Climber Confessional: Know Your Anchor Points Before Building One

anchor-building
Climbers often tend to embrace a Nike-like attitude of

Just Do It!

Every guidebook ever published admonishes users that “climbing is an inherently dangerous sport,” and to proceed with caution. Climbers, however, have been only semi-heading these warnings for decades, and for good reason: we are members of a fringe sect of society that throws caution to the wind and laughs in the face of danger.

I first shoved my feet into a smelly pair of velcro rentals six years ago. Since then, I’ve only dabbled in trad and multi-pitch climbing for lack of mentorship. I’m not much of a “balls-to-the-wall” kind of gal, and generally, prefer my adventures to be well-planned out and rooted in knowledge. Stated simply, I’m comfortable doing what I know, and uncomfortable doing what I don’t know.

In November of last year, however, I got fed up with waiting for someone to teach me the basics of trad climbing and tapped into the mindset of my predecessors. Hell, they were climbing El Cap using janky pitons some 2,000 feet in the air. After all, I could solo 5.7 if I had to.

Unsurprisingly, I quickly discovered that climbing on gear is harder in a special variety of ways.

Knowing how to climb 5.7 on sport is nothing like climbing 5.7 on gear. The placements take about three times as long (if you know what you’re doing, ten to fifteen if you don’t), and knowing what piece to place is only half the battle. The other half is your feeble attempt to not over-grip on the massive jug onto which you’re clinging for dear life.

When I topped out on the first pitch of our three-pitch route, I looked for the anchors my partner had promised. However, there were no trees, no rings, and no bolts within sight.

What proceeded was me building my first anchor with absolutely no anchor-building knowledge. I ended up placing six various sized pieces, tying a few overhand knots, and linking them all together with a thin piece of cord that also included a series of knots. I clipped my personal anchor system into two of the overhand knots connected to two cams, set-up my ATC guide, and yelled down to my partner,

ON BELAY!

Thankfully, my partner, a solid 5.12 climber, had no trouble sending the route, which left only minimal time for me to imagine all the ways my partner could fall to his death.

He topped out on the pitch, looked at my anchor, looked at me, looked at the anchor again …

Hesitantly, he uttered, “Well, it probably would have held.”

As for myself, I wasn’t so certain.

What I learned

Have a conversation.

If you or your partner are experiencing something new, whether it be belaying with a GriGri, leading your first sport pitch, or just roping up for the first time, talk through the experience.

In doing this, it’s easy to come across any obstacle you might face.

For me, I hadn’t even thought about building an anchor on top, and if I did, I was overconfident in my ability to figure it out. Had my partner and I walked through the process, we could have taken a few more moments on the ground going over anchor building. We also assumed there would be a belay station on top of pitch one, in which case building an anchor wouldn’t be necessary (turns out there is an anchor at the end of pitch one, I just hadn’t climbed up far enough to reach it).

Communication on the ground is key.

100 feet up, with wind and rock in the way, it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation with your partner besides the basic climbing commands. Confidence will not save your partner from a 50-foot deck. So know what you’re doing before you head up the wall. Our lives are too important to take chances like that.


Want more? Get our awesome climbing newsletter, delivered weekly.


Explore More

Related articles you'll love

Our 40+ most popular articles ever
Today’s Best Rock Climbing Gear Deals
200+ rock climbing videos
Essay: Will You Be My Trad Guru?: The Importance of Apprenticeship in the Gym Climbing Era
3 Friction Hitches Every Climber Should Know — Auto-Block, Prusik, and Klemheist
Climber Confessional: On Listening to Your Gut and Your Child
Strategies for Safer Rappeling
“I Will Climb, Too” — A Story on Mentorship and Responsible Climbing
Climber Confessional: A Learning Experience in How Not to Use a GriGri
Nursery Rhymes, Biomechanics, and Bad Attitudes — Why I Stopped Climbing
How to Build Your First Trad Rack
Gear You Ought to Know: A Review of Sterling Rope’s Hollow Block
Get daily updates by Liking us on Facebook
Free rock climbing PDFs on technique, training, knots, and more

Tags from the story
,
More from Megan Walsh

Climber Confessional: Know Your Anchor Points Before Building One

Climbers often tend to embrace a Nike-like attitude of Just Do It!...
Read More
  • Simon Mentz

    Hi Megan, Loved your attitude of just going out and having a crack at leading trad. I actually teach climbing for a living, but will never criticise folk for showing some adventurous spirit and trying to teach themselves (even though it isn’t the most efficient way to learn). Sport climbers often only need a day or two of tuition before they can be cut loose, but a lot depends on the climbing area. If your local crag doesn’t have lots of quality beginner/intermediate routes, it can be a tough and potentially dangerous apprenticeship. I teach at Mt Arapiles in Australia which has awesome climbing at all grades and is heaven for people starting out on trad. It is worth considering a holiday to somewhere suitable so you can get plenty of mileage in to fine tune your skills without feeling like you are about to die every time.