Multipitch Ice Anchors

Hopefully before tearing into the amount of ideas I’m about to cover you have stopped by my welcome page and read the disclaimer.  I cannot emphasize how if you are uncomfortable with an idea that you should discard it.  In this post I am going to discuss 3 different ways to utilize a two screw anchor for protecting multipitch ice, and it is going to be a whole lot of information.  Each method has good characteristics and some that might not be so, in the end it is up to you to choose which aspect you value more, and properly implement in your climbing.  If you’re still reading I might suggest breaking this down into 3 sections, study one at a time, go out and mock set it up then return for the next method. 

The first method is how Will Gadd goes about his anchors for speed on long multipitch routes, rather than write out how he does it feel free to jump over to his blog post about it here  might want to grab a fresh cup of joe before you head over to there to learn though….  The chain of pics below was a mock set up to illustrate what I feel he describes since I understand better from pictures than just text.

ice anchors 006    ice anchors 007   ice anchors 009

My personal opinion of this system is its brilliant, once you are competent to really be on the monster routes that an ice God like Gadd  tends to hang out on.  But, for the lesser experienced Ice leader this can be a bit over whelming to comprehend.  Notice how much he stresses the screws being bomber, and in other articles he’s written about typically getting to belay ledges where the previous screws haven’t been in all the way to good ice…  This in essence compromises the entire anchor, notice how the two screws are connected via the rope but are never equally loaded, so if one blows it will be a hard loading onto the second screw.  Past that since the the lower scew is holding the belayer for the seconding portion of the climb and the belay device is clipped straight into the lower screw, should it fail both the lead climber and belay will be held to the top screw via the hanger of the lower screw.  While this can work it just sounds a bit ugly.  Another point is, to follow his exact methods you need a screw with a two hole hangers, like the new BD screws.  While my current rack only has one screw with that style hanger and I intend to switch to the Petzl screws next year, after all light is right and Petzl will by far have the lightest screw on the market.  Further, this system requires the second to belay the lead off his harness, now I know most of you are taught to do that anyways, but the following links are showing a trend moving away from this and instead belaying off the masterpoint.  Why you ask?  Because a bomber anchor is well bomber….  And a belayer is soft….  In the event of catching a big fall the belayer will be launched, so much so they might not catch the fall if using a tube style device. Beyond that one of the big reasons not to fall is all those knives we tend to have attached to ourselves, well the belayer might not have their tools on them, or they might, but they will have their crampons which are very likely to induce some trauma from the getting ripped around.  Thus, sometimes its very nice to be able to belay straight off the masterpoint. 

Fixed point belay

IFMGA metting report on fixed point belays

And last but not least this guy is always good for a laugh on his youtube channel and is my source for finding the above linked data

Mikes Mail 9    

What I like about this system is how quick it makes things, when speed matters it’s hard to imagine a faster method.  But, if you think that speed is simply from building the V threads on the way up you’re wrong.  Any anchor method using an autoblock belay can build the V threads while belaying a second.  Where the speed is generated is from having the anchor cleaned when the lead gets the second on belay.  That is after all what the second is waiting for to start climbing, and this way the moment they are on belay they just unclip the V thread and climb.  Now if you don’t like the screws not being equalized you do always have the option to make the length of rope between the clove hitches longer.  Long enough to form a bite and tie a matsterpoint that you can run your belay device off of.  Out of all methods this will be the lightest application of any anchor I would use.

Now lets talk about what most of you view as the “Equalized” anchor

ice anchors 012

One thing I don’t like is the name, when you use a masterpoint knot that cannot shift, it is only equally bearing on both points of pro if pointed in the original direction you tied the knot.  Should the route go to the side of that, or shift from belaying a second to belaying a lead you are no longer equalized as shown below.  Instead you are completely loaded on one piece while the second is unloaded. 

ice anchors 013

Now here’s my solution to the unequalized nature of this system going into lead belay.  When setting it up first attach one of your screamers to the lower screw,

ice anchors 014

notice I have one set up with dual lockers for this purpose.  Now when you belay the second the masterpoint aims down the route and the load is carried by both pieces.  Since the top piece cannot extend there is really no risk of the screamer deploying.  Follow that with keeping the belay on the masterpoint for the lead, and the top unloads so in the event the leader takes a fall the screamer will kick in if it’s a hard enough fall.  Granted this doesn’t help in the event of the horrible factor 2 fall unless the top screw blows, but if that were to happen I would much rather have the screamer as a backup to calm the nerves about such.  Another bonus of this is if you love screamers, now no matter where a fall should happen once the first piece is in you’ll be protected.  Instead of needing a screamer for every screw down low you can just carry 2, one for each belay station.  On a side note, it always amazes me when climbers talk about a screamer deploying and keeping them off the deck.  There are different camps on screamers right now with all of them looking at screamers on each piece of pro, and some find no benefit on those placements.  What they will do when deploying is put a climber closer to the deck.  If the screamer is in the belay for every foot it deploys the climber gets a foot closer to the deck.  When using one on pro, for every foot it deploys the climber gets two feet closer to the deck, how that is preventing them from decking I have yet to understand.  Granted the argument is it prevented the pro from blowing but honestly if the pro held, with a good rope it more than likely would have held without the screamer and you would have been that much further from decking.  By using the screamer in the anchor, you find the middle ground where all extension translates into dynamic ability to help the pro and the climber isn’t dropped an excessive amount. 

More food for thought on the screamer, I like to stack the deck in my favor.  Yes I believe in the leader must not fall, but sometimes shit just hits the fan like it or not.  When you think about proper screw placement having the cutting teeth high of the hanger so the screw loads on the threads rather than acting as a lever in the ice and fracturing the surface enough to bend and break the screw.  When you climb above the anchor you sift the direction of pull on the screws and create the exact opposite. Thus a hard hit on the anchor from above can achieve the exact reason we shifted out mindset on angling screws to begin with.  Do not take that to mean I want you to angle the screws backwards as they will still need the correct orientation while belaying the second, rather its use the screamer to protect the anchor from the screws being upside down so to say. 

The downsides to this system are it requires more gear, and more gear is more weight.  The ups though are it’s a modified version of how most people use a two bolt anchor for rock climbing and therefore should be pretty easy for a new lead climber to understand.  Its clean time will be the highest of the 3 systems in this post, thus it’s slower.  But, if you copy the V thread idea from the first method once the lead climber is off belay the seconder has a chance to have it cleaned before the lead finishes building the next anchor, staying clipped into the V thread of course.

And the last method I’ll write about tonight, the Sliding X

ice anchors 016

This method is what I would like to think of as the equalized anchor but for some reason the names tend to be backwards.  While very similar to the last method the difference is this doesn’t use a fixed masterpoint.  Instead it uses a twist of the strands on one side of the pro.  Be very careful to get the twist, if you don’t and a piece blows the belay devise won’t be attached to the anchor anymore.

ice anchors 017  ice anchors 018  ice anchors 019

The biggest pro to this system is no matter what direction a force is applied to the anchor, the materpoint will shift and equalize the forces between both pieces.  Trango even makes a presewn runner version to equalize 3 pieces in this fashion.  Now hopefully you noticed I don’t have a screamer in this one.  If you read through the links about forces generated by various falls you should have noticed that factor 2’s off the anchor tend to get around 5-7 kn.  Granted I’m sure that can be exceeded in the right situation but when looking at those numbers and knowing a screamer usually deploys between 2-2.5 kn and on top of that with the anchor truly equalized, it’s highly unlikely a screamer would feel enough force to start its deployment.  You have to think if half the load is on each piece and the factor 2 loaded 5 kn, then the screamer only feels 2.5kn.  Past that its effectiveness will only be half the last anchors method with 50% of its deployment going to each side of the anchor, thus for every foot it deploys the climber will fall 6 inches.  If it’s not going to work then why bring it and further complicate the anchor?  This creates the down side that you can’t protect every screw like the last anchor, but you can make up for that with a high quality rope with a LOW impact rating.  Personally I have been doing all my ice leading this season on my joker for this very reason.

So there you have it, three different anchor methods using two screws, notice in all the pictures how the screws remained the same?  Ultimately it’s up to you as the climber to understand each system before trying to use it. Practice at home, in the yard, at the base of a climb, but not on top a pitch for the first time…  Baptism by fire is a bad idea on this one where practice makes perfect and good practices will keep you alive.  Chose which one works best for you and go with it, work with your climbing partner on which system they like and from there build on it to speed up the process and efficiency.  On a closing note, this is ice climbing, not rock climbing, When in doubt BACK out.

Granger’s XT Waterproofer

Scruffy Band

Photo Credit Stone Heart

There is hardly anything that can be as miserable as being in out if the cold and soaking wet at the same time.  Honestly, why do we spend so much money on waterproof shells?  To not be cold and wet is why, but eventually those uber expensive shells just don’t keep us dry anymore.  This leaves the choice of suffering through with your shells that don’t work anymore or selling off a kidney to fund buying new ones.  How about option 3, using a DWR to retreat those leaky ol’ shells?

scruffy lead

Photo Credit Climb Run Lift Mom

After spending a soppy wet day taking some gals out for some ice cragging right in the middle of a storm, sadly I was soaked.  So soaked I could have rung my layers out from all the water that my shell had let through.  To make it worse, the leaky shells had never given me any grief before and, I have a BIG trip coming up this weekend.  One of those trips where proper clothing systems will make or break the entire adventure.  On top of the upcoming trip, I’m way too poor to contemplate buying new shells without selling off that pesky kidney, and I despise Gore-Tex…. Thus almost all local shell options for winter alpine would be out of the question regardless of cost.  So a couple days after finally managing to dry out, my research led me to Granger’s XT Waterproofer (it was either granger or nikwax which wasn’t carried locally)

XT waterproofer

First step to trying to revive the shells was washing them with none detergent soap and then running them through the dryer.  Afterwards I ran a sleeve under the faucet which instantly started sucking up water showing me I’d made little head way.  So I walked away went to the store and came home with the XT Waterproofer.

Application went very straight forward, hang the shells on a hanger and spray, trying to make sure you don’t miss anywhere.  Now I would recommend this part being over a piece of plastic as there will be run off.

After spraying the shells down, throw them in the dryer on medium heat and let the DWR do its thing.  I left mine in for 45 minutes but have heard good things at around 15 minutes.

Afterwards when doing the faucet test again my shells are back to being fully waterproof!  So much so I might have accidently let the bibs pool up and mistakenly shift them so all the water poured over the edge of the sink, completely flooding out my floor….  Next test will be going on the big trip to access if the DWR has hindered the breathability or not, but I am fairly confident that the eVent will be just as breathable as always.

This test was done with my Wild Things eVent Alpinist  Shells purchased in 2005

Why aren’t we Reboring?

So over the last 6 days I have spent 3 on multiptich ice, not bad considering my late start to the season.  Mind you this is my first season back in the world of ice in some time, my oh my has the sport changed in my absence.  Besides the big changes that Will Gadd talks about like T style vs H style climbing technique one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is modern testing, especailly in screw placement.  Do you have a red BD screw on your ice rack? you know the stubbie said to be an aid piece?  I know I do and most climbers tend to shy away from the 10cm size screw for good reason, not enough thread to really hold a fall, or is it? hear me out here, I do have a point coming eventually…..  so on all 3 climbs of the last week I have run into places where other climbers have gotten to a stance and decided they were comfortable enough to put a screw in, but someone before them had already done exactly as they were about to do, so there is already a bored out hole in the ice from the previous team. Instead of finding a clean piece of ice to bore into they drilla new hole only an inch or two from the pre-existing hole, bad I tell you BAD!  When you find a hole from a previous team and you really need to get a screw in right there you have two options; 1 hang on for dear life while sketching out trying to find a clean chunk of ice at least a foot away from where the hole is already bored, struggle to get the threads started due to that whole sketch we already mentioned, and maybe just maybe you get that screw in and clipped before you completely screw the pooch…..  Yeah that was a sacrcastic worst case senario described, but hey it happens just TRUST me…  Oooorrrrrrr 2 take a screw of choice, maybe a 10 or 13 or even a 16 (preference on the first two sizes) and just simply thread it into the existing hole of the team ahead of you, provided there is only one bored hole already and not like I found today with six bores inside five inches across and 3 inches vertically……  Don’t think it’ll be strong enough?  Great thing about this modern tech world is access to all the data.  so take a look for yourselves at what the data says.

that screw they tested over and over again (10cm bd) averaged out to over 10kn of holding power before blowing out, mind you most lead falls are thought to generate 4-7kn provided you aren’t bouncing down the route like you probably will be in an ice fall…  (the bouncing keeps the forces lower, although you bones might not think so)

heres the full report from Strikerescue on their testing

clicky click

Biggest thing is that the quality of ice is always going to be king, but in good ice rebores even with a 10cm screw are prefectly strong, so strong in fact I have much weaker rock gear to say the least.  So lets watch each others backs out there and make life easier at the same time, no more endless drilling until there isn’t any good ice left to drill and instead use a few rebores.  Remember its easier to rebore and it doesn’t kill all the good ice for the team behind you.