Building climbing anchors is like painting a masterpiece. A splash of creativity here, a dash of technical skill there, and a bunch of creative and critical thinking mixed into it all. There is no such thing as a one size fits all anchor. Every route we climb is going to require a slightly different twist on the skills we already have dialed in. With more and more people venturing from the climbing gym to the outdoors, it's more important now than ever to really understand technical climbing skills (especially anchors) and how to critically think about the technique or tool we have chosen to use in any given situation.
In this blog post, I'll dig a little deeper into three different types of sport climbing anchors and their uses, as well as the pros and cons of each one. Want to learn more about some unique anchor setups? Download a free infographic here from one of our AMGA Certified Rock Guides.
A Quick Refresher on Climbing Anchors
Simply put, anchors are what keep climbers attached to the wall. As a good rule, they have to be unquestionably strong given the terrain you're climbing. Generally speaking, anchors are comprised of components, which make up legs, that all come together in what is called the master point or power point.
These can be removable pieces of trad gear, bolts, pitons, trees/boulders, or any other natural or artificial protection.
Some sort of material that is used to connect all the different components together. Legs can be soft goods (like nylon or dyneema), or even hard goods such as metal carabiners.
This is where we connect ourselves or the rope. If it's a toprope setup, we normally have two locking carabiners faced opposite and opposed. If it is a multipitch anchor, we clip one locking carabiner to the masterpoint and clove hitch ourselves to it.
We can do a lot of things wrong throughout a day of climbing, but building strong anchors is not one of them. We also want to strive for simple and efficient anchors. What's that old saying, "Keep it simple stupid?" I definitely feel like this applies to anchor building, especially when people are newer to the craft. There's no sense in building the world's most complex anchor when there are many simpler and more efficient solutions out there. Check out the picture below: what the heck is going on there? This anchor looks like it's right out of a sci-fi movie! There's probably a simpler and more efficient way to build an anchor with two bolts!
Three climbing anchors you should know
The Two Quickdraw Anchor
Ahh the classic two quickdraw anchor. Simple and effective, this anchor should be a staple in every climbers toolbox. It's important to note that the carabiners which hold the rope should be opposite and opposed.
A great anchor to lower off the route with (especially when every climber is going to lead the route)
Works great when the bolts are placed horizontally
You don't need any additional anchor building material
Very quick and strong
Only equalized in one direction of pull
Probably not the best anchor setup if you plan to top rope on it all day
Doesn't work well on bolts that are offset from one another or bolts that are staggered in a vertical orientation
No locking carabiners to give that "warm, fuzzy feeling"
Maybe a better setup could look something like this:
The addition of the locker draw adds a lot of security to this anchor. Some people even use two locker draws instead of regular quickdraws here.
The Locking Master Carabiner
Sometimes, using cordellette or slings brings your masterpoint down to a level that is really tough to work from. Enter the Master Carabiner! This is a perfect anchor configuration for setups where we need to keep our masterpoint high but our anchor components are low down to the ground or ledge we're standing on. We generally don't see this style of anchor for single pitch cragging as it's more often found on longer multipitch routes.
Super fast to setup and breakdown
No extension if a leg (bolt) does happen to fail
Requires only one locking carabiner
Only one locking carabiner makes up this anchor (concerns with redundancy? We have to critically think about the terrain below us!)
We have to have a bolted anchor setup that facilitates this setup
Potential for tri-axial loading of the master carabiner (we have to critically think about what the anticipated force will be and if that force should be a concern)
The Two Point Pre-Equalized Anchor
If you've ever taken an anchor building class, then you've probably seen this one. Heck, even if you've spent some time at the local crag or read an anchor building book, I bet you've seen a setup like this. This is considered by many to be the classic anchor with two legs, and a redundant masterpoint created by some sort of knot.
No extension at all if either leg of the anchor is compromised
Redundant legs and master point
Works great for all different types of bolted anchor setups
Only equalized in one direction of pull
We use more material and carabiners to build this anchor
Can be tricky to find the anticipated direction of pull
Can be very difficult to untie after a bunch of laps
There you have it...three different ways to build an anchor off of a two bolt setup. Remember, every scenario is going to be a little different so we can mix and match techniques to suit the climb we're on. Biggest takeaway? Unquestionably strong anchors!
Need a refresher on anchor building? Check out our Anchors Class and Trad Climbing Class. Ready for some more info on anchor building? Download our Unique Anchors Infographic by clicking the button below.
Curious about building anchors? Want to learn more? I'd love to get out with you and work on building anchors to take your climbing to the next level. Drop me a line Here to ask questions or to inquire about a class. Hope to see you out there!
Written by Ben Coryell
AMGA Certified Rock Guide and Owner of Golden Mountain Guides