Monday, October 3, 2011

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

2 comments:

ChrisK said...

I'm a convert to the Purcell prusik for this job. Bomber *and* adjustable!

Andrew said...

@Anonymous

A "homemade" daisy chain is not quite the same thing, as any knot in a piece of rope/sling reduces the overall strength of that rope/sling. The amount of strength reduced is all dependent on the material of cord/sling, the diameter, the knot, etc.

Keep in mind that even if a 22kN rated sling had enough knots in it to reduce the strength by 50%, it would still be plenty strong to clip yourself off at an anchor. Shock load that sling however, and you could easily generate 11kN (and potentially break your back, if the sling doesn't).

It's good to keep these things in perspective.