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Gear Guy

Chain or Quicklink Anchors?

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I’ve started to bolt routes, and wonder why I should pay the extra for an anchor with chains, when I could just put a quicklink on each anchor-station bolt.

—Thor Stewarg

Climbing equipment isn’t like prescription drugs. Generic isn’t as good as the real thing. A purpose-built anchor such as the sundry rigs from ClimbTech is superior in many ways to slapping some junk together yourself and yelling, “Take.” ClimbTech anchor components are built for climbing. The links you get at the hardware store may or may not be trusty: Quality varies, and the fact that you don’t know the difference means you should buy gear from a company that does understand.

So there’s that.

Then, there’s the problem of putting a single quicklink on each station bolt. To use that station, you have to untie, thread the rope, and retie to lower or thread the rope for a rappel. Climbers die every year when they either make a mistake somewhere during this process or miscommunicate with the belayer, who has mistakenly taken off the belay. Links with fixed carabiners, or chains with fixed carabiners, let you simply clip and lower, avoiding the danger of threading. This type of anchor costs more, but the price pales next to that of a life.

The other beauty of the sexy chain is that it swivels, minimizing kinking the rope. When the rope runs directly through quicklinks on bolts, the sharp angles in the rope will twist and snarl it. Amazingly so.

When I drilled my first bolt, in 1977, I learned on the fly. I had the right bolt, but the drill was the sort for metal, not stone. After a couple of hours of determined whacking, I had half a hole and banged in the bolt. Terrifying stuff, but more so for the people who came after and clipped the Rawl stud placed by an angst-ridden 17-year-old A&W fry cook.

That was then, back when you could climb for four years and not see another roped team. Climbing instruction? What was that? Today, with the abundance of climbing instructors and information available from groups such as the Anchor Replacement Initiative (ARI), there’s no reason to teach yourself to climb or place bolts and anchors. Since you are interested in putting up routes and drilling anchors, seek expert advice and don’t skimp. Next!

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 256 (March 2019).

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