Learn This: Build a Climbing Rope Anchor

Carry less gear by building a solid anchor with the rope
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James Lucas
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Carry less gear by building a solid anchor with the rope

Have you ever reached a belay stance and realized you placed your last runner on a nut, your last quickdraw on a cam, and your last bit of cord around a natural feature? There’s a simple solution. For long pitches, traversing routes, or when you simply run out of slings, building a reliable anchor with the rope itself is an invaluable skill. Many climbers have moved away from this technique due to advancements in anchor-specific gear, but knowing how to do it can really save your bacon. It is fast and simple, and it means you can slim down your rack to carry less weight. Read on for a few techniques for rope anchors.

Know Your Anchor

Modern anchors are equalized so that individual pieces of pro are not shock-loaded if one of them fails. Equalizing a rope anchor requires a lot of extra rope, which you may not have after a really long pitch. That means it’s crucial for each of your placements to be bomber when building a rope anchor. Bolted belays in granite with modern hardware, well-placed cams in solid sandstone, or reliable nuts in good rock can all be the foundation of a good anchor. Luckily on most trade routes, belay stations provide ample opportunities for gear. Any time you have suspect pro, like marginal nuts, bad pins, or barely seated cams, it’s better to equalize all the pieces.

Building an anchor with the rope is excellent for when you’re swapping leads, but if there’s one primary leader, having the rope tied up in the anchor can make belay transitions complicated. It’s also very difficult to escape the belay with a rope anchor, so keep that in mind when deciding on whether or not you should rack that extra cord or a few more slings. At times, rope anchors lack master points and the leader will need to belay the second off her harness with a redirect, but if you have enough rope, a power point can be introduced into the system and used to set up a tube-style belay device in guide mode to belay off the anchor.

Yosemite Anchor 

Rock Climbing Yosemite Anchor Multipitch Trad Skills

Photo: Karissa Frye

The fastest way to build an anchor is with a series of clove hitches, sometimes adding a figure eight on a bight as a power point if you have enough rope. This is often referred to as the Yosemite Anchor. This quick system requires little gear, and clove hitches can be easily undone after being weighted. However, the gear needs to be very good. Use three pieces minimum, a combination of cams, nuts, or fixed pitons, and add more pieces if any of them are questionable. Use locking carabiners on each piece to increase the safety, and make sure the clove hitches are cinched tight with the load strand aligned near the spine and away from the gate.

  • Going from your harness, clove hitch the rope into the first piece.
  • Clove hitch the rope from the first piece into the second piece, making sure to remove all slack between the gear. In the case of gear failure, this will prevent excess shock being placed on the next piece.
  • Between the second and third piece, leave enough slack to tie a figure eight on a bight, then clove hitch the third piece. Tie the figure eight on a bight and use this as a master point. This can be used as a directional for belaying off the harness or a spot to set up an auto-blocking belay device.
  • Adjust the knots so the master point is equalized between the second and third clove hitch.

Clove Hitch Anchor

Clove Hitch Rope Anchor Rock climbing trad skills

Photo: Karissa Frye

This is the simplest rope anchor; it’s incredibly fast to set up and break down, and it requires the least amount of rope.

  • Clove hitch yourself into the first piece of protection.
  • Clove hitch the rope onto the second piece with as little slack as possible to prevent shock-loading.
  • Do a third clove hitch on the next piece of protection.
  • With this setup, you will have to belay off your harness, running a redirect up through a carabiner or quickdraw clipped to the strongest piece of protection. 

Two-Bolt Anchor

Another super-simple rope anchor that’s incredibly fast, but it can only be done with two reliable bolts.

  • Clove hitch yourself into the first bolt.
  • Clove hitch the rope onto the second bolt, leaving a few feet of slack.
  • With that slack, tie a figure eight on a bight and equalize it by adjusting the clove hitches.
  • Set up an auto-blocking belay device on this master point, or use it as a redirect for belaying off your harness.

Equalizing Figure Eight Knot

For gear that requires more equalization, try an equalized figure eight knot. It requires a good bit of rope, which can be a problem at the end of a long pitch, and you must belay off your harness with a redirect (no belay devices in guide mode). It also helps to have all the pieces of pro close to each other.

Rock Climbing Rope Anchor Trad Multipitch Skills

Photo: Karissa Frye

  • Pull out some rope from your harness, then tie a figure eight on a bight with a significant loop coming out from the top. You’ll need a bigger loop if the pieces are farther apart.
Rock Climbing Rope Anchor Trad Multipitch Skills

Photo: Karissa Frye

  • Pass the loop back through the top of the figure eight. This should leave a single loop on one side of the knot and two loops (bunny ears) on the other side.
Rock Climbing Rope Anchor Trad Multipitch Skills

Photo: Karissa Frye

  • Adjust the loops and clip each one to a piece of gear. If the gear is widely spaced, this can require some finagling by feeding the rope through the knot. Tighten the knot.