Many climbers consider the cordelette a standard piece of gear, as it lets you quickly connect two or more points of protection into a redundant, non-extending, and fairly well distributed anchor.
The cordelette can vary in terms of length and diameter of cord, but a “textbook” cordelette is about 20 feet of 7mm cord, tied into one large loop with a well-dressed double fisherman’s knot. It can be a little shorter or a little longer, and tied with 6 mm or even 5.5 mm cord, but this is the general idea.
A garden variety cordelette. Note the resemblance to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Here’s a few Crafty Rope Tricks and general cordelette tips that you probably won’t find in the textbook.
1 - The length and diameter can depend on your climbing preferences
Climb on snow a lot? Consider a 6 mm 14-15 foot cordelette. More a rock person? Maybe a 7 mm 20 foot cord is a better choice. Read more at this tip.
2 - Other ways to tie it
Rather than keeping your cordelette tied in a loop, consider using it “bunny ears” style - tie a small figure 8 on a bight loop in each end. This can add more versatility to a cordelette - you can make it reach gear placements that are farther apart, you can pass the ends around a large tree or block of rock, you can use a shorter and lighter cordelette , such as maybe 14 feet rather than 20. Read more at this tip.
3 - A trick for close placements
If you’re using two gear placements close together, like a bolted sport anchor, your cordelette in normal configuration will probably be too long, resulting in a master point that hangs too low. (A good rule of thumb in anchor building is that the anchor master point should always be at waist level or higher, ideally around your chest.) Solution: rather than the standard method of clipping the cordelette into the carabiners, instead pass one or even two loops of the cord through the carabiner, and then back to the master point. This doubles the cord in one or more of the legs and raises your master point, resulting in a more compact and easy to manage anchor.
See image below - an 18 foot cordelette on 2 adjacent bolts, no problem.
4 - Clove hitch the knot to the highest piece
Murphy’s Law of cordelettes: the darn double fisherman’s knot always ends up in the wrong place! Eliminate this problem by clove hitching the cord next to the knot next to your highest piece of gear as the first thing you do when you build the anchor. This keeps the fisherman’s knot fixed next to the protection and out of the way of your master point.
See image below, note clove hitch on the left biner.
5 - Shorten it a bit
Most of the time your cordelette is going to feel either too short or too long. If it’s too short, try to add a separate sling to the piece of gear that’s farthest away.
If it’s too long, rather than clipping the cordelette loop to the gear, instead pass the loop through one of the the biners. This makes four strands of cord coming off that piece of gear rather then two, which will raise your anchor master point. Remember, you ideally want to master point to be about chest level, and not below your waist if you can avoid it.
See below - right side strand is passed through the biner not clipped to it.
6 - Try to keep all strands the same length.
This means that if one piece of gear is much higher than the others, try to add a separate runner to the top piece to bring it more level with the other placements. If you build a cordelette anchor with legs of very different lengths, a majority of force is going to go to the shortest leg, because that’s stretching less than the other two. If you have to do this, try to be sure that the gear you have on that short leg is as solid as possible.
7 - Always anticipate the direction of pull and “aim” the cordelette at this point.
When belaying a second, that will usually be at the last gear placement you made on lead. If the second falls, that’s where the force will come from, and you want to try to equalize the anchor as best as you can be pointing it at this direction.
8 - Tie a figure 8 at the master point if you have enough cord to do it
Many people tie an overhand knot at the master point, but a figure 8 is better, if you have the rope for it. Reason? The figure 8 absorbs more fall force than an overhand, and thus transmits less of that force to the gear.
9 - Clip the belay biner into the cord before you tie the master point knot.
The biner gives you a sort of handle and keeps the cord loops tidy when you tie the knot.