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BLOG | TECHNIQUE | 13 January 2016

Natural anchors, fast protection & progression on crests & ridges.

Natural anchors are a great form of protection when climbing on rock, snow or ice. They can make the ascent quicker and lighter and help save on gear and equipment. Using natural anchors is also cleaner and more environmentally friendly. There are times when natural anchors are the only form of protection available and on rock or snow ridges they allow you to move more quickly which means spending less time in the danger zone.

When climbing a rock or snow ridge, you are usually under pressure to climb quickly, due to factors such as changing weather conditions. Moving lightly on this kind of terrain means you'll be less exposed to electrical storms and you can complete the route in the desired time, without pressure.

During a descent it's also possible to use natural anchors to position a rope for a rappel so that you don't have to leave as much of your own equipment behind, which is a great resource if you find your almost out of gear.

FIXED EQUIPMENT
This is the gear you, or someone else leaves behind on a wall. The most common kinds of fixed gear is glue-in bolts, expansion bolts and pitons. It's normally found at rappel and belay points and sometimes at intermediate points on the pitch for clipping in the rope. You can also find fixed gear in cracks, like knotted cords and stoppers or cams. However, before clipping onto these items, it is essential that you check they're reliable and in good condition for use as an anchor.

MOBILE GEAR
This is the gear that's placed and then removed. Cams, stoppers, pitons, ice-screws or snow stakes are the most common. They are used both for setting up an anchor system or for belaying the next pitch. On multi-pitch routes, a great variety of gear may be required for carrying out the climb safely. However, the amount and range of protection used will depend on your level of experience and your technical and physical ability. A strong roped team won't need to carry as much gear as a less experienced one. This doesn't mean safety is compromised, but that a route is safer if the team has more confidence, and this level of confidence comes from experience and mental & physical ability.

NATURAL ANCHORS

Knots

To use a natural anchor as protection, you need a cord with a diameter no less than 7mm. Stitched slings offer greater resistance than knotted slings and it's convenient to carry both short and long slings and cords for greater versatility. You can occasionally make an exception and use narrower cords for tying to bolts that have lost the hanger or for sticking out pitons. Of course, the wider the diameter of a cord, the stronger it is.

Before tying to any kind of natural anchor, it's important to check its resistance. Check that the thickness of the rock, tree or ice is strong and stable enough to use as safe protection by trying to move it carefully. On other occasions a visual check is required, for example to see if a natural rock bridge is solid enough. The solidity of a natural anchor will also depend on the type and quality of the rock. Granite is more resistant than limestone, which, in turn is more resistant than sandstone. Then come conglomerate rock and schist. But whatever the rock, it is important to study it before you place the sling or cord. The same rule applies to ice as the quality of an ice column varies in solidity, so care is essential.

Lark's head Knot

It is an interesting fact that this knot greatly weakens the cord or sling. It tightens round the anchor well, especially if this is fairly smooth, but the sling-on-sling effect causes a great deal of friction. When the angle is closed and it grips tightly, the strength of the loop is considerably reduced, as shown in photo 1 (traction is perfect, but loop strength is reduced). The sling isn't weakened as much if it doesn't tighten so much around the rock and if the angle is open, but this means it doesn't totally grip the rock. It can be used, but it's certainly not the best option, as you can see in Photo 2. ( grip isn't perfect but loop strength is greater). The lark's head knot can be used on certain occasions, especially for progression on aid-climbing anchors, but it should be avoided when setting up a belay point, where 100% resistance is required.

Photo 1 / Photo 2
Clove Hitch

This is a practical knot for looping around ice-columns or small rock protrusions. The resistance of the clove hitch is greater than the lark's head, but it's slow to tie. On the other hand, it is convenient for preventing leverage when you come across sticking out pitons. In photo 3. you can see a clove hitch on a rock protrusion or chicken head.

Sliding knot

The resistance of this knot is similar to the previous ones. But it is practical for using on small rock protrusions. It also works well for connecting to pitons or fixed bolts that have lost the hanger. Photo 4. shows this knot on a rock protrusion.

Photo 3 - Photo 4
Knotted single cord

This is a safe way for tying off a tree, rock protrusion or ice-column. It uses the maximum strength of the sling or cord, except for the knot used to join the ends together (double fishermen's or webbing knot). The only inconvenience is that you need time to tie it. Photo 5 shows a cord tied round a natural bridge.

Knotted double sling

This system is better because it has twice the strength of the single sling, except for the joining knot (unless it's stitched) and it's quick to install. Like the single cord, this sling doesn't need to tighten round the anchor. In photo 6 you can see a double sling around a chockstone.

Rock climbing usually offers a large number of natural anchors, for protection and belaying as well as for setting up a rappel. The features of the terrain dictate which material is required but it's not always possible to find a natural anchor that offers enough protection. When ice-climbing, first observe the quality of ice and stay away from soft or rotten ice, which is too weak for use as an anchor. In snow, it's also important to observe the resistance offered by natural anchors.

Photo 5 - Photo 6
Blocks and boulders

Blocks of rock offer excellent protection, both for belaying and for progression. Before placing the sling, check that the block is solid and doesn't move. At the same time, check there are no sharp edges that could cut it. If need be, you can file down a sharp edge or protect it with other gear (backpack, clothing, a bush, etc.). Where possible, loop the sling near the base of the block, which is its strongest point. The angle formed by the slings at the master connection should never be greater than 60 degrees. When using rocks for progression, use a long sling to extend the anchor so that it doesn't slip off. In photo 7 the sling has been extended so that it can't slip off the rock if the rope is accidentally tugged. At a belay, you can tie onto the sling and belay your partner from your harness so that your body acts as a counterweight, preventing the sling from slipping off. In photo 8 you can see how the climber has tied his rope to the sling on the rock and is belaying his partner from his harness. Another way to prevent the sling from accidentally slipping off is by placing an inverted anchor and attaching it to the sling. Connect the protection using another sling which can be tightened with a clove hitch. Photo 9 shows a sling tightened by an inverted cam. In this case a Camalot has been placed in a crack under the sling on the rock and the cam has been tightened using an auxiliary cord and two clove hitches. This inverted anchor prevents the main sling from
Tags: alpinism

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