Extending an Anchor on a multi-pitch route

Extending a Climbing Anchor on a Multi-pitch Route
A guide’s technique for belaying novice seconds

As the adage goes, speed equals safety in the mountains. But this doesn’t mean speed instead of safety. Maintaining constant visual and vocal contact between you — presumably, an experienced climber and/or guide — and a neophyte under your tutelage will yield easier passage through terrain otherwise known as time-suck territory. The more Beta you can offer him whilst he cleans a stubborn piece of gear or works through a dumbfounding crux, the less time you’re likely to waste shouting commands and vital advice into the wind or hanging around, waiting for an electrical storm to swoop in.

A Brand-New Masterpoint
There are many ways to extend an anchor, in order to come down from the top of a pitch and keep an eye on your second. But often the question remains, how do I, once the second climbs up to me, keep him on a top belay (instead of transitioning into a lead belay) while he moves from the extended anchor up to the primary anchor — potentially a necessity in tricky terrain or in certain “institutional” (i.e., climbing-school) settings? The following technique should be utilized by experienced climbers or guides only, and on terrain below your limit.

 

Illustrations By Keith Svihovec
One
After constructing a bomber anchor atop your pitch, attach yourself to the anchor’s masterpoint with a münter hitch (instead of the typical clove hitch, etc.). Next, use this münter to lower to your desired belay stance (the side of the rope leading down to your partner is your brake strand). Because you’re attached to the anchor with a münter hitch, you must keep your hand on the münter’s brake strand at all times. If you want added security, tie a knot some feet down the brake strand and clip it to your belay loop.

 

Illustrations By Keith Svihovec
Two
Once at the perfect spotting perch (e.g., a small ledge), pull up three feet of slack in both strands of the climbing rope. Because you have to pull slack through the münter hitch, your belay will be compromised momentarily. Standing on casual terrain will increase safety, as will that brake-strand backup knot clipped to your belay loop.

 

 

Illustrations By Keith Svihovec
Three
With your three feet of slack, tie an overhand- on-a-bight using both strands together, with the knot above both you and your second. This knot will now function as an extended anchor, as well as a tie-off to lock off the münter hitch on which you just lowered yourself. Attach a locking carabiner and an auto-blocking belay device (e.g., Reverso) through the eye of your overhand-on-a-bight; this will be the new belay point for your partner.

 

 

Illustrations By Keith Svihovec
Four
As your partner works his way up the route, coach and congratulate from your perch, pulling in slack through the belay device and stacking it as he comes. When he reaches your stance, back up the belay device by tying off the brake strand with a figure-8-on-a-bight and clipping it to the masterpoint. (This blocks the rope from feeding through the belay device in the unlikely event that the belay device should slip.)

 

 

Illustrations By Keith Svihovec
Five
Now you and your partner can simultaneously climb back up to the original, highest anchor. As you climb, slack will generate in the system between the overhand-on-a-bight (to which you both are attached) and the münter hitch. (In order to maintain the belay while climbing, you must pull down on the münter’s brake strand.) Considering the multi-tasking involved — climbing while keeping a hand on the brake — and the potential consequences of taking your brake hand off the rope, it is important that you use this configuration on terrain well within your comfort zone.

Six
Do not release your brake hand until you are both clipped into the main anchor. Finally, disassemble the extended anchor, restack the rope, and fire the next pitch.

Molly Loomis, a mountain guide, has used this technique more than once to encourage a second.

 

 


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