How to Build a Multi-Pitch Anchor
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You’ve been outside a time or two and learned how to lead climb, You’ve learned how to rappel, know what an anchor is, and you’re pretty confident with your single pitch skills.
But looking online on social media and seeing photographs of these climbers topping out huge lines, rappelling off giant cliffs, and dangling hundreds of feel in the air has pushed you to take the next step. You’re reading to start multi-pitch climbing.
If this sounds like you, then it’s time for you to try out a multi-pitch climbing route.
One of the best things about climbing is getting to see the places where only the bugs and the birds normally go. For those really tall places, you need multiple ropes to get you there. Multi-pitch climbing unlocks new terrain and cliffs that you otherwise might not have gotten to see.
For most multi-pitch climbs, anchors are bolted on. But in between a traditional pitch, you’ll need to set up an anchor. To do so, you need to have good knowledge of fall factors, directional forces, loading systems, and gear placement.
If you’re a trad climber, then you already know how to place your gear. You will also already know most of the materials and tools that we need to build a multi-pitch anchor, such as Tricams, hexes, nuts, and cams.
In this article, we’ll be going through the basics of setting up a multi-pitch anchor.
Building A Multi-Pitch Anchor
Anchoring on a multi-pitch climb is more difficult as it takes place at the end of a pitch where the leader usually has the least amount of equipment left. The anchor acts as the final line of protection that can protect you from any mistakes your partner might make. For that, it’s a crucial yet difficult skill to develop.
Here are seven things that you should do to help you plan ahead for your first ever multi-pitch climb.
- Be ready for the terrain. By doing so, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
- Look for information on the length of the climb.
- Keep a copy of the guidebook or topo with you as you climb.
- Know what gear you’ll need for the approach, climb, and descent.
- Ask peers who have done the climb to give you beta
- Study how to get down. If you are rappelling, be sure to know where the anchors are.
- Do as much research as possible before heading onto the route. Study everything you can about the route, where it ends, where it travels, and where it begins.
What You’ll Need
The minimum number of equipment that you’ll need for a multi-pitch anchor is three, but it’s definitely more preferable to have more. This is to avoid being limited in the sizes of crevices and cracks at your belay station.
If the appointed belay station is a long way above and you’re running low on gear, then it’s okay to build a hanging belay at your location on the route. Just be mindful of the individuals and parties behind you, even offer to let them pass before you do so.
It is definitely better to build an anchor safely on the route rather than risk running out of gear to build at the designated belay spot. In addition to the gear, you will also need a cordelette, Dyneema sling, or long nylon. Some climbers choose to carry both to give them the option to use either in certain situations.
You’ll also need a delay device that is capable of bringing up to your second, such as a Grigori or an ATC guide. Just be sure to use your ATC in guide mode before attempting a multi-pitch anchor with it. Make sure to also have a few extra locking carabiners with you.
Climbing Gear Checklist
Here’s a basic idea of what gear you’ll need to have with you on a multi-pitch climb.
- Anchor supplies (slings, cordelette, or just your rope – just know it well)
- Approach shoes (preferably light ones to make it easier to carry them with you)
- Appropriate layers (prepare for any likelihood)
- A willing partner
- Chalk bag
- Climbing helmet
- Climbing pack
- Climbing rope (one or two, if you’re looking to do a double rope rappel)
- Climbing shoes (preferably comfy ones)
- Delay device
- Emergency ascender, hollow block, or Prusik cord (just in case)
- Guidebook, topo, or print out of the planned routes
- Locking carabiners (two to five each for prusiks, clove hitches, anchors, belay devices, etc.)
- Protection (sufficient gear for trad or quickdraws for sport)
- Sufficient food and water
- Wilderness essentials (hand warmers, sunglasses, headlamp, watch, sunscreen, etc. depending on the weather, objective, and location).
Building Multi Pitch Anchor Step
There is a specific way that you should build your anchor for it to keep you protected and safe as you climb. Below, we’ll be going through the main steps and points for you to keep in mind.
Step 1: Gear Placement
As a rule of thumb, you should try to use three downward angled protection pieces and one piece for protection for an upward direction when you set up the top anchor. These can be set up after you’ve reached your second appointed belay station.
It is ideal for you to have a combination of passive pro and active or all active pro, with redundancy being key. All individual pieces should be solid to ensure that you can be comfortable taking a fall on them.
1.1 Find A Good Spot
For the anchor, keep in mind that you’ll want to position the three primary pieces near each other, so find a good place that allows you to do that.
1.2 Sling The Points
After finding a sport, you’ll want to sling the three points with a cordelette or long sling. Remember that larger angles put more force on each individual anchor point, so keep the angle to sixty degrees or less.
Step 2: Equalisation
Once the three pieces have been placed and slung, it’s time for you to equalize them. This step simply means rigging the anchor to distribute the load between the three points equally. There are different ways that climbers do this, but we’ll be going through the most common and popular choice among climbers.
2.1 Clip Carabiners
After your anchor pieces have been placed and you’ve clipped in your sling through each carabiner, pull down the top sections to create three loops.
2.2 Ensure Equal-ness
Ensure that they are even at the bottom. Then you can analyze where the force on the anchor is likely to come from. Will your climber be coming from the right, from the left, or straight up?
2.3 Create Master Point
Whichever side you choose, make sure that the three loops are pulled equally in the direction of the force. Then tie an overhand knot to create a master point. There should still be equal forces on each side.
2.3 Clip Carabiner Through Master Point
After ensuring that, clip a locking carabiner through the master point to finish setting up the top anchor.
Step 3: Rope Management
Rope management is probably one of the hardest aspects to master. You need to ensure that you never let your brake hand go, while also simultaneously organizing the slack to pull up for a smooth transition in between pitches.
Once your anchor has been built, position yourself to ensure that the master point is placed above you. As you’ll be pulling the rope down from the belay device, a higher master point makes it easier through gravity.
3.2 Clove Hitch End
After positioning, you’ll want to clove hitch the end of your rope into the master point locking carabiner. Lean back until you’re comfortable.
The tightened attachment helps to create a way to flake out the rope while you’re belaying up. This can be tightened or loosed until you get into a comfortable position.
3.3 Attach Belay Device To Master Point
Attaching the belay device above the clove hitch onto the master point. Once done, start pulling up the extra rope until you reach your partner.
After that, you’ll want to loop large sections on both sides of your body and let them hang from your connection to the master point. Try to make both sides as even as possible.
3.4 Connect Partner
Once you reach your climbing buddy, connect their rope end to the belay device. Ensure that everything is working with them before bringing them up.
As you draw up the slack in the rope, use your other hand to loop the excess rope on both sides of you continuously. This is an essential skill that does take some practice to get used to.
With proper management, your partner can be ready and set up to start leading the next pitch as soon as they reach the belay spot.
Factors To Consider
When climbing on top rope, fall factors are not a huge concern especially if your anchor is solid for the climber and you’re pulling up slack quickly. However, when your partner reaches the belay spot after you and they are ready to climb the next pitch, you’ll be belaying them using the same anchor.
At this point, you’ll need to consider fall factors that lead climbing involves. It is the responsibility of the lead climber to place a piece of gear as close as possible to the anchor to avoid a factor two fall onto the anchor.
Fall factor, in simple terms, is the level of severity a climbing fall would be. To calculate the fall, you simply have to divide the distance by the amount of rope.
So, if the formula includes Fth as the theoretical fall factor, fall length as the length of fall, and the rope length as the length of rope between climber and belayer – the formula would be:
Fth = Fall Length ➗Rope Length
If there isn’t any protection for a bit, the other option is for you to directly clip a sling and rope to the highest point of the anchor. In case of a fall, this will help to direct forces onto one piece rather than the entire master point.
Another thing to bear in mind is the force direction on the anchor. The anchor that’s just been built for this multi-pitch climb is great against a downward pull, but with a potential fall or rope drag, it could also manage an upwards force.
An oppositional piece is a great choice during these types of situations. It points upwards below the rest of your anchor to mitigate any upward force. This helps to ensure that the main gear pieces don’t get compromised and stay in place.
Without this piece, the whole system has a chance of being ripped upwards. Ensure that the directional piece is taught to avoid any shock overload to the entire system.
It is a totally acceptable choice for you to use a large boulder or tree as an anchor. However, before using any of these natural anchors, ensure that they are sturdy.
Before using a tree as an anchor, ensure that it is solid, well rooted, and living. Only use trees that have a diameter of at least twelve inches.
Before using a chock stone, rock horn, or boulder, ensure that you check the integrity of it. You won’t want to use a loose or brittle rock as your anchor.
For these natural anchors, aim to use a cordelette or runner around the piece. Use a girth hitch or locking carabiner to clip the ends together and make a master point.
Hanging belays should be set up the exact same way as a belay on a ledge. Some prefer hanging belays for their simplicity in terms of their rope management requirements.
However, you should be aware of where your rope loops dangle as well as the space around you. You want to avoid the ropes dangling onto the route where your partner is climbing.
Once your anchor is fully made and secure, the biggest advice that we could give is to be prepared, know your systems, and have a plan before you even get onto your climb.