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?
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.
Top roping (or bottom roping) is how most people start out climbing and, in the context of this site, one of the most appropriate ways to repeat the exercises in safety. If done properly, it should be an very low risk activity. There are however several fundamental principles that you can learn whilst making basic belays for top roping, that are carried through to lead climbing.
The safe rigging of basic belays for a top or bottom rope requires you to consider some fundamental principles as well as ways to avoid problems. These principles apply right through to the more advanced belays you will come across on multi-pitch climbs.
The ABC of Basic Belays
The rst step when rigging top ropes is your ABC; Anchors, Belay and Climber. To keep the forces in-line with gravity all three should be in-line to prevent either the belay, belayer or the climber being pulled sideways across the cliff. If the belay is pulled across the cliff edge it may result in damage to the rope and/or unequal loads on the anchors, and if it occurs repeatedly or on a sharp edge it may well cut through the ropes (catastrophic failure!)
The IDEAS Principle of Basic Belays
The second acronym, which will help to guide you whilst building a safe and basic belay is IDEAS:
Independent – each of the anchors should connect separately to the belay so if one anchor fails the other(s) won’t be shock loaded. This is an important principle to follow throughout the system when linking of anchors with either slings or rope to make basic belays.
Directional – the anchors, belay and rope should be placed ready to take a load in the direction that any force on the belay will occur. In a top rope this will typically be towards the cliff edge and directly down. If the anchors are pulled in the wrong direction, they may not withstand the load.
Equalised – any link between your anchors should be under equal tension when loaded in the direction that will result from a fall. Done well, this will share the load equally between the anchors and reduce the chance of anchor failure, and also help to prevent a shock load should one of your anchors fail.
Angles – the angle between the two outside anchors should be kept to a minimum. The smaller the angle the better the force is shared. An acute (narrow) angle is good, a right-angle is alright and an obtuse (wide) angle is bad. Under 60° the load is shared roughly 50% onto each anchor, by 90° the load is shared at 70% of the overall load, whilst over 120° the load exerted on each anchor is 100% or more of the overall load (so there is little point having two anchors over 120° apart). So in practice our anchors are linked with rope or slings the greatest angle between anchors should not exceed 90°.
Solid – reliable anchors are the key to any basic belay. Check the rock surrounding your placements to ensure that the rock is not hollow or loose. Tap the rock with a karabiner and if it sounds hollow look elsewhere. The placements you choose should be as good as possible.
Another Alternative that americans use is EARNEST.
- E – Equalized – Anchors should be constructed so that each component of the anchor carries an equal amount of the load.
- R – Redundant – Anchors should consist of multiple components in case one or more components were to fail.
- NE – No Extension – Anchors should be built so that if one or more of the components fail the remaining components won’t be shock loaded.
- S – Strong (or Solid) – The stronger the better.
- T – Timely – Anchors should be as simple and timely as possible without giving up any of the other ERNEST qualities.
This may seem like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but taking time to increase our awareness of risk and safety is often overlooked. It’s common sense, when you look at a hazard (like being high off the ground) and the risk (of falling) you will consider ways to reduce the risk.
Many of the dangers at the crag can affect the climber, the belayer and even bystanders. So it is important to keep an eye on the situation around you as it develops and adapt your plans to suit. The key to climbing safely at the beginning of your climbing career is to choose the right crag, grade and route.
Choosing the right climb may seem difficult. Guidebooks are a starting point but local knowledge can be invaluable, so talk to people you meet at the crag or wall, the sales assistant in an outdoor shop and instructors or outdoor centres, most will happily give advice on venues. Eventually you need to assess a crag or a route’s suitability for yourself. Often, just by being aware of a hazard will greatly reduce the risk of an accident.
Its the risks you don’t know you are taking that are likely to kill you.
We’ll consider a simple break-down of top roping, lead climbing and bouldering. The hazards, the likelihood of an accident, any measures we can take to reduce the risk and the residual risk after we’ve taken action. Many of these things are common sense.
You may find the technical side of climbing daunting, but by becoming more aware of risk, ropework and sound judgement you’ll become a safer climber. With regular practice, these skills will become second nature and your safety will increase. Spend time learning ropework and safety skills from a professional instructor or centre. This is one area of your climbing for which there is no substitute for informed instruction.