Build­ing an Or­ga­nized Big-Wall An­chor


With big-wall climb­ing, tech­ni­cal skills are more im­por­tant than how hard you climb—suc­cess de­pends on sev­eral mi­cro-sys­tems work­ing to­gether si­mul­ta­ne­ously to­ward one goal. One crit­i­cal mi­cro-sys­tem is an­chor or­ga­ni­za­tion and man­age­ment, which will help you stay safe and move ef­fi­ciently, so that you and your part­ner aren’t restack­ing your rope a dozen times or spend­ing hours at the an­chor un­clip­ping and re­clip­ping things amidst a snarl of ropes, haulbags, and gear. As an ex­am­ple, if you are climb­ing a 20-pitch route and sharpen your sys­tems enough to cut 10 min­utes off at each be­lay, you’ll save three-plus hours. This is a les­son I’ve learned af­ter var­i­ous trips up El Cap, in­clud­ing a re­cent as­cent of Zo­diac in-a-day.

Most trade routes in Yosemite, such as the Nose, have bomber three­bolt be­lays. As­sum­ing this as the stan­dard, your an­chor kit should con­sist of:

Two pre-rigged 6 or 7 mm cordelettes, each with a fig­ure eight on a bight in each end (not a con­tin­u­ous loop tied to­gether) 8–12 lock­ing cara­bin­ers, at least 4 of them large lock­ers 5–7 stan­dard bin­ers for var­i­ous clip-off needs


When you reach the an­chor, clip both daisy chains into a hard point so you’re safe while get­ting or­ga­nized. Then take a mo­ment to stop, breathe, and visu­al­ize where ev­ery­thing will go.

1 With your cordelette, use non­lock­ing cara­bin­ers to clip one end to the left bolt and the other to the right bolt us­ing the pre-rigged bights.

2 Tie a clove hitch in the mid­dle of your cordelette and clip that to the cen­ter bolt with a locker—this helps you ad­just the an­chor length to your needs.

3 Equal­ize and tie an alpine but­ter­fly knot be­tween the first two bolts and again be­tween the sec­ond two bolts. I pre­fer an alpine but­ter­fly be­cause it’s eas­ier to un­tie af­ter be­ing weighted than a fig­ure 8—go on­line for knot-ty­ing beta if you’re not fa­mil­iar with the but­ter­fly. Now you have two equal­ized master points.

4 Clip a large locker to each master point and lock the gate. Any­thing you clip in will be to one of th­ese large lock­ers in­stead of the cord. The lock­ers act as rig­ging plates, en­abling you to clip mul­ti­ple things without pin­ning items (or peo­ple).

5 Clip your­self into both master points and yell down, “Off be­lay!”


Now it’s time to get your an­chor tidy and or­ga­nized for max ef­fi­ciency.

1 Look down to see where your part­ner will be jug­ging up; pull up the lead line and fix it to which­ever master point makes the most sense. (Fix the lead line first, then the haul line. If you aren’t able to com­mu­ni­cate with your be­layer, he will know that the lead line is fixed when you pull up the haul line.) Let’s say your part­ner will be as­cend­ing from the right—fix him to the right master point with an alpine but­ter­fly and save the left master point for haul­ing.

2 Clip a back-up (fig­ure eight on a bight) for the fol­lower onto the left master point, so he’s into both sys­tems.

3 You can now use the left master point for haul­ing, without wor­ry­ing about the ropes cross­ing or rub­bing each other. To be­gin, do not keep the end of the haul line on your har­ness—be­fore haul­ing, I’ll clip the end of the haul line to the other master point in case the haul­ing de­vice fails. Af­ter you’ve hauled, be in­ten­tional when dock­ing your haulbag—ideally it will be un­der­neath ev­ery­thing, mak­ing it one of the last things you’ll un­clip and let­ting you keep your per­sonal an­chor sys­tem/daisies on top to eas­ily ad­just or un­clip. (As men­tioned ear­lier, the large cara­bin­ers should help you to not jam things atop one an­other.) If the suc­ceed­ing an­chor ap­pears off to the left, dock the bag on the left master point. As your part­ner low­ers the bag out, it won’t fall on him or get clus­tered.

4 When you take off lead­ing the next pitch, your fol­lower is left with a tidy an­chor he can eas­ily dis­as­sem­ble. Re­mem­ber to take the sec­ond (spare) cordelette setup with you for the next an­chor.

ALEXA FLOWER works on Yosemite Search and Res­cue dur­ing the sum­mer and ski pa­trols i n Colorado dur­ing the win­ter. She has climbed more than 20 big walls i n Yosemite, i nclud­ing El Cap­i­tan 12 times.

Cord clipped w/ non­lock­ers Locker + clove hitch Master­point for jug­ging + haul-line backup Master­point for haul­ing + lead-line backup Sec­ond arrives to or­ga­nized an­chor

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