Part #1 What and Why
Ground anchors can be defined as rig (climbing materials) used to connect a climber to the ground to ensure the belayers position remain intact. Many climbers, myself included, do not utilize this tool even when its employment may be prudent.
When are ground anchors prudent?
* Ground anchors are not just for belayers smaller than the climbers they are belaying. In fact, just this season I have witnessed two small accidents and heard of 4 other more serious accidents that could possibly have been prevented if the team climbing together where using a ground anchor. The kicker is, the climbers in these incidents were all of similar size.
Ground Anchors are prudent any time a belayer’s stance may become compromised due to any innumerable events that could occur during a belay. ( i.e. falling backwards down a hill or cliff; getting pulled up, right or left; getting pulled forward, etc) These examples may seem elementary, but not all circumstances are easily identified, and the next two anecdotes will hopefully help illustrate such cases.
Anecdote #1: (sorry not photos to go along with this story)
While climbing in Western Mass in late April, a group of climbers descended on one of the only dry + moderate sections of cliff. The center of the cliff had a flat dry area to stand, stage, and belay from. The flanks of the cliff had muddy, slippery, steep approaches. From the flat spot to the cliff edge up the slipperiness was about 12 – 18 feet depending on exact location. About 50% of the group were wearing footwear that included; flip-flops, Crocks, chaco’s, and a threadbare pair of Chucks. Two of the team members decided to climb the right most route, a moderate clip up, with a mid way crux. The team preceded to crawl the 15 feet up the hill only to stand on top of one another while the rope was flaked and climbing shoes were put on. “On belay?” “Belay on.” “Climbing.” “…” Three or four bolts up the belayer slips and begins to slide down the hill pulling the leader off the route. The rope was pulled tight on the climber unexpectedly and rapidly, creating a forceful swing into the wall. The climber hit her knee cap and twisted her ankle, but was otherwise okay. No evac. or medical attention was needed.
After the incident was over and they had cleared the area, my partner and I climbed the route, and with a tri-cam we where easily able to create a ground anchor preventing this incident from occurring.
While climbing at Rumney, at Jimmy Cliff, on the far right hand side is a route called “Lonesome Dove”. A beautiful 5.10a thin slabby route with lots of interesting climbing. The base of the route can be characterized as a short, steep, and rugged gully. At the base of the gully exists a beautiful place to stand. The only unfortunate part of this is that in the event of a leader fall, the belayer can be dragged forward into the gully, loosing his/her footing and compromising the belay. Thats exactly what happened one week ago, when a belayer was pulled forward into the gully and was left with some cuts, scrapes, and bruises. The climber wasn’t to happy to have fallen so big on a slab route ether. Good thing that the belay was using an assisted breaking device which held the lead fall, because when everything came to a stop, the break hand was not maintained. If a tubular device was being used, this would have resulted in a ground fall from about 40 feet.
The two solutions to this problem are to (A) belay in the gully, which may present some issues of its own, but I have seen successful catches made from here. (B) use a ground anchor to prevent the dramatic pull caused be a leader fall.
A successful catch of a leader fall from a stance in the gully. No ground anchor was used.
The gully the injured belayer was pulled into.
A simple ground anchor made in seconds that could have helped prevent the belayers injuries.
Part #2 How
There are many ways to create a ground anchor. The following pictures will hopefully provide some ideas. In many of the pictures a post in my car port will be used as an anchor point; however, these systems can include almost any natural or artificial anchor points.
1. Using the end of the rope tie it off to the anchor point using your favorite method and clove hitch your self to the rope on your belay loop. This simple and highly efficient method also closes the system.
2. Using a rig material connect that to the anchor point then clip your self in directly to the material using a carabiner.
3. Clip yourself to someone else (meat anchor) using any of the methods above.
4. Use some other material to connect to your anchor point. Tie into rope. Clove hitch to the anchor point.
5. Tie into rope and connect to anchor point using a Connecticut Tree Hitch.
All the above photos where being used to protect against and upward pull. The same prickles can be applied to protect against falling backwards away from the cliff as well.
*** Seek qualified instruction when learning to climb or pushing your limits.