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Making A V-Thread,
by Jamie Leef
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• Making A V-Thread
• Another Day At Ducks Head (a.k.a. Trollville)
• Getting Your (Ice) Rack Together
• Buying A Digital Camera
• A Climber's Library (part 1)
• A Climber's Library (part 2)
Making a V-Thread, by Jamie Leef

V-thread ice anchors are an easy, secure and inexpensive rappel anchor for ice climbing. In this article I will describe how to make the anchor, how to use it, what kind of gear is needed, and how to make your own tool. Everything about V-threading is easy and they have become popular at ice crags all over the world.

A V-Thread is a tunnel cut into the ice and treaded with a sling; sort of like a fully enclosed ice bollard. They are are sometimes called Abalakov anchors, after the famous Russian mountaineer Vitaly Abalakov who first made them. He is also known for inventing the first nuts with cammed faces that inspired the tri-cam design. In between bagging many peaks in the (former) USSR he inspired the cliche of Russian garage-made gear with his designs for special haul pulleys, titanium screws, and adjustable tube chocks.

Happy Hooking...
Jamie Leef

And here's a link to our video to make learning the process even easier. We hope you enjoy it.

The first step is to find some good ice. Any ice anchor is only as good as the ice into which it is placed, so you should investigate the condition of the ice as you would with any screw placement. Dig into or clear away poor quality surface ice if you need to.

Sink a long (22 cm) screw to the hilt at a 45 to 60 degree angle horizontally to the ice (pointing left or right, not up or down). I like 45 degrees, but some sources claim 60 is better. Then back the screw out, as much as half-way.

Take another screw and drill a mirror image hole, using the first screw to sight an intersection as deep into the ice as you can get. You can make the thread with one screw if you put your hooking tool in the first hole as a sighting guide.

Remove at least one of the screws. Feed a length of sling into one hole and hook it through the other with your Abalakov hook tool (see below). If you missed, and the holes did not meet, find another spot a few feet away and try again.

DO NOT reuse any of the same holes!

Pull the sling through.

If you have threaded a loop or a sling, clip it. Most often you thread a single strand, so tie the ends together using a water knot, being sure to leave a good tail.

Tread your rope through the sling. Be sure to back up your new thread with an ice screw while you test the anchor or the first person is rapping. Smile and toss back another cold one. You're an ice master!

Food For Thought: My personal experience is that ice is less strong when it has holes or pick placements that line up horizontally. I believe this is one origin of the standard advice to stagger your ice tools while climbing. So I try to stagger one v-thread hole above the next. This is not currently orthodox, so you might want to wait until more thorough tests are done before trying it this way.

Making aV-thread Tool

This is real easy and way cheap. If you are a homemade climbing gear nerd like me, you might even have all the materials you need in the bins of scrap gear strewn across your living room/climbing-wall-room/gear storage area. First bend a tiny loop into one end of a 13" length of coat hanger. Bend a roughly 1" diameter loop into the other end. The result should be just a bit longer than a 22cm ice screw. Tie some thin shock cord onto a 2 inch length of 1/2" I.D. clear flexible tubing. This works best if the cord goes into the tube, exits via a small hole about in the middle, and then goes back through a pair of holes at the end (see drawing). Tie the cord to the handle of the tool so that the tubing is tensioned a bit when it is slipped over the hook. Wrap the handle loop and cord knot with duct tape. Voila, your own V-Thread hooking tool. Vitaly would be proud of you.

Materials: maybe 75 cents. Labor: $1.00 (pay yourself a beer). Satisfaction: Priceless.

Using Abalakovs:
Back the thread up with a good screw placement, test it with a bounce or two, and leave the backup in until the first person who raps has had a chance to clip a new anchor below. On the popular lines at Lake Willoughby at the end of most seasons, you can look 80 feet in just about any direction and find a resident v-thread. It looks like the place has been grid-bolted! Resident v-threads are likely to be safe to use if they look as good as a freshly placed one. Use your own judgement and if in doubt place a new one. Remember that v-threads are cheap, your life isn't!

Beware: there has been at least one fatal accident involving reuse of an existing thread. Several years ago in the Canadian Rockies a climber died when he mistakenly clipped a long tail of a v-thread runner that had frozen into the ice, instead of clipping the main loop. He would likely have survived if he had backed up with a screw.

There is one potential environmental drawback to the V-Thread's popularity - they end up on the ground in the spring. So if you place them, think about touring your local ice crag in the late spring and doing a cleanup.

Can I belay off them?
Well, the jury is still out. They have been extensively and successfully field tested as rappel anchors. A few years ago Mark Twight cited a University of Calgary strength test where V-Threads supported loads between 15 and 20 KN in good dry ice. This is certainly as good as most other points in a belay chain (small wired nuts can be rated as low as 4 KN!). I have not been able to review this test report though, and I have not found any other research or qualified opinion that questions or supports belaying off a thread.

Intuitively, I think I would trust a tread because studies of ice screw failure often show that the metal tubes of the screw fail before the ice into which they are placed fails. Many guides and ice climbing instructors like Jeff Lowe and Will Gadd suggest slinging icicles as pro. But until some more serious and scientific tests are conducted, I can not recommend them as points of protection. Whatever you do on lead must be a personal decision.

The Gear:
Several companies sell hooking tools for making v-threads. It is pretty darn easy to make a good one yourself, and in the next section I will describe how to do just that. But here are my reviews of the ready-mades. They all cost about $10. Besides a tool, hang a couple two foot to three foot lengths of you favorite color 9/16 supertape on a 'biner, and you are all set.

The Simond (or Braun) Abalahook is a steel cable with a swadged loop on one end (like a wire nut) and a hook on the other. It is flexible, which can be a pain to use in a deep hole. Its rubber protective cap (for the hook) can easily ride up the cable, exposing the hook to your new Gore-tex.

The Charlet Moser MultiHook is a swank solid metal job, so you can also use it to clean out ice-packed screws. It does include a useless hex nut wrench (that's the Multi in MultiHook).

Grivel's V-anchor Hook is a cheap scrap of wire without a protective cap. Not even funny! Send me $10 and I will give you my cheap scraps of old wire!

"Mechanical Advantage" by John Middendorf. A fascinating history of climbing gear development, including Vitaly Abalakov's accomplishments.

"Ice Climbing Anchor Strength" by George McEwan of George takes a look at a study of ice anchors and explores the findings. Just how strong are abolokov threads and re-bored ice screws?
Here's the article.

"Myths, Cautions, and Techniques of Ice Screw Placement" by Chris Harmston of Black Diamond Equipment. This is the research that taught us to place ice screws pointing down rather than up. Chris is always a great read, and this is the crucial article.

"Accidents in North American Mountaineering" from the American Alpine Club. Learn from those who blow it.

Fish Products - Interesting articles on strength tests of gear, including more Chris Harmston posts on rec.climbing

"Ice Anchor Review", Joe Josephson, The Canadian Alpine Journal, 76, 1993, pp66-67

"Getting Down on a Shoestring", Murray Toft and Joe Josephson, Climbing Magazine, 124, Feb/March 1991, pp100-103

"Extreme Alpinism" Mark Twight and James Martin. Must read!

Ice links from Will Gadd

by Jamie Leef

Copyright 2013 Jamie Leef
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