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.


2 thoughts on “Multipitch Ice Anchors

  1. Good info Scott, It’s obvious but worth mentioning that if one piece blows the shock loading with a sliding x is much higher than if you’ve knotted the masterpoint.

    • Excellent point Ben, and I should have included that in the write up. Sadly this peice took a lot more effort to write than I anticipated so there will be tweeks here and there for a little bit. As far as extension the sliding X is the worst if a piece blow, that being said its also the most likely to prevent a piece failure.

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