The Masters

Jeff Ward - IFMGA/AMGA Guide

Jeff Ward is an IFMGA-licensed and AMGA-certified Alpine, Ski and Rock Guide. He grew up in the Northwest and is co-owner of North Cascades Mountain Guides ( based in Mazama. Ward is a lead instructor for the American Mountain Guides Association and serves on their technical committee.

Martin Volken - IFMGA Guide

Martin Volken is the founder and owner of Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend, WA. He is a certified IFMGA Swiss Mountain Guide and guides over 120 days per year in North America and Europe as a ski, rock and alpine guide. Volken has pioneered several steep ski descents, ski traverses, alpine and rock routes in the Washington Cascades. He has been a member of the AMGA examiner team since 2000 and has authored and co-authored three books on ski touring and ski mountaineering.

Got a question about climbing? Submit your question in the Ask the Master forum and either Jeff Ward or Martin Volken will supply the answer.

How to Place an Ice Screw
How to Place an Ice Screw

Master Class: Non-Standard Anchor Equalization Strategies

By Jeff Ward (AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide)

Illustrations by Samantha Zimmerman

MOST CLIMBERS ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE CORDELETTE and the Quad (RI No. 237) for equalizing belay anchors. These are good systems, and you should carry one of them in your bag of tricks. Nonetheless, you can unexpectedly find yourself having to build an anchor on an ice or alpine route, and out of slings and cord. Even on rock routes you might have to fashion an impromptu belay from random gear at hand. Then what?

Then, you can use one of the following alternative equalization techniques.


[1-4] One of the cleanest forms of equalization is to clip pieces of protection in a vertical series. Most cams have multiple clip- in points at varying heights. Cams with a thumb loop and sling, for example, have four places you can clip to help you equalize the load. There are the thumb loop, the sling, the bottom carabiner, and finally, you can clip both of the slings together. These multiple clip-in points let you place pro in a crack then adjust a piece up or down to equalize the anchor with no extra gear. If both pieces are solid, you have an equalized anchor with a masterpoint. When you adjust one or both of the placements, take care not to sacrifice the security of a placement to get better equalization. If you are compromising the placement to make this technique work, then it isn’t the technique for the situation.

<strong>[1]</strong> Clipping the sling on one piece and the thumb loop on the other one. <strong>[2]</strong> Both cam slings joined with a carabiner to equalize.

























<strong>[3]</strong> One sling extended with a carabiner. <strong>[4]</strong> Both slings clipped at the same height.




























[5] One of my favorite variations on this style of equalization is to place a nut and a cam in the same constriction. Typically the nut sits lower in the placement with the cam above it. This often lets you easily equalize by clipping the cam sling and the wire and subtly moving the cam where needed. Depending on anticipated loads and the quality of the placements, this technique can be used as the anchor or as one leg of an equalized anchor that uses a cordelette or Quad.

[6] Using this system of equalization often puts all of your pieces in close proximity to each other. You must be certain that the rock is totally solid. If in doubt you can separate the two pieces by extending the distance between them with a shoulder-length sling or even a quickdraw or two if needed. If you join two quickdraws, remove the top carabiner on the bottom draw and clip the top draw through the empty pocket to avoid a carabiner-on-carabiner connection, which could twist and unclip.


<strong>[5]</strong> A cam and a nut using the same placement. Move the cam up or down to equalize the two pieces. <strong>[6]</strong> Using a quickdraw to separate two placements that are farther apart.




























<strong>[7]</strong> A     variation for ice screws, where you need distance between the screws to prevent them from fracturing across to each other.[7] On ice, you can use the same system by placing your first screw and then measuring two quickdraw lengths above it, marking that spot and placing a second, higher screw so when it is clipped with a double or long alpine draw its bottom carabiner is level with the clipping hole on the lower ice screw.

Practice this and the other equalization methods, and you will learn to quickly see placements that will allow for this type of equalization. Be careful while you are practicing an unfamiliar system, and take the time to get it just right. Better yet, get training from a solid mentor or certified guide.


Also read Climbing Anchors and the Evolution of the Quad















This article originally appeared in Rock and Ice issue 240 (February 2017).

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