use the other wires on you rack of wires as a grip and creating a shock load by jerking in the direction of pull on the wire. The nut will probably move slightly in the placement and hopefully drop into a snug fit. Then, if you lightly wiggle the wire you will see if it unseats itself from the placement, a well-seated nut will stay secure. Try not to over-do this, as you may end up with yout gear stuck in the crack, impossible to remove.
Get into the habit of jerking the wires into place to seat your wires as if the wire pulls through when you jerk it, only your arm moves. If you pull with your bodyweight to seat a wire and the placement fails, you will fall away from the rock with it!
As well as the ABC and IDEAS principles of belays you also need to be aware that are are some other areas when rigging top ropes, where things can either damage you equipment or the rock. What we need to do is arrange some form of edge protection as in either case we want to avoid damaging the rope or the rock.
You can prevent some damage to the rope or the rock by using edge protectors. Some people use simple off cuts of carpet or doormats which they tie to the ropes that make over the belay. Other people use specific rope protectors. At a push when confronted with a sharp edge you can use a jumper or a rucksack to do the same thing, as what would you prefer a damaged jumper or a cut rope?
In trad climbing we are often confronted with far from optimal anchors, and whilst they may never be dangerous, there is a moment of doubt in our minds. Or for the beginner it may simply be the lack of judgement over an anchor. Equalising Three Anchors help to combat these issues in a couple of ways.
It will make your belay stronger as it has more pieces of gear protecting you, it also shares the load between those piece making each less likely to fail under the same load. So for a little extra time and effort you gain massively in safety.
Equalising Three Anchors with a rope
Equalising Three Anchors with a sling and rope
This method is more common, as you can equalise two of the three points with a sling and then equalise this one joined point to the third anchor with the rope. You can take it a stage further and equalise two sets of two anchors with a sling and then link these with the rope, making a belay made up of four anchors!
To get you ABC and IDEAS right when it comes to the fundamentals of rock climbing belays you will need to understand how to equalise two anchor point with either a sling, a rope or both. There are many ways to go about equalising two anchors this, we are going to concentrate of the most common ways here and explain the pros and cons of each.
Equalising Two Anchors with a sling Exercise
Try equalising two belay points in the three ways show in the photos below.
- Overhand on the Bight
- Two clove hitches and an overhand on the bight.
- An overhand in the sling
Try moving the anchor points further apart until you get into the situation show below. Try equalising them with a simple overhand on the bight and then with an overhand on the sling. Note how the obtuse angle has been reduce to below 90 degrees.
Equalising Two Anchor Points with a rope
Sometimes you may well have run out of slings or even better have a spare rope to rig a belay at the top of a crag. In this case equalising two anchors can be achieve in the way shown below.
Camming devices are one of the more technical pieces of climbing equipment. They are so effective that very quickly after they were invented they revolutionise rock climbing. Originally design by an aerospace engineer Ray Jardine, who was also a keen climbers.
When he was testing his prototype he used to say he was going climbing with my ‘friends’. He licensed the design the wild country and the name ‘friends’ was kept and still is. The name friends is as synonymous as camping devices or cams as name for this devices.
Essentially there are several cams that are spring loaded and when placed in a crack they expand. As the device is loaded the cams push out on the crack with a great force than is trying to pull it out so it stays in place.
As such camming devices are active and can put a large forces pressing the crack apart. This means that if the crack is part of a superficial flake it can prize it off in the event of a fall. As such the cams need to be placed with consideration. However as they can be placed quickly in a variety of width cracks and even hold in parallel sided cracks means they are extremely popular.
Hexes were an extension of the machine nuts that climbing started using for protection. They eventually became ‘hex centric’ in that each side was of a different length. The reason behind this was that someone trying to make their own at home wasn’t very accurate as cutting and made it by accident as realised that the eccentric shape work even better.
Hexes are a semi-passive piece of equipment, as although they are just placed into a crack. When they are put under load however they torque into the crack. Also actively forcing themselves into a better placement. Often in order to retrieve them from a placement the climber will have to turn them in the opposite direction and you will hear and feel an audible click and the hex will become loose.