Setting Anchor

The old mercury quarry on Mt St Helena in Sonoma is an ideal setting for an anchor class. Harrison Ford from Hood Mountain Adventures led the six students up the climbers trail, and talked to each of us about our goals for the class while we were on the way up. The quarry is a nice, shaded place with lots of cracks in the volcanic rocks from the dynamite work.

The anchor class started with the usual basics on cams and stoppers. How to place them, how to set them, choosing a size, avoiding over-camming, and cam walk. Harrison also went over his rack system, which I found very intuitive. Slings on each side in the harness: 1x length, 1.5x length, 2x length in each successive gear sling. On the rack, 2-3 cams/stoppers of neighboring sizes each on one carabiner. Some extra carabiners. Then, we had the task to take the complete rack and place every cam and stopper in the cracks. That section of the class ended with a thorough assessment of all our placements.

Next was how to build an equalized 3-point anchor. Discussion on 2-point anchor followed. Then about the knot: when to use one, and when it is not wise to use one. Using the rope weight to tighten the knot. Very impressive sample of a carabiner which had been used for rappelling; that piece was definitely not safe any longer! Also a section on what carabiner works well in which situation. Crossing gates, and how to clip a rope to avoid opening a gate.

Next up, knots. Clove hitch, Munter hitch, Prussik and their various uses. I especially liked how Harrison demonstrated how to use these knots in safety critical situations. Belay devices do get dropped: know your Munter. Accidents happen and one has to escape a belay: a Prussik is the tool to know.

Last, we simulated a multi-pitch climb at floor level:

  1. Start of climb (belay and anchor the belayer)
  2. Lead climber comes to top of pitch, builds anchor
  3. Lead climber belays follower from top
  4. 2nd climber arrives at top of pitch
  5. 2nd climber prepares to lead 2nd pitch
  6. rescue situations: escaping belay
We then paired up and practiced the whole scenario twice to reverse roles. When one does this exercise for the first time, especially at the end of a six-hour class full of information, it requires a lot of focus to keep track of all the rope etc. A few of us ended up “off belay” even! Good thing we fell 0.1 feet at most, could correct our errors, and develop a consistent system in a safe environment.
It was a well-spent Sunday afternoon in a beautiful environment. Good teaching, fun peers. We finished off with a Mexican dinner in Calistoga before trekking home to the Bay Area.
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One Response to Setting Anchor

  1. Aaron S. says:

    Good going, Tortoise!

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