Learn to eval­u­ate an­chors with this 12-point rubric.



Many climbers use a rubric to help build solid an­chors. Guides and books of­ten talk about SERENE ( Se­cure/ Solid, Ef­fi­cient, Re­dun­dant, Equal­ized with No Ex­ten­sion) and ERNEST ( Equal­ized, Re­dun­dant, No Ex­ten­sion, Se­cure/ Solid, Timely). ( See our “Re­dun­dancy Vs. Equal­iza­tion”

Clinic on page 39 for more.) How­ever, while use­ful as guide­lines, these acronyms could stand to go deeper into the strength side of the dis­cus­sion. That’s where the 12- Point An­chor Rubric comes in: It as­signs a point value to each piece and aims for a min­i­mum to­tal score of 12. With a base­line strength as­cer­tained, you can then fo­cus on the SERENE/ ERNEST side of the equa­tion. Over the last 18 years, I’ve taught hun­dreds of climbers how to lead tra­di­tional climbs. This can be a nerve-wrack­ing process, as new lead­ers of­ten place poor pro­tec­tion. They need solid guid­ance as to what is good and what is bad. Weak pieces and an in­abil­ity to eval­u­ate the strength of a given piece can lead to weak an­chors. And of course, weak an­chors can lead to catas­tro­phe.

Years ago, I dis­cov­ered a para­graph in an old NOLS climb­ing-in­struc­tor man­ual con­cern­ing the 12-point sys­tem. It said this rubric was some­thing that a few in­struc­tors had used in the past, but that it never gained pop­u­lar­ity. I be­gan to ex­per­i­ment with the sys­tem in my in­struct­ing and found that stu­dents could eas­ily latch onto the rubric to build effective an­chors. Stu­dents need sim­plic­ity. They need some­thing they can un­der­stand. And, most im­por­tantly, they need some­thing to keep them safe when they are on their own. The 12-point sys­tem al­lows for all of that.

Many in­struc­tors teach new lead­ers that an an­chor should be com­posed of three good pieces. There is cer­tainly value in this as a guide­line. How­ever, the prob­lem with this is that stu­dents some­times for­get the “good” part of the three­piece an­chor equa­tion. A three-piece an­chor is to­tally in­ad­e­quate if the in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents are un­re­li­able.

The 12-point con­cept both sup­ports and un­der­cuts the three-piece an­chor stan­dard. It sup­ports it by say­ing that if you can get three 4-point pieces, for a to­tal of 12 points, then you have a solid an­chor. How­ever, it un­der­cuts it by say­ing that some pieces might not ac­tu­ally be val­ued at 4 points, mean­ing you’ll have to be ready to im­pro­vise.

There are three ad­di­tional con­sid­er­a­tions for new lead­ers to con­sider: 1) The in­di­vid­ual pieces within an an­chor must be good. In other words, they have to be placed ap­pro­pri­ately to achieve their full point sta­tus (cams are not un­der- or over-cammed, cam lobes have ap­pro­pri­ate con­tact, wired nuts are slot­ted with good sur­face con­tact, etc.). 2) The rock must be re­li­able—con­sider its den­sity and over­all strength (gran­ite tends to be stronger than sand­stone, etc.). And, 3) due to weird rock, flar­ing cracks, or a lack of pieces that fit prop­erly, you may not be able to build a 12-point an­chor with three pieces. The rock may force you to use four, five, or even six pieces to

achieve your ob­jec­tive.

Mean­while, in the alpine, it may be im­pos­si­ble or too in­ef­fi­cient to build a 12-point an­chor. For ex­am­ple, the ter­rain might force you to build a two-piece an­chor. To in­crease se­cu­rity in this sit­u­a­tion, you can clip into this an­chor and then be­lay di­rectly off your be­lay loop, es­sen­tially us­ing your body and stance to “add” 4 points. There’s noth­ing in­her­ently wrong with this, and in­deed, it’s ac­tu­ally quite strong. The 12-point rubric and the old “Three Pieces for an An­chor” idea were de­vel­oped for be­gin­ning lead­ers. As you gain ex­pe­ri­ence and moun­tain sense, it be­comes eas­ier to im­pro­vise in dif­fi­cult ter­rain. A tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient climber knows the rules so that she can break them safely.

An­chor pro­fi­ciency doesn’t come overnight. New lead­ers should build dozens of an­chors on the ground be­fore ven­tur­ing up into real ter­rain, and ide­ally this is done with men­tor­ship. The Moun­tain Gear Red Rock Ren­dezvous pro­vides ad­di­tional in­struc­tion, with cour­ses on mul­ti­p­itch ef­fi­ciency, tra­di­tional an­chors for the trad leader, be­gin­ner move­ment, and toprope an­chors.

+4 points +4 points +4 points THREE-PIECE AN­CHOR: An equal­ized an­chor with three good pieces will pro­vide you with 12-point se­cu­rity.

ALPINE AN­CHOR: Alpine an­chors are of­ten just two cams, mean­ing they pro­vide only 8 points of se­cu­rity. To add 4 more points, find a good stance, clip into the an­chor, and be­lay di­rectly off your be­lay loop.

FOUR-PIECE AN­CHOR: You may need to place more small pieces to have a 12-point an­chor. In this photo, we see four pieces placed “in se­ries” to get the an­chor to 12 points.

FIVE-PIECE AN­CHOR: You may need to place even more small pieces to have a 12-point an­chor. In this photo, we see five pieces placed to get the an­chor to 12 points.

JA­SON D. MARTIN is a writer, AMGA Cer­ti­fied Rock Guide, gen­eral man­ager at the Amer­i­can Alpine In­sti­tute, and the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor for the Red Rock Ren­dezvous.

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