The masterpoint of an anchor is aptly named. It is designed to be the working focal point for anchoring, belaying, and a number of auxiliary tasks that might happen while rock climbing. Much like the Master Bedroom of a house, the masterpoint is where the residents of the anchor want to be. The Masterpoint offers the most capacious, the most secure, and the most versatile operational/organizational platform available.
Recognizing and utilizing a masterpoint is often so routine for practiced climbers, it is hard to imagine connecting to an anchor in any other way. However, alternative connection options (like the anchor shelf or components) often bewilder and confuse newer climbers. Without clear direction one way or the other, it is easy to imagine an uninformed anchor resident choosing to reside in the broom closet rather than the master bedroom.
In these sections and illustrations, we will explore why the master point is the MASTER point, variations on what a masterpoint can look like, and why and how the anchor shelf and components can be valuable connections too. Lastly, we'll examine some special cases anchors which may lack a shelf, or in some cases the actual location of the shelf might be confusing.
What is the Masterpoint?
The masterpoint is the connection point of an anchor where all the values of the anchor are optimized and consolidated. We know that the core principles in all anchor constructions have been consistently applied in climbing applications. Those values are: Strength, Redundancy, Load Distribution, Simplicity, and Limited Extension. So, the masterpoint is the connection point where all those values are optimized and consolidated, where they all come together. Let’s look at some examples:
What is the Shelf?
The shelf is an auxiliary attachment point that has almost the same values as the Masterpoint. Imagine it as a finished attic, relative to a Master Bedroom. A finished attic has many of the amenities of the Master Bedroom, but it would be weird to move in to the attic and leave the Master Bedroom empty. It would also be weird to sleep in the Master Bedroom, but dress in the attic. In other words, the shelf is a good place to put something that might not otherwise be functional in the masterpoint. For argument’s sake, the shelf should also present an attachment point that has redundancy, strength, and distributes load to the components. As a result, some anchors don’t even have a shelf. Let’s looks at some examples:
What are the components on an anchor?
The components are the things that connect the anchor to the rock, snow, or ice. Components can be something as simple as a tree or large vegetation. It could be a piece of removable protection, like a cam or a nut. Or, it could be a fixed anchor, like a bolt. Usually an anchor combines the strength of its components to create a masterpoint, and therefore no single component every really duplicates the values that are found at the masterpoint. A component is like a cabinet or closet, relative to the master bedroom. It would be weird to do anything more than storage in a space like that. In some cases, especially in climbing, it might be dangerous to do anything important on a single component.
Let’s watch the masterpoint, the shelf, and the components at work. Look at how the master bedroom, the attic, and the closet are used to categorize the importance of the space according to things the climbing team places there.
Tricks, Traps, and Conundrums with Masterpoints and Shelves
Many anchors don’t have a shelf and it takes a clear headed understanding about what a masterpoint and shelf are, and what they are for, to sort out which anchors have a shelf and which do not. Let’s have a look at a few examples.