The ‘Trap Yourself in the System’ Rock Climbing Anchor
Behold the ‘trap yourself in the system’ rock climbing anchor, constructed from a Metolius PAS 22 (PAS stands for “Personal Anchor System”). Apparently personal pro can be team pro as well. I found this photo on a gear review site. The reviewers, who loved the PAS 22, listed its ability to be used to construct an EARNEST* rock climbing anchor as one of its many virtues. At first glance this appeared to me to be a pretty jive-ass application (we’ll get to that shortly), so I searched through Metolius’ instructional material regarding the proper use of the PAS 22. I can’t seem to find any mention of using it to build your belay station.
Notice also that the PAS 22 is attached to the climber’s harness by the belay loop. Typically you’d girth hitch the PAS 22 to your harness through the same connection points you use when you tie in with the climbing rope (into the same two contact points that your belay loop is attached to)–which is what Metolius recommends.
Notice also that the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso in ‘plaquette (or autoblock) mode’, but the device is threaded backwards (thanks to commenter leadZERO for pointing that out)! This photo is all kinds of fucked up, which makes one wonder about those gear reviews. But I digress…
*Equalized, Angle, Redundant, No Extension, Strong/Secure, Timely
Background on Personal Protection Tethers
Before we dive into our analysis of this anchor, a bit of background about the Metolius PAS. As the story goes, the PAS was invented to provide a much safer alternative to using a daisy chain as a personal protection leash. A daisy chain is designed for aid climbing and isn’t intended to support more than body weight. This is due to the fact that the individual loops that make the daisy chain adjustable in length are formed by tack stitching in the webbing, which is only rated to hold 2 – 3 kN of force. It’s highly feasible that you might exceed that amount of force if you fall when there is slack in the system. And if you’ve clipped in short in the wrong (but most obvious and likely way), you could easily rip yourself out of the anchor completely, as demonstrated in this video from Black Diamond. The Metolius PAS (and many similar leashes sold by other brands) avoids this danger by making the link loops independent chain links, which are dramatically stronger (the ’22’ in ‘PAS 22’ stands for 22 kN).
Long story short, if you’re the kind of climber who likes to use a personal protection leash or lanyard of some type, the PAS is a big improvement on a daisy chain. My personal concern with the Metolius PAS 22 is that it’s constructed from nylon and dyneema. While dyneema has incredible tensile strength, it doesn’t have very good dynamic elongation properties. My worry is that in a Factor 2 fall the leash might fail like the dyneema sling in this cautionary video from DMM (this is also why it’s not a good idea to use a dyneema sling as a lanyard either). It’s actually alarmingly easy to generate a Factor 2 fall with a personal protection leash. All you need to do is climb above your anchor while clipped in with the leash until you’re at the end of your tether (e.g., to place your first piece for a tricky lead), and then fall. And even if you don’t climb above your anchor but are level with it, and then you fall with slack in the system, that’s already a Factor 1 fall.
Some other brands make similar personal protection lanyards that are made entirely of nylon (e.g., the Sterling Chain Reactor), which would be my preference if I used a personal protection system like this. However, I personally prefer to always tie in with the climbing rope, which is the strongest and most dynamic way I can tie into an anchor. And in situations where I may have to untie from the rope (e.g., to rappel), I prefer to use a Purcell Prusik as a personal protection lanyard.
About that “Trap” Rock Climbing Anchor
Now back to the anchor in the photo above. While to my knowledge (someone please correct me if this is wrong) Metolius doesn’t recommend using the PAS 22 to construct your belay station, I have a hunch how these gear reviewers came up with this application.
Metolius sells a product called an Anchor Chain, which is a chain link of nylon/dyneema loops that are used to very easily create an equalized and redundant rock climbing anchor. It’s essentially a much easier to use replacement for a cordalette. This anchor chain looks more or less the same as a Metolius PAS. In fact, here is a photo.
Metolius Anchor Chain.
The instructions for use of both the Metolius PAS 22 and the Metolius Anchor Chain appear in the same document, right next to one another. My guess is that the reviewers are simply using their Metolius PAS 22 like an Anchor Chain.
So what’s wrong with using the PAS 22 to construct your climbing anchor? Well since a product constructed of the more or less the same material and design as the PAS 22 is sold as anchor building material, it’s obviously strong enough to build an anchor. I don’t have any problem with it, per se. It’s perfectly bomber (not this particular anchor, necessarily, but in principle, using a sewn chain link like a cordalette). What I find to be Jive-Ass is the idea of using the same leash to simultaneously serve as the main climbing anchor and as your personal protection lanyard. The problem is that the climber is trapped within his own system.
Notice that in the photo the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso 3. One of the great advantages of that set up is that in a rescue scenario, the belayer doesn’t have to escape the belay to go help his climbing partner. He’s already out of the system. But if you construct the belay station with your personal protection leash, you’re trapped. There is no way to escape the belay while it’s weighted short of cutting the PAS off of your harness with a knife. Similarly, it’s impossible to block lead with this set up, because you can’t get out of the anchor system to start your next lead short of disassembling the very anchor the two of you are attached to the mountain with. For these reasons, I think using your personal protection leash to construct your belay station is Jive-Ass.
What do you think?