High Stakes Snow Anchors

| October 9, 2008

When it comes to dedicated snow anchors, nothing beats the simplicity, strength and versatility of the classic Snow Stake, also known as a Picket, Snow Fluke or Snow Pig.  They are the ultimate do-it-yourself piece of climbing equipment involving not much more than a length of angle aluminum, a drill, hacksaw and some beer. 

Placed correctly, pickets (as I call them) can be unbelievably strong and provide a secure anchor in the middle of a blank field of snow for belaying, hauling, rappelling or lowering.  The metal ones are usually retrieved, although skiers have been known to make bio-degradable versions out of stout wood if they anticipate leaving them for a rappel.

Broken pickets from Don Bogies excellent study.
Broken pickets from Don Bogie’s excellent study.

A few years ago I was attending an AMGA Ski Guides Course when the instructor made an off-hand comment about how his picket was so strong it could hold ten people.  We all immediately challenged the claim, and after whacking it in and clipping a rope on to it, we lined ten people up and pulled as hard as we could.  The rope almost broke, but the picket held strong.  Pickets can be so reliable that it is easy to take them for granted, which can lead to accidents.  In 2003, four climbers died on Mt. Tasman in New Zealand as a result of a failed picket, which lead Don Bogie to conduct an exhaustive study on how to build, place, clip and best use them in all sorts of snow.

Click here for the pdf link to Don Bogie’s paper on Snow Anchors.

Help support StraightChuter.com and keep your liver intact & anchors stout with an MSR Coyote Snow Picket from Backcountry.com! Click on the photo below…


Category: 02 Gear

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (4)

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  1. jerimy says:

    Why did MSR change their pickets from the V shape, as shown in the study, to a T style? It seems like with a V shape you would have more surface area in contact with the snow, but the force is not normal to either edge. With the T shape, the entire surface area is perpendicular to the applied force. The T also seems to be superior for the case when the force is not perfectly perpendicular to the picket, because the surface area would be more than that of an off-center V. It would be interesting to know if this study brought about a change in the design of the pickets.

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Jerimy,

    I’m not really sure why MSR changed their design..? Perhaps to make it different (and better) than something you can crank out in your garage? I think the T shape is probably much stronger than the V, and also offers more clip in options than the V.

    I thought the study was very interesting, especially how some of the orientations (pounded in and clipped off) were much stronger than I would have expected. Still, if I’m looking for ultra beef, there is nothing like burying a stake in the T-stake configuration for a bomber anchor.

  3. Bart says:

    thanks for posting that article. i was surprised as well that pounded in pickets can have that kind of strength. after having seen the pounded in ones fail under normal loads in test situations, i’ve been avoiding that configuration.

    what would be really interesting would be a study showing how big a bollard needs to be in the various types of hard snow.

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