Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Daisy Chain Conundrum

To daisy or not to daisy, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mountains to suffer
The lightning and the wind tied in with a clove
Or to take arms against a sea of anchors
With a Daisy or a PAS...Alas a broken daisy,
To die, to sleep -- the undiscovered mountain --
From which no climber has ever returned...

Okay, I admit it, I'm not Shakespeare and even the most serious of free soloists is nowhere near as depressed as the Prince of Denmark. But I have spent a fair bit of time thinking about both Hamlet and daisy chains. I know some of you are wondering how they are connected. They're not...except in my very bad Shakespearean verse.

Daisy chains are a very tricky tool. When used correctly than can be tremendously valuable to a climber. When used incorrectly, they can be incredibly dangerous.

Daisy Chain

A daisy chain is a length of webbing that is easily identified by the sewn loops the run the length of the chain. One end of the daisy is usually girth-hitched through the tie-in point on the climber's harness. The loops on the length of webbing may then be clipped with a carabiner and attached to an anchor, providing a safety attachment for the climber.

The main advantage to the use of a daisy chain is that most people leave them permanently affixed to their harnesses. As such, when they get to an anchor they can quickly and easily clip in. The use of daisy chains is especially valuable when one is trying to set-up a top-rope and needs to clip into something near the lip to remain safe or when one needs a safety attachment for a series of rappels.

It is possible for a daisy chain to fail. If you clip the end of the chain and then clip a loop, the internal loops can come apart as well, causing a catastrophic failure. There are two ways to avoid this. First, you can put a twist in the end of the daisy so that it cannot fail. Or second, it is possible to use two carabiners.

Following is a short video by Black Diamond on daisy chain failures:

There is another alternative to the daisy chain. The PAS (Personal Anchor System) is a series of independent loops that are sewn together in a chain. Climbers who use the PAS will use it in much the same way as a daisy chain, but do not have to worry about catastrophic failure.
Personal Anchor System (PAS)

Some climbers elect to girth-hitch the daisy directly to the belay loop. If you attach it directly to the belay loop, this very important part of the harness may see damage. Once something is girth-hitched to the belay loop, the loop is no longer allowed to shift at the tie-in point. This causes the loop to get rubbed in the same spot repeatedly. In addition to this, the loop is crushed by the girth-hitch, which may also accelerate the damage to the loop.

The preferred attachment to the harness should be via the tie-in point. A girth-hitch through the tie-in will do significantly less damage to the harness and will ultimately be safer.

Most guides do not use daisy chains or the PAS. Instead, they will use their rope to tie directly into the anchor with a clove-hitch. The advantage to a clove-hitch is that it is adjustable once you are off belay. There are styles of daisy chains which allow this, but the amount of adjustment provided is minimal. With a rope, one has the ability to make major adjustments. For example, it's nice to tie into the anchor with a clove, then give yourself enough slack to go back over to the edge of the cliff, so that you can hear and be heard.

Guides often use slings in lieu of a daisy chain. The is because there is little need of a daisy in most multi-pitch environments.

Daisy chains are most useful in either a single pitch or an aid climbing environment. If you're climbing primarily in these environments, then you should definitely consider using a daisy. If you only occasionally play in these types of environments, then a couple of slings are much lighter and can be used in more applications.

--Jason D. Martin


climbbigmountains said...

Great post. I've never used daisies in any environment... as you wrote, using the rope or a sling (or 2) has been fine in single pitch environments as well. I've lived happily without daisy chains so far and may do so for the rest of this life.

Unknown said...

I like the purcell prussik for cleaning and single-pitch anchoring. It is one-hand adjustable, it avoids the loop-clipping concern of a daisy, it is more dynamic than most PAS set-ups, and it can double as an ascender or a cordelette in case of emergency. And it is signicantly cheaper than a daisy or loop chain!

Anonymous said...

Another benefit of anchoring with the rope rather than a daisy or PAS for multi-pitching is that the rope is much better designed for handling the minor nylon on nylon wear that may happen when belaying and/or stacking your rope over your attachment to the anchor. The fact that many PAS are made of spectra (the white fibers in your PAS)is a huge safety concern. Spectra does not handle heat well, so the friction of a rope rubbing against it can dramatically weaken it. And spectra fibers are more damaging when girthhitched because they are much harder than nylon and can cause the nylon to be cut through. Save your money and use your rope to connect to the anchor on multipitches. And on single pitch routes and setting up top-ropes, tether in; but avoid getting into a situation where you could shock load your tether (e.g. falling over the lip).

cragrat said...

I would second the Purcell prusik system as a great alternative to the cowstail/daisy chain