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Artificial Anchors

Using artificial anchors becomes necessary when natural anchors are unavailable. The art of choosing and placing good anchors requires a great deal of practice and experience. Artificial anchors are available in many different types such as pitons, chocks, hexcentrics, and SLCDs. Anchor strength varies greatly; the type used depends on the terrain, equipment, and the load to be placed on it.


A "deadman" anchor is any solid object buried in the ground and used as an anchor.

a. An object that has a large surface area and some length to it works best. (A hefty timber, such as a railroad tie, would be ideal.) Large boulders can be used, as well as a bundle of smaller tree limbs or poles. As with natural anchors, ensure timbers and tree limbs are not dead or rotting and that boulders are solid. Equipment, such as skis, ice axes, snowshoes, and ruck sacks, can also be used if necessary.

b. In extremely hard, rocky terrain (where digging a trench would be impractical, if not impossible) a variation of the deadman anchor can be constructed by building above the ground. The sling is attached to the anchor, which is set into the ground as deeply as possible. Boulders are then stacked on top of it until the anchor is strong enough for the load. Though normally not as strong as when buried, this method can work well for light-load installations as in anchoring a hand line for a stream crossing.

Note: Artificial anchors, such as pitons and bolts, are not widely accepted for use in all areas because of the scars they leave on the rock and the environment. Often they are left in place and become unnatural, unsightly fixtures in the natural environment. For training planning, local laws and courtesies should be taken into consideration for each area of operation.


Pitons have been in use for over 100 years. Although still available, pitons are not used as often as other types of artificial anchors due primarily to their impact on the environment. Most climbers prefer to use chocks, SLCDs and other artificial anchors rather than pitons because they do not scar the rock and are easier to remove. Eye protection should always be worn when driving a piton into rock.

Note: The proper use and placement of pitons, as with any artificial anchor, should be studied, practiced, and tested while both feet are firmly on the ground and there is no danger of a fall.

a. Advantages. Some advantages in using pitons are:

  • Depending on type and placement, pitons can support multiple directions of pull.
  • Pitons are less complex than other types of artificial anchors.
  • Pitons work well in thin cracks where other types of artificial anchors do not.

b. Disadvantages. Some disadvantages in using pitons are:

  • During military operations, the distinct sound created when hammering pitons is a tactical disadvantage.
  • Due to the expansion force of emplacing a piton, the rock could spread apart or break causing an unsafe condition.
  • Pitons are more difficult to remove than other types of artificial anchors.
  • Pitons leave noticeable scars on the rock.
  • Pitons are easily dropped if not tied off when being used.

c. Piton Placement. The proper positioning or placement of pitons is critical. (Figure 5-12 shows examples of piton placement.) Usually a properly sized piton for a rock crack will fit one half to two thirds into the crack before being driven with the piton hammer. This helps ensure the depth of the crack is adequate for the size piton selected. As pitons are driven into the rock the pitch or sound that is made will change with each hammer blow, becoming higher pitched as the piton is driven in.

(1) Test the rock for soundness by tapping with the hammer. Driving pitons in soft or rotten rock is not recommended. When this type of rock must be used, clear the loose rock, dirt, and debris from the crack before driving the piton completely in.

(2) While it is being driven, attach the piton to a sling with a carabiner (an old carabiner should be used, if available) so that if the piton is knocked out of the crack, it will not be lost. The greater the resistance overcome while driving the piton, the firmer the anchor will be. The holding power depends on the climber placing the piton in a sound crack, and on the type of rock. The piton should not spread the rock, thereby loosening the emplacement.

Note: Pitons that have rings as attachment points might not display much change in sound as they are driven in as long as the ring moves freely.

Figure 5-12. Examples of piton placements.

Figure 5-12. Examples of piton placements.

(3) Military mountaineers should practice emplacing pitons using either hand. Sometimes a piton cannot be driven completely into a crack, because the piton is too long. Therefore, it should be tied off using a hero-loop (an endless piece of webbing) (Figure 5-13). Attach this loop to the piton using a girth hitch at the point where the piton enters the rock so that the girth hitch is snug against the rock. Clip a carabiner into the loop.

Figure 5-13. Hero-loop.

Figure 5-13. Hero-loop.

d. Testing. To test pitons pull up about 1 meter of slack in the climbing rope or use a sling. Insert this rope into a carabiner attached to the piton, then grasp the rope at least 1/2 meter from the carabiner. Jerk vigorously upward, downward, to each side, and then outward while observing the piton for movement. Repeat these actions as many times as necessary. Tap the piton to determine if the pitch has changed. If the pitch has changed greatly, drive the piton in as far as possible. If the sound regains its original pitch, the emplacement is probably safe. If the piton shows any sign of moving or if, upon driving it, there is any question of its soundness, drive it into another place. Try to be in a secure position before testing. This procedure is intended for use in testing an omni-directional anchor (one that withstands a pull in any direction). When a directional anchor (pull in one direction) is used, as in most free and direct-aid climbing situations, and when using chocks, concentrate the test in the direction that force will be applied to the anchor.

e. Removing Pitons. Attach a carabiner and sling to the piton before removal to eliminate the chance of dropping and losing it. Tap the piton firmly along the axis of the crack in which it is located. Alternate tapping from both sides while applying steady pressure. Pulling out on the attached carabiner eventually removes the piton (Figure 5-14).

Figure 5-14. Piton removal.

Figure 5-14. Piton removal.

f. Reusing Pitons. Soft iron pitons that have been used, removed, and straightened may be reused, but they must be checked for strength. In training areas, pitons already in place should not be trusted since weather loosens them in time. Also, they may have been driven poorly the first time. Before use, test them as described above and drive them again until certain of their soundness.


Chock craft has been in use for many decades. A natural chockstone, having fallen and wedged in a crack, provides an excellent anchor point. Sometimes these chockstones are in unstable positions, but can be made into excellent anchors with little adjustment. Chock craft is an art that requires time and technique to master—simple in theory, but complex in practice. Imagination and resourcefulness are key principles to chock craft. The skilled climber must understand the application of mechanical advantage, vectors, and other forces that affect the belay chain in a fall.

a. Advantages. The advantages of using chocks are:

  • Tactically quiet installation and recovery.
  • Usually easy to retrieve and, unless severely damaged, are reusable.
  • Light to carry.
  • Easy to insert and remove.
  • Minimal rock scarring as opposed to pitons.
  • Sometimes can be placed where pitons cannot (expanding rock flakes where pitons would further weaken the rock).

b. Disadvantages. The disadvantages of using chocks are:

  • May not fit in thin cracks, which may accept pitons.
  • Often provide only one direction of pull.
  • Practice and experience necessary to become proficient in proper placement.

c. Placement. The principles of placing chocks are to find a crack with a constriction at some point, place a chock of appropriate size above and behind the constriction, and set the chock by jerking down on the chock loop (Figure 5-15). Maximum surface contact with a tight fit is critical. Chocks are usually good for a single direction of pull.

Figure 5-15. Chock placements.

Figure 5-15. Chock placements.

(1) Avoid cracks that have crumbly (soft) or deteriorating rock, if possible. Some cracks may have loose rock, grass, and dirt, which should be removed before placing the chock. Look for a constriction point in the crack, then select a chock to fit it.

(2) When selecting a chock, choose one that has as much surface area as possible in contact with the rock. A chock resting on one small crystal or point of rock is likely to be unsafe. A chock that sticks partly out of the crack is avoided. Avoid poor protection. Ensure that the chock has a wire or runner long enough; extra ropes, cord, or webbing may be needed to extend the length of the runner.

(3) End weighting of the placement helps to keep the protection in position. A carabiner often provides enough weight

(4) Parallel-sided cracks without constrictions are a problem. Chocks designed to be used in this situation rely on camming principles to remain emplaced. Weighting the emplacement with extra hardware is often necessary to keep the chocks from dropping out.

(a) Emplace the wedge-shaped chock above and behind the constriction; seat it with a sharp downward tug.

(b) Place a camming chock with its narrow side into the crack, then rotate it to the attitude it will assume under load; seat it with a sharp downward tug.

d. Testing. After seating a chock, test it to ensure it remains in place. A chock that falls out when the climber moves past it is unsafe and offers no protection. To test it, firmly pull the chock in every anticipated direction of pull. Some chock placements fail in one or more directions; therefore, use pairs of chocks in opposition.

Spring-Loaded Camming Device

The SLCD offers quick and easy placement of artificial protection. It is well suited in awkward positions and difficult placements, since it can be emplaced with one hand. It can usually be placed quickly and retrieved easily (Figure 5-16).

Figure 5-16. SLCD placements.

Figure 5-16. SLCD placements.

a. To emplace an SLCD hold the device in either hand like a syringe, pull the retractor bar back, place the device into a crack, and release the retractor bar. The SLCD holds well in parallel-sided hand- and fist-sized cracks. Smaller variations are available for finger-sized cracks.

b. Careful study of the crack should be made before selecting the device for emplacement. It should be placed so that it is aligned in the direction of force applied to it. It should not be placed any deeper than is needed for secure placement, since it may be impossible to reach the extractor bar for removal. An SLCD should be extended with a runner and placed so that the direction of pull is parallel to the shaft; otherwise, it may rotate and pull out. The versions that have a semi-rigid wire cable shaft allow for greater flexibility and usage, without the danger of the shaft snapping off in a fall.


Bolts are often used in fixed-rope installations and in aid climbing where cracks are not available.

a. Bolts provide one of the most secure means of establishing protection. The rock should be inspected for evidence of crumbling, flaking, or cracking, and should be tested with a hammer. Emplacing a bolt with a hammer and a hand drill is a time-consuming and difficult process that requires drilling a hole in the rock deeper than the length of the bolt. This normally takes more than 20 minutes for one hole. Electric or even gas-powered drills can be used to greatly shorten drilling time. However, their size and weight can make them difficult to carry on the climbing route.

b. A hanger (carrier) and nut are placed on the bolt, and the bolt is inserted and then driven into the hole. A climber should never hammer on a bolt to test or "improve" it, since this permanently weakens it. Bolts should be used with carriers, carabiners, and runners.

c. When using bolts, the climber uses a piton hammer and hand drill with a masonry bit for drilling holes. Some versions are available in which the sleeve is hammered and turned into the rock (self-drilling), which bores the hole. Split bolts and expanding sleeves are common bolts used to secure hangers and carriers (Figure 5-17). Surgical tubing is useful in blowing dust out of the holes. Nail type bolts are emplaced by driving the nail with a hammer to expand the sleeve against the wall of the drilled hole. Safety glasses should always be worn when emplacing bolts.

Figure 5-17. Bolt with expanding sleeve.

Figure 5-17. Bolt with expanding sleeve.

Equalizing Anchors

Equalizing anchors are made up of more than one anchor point joined together so that the intended load is shared equally. This not only provides greater anchor strength, but also adds redundancy or backup because of the multiple points.

a. Self-equalizing Anchor. A self-equalizing anchor will maintain an equal load on each individual point as the direction of pull changes (Figure 5-18). This is sometimes used in rappelling when the route must change left or right in the middle of the rappel. A self-equalizing anchor should only be used when necessary because if any one of the individual points fail, the anchor will extend and shock-load the remaining points or even cause complete anchor failure.

Figure 5-18. Self-equalizing anchors.

Figure 5-18. Self-equalizing anchors.

b. Pre-equalized Anchor. A pre-equalized anchor distributes the load equally to each individual point (Figure 5-19). It is aimed in the direction of the load. A pre-equalized anchor prevents extension and shock-loading of the anchor if an individual point fails. An anchor is pre-equalized by tying an overhand or figure-eight knot in the webbing or sling.

Figure 5-19. Pre-equalized anchor.

Figure 5-19. Pre-equalized anchor.

Note: When using webbing or slings, the angles of the webbing or slings directly affect the load placed on an anchor. An angle greater than 90 degrees can result in anchor failure (Figure 5-20).

Figure 5-20. Effects of angles on an anchor.

Figure 5-20. Effects of angles on an anchor.

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