Oh, the personal anchor system (PAS)! A piece of equipment that is viewed as essential, practical, and on the list of what every beginner should buy. It is a piece of climbing gear that is seen as being useful in almost every situation. Anchors can be cleaned with it, it is easy to extend a belay device to rappel with a PAS, and, oddly enough, I’ve seen it used in multiple anchors to equalize pieces.
Using a PAS to equalize anchors seems odd to me because it only gives you the option to make macro length adjustments. Only a few, well-spaced, bolts allow anchors to be set up this way. When setting up most anchors, a double-length sling is much more versatile than a PAS. The sling is able to be finely adjusted when equalizing the anchor. This adjustability provides flexibility in choosing what method you want to use to set up your anchor.
While I believe the personal anchor system has its time and place, in general, PAS’s are nuisances and should be eliminated from a climber’s pack.
A PAS is fine for single-pitch cleaning … but unnecessary
First, it is important to highlight that there definitely are situations in which a PAS should be employed. Namely, single pitch anchor cleaning. If someone isn’t comfortable using multiple, opposing quickdraws to anchor themselves in, then, by all means, the PAS can be utilized. It is simple, straightforward, and for most people, always at the ready on their harness.
Using it properly, a PAS can expedite the anchor cleaning process, allowing more pitches to be climbed in a day.
That said, many climbing areas now have permanent carabiners at the tops of the climbs so cleaning the anchors is no longer required. For those climbing areas, the PAS should be left at home.
With the implementation of larger rings at anchor chains, the PAS can again be eliminated. In this case, the climber can go in direct with a couple of quickdraws linked together. Then feed a bight of rope through the rings, tie a figure eight on a bight, and clip into this bight with a locking carabiner connected to the belay loop. Then the climber can untie their initial tie-in knot and lower. With this method, the climber is always attached to the rope.
This allows a less secure attachment system—like linked quickdraws—to be utilized instead of a PAS with locking carabiners because the rope adds redundancy into the system.
Note: for learning this method of anchor cleaning, it is important to reach out to a qualified climbing gym or climbing guide. Also, it must be acknowledged that many areas, like the majority of Montana’s climbing, do not have these larger rings in place.
To reiterate though, for beginner climbers or those climbing in older developed areas, the PAS can sometimes be argued to be useful.
Or, be a strategic climber, lead all the climbs, and force your partner to clean … therefore eliminating the need for the PAS.
Multi-pitch climbing? Leave the PAS at home
When multi-pitch climbing the PAS is unnecessary.
Climbers generally carry a multitude of locking carabiners with them. It is very easy to clip into the anchor with a locking carabiner and secure yourself with a clove hitch.
Not only does using a clove hitch eliminate the need and therefore the weight of the PAS, but tying in directly with the clove hitch allows for an even greater range of length adjustment than a PAS. A climber can be as close or as far from the anchor as they need with a clove hitch. This is an important consideration when multi-pitch climbing due to the need to increase efficiency at the belay stations.
Dragging the PAS out from sitting underneath a plethora of trad climbing gear is frustrating and slower than tying a clove hitch. Then, when it is time to lead a pitch, getting the PAS back under all that trad gear again takes time and effort.
A lack of style points
If you fall into the population that wears their PAS as a G-string, then we have a whole other conversation at hand. As Conrad Anker once told me when I wore my PAS in the G-String style:
We will not continue to climb together if you continue to keep your tether like that.
I stopped using a PAS that day. Climbing is, first and foremost, all about style and the G-string PAS is not in line with good style.
Unnecessary for rappelling
Furthermore with multi-pitch climbing, when it comes time to rappel, the PAS is simply excessive.
Trad climbers carry countless slings on their harnesses at any given time. When it is time to go down, transferring one of these from an alpine draw to a rappel setup takes practically no time. Don’t look for a specific sling, but rather use the closest one at hand. This keeps the weight down and keeps it simple.
If you know how to clean sport climbing anchors without a PAS, go ahead and do yourself a favor by not buying a PAS. I have one that has been sitting in my gear room for two years not being utilized and I’ve managed just fine.
Obviously, regardless of the system you use, make sure it is safe. Stop frequently and think, “Is this safe?” If your answer isn’t a resounding yes, reevaluate your set up and find something that works for you.
Just don’t let that system be a PAS G-string …
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