Sunday, January 21, 2007
The whole concept of equalizing belay anchors has been discussed heavily lately, both over on rockclimbing.com and also on supertopo.com. I've also had some correspondance with Jim Ewing over at Sterling, who did much of the actual lab work referenced. The basic concept is that it's very difficult to effectively equalize multiple pieces in a belay, and that shock loading when one piece pulls is surprisingly minimal. We all want to do the "right" thing when building anchors, but as I've written previously, the "right" thing often isn't. This picture is lifted from supertopo.com, where a user lifted it from John Long's new book (I still need to buy a copy of that, hopefully he won't mind posting it here as it's promo for his book--I've known Long for years, he's not the sort of individual you really want pissed at you, not because of his iron addiction but because he flips words with style). I thought people might enjoy seeing the data, when I got it from Jim it wasn't in a viewer-friendly format. I find the whole discussion sort of humorous because we all used the "sliding X" years ago, then were told that the cordellette was plus bon, now it's pretty clear that the old sliding X is pretty darn good in comparison. I've played with the "equallette," overall it seems like it's more prone to mis-rigging and requires more biners than I'm likely to carry for its performance advantage over a simple sliding X. Might use it on nice sunny days when I have unlimited time to set up an anchor, but for winter climbing it's a right pain. One of the main problems with cordellettes is that the central knot often becomes set for the day after only one use, I see the equalette as being worse. At least with a sliding X frozen knots aren't a problem. I'll likely go with a sliding X with the biner clipped directly into the rope, and the rope then clipped into a third piece as a "All hell breaks loose" backup to the two primary pieces. Or something else depending on what the situation callls for, the bottom line is that no one system for building belays will be the best for all possible circumstances. I'll continue to carry a cordellette as they are very useful for slinging pillars or other features, chopping up for V-threads, rigging rap anchors, etc., but less useful than I always thought for building equalized anchors.
All of this discussion has also changed my viewpoint that tying together some "OK" pieces will make a "really good" belay. I'm now more interested in having at least one "bomber" piece in the belay, and then backing that up with with at least one and hopefully two "OK" or better pieces. I've always built my rap anchors around one "bomber" piece (Abalakov or super solid pin/nut/bush/whatever) with a backup, I'm starting to look at belays more like this given how relatively poorly even the best equalized anchor works in the lab. In combat situations systems are likely to work even less well in my experience. Lots of good gear is a good thing, this whole climbing thing is pretty unpredictable when it comes right down to it. I'm very fond of 3.5 inch stainless bolts that I've placed, grin.
Posted by Will Gadd at 9:45 AM