Personal Anchors for Climbing
A personal anchor system allows you to secure yourself at the anchor stations during single pitch climbs or multi pitches. While using a PAS (Personal Anchor System) you can secure yourself by building a SRENE (Strong Equalised Redundant Efficient No Extension) anchor quickly and safely. Subsequently, you can remain attached to the main anchor system, or clean a route before exiting.
There are many types of personal anchor systems, some of which you can build, and other that are pre-rigged by the manufactures.
An efficient PAS will be
Easy to use- You need to be able to deploy and rack it away quickly, failing which it is an inefficient PAS.
Adjust-ability- The distance to the first piece in the personal anchor system needs to be adjustable for the best stance.
Rack-ability- It should conveniently rack on your harness, without snagging on your knee or creating bulk on your harness gear loop while climbing.
Bulk and weight- The olden day lugging boom boxes need to stay behind us.
Simplicity- Unless the climbing gear or system has unique advantages, use one that is simplest to function.
Safety- Some PAS may be unsafe to use in case of an accidental fall. For instance, rope based anchors or Nylon webbings perform better in case of a fall, versus Dyneema or Spectra.
Versatility- Your PAS must be used for rescue, or to make an addition draw when you run out of runners as well.
Cost- This is a minor factor, but a hideously expensive PAS is not suitable for beginners.
There are various schools of thought on PAS, ranging from the use of climbing rope to cordage based tethers to slings to proprietary anchor systems that are marketed by different brands.
Knotted Sling PAS/Rope Anchor mix
Sometimes a 60 cm sling is used, but a 120 cm or a 48 inch sling with knots at two equal intervals is preferable for flexibility, reach and versatility.It is attached to the harness by a girth that is hitched between the waist loop and leg loop. A clip is equipped at the end with a HMS (Halbmastwurfsicherung) type large locking carabiner. It racks through the gear loop either to the left or right, depending on the situation. The large carabiner allows you to easily clip into the anchor point. A non-auto locking carabiner also requires less effort while clipping in.
On sport climbs it is better to get to an anchor station and clip into one of the hangers. You can then set up the complete anchor, and clove-hitch the climbing rope into the master point. Now, there is a ‘two-point’ personal
anchor; with the PAS attached to the hanger, and the climbing rope attached to the master point of the main anchor system.
In case of a trad anchor setup, put in a piece, and clip the rope directly into it. You can then proceed to build the anchor. If the primary piece feels inadequate, add one more piece, clip the rope into one and then knot the sling PAS into the other, before setting up the anchor.An additional advantage of the knotted sling is that you are still clipped into one of the hangers while exiting. You can therefore setup the rappel, with the belay device attached to the sling, and remove it before rappelling.
This system provides the flexibility and adjustability that is required, racks away easily, provides redundancy, and is extremely safe.
Daisy chains are meant for aid climbing, and their stitched loops are recommended only for a 2 kn breaking point. It comes with the risk of not being clipped in correctly, and thus when the stitches come off, you may not be clipped into any personal anchor system at all.
Using the climbing rope alone:
This is the cheapest system as it requires no additional gear. You can clip in a spare quick draw at the anchor station and attach your climbing rope with a clove hitch, or you can use a spare alpine draw and clip it in directly into your belay loop. The rest of the anchor can then be built and the climbing rope can be
reattached to the master point.
While it works in simple cases, there are many downsides to it. Clipping into an anchor piece with a rope is a two-step process, rather than the single step process of the personal anchor system. While climbing at the hardest grade can be a bit unnerving and inefficient, it is recommended to have a separate personal anchor that provides more flexibility in rescue situations. For more complex setups this method uses an extra length of rope, which is not ideal for longer routes.
Rope lanyards or rope based proprietary anchor systems or home-made solutions:
Rope lanyards used for personal anchor systems are made of 8 or 9 mm dynamic ropes. They have a tie in and clip in point. An example of this is the Beal Dynaclip or Simond La Vache. These lanyards are strong, but they aren’t adjustable, and add bulk around the belay loop area. Even, racking them can be a challenge.Their positioning and relevance as a PAS relies on whether the tape slings are manufactured with Nylon or Dyneema. They have higher
impact forces and can fail during high falls.
Although, rope lanyards are useful, there is the risk of falling on the anchors. They are extremely useful for rope courses, where you have to protect yourself from fall forces and durability concerns.However, during most types of rock climbing, you will be loading the anchors rather than going above them or falling on the anchors. If you are in a situation where you may be going over the anchors, then there maybe something wrong with what you’re doing.
The Simond La Vache has the additional problem of only attaching around the belay loop, and not through the waist or leg loop due to the length of the attachment loop. The wear on the belay loop that is hanging can degrade a harness quicker than normal.
However, if you prefer Rope Lanyards, you can create one with an old climbing rope.
The below image is an example, using a 10 mm old climbing rope, but a 9 mm or smaller diameter would be preferred to keep the bulk down. The illustration uses the Purcell Prusik principle for a climbing rope lanyard, to
Proprietary ‘personal anchor’ systems made of looped webbing
This system is similar to the knotted sling, except for the looped webbing which retains its full strength unlike the knotted sling.
The examples of this include the Metolius PAS 22 and BD Link PAS. Although, brilliant to use, they cost two to three times more than a knotted sling, apart from being heavier.
Purcell Prusik is a cordage based personal anchor system, and has many advantages. It is usually made with a 10 feet cordage of 6 or 7 mm diameter with a minimum rated breaking strength of 7.5 kn.
It is versatile, flexible, safe and relatively inexpensive to make. However, it is bulky to rack, and not as quick to adjust during hard sport climbing situations.
Other interesting solutions:
The Petzl Connect Adjust Lanyard is a nifty solution that adjusts quickly between 15 cm to 95 cm, and is an improvement compared to the rope lanyards. The diameter of this is 9.5 mm and it costs about INR. 3850.