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snodger

Hanging belays on ice

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The 'directional anchors' thread earlier this week reminded me of a nagging question I've had since climbing with a guide last January.

 

His method of setting a hanging belay was to set two screws about chest high and thread two runners through and clip in with a locker through a twisted loop thus forming an equalized anchor.

 

Now heres where I start wondering...

 

then he would add another screw lower down and clip that to the equalized runners forming a three point equalized anchor.

 

When asked about it he said this was necessary to avoid being pulled up out your stance and it was generally good to have redundancy.

 

So heres my question: Lacking anything above your belay point which you'd not want to hit while getting jerked upward, isn't the third ice screw unecessary? I can understand a guide needed to be extremely careful and perhaps being very redundant, but how many of you would double up your runners and add a third directional screw?

Another thing this guy did that perhaps made me question things was that he instucted his clients to always belay from the anchor- which seemed weird- I would think that with ice screws you'd want the dynamics of a harness belay as opposed to the more static anchor belay?

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I disagree with the guide on the anchor, particularly the sliding loop, which would shock load the remaining screw if one failed. If you can get three easy screws at a belay, why not? And use an equalized cordalette, which will absorb some force - webbing will not.

 

I belay off the harness but certainly see people clipping a screw when leaving the belay. My logic is that the belayer and anchor tie-in will absorb some impact force if a leader pops before getting in a piece away from the belay - falling directly on a screw will not.

 

My $0.02. Someone else will probably say the opposite.

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I'm curious who the guide was... The methods he was using seem slightly unusual.

 

So there are a few things to consider here. The reality of a magic x or a self equalizing anchor is that should something fail, there will be a shockload on the remaining anchor. However, I do believe that the magic x is a valid type of anchor system. It may not be as good as an anchor system wherein an overhand eight is employed to make the anchor SRENE or ERNEST or RENE or whatever acronym you like, but it is an acceptable anchor in some circumstances.

 

All of the same concerns listed in the directional anchor discussion exist in ice climbing. It is important to keep people from being jerked up into a roof. Ice screws in good ice are somewhat multi-directional, so that shouldn't be such a concern.

 

The idea of belaying off the anchor is better for a leader belaying a second. This is better than belaying off the harness because of the simplicity of belay escapes and the ease of some of the modern belay devices like the reverso and the Gi-Gi.

 

Belaying a leader off the anchor is NOT an acceptable option. If the guide was doing this, it's likely an indication of a lack of professional guide training.

 

Another thing that is very important to realize while building a belay station on ice is that the screws should not be side by side. They should be offset. We get used to seeing bolts side by side on the rock and don't think much about it on the ice, but this can be dangerous. It is far better to have them offset to make it less likely that they are in the same patch of ice.

 

Lastly, when swaping leads on ice, I often don't really build an equalized anchor. It's difficult to mess around with slings and such when one hand is totally engaged by a tool and a wrist-leash. Instead, I put in two offset screws with locking carabiners on each of them. Then I simply clove hitch the lead rope to each of the screws on locking biners. After I'm hanging I can adjust the clove hitches so that it is somewhat taut between the two screws creating a small amount of equalization. Of course, to do this you must practice your one handed clove hitches.

 

If I'm doing all of the leading, the preceding concept doesn't work very well. Instead, I usually do mess around with a cordellete or slings until I have a SRENE anchor.

 

Jason

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Testing has shown that for ice belay anchors the strongest configuration hasd the screws aligned vertically one above the other, as opposed to horizontally or offset.

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Testing has shown that for ice belay anchors the strongest configuration hasd the screws aligned vertically one above the other, as opposed to horizontally or offset.
This would be true if you used the rope to equalize as Jason describes. If you used a cordellette, it wouldn't matter.

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Well you guys brought up a few things I wasn't really thinking of; my big concern was that in my very limited experience its been hard enough to set two screws and figured it would be best to simplify matters .

 

I've always thought the 'magic x' system was pretty cool (its f'ing magic man!) but your point about shock loading is well taken. And Dru, thats the first I've heard of the vertical alignment- I'd love to see what the fractures look like after a test to failure, was there any suggestions about how far apart vertically?

 

The guide I was climbing with isn't local. Last Christmas I was in the midwest and went up into Ontario to go climbing. This guy ran a guide service in an area where he had pioneered most of the ice routes. As far as I know he isn't accredited as there was no sign of it in his advertising or diplomas on the wall...

 

As I had only seen people belaying the second from the anchor, I asked why he was set on always belaying this way. He said it was in order to easily escape the belay. Since it's so cold up there (highs of below zero the 4 days I was there) he thought the belayer might need to tie off an injured leader and try to rescue him or get help before he froze- seemed to make some sence but also made me wonder about the downside of this technique.

 

One good thing I learned from him was to first put in a screw above the belay stance; for pro while setting the anchor, as the first piece when leading on the next pitch, and my favorite, for hanging off when you get pumped and freaked while trying to get the anchor set up!

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iT'S BECAUSE OF THE WAY ICE FRACTURES NOT THE EQUALIZATION PATTERN wave.gif
That is very interesting! So I assume that the fractures spread at right angles to the direction of pull. If the screws are aligned horizontally, the fractures spread from one screw to the other. Can you remember where you saw the testing results published?

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I can think of a couple of reasons for his style as well. Hanging stances are notoriously difficult to maintain a uni-directional pull, and sometimes it might be worth the risk of shocking loading to have a self-equalizing anchor.

If its a concern that loosing your stance will also cause you to loose your belay capability, a third piece can be used to mitigate. You can't rely on the cordellette in every instance.

In a guiding scenario, the guide shouldn't make some assumptions that I might make when climbing with friends - like their ability to keep still at a hanging belay anchor or to maintain the belay in a big fall - unless the guide and client have climbed repeatedly together, and a history of reliability has been established. Since the guide is making all of the final decisions, they must be more conservative in actions.

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iT'S BECAUSE OF THE WAY ICE FRACTURES NOT THE EQUALIZATION PATTERN wave.gif
That is very interesting! So I assume that the fractures spread at right angles to the direction of pull. If the screws are aligned horizontally, the fractures spread from one screw to the other. Can you remember where you saw the testing results published?

 

It has nothing to do with that cbs. Waterfall ice is loaded vertically by gravity. Thus it tends to fracture horizontally. This is why free standing pillars crack across the middle and the lower part below the crack falls off. Also this is why vertical frontpoints shatter the ice less than horizontal frontpoints. fruit.gif

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was there any suggestions about how far apart vertically?

 

 

One good thing I learned from him was to first put in a screw above the belay stance; for pro while setting the anchor, as the first piece when leading on the next pitch, and my favorite, for hanging off when you get pumped and freaked while trying to get the anchor set up!

 

I try a minimum of 18 inches between screws.

 

Not sure about that high screw technique. Not much fun trying to get a screw in above your head. Why not sink a tool and clip that?

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don't you wish BD screws had bigger holes to clip so when you sunk your 1st anchor screw you could daisy to it, then clip the anchor biners on?

 

If it's a hanging belay, I'm gonna want to slam a scew in and then clip one of my two ropes in like I was gonna keep climbing. If I have the stregnth, I'll do a one handed clove hitch with the rope going thru the screw (vs calling take and doing the other screw 1st) and then casually put another screw in and clove the other rope to it. If I have screws left and don't think the next pitch'll need it, I may add a 3rd screw to the anchor, but usually not. Then I will belay off my harness to absorb all the shock which always sucks as far as rope management goes. If it's solid, i'll put a direction on one of the screws to help with rope management.

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... Not much fun trying to get a screw in above your head. Why not sink a tool and clip that?

 

Well actually we would put in the first screw right about head height off in the direction the route went, then go down to about waist height and set the anchor. The couple of times I tried this out it wasn't that hard to set the screw up high, my problem was taking too long to get the anchor set. At first I was trying to do it all one handed hanging from my left tool, until I said screw it and had my belayer take and I hung to set the anchor. The upper screw then acted as a turning point for belaying the second from the anchor, after which the second was pre-clipped to head out on lead- if he fell before setting a piece he wouldn't fall directly onto the anchor.

 

The one thing that seems strange in all of this is belaying the leader straight from the anchor. I think I'd rather have to bit of 'give' a harness belay allows. And I'll probably use a screamer on that first piece off the anchor as there won't be much rope out to cushion a fall.

 

As far as clipping a tool, for some reason that always seems like a desperate, back up kinda thing. Yeah, I realize that the tools are what I'm hanging off while climbing, but seeing them as part of the anchor has caused my sphincter to ratchet down a notch or two. Not necessarily a rational reaction, but...

 

And Layton I agree about the BD screws, you'd think they could modify the hanger to allow two biners. Guess that just makes the grivels that much more desireable.

 

I started ths thread cause I figured I'd probably be changing my anchor technique from that learned from this guide, the only problem was I never made it back on ice again last year and was looking for ideas. So thanks for all the input.

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If the Canadian "guide" mentioned in this thread is a certain crazy fellow from the Thunder Bay area be aware that he tends to be somewhat idiosyncratic not to mention outside the mainstream of Cdn guiding.... was he wearing hot pink Goretex bibs?

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Snodger - now I understand. I was visualizing trying to get a high piece off the belay but what you did makes sense.

 

I agree that clipping into your upper tool while rigging a belay doesn't feel as good as a screw but if it's well-stuck it's pretty bomber.

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...a certain crazy fellow from the Thunder Bay area .... was he wearing hot pink Goretex bibs?

 

I was in Montreal River Harbor. and although I didn't see anything pink, he kinda fits the rest of the description. Seems his claim to fame is a Canadian expedition to south america 15 -20 years years ago... I had fun and learned a bit, but was wondering about the wisdom of some of the things he was teaching.

 

 

So Dru, got any more info on the horizontal offset for screws? AT your first post I was kinda scratching my head, but after you explained about the loading of the ice and how it shears off it seems to make sense.

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And Layton I agree about the BD screws, you'd think they could modify the hanger to allow two biners. Guess that just makes the grivels that much more desireable.

 

I agree with all of you, BD screws are much less useful here than Smileys or the "old" BD screws that had much larger (albeit differently aligned) hangers.

 

Dru, I actually never realized that about vertical front points! I read your post and was like, "well, of course!".

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I usually try to orient the screws vertically too. If they are bomber, 2 should be fine. Tools should not be considered valid belay anchors. Try loading one and see what happens. In the Alpine I might use a tool to help equalize, but not in a hanging belay. When using a tool. don't clip your leash, but the hole in th end of the shaft.

 

I will belay the follower off the anchor and tie him off when he arrives. I like being able to have him locked off by using a reverso while I belay while I shake out my hands, put on a jacket or find food in my pack. I would not like my belayer fuzing around like this if he was belaying me off his harness! If he leads the next pitch, then I'll belay off my harness while he leads.

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There was a case in the Rockies where some guy factor-2'ed onto the belay on one of the alpine ice routes (maybe Grand Central Couloir) and most of the belay ripped but one tool held and held the fall of both climbers... I wouldn't trust them, but it may be a good idea to back the screw belay up by clipping your tools into it nonetheless.

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I wouldn't trust them, but it may be a good idea to back the screw belay up by clipping your tools into it nonetheless.

i pretty much always do this. place the screws, then clip the axes as backups, they are there might as well use em.

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The more vertical you have our pieces the less force each is going to see. in a perfect world if you had two pieces alligned vertically each piece will see 50 percent of the load. the more horizontal you go the more each piece will get. once you get to a inside angle on your anchor of 120 degrees(your crazy if you do this)each piece sees 100 percent of the load. less than 90 degrees is considered ok but the less the better.

 

dale

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