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Climbing protection – bolts, trad climbing gear, slings, quickdraws and belay devices

When climbing, you should be familiar with the different types and conditions of protection and slings. Bolts, trad climbing gear, slings and quickdraws, alongside belay devices with carabiners, are used for the protection of your climbing partner and for setting up belay stations.

Fixed protection

Bolts

Bolts can be largely divided into two categories: chemically bonded and mechanical bolts. Chemically bonded bolts are bonded in the drilled hole with a quick-setting cement or a two-part resin. Mechanical bolts, on the other hand, grip the rock of a drilled hole without glue, either through an undercut system or a thread in the rock. They always consist of at least two components. One is the bolt itself and the other is the hanger.

Both chemically bonded and mechanical bolts are safe anchor points if they are correctly fixed in solid rock. Chemically bonded bolts have the highest strength, but at the same time, they are extremely susceptible to mistakes when being placed. When fixing mechanical bolts, it is important to ensure that the rock is not cracked and that a distance of at least 15 cm to any cracks, holes and edges is maintained. In addition, the entire cone, expansion element and anchor body must also be placed as far into the hole as they can go.

The following indicators can be used when checking the condition of the bolt:

  • Rust means corrosion and is caused by heat, humidity, exhaust gases and saltwater (very bad, pay attention to the slightest signs of damage and stay cautious).
  • Thread on mechanical bolts far above the nut (also bad)
  • Torque test with carabiner on adhesive bolts (clip carabiner crosswise into chemically bonded bolt and exert a lever, if the bolt moves, it is not secure anymore)
  • Strange-looking self-made bolts must always be questioned and well-examined
  • Bolts must have sufficient distance to cracks, holes, edges, etc.

Pitons

Pitons or pins are hammered into cracks using a hammer. Before the advent of bolts, pitons were used in alpine climbing as protection Nowadays, they are found mainly on classic alpine routes. However, they are still indispensable, because a good piton in solid rock is a safe fixed point if you have placed it yourself.

The condition of pitons is more difficult to check than bolts:

  •  Estimate the pitons' position and rock quality.
  •  Assess corrosion condition due to rust.
  •  Check the strength of the piton in the rock.
  •  If you have a hammer with you, hit the piton carefully to judge the quality based on the sound.

The best way to judge the quality of a piton is by the person who placed it. They can judge if the resistance has changed, what sound it made while hammering it in, and how long the shank was. The 'ringing'-sound of a piton describes the increasingly higher pitch that each hammer blow creates when hitting the piton deeper into the rock. Never trust a single piton as the only fixed point of an anchor. Other pitons or additional trad gear must be connected to it. In addition, pitons should not be used as the only protection in difficult terrain with long runouts. You should rather place additional pieces of gear or hammer new pitons in.

Pitons are available in different sizes and made of different materials:

  • Soft steel piton (limestone): adapts to the crack and deforms; at least one-third of its length must be inserted into the crack and then hammered in until the stop.
  • High-carbon steel piton (granite): clamps in parallel cracks; should be inserted into the crack up to two-thirds of the total length and then also hammered in until the stop.

Natural protection

Trees and rock features such as natural tunnels and horns can be used as natural protection along the route and to set up a belay station. To use these points, you need to attach Kevlar or Dyneema webbing or cord to them and a carabiner/quickdraw to clip the rope.

 

TREE:

Roots, branches, mountain pines and trees can be used as protection. For this purpose, use either sewn webbing slings made of polyamide, Dyneema or mixed material or cords made of Kevlar, Dyneema or polyamide. The sling or cord is placed around the tree with a girth hitch. Placing the rope directly around the tree is a no-go because you can damage the bark with it.

A tree must meet the following requirements to be used as protection:

  • Tree must be healthy, not rotten or dead
  • At least 10 cm wide

 

TUNNEL:

Unlike the tree sling, you do not attach the tunnel sling with a girth hitch, but in a ring shape, so that it rests on the base. Girth hitches tend to slip up to the thinnest point, which is usually the weakest of a tunnel and therefore not suitable. Especially for a deep and thin tunnel, you should use a Kevlar cord, which is particularly tear-resistant and stiff.

A tunnel must meet the following requirements to be used as protection:

  • Must be free of cracks
  • At least 10 cm wide at the weakest point

 

HORN:

A horn or chicken head can be used as protection, especially in alpine terrain. For this purpose, you should use webbing slings made of Dyneema, Kevlar or mixed material, since cords can roll off more quickly due to their round shape.

A horn or chicken head must meet the following requirements to be used as protection:

  • Must be strong and large enough (check before using!)
  • Must be free of cracks

Removable protection

There are alpine climbing routes with different levels of protection. Depending on the climbing style, routes can be climbed completely clean, i.e. without fixed protection and using only removable gear such as camming devices (cams, nuts...) and slings as protection and to set up anchors. This leaves no or hardly any traces in the rock. On well-protected routes, no additional protection is needed because there are enough bolts. In moderately protected routes, occasionally the protection must be improved with trad gear and sling material to avoid falls due to larger distances between bolts.

The big difference between camming devices and bolts is that camming devices are almost only loadable in one direction, whereas bolts are loadable in any direction.

Camming devices are divided into active and passive.

Passive camming device = rigid (inexpensive and light)

Active/Spring-loaded camming device = flexible (expensive and heavy)

What's On A Trad Rack
Video: EpicTV Climbing Daily

Slings – Polyamid, Dyneema, Kevlar or hybrid?

Webbing slings (also called runners) are used in alpine climbing for setting up anchors, for linking points of natural protection (like horns or tunnels) to the rope, to extend gear and as a personal anchor tether for rappelling. The various materials, their areas of application and the advantages and disadvantages are explained in more detail below.

Further useful information about slings

How long should a sling be?

  • 60 cm: personal anchor tether, alpine quickdraws, threading rock tunnels
  • 90 cm: alpine quickdraws
  • 120 cm: anchor slings, horn slings
  • Longer than 120 cm: anchor slings for more than two anchor points, crevasse rescue

 

Which knots are suitable for webbing slings?

It is best to avoid knots in webbing slings. Slings made of Dyneema have a very smooth surface. If these are loaded with 2 kN, the knot begins to slip. Self-knotted slings made of polyamide should also be used with extreme caution. In general, it can be said that knots reduce the strength of polyamide slings by approx. 50%, and of Kevlar and Dyneema even by up to 75%.

 

How long do slings last?

That depends on the material and the usage behavior. If there is no visible material damage, the average usability is between three and ten years, depending on the condition of the sling (UV radiation, abrasion). In any case, when it comes to safety, you should not hesitate to invest in a new sling if the old one is no longer in good condition.

 

Please note:

  • Never fall into slings, as they hardly stretch. If you use slings for extendable alpine quickdraws, you will fall into the sling, but the fall will be dynamically absorbed by the rope stretch. If, on the other hand, you use a sling as a personal anchor tether without keeping it under tension and fall into it, the dynamic load applies to the sling and it breaks, even at low fall heights.
  • Never lower your climbing partner directly on a sling (risk of melt burn).
  • Fixed sling material, which is often attached to anchors, rock tunnels or horns, should be checked thoroughly before using or swapped for your own material that you trust.
  • Absolute caution with chemicals: even if you don't notice any damage on the outside, the inside could be affected.
How to choose the BEST quickdraws for climbing
Video: Cragcloud

Belay devices

The best belay devices

Beginner: Black Diamond – ATC Pilot (Weight: 92 g/3.25 oz, single ropes from 8.7-10.5 mm)

Sport climbing: Petzl – GriGri (Weight 200 g/7.05 oz, single ropes from 8.5 to 11 mm)

Best tubular device: Black Diamond – ATC Guide (weight: 80 g/2.82 oz, ropes from 8.1 to 11 mm)

Alpine climbing: Edelrid – Mega Jul (Weight: 65 g/2.29 oz, ropes between 7.9 - 10.5 mm)

Climb Safe: How to belay with the Ergo / ATC Pilot
Video: Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV)
Climb Safe: How to belay with the Grigri
Video: Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV)

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