Your Questions Answered: Cleaning Anchors In Single Pitch Climbing

From my perspective, the prevailing sentiment of all the commentary surrounding our anchor cleaning video is one that values fellow climbers' health, safety, and prosperity.  That is also my primary concern, and the kinship I feel with every American climber always informs the work I do for the American Alpine Club, the American Mountain Guides Association, and every climber that I interact with individually.  I assume that the tone and tenor of this conversation is derived from an abiding passion for the sport and for all climbers.

The content of this video is the result of a principled approach AAC Education takes to all climbing techniques related to systems, security, and technical practices.  Climbing practices and environments, as well as the climbers themselves, are much too diverse to ascribe a one-technique-fits-all philosophy or recommendation.  Instead, we looked at all cleaning related accidents, we took an inventory of the fixed hardware at American single pitch crags, we inventoried the retinue of equipment climbers now have at their disposal, and we reviewed all the previous publications and videos that describe anchor cleaning in a single pitch setting.  We discovered:

  • Accidents that occur during cleaning sequences don’t have consistent causality.  Some involve lowering errors, some involve rappelling errors, some involve a failure to rig correctly, some involve incorrectly tied knots, some involve improper equipment usage, some involve miscommunication.
  • Most hardware on most single pitch climbs enables a climber to lower during cleaning.  Culturally, there is a wide variety of adherence to this practice, and some of the hardware makes lowering impracticable.  However, on most climbs, and in most communities, the hardware, the local ethics, and the culture, makes lowering an acceptable practice, when cleaning.  In all other cases, rappelling is the outlying tactic.
  • Climbers now have vast options for equipment to enable any cleaning sequence.  There is so much equipment available that a dearth of options is no longer an issue.  Today, sorting through all the options is the greater challenge.

Previous videos and materials on this subject tend to land on a particular sequence without a providing a principle based lens to evaluate variations in the anchor hardware, the equipment available, or the quality of the stance at the top of a climb.  We also thought that there were some unique things we could say to unify the causality revealed in our accident data, and those has never been said before in a concise way.

Our video therefore proposes that anchor cleaning in a single pitch setting be governed by three principles, and the subject captures two sequences where the climbers apply those principles expertly.  As reminders, we think ALL cleaning sequencing should:

  • Minimize necessary equipment
  • Keep the rope attached at all times
  • Avoid unnecessary transitions from one safety system to the next

I would not suggest that sequences demonstrated in the video will be equally effective on every climb, every anchor, every selection of equipment, within every local community, and with every individual climber’s unique strengths and weaknesses. I will suggest, however, that these principles will provide a valuable tool to analyze the techniques in the video, alternative techniques, and techniques that incorporate settings we’ve never seen, or technology that does not even exist yet. 

Be careful and thoughtful out there,

Ron Funderburke

AAC Education Manager