The Abalakov thread, or V-thread is ice protection named after Soviet climber Vitaly Abalakov. To know how to make a proper Abalakov (=v-thread) should be a requirement for anyone climbing multi-pitch ice routes. It is easy to create, it doesn’t require leaving expensive gear behind, e.g. rappeling on an ice screw, and it is very safe. I have used abalakov’s in anchors, even as an protection when running out of screws, and mostly it is used for rappel.
Vitaly Abalakov and his brother
They were both arrested in 1938 by NKVD and were under investigation until 1940. The accusation was propaganda of western mountaineering techniques and being a German spy. Yevgeniy died in 1948 in Moscow under obscure circumstances.
Vitaly went onto inventing camming devices and Abalakov thread (or V-thread). He was awarded Order of Lenin, Order of the Badge of Honor and titles Honoured Master of Sports of the USSR. Vitaly is regarded as the “father” of Russian climbing. Vitaly Abalakov made many difficult ascents including Lenin Peak in 1934.
Supposedly, Jeff Lowe started to use v-threads in 70s, and some older ice climbers who climbed before that era still do not like to use v-threads very much (e.g. my friend Michael Covington, who is an artist when it comes to ice otherwise).
Back to Threads - when to use it?
The Abalakov Thread or V Thread has over the years become the standard abseil anchor for descending from ice climbs. You can also use it for creating anchors, or even instead of placing a screw (if you are short, but little more time consuming). Many studies confirm that Abalakov is stronger than leaving an ice screw behind for an abseil.
Abalakov’s strength is directly related to the area it encompasses rather than orientation (Ice Climbing Anchor Strength) rather than orientation. This means the longer the ice screw, the stronger the thread.
How about vertical abalakov (Anderson Thread)? The traditional thread is horizontal. The vertical thread as explains the name is vertical, and still relatively new in ice climbing. According the Ice Climbing Anchor Strength article the vertical threads increased the overall strength (horizontal 11.3 KN; and 14.4 KN for vertical). Although there is a strong difference between the two types of threads, both are strong enough to hold a climber. The vertical orientation also makes it easier to thread the rappel rope, as you'll have gravity working for you.
How to construct it?
large tool made by Black Diamond, and I think I was laboring at least 1/2 hr. I kept practicing and carry with me much lighter tool (BD instrument is bulky and heavy, not practical for long routes), and I can make Abalakovs in less than 5 minutes now. It is good to practice v-threads, if you will ice climb, you will need to know how to construct it.
Equipment: 1 long ice screw, hook (either one of the tools above, or I heard of people making the hook at home from wire coat hanger).
- Choose a good place - solid ice (check the quality by screwing into the ice, you should see nice strong icy material getting out through the middle of the screw. If there is a lot of air, the ice may not be that solid). Also, check the location - if there are a lot of icy prominences, chop them off with your ice tool. Do not place threads right below a bulge of ice - you want to have some mass of ice above it.
- Choose your longest ice screw (NOT stubby! longer = stronger the anchor). I climb with BD ice screws and usually use the 22 cm one, sometimes 19 cm). There are several different ways to do it. I make a little mark in the middle, and move about 7-9 cm to left, angle ~ 60 degrees and drill a hole. I remove the ice screw, knock the ice out of it, and repeat the same process on the right. Push a little cord (even skinny sling works well), and catch it with a little hook on the other side. Tie the ends of the cord together, and you are done.
How about when the ice melts and all that old webbing left on the slopes? It is true, it does leave trash behind. Well, if you are fast, you can abseil on rope pulled through the thread. You don’t want the rope to freeze in, so move fast. And, it does mess up the ends of your rope from hooks poaking into it. I also heard that cows sometimes like to eat the old webbing in the summer, and it can kill them.
And how about v-thread already in place? You will find v-threads already built on popular climbs. I think you should always examine it. You can back up the old v-thread with an ice screw for the first climber to go down, and the last person can remove the screw knowing the v-thread has been tested. OR, you can place another v-thread next to this one, and go off two v-threads.