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Gear Guy

Can I Girth Hitch a Sling to a Bolt Hanger?

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Thanks for doing what you do! I have a question: I was following a route, and when I arrived at the top, I saw that my partner had rigged the anchor by girth hitching a Dyneema sling to a bolt hanger. She clipped the second station bolt with a biner, and had extra locking biners on her harness. Is hitching a sling through a bolt hanger dangerous?

——Anthony Potter, via

I once got to a belay ledge at the end of a pitch and was completely out of gear except for one sling. This was a first ascent, so there weren’t any anchors. Without gear I couldn’t make an anchor. Was I screwed? No! I piled rocks on the ledge into a cairn, slung the cairn, and used it as a rappel anchor. If that ledge had had a two-bolt anchor and I’d had carabiners to clip them, would I have rapped off that rock pile? Heck no. That would have been crazy.

Your friend was crazy to girth hitch a bolt when she had extra carabiners. Bolt hangers, especially older ones, can have sharp edges that could cut a sling. Metolius does have the fat “rap hangers,” made for threading a rope straight through them. If you had to girth hitch through a hanger, that would be the type you’d want, and maybe that is what was up there and explains something.

Still, a girth hitch, like any knot or hitch, does cause stress concentration (the load gets focused on a pinch point), weakening whatever material the hitch is tied in. Using one of those carabiners on the rack to clip the hanger would have eliminated the chance of the sling cutting and stress concentration.

In a situation where you are out of carabiners, you do what you have to, and sometimes that is girth hitching a bolt. But when you have carabiners, use them. I can’t figure why your partner rigged the anchor the way she did. Maybe she didn’t know better, or was distracted. Ask her.

It sounds like you weren’t in danger. You were romping on toprope, so a load from a fall would have been light, and your belayer had a second bolt clipped. Then again, perhaps that second bolt was a rusty 1/4-Rawl drive from the 1970s, ready to snap under any load. Don’t ever assume any single piece of pro is bomber. Remember, safety is a choice. Gear Guy has spoken!

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 254 (November 2018).

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Feature image: Traversing high on the Lagginhorn, with Italy hidden beneath the layer of clouds. Photo: Jef Willemyns.