Captain America’s Jive-Ass BD Cobra Rappel

Captain America's Foes Rappel off of Black Diamond Cobras

Captain America’s Foes Rappel off of Black Diamond Cobras

Last Sunday I watched the new Marvel Comics summer Hollywood blockbuster, Captain America: The Winter Soldier with my climbing buddy Andrew. And while the comic book action hero genre isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I have to say I actually enjoyed the film. It takes on grand, global political themes related to security and freedom, information secrecy, black ops, international assassinations, and various other realpolitik horror that resonates rather well in today’s scary world. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

The Winter Soldier has unorthodox rappelling techniques.

The Winter Soldier has unorthodox technique.

In this film Captain America’s nemsis is a black clad supervillian with a metalic arm named “The Winter Soldier”. And this fellow and his band of rogues wreak havoc on a fairly grand scale. At one of those frantic, frenetic moments in the film, where shots are cut into lightening quick action sequences, the Winter Soldier’s minions decide they’re going to rappel off of a freeway overpass. The overpass is litered with crashed cars. And in a quick edit sequence we see these fellows unzip dufflebags and pull out Black Diamond Cobras! Yes, black, carbon fiber ice climbing tools (the black carbon fiber fits in nicely with the minions’ black and metalic bad guy gear and apparel aesthetic). And at this moment Andrew and I looked at each other with our stupid 3-D glasses and said, “Whoa! Black Diamond Cobras!”

Hollywood Urban Rappel Anchor: Black Diamond Cobra

Hollywood Urban Rappel Anchor: Black Diamond Cobra

In the flim these Cobra ice climbing tools each have a rope attached to the pommel. Captain America’s nemesis minions used them as urban rappel anchors! Yes! That’s right. They used them as rappel anchors. The sequence works thusly:

  1. Pull Black Diamond Cobra with rope affixed to the pommel from duffle bag.
  2. THWACK the Black Diamond Cobra right into the sheet metal (the roof, the hood, etc.) of an abandoned automobile.
  3. Rappel!

Now that’s some awesome summer blockbuster jive-assery. I have no idea if those Cobras would rip a large gash in the sheet metal once weighted with body weight, or if they’d hold. I’m sure Black Diamond wouldn’t recommend it. If the Zombie Apocalypse ever happens maybe those of us with ice tools will find out.

Black Diamond says rappelling from your Cobras no es bueno.

Rappelling from your Cobras no es bueno.

Location: Hollywood, California USA

Jive-Ass Ice Rappel Anchor

Jive-Ass Ice Rappel Anchor

Jive-Ass Ice Rappel Anchor

Okay, I know who built this thing. One friend built it, while another friend gleefully photographed it and promptly forwarded the photo to me. They said they were only experimenting. They didn’t actually use this.

At any rate, it’s fairly jive-ass, don’t you agree? I mean I suppose if the cord is thick enough so that the subsequent knots aren’t so small that they pull into the hole left by the ice screws….

It seems like you could accomplish the same thing without the jive-ass overhand knot stoppers.

Anyway, yeah, experimenting is fun…

Location: Hyalite, Bozeman, Montana, USA

Ouray Jive-Assery

Jive-Ass Top Rope Anchor in Ouray Ice Park

Jive-Ass Top Rope Anchor

Here is some ultra fresh Jive-Assery from the Ouray Ice Park, in Ouray Colorado (which never disappoints).*

 Jeremy Lubkin took this photo just days ago. It’s an ice climbing top rope anchor. It’s not exactly clear what’s going on here, but something’s not right. As Jeremy put it “So much cord I get confused, but pretty sure it qualifies as Jive Ass.”

If I had to venture a guess I’d say the green webbing is some kind of overhand on a bight with the tail clipped into the carabiners, backed up with some black webbing, looped into the power point, and tied with a water knot. Textbook jive-ass.

Very nice locking carabiner redundancy though. Opposite and almost even opposed (one is flipped to create the opposing gates–as Michael Zasadsian pointed out to me). If it weren’t true that an anchor is only as strong as its weakest link, this would almost make up for everything.

Location: Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado USA

*That’s not intended to disparage the climbers at the Ouray Ice Park. Some really talented and skilled climbers climb there. It’s just that the uniqueness of this ice climbing ‘crag’ affords many opportunities for witnessing jive-ass anchors. You have a mile of top rope anchors at the top of Uncompahgre Gorge, which you can walk past. Odds are in your favor that you’re going to encounter something jive-ass eventually.

Top Rope Anchor Cluster

Wim on Pitch 1 of The Crown Jewel.

Wim on Pitch 1 of The Crown Jewel.

This entry borrows a chapter from the book “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” In early December (2013) we had a very rare and sustained cold snap in the Pacific Northwestern U.S. It was cold enough to freeze some of the many waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge that divides Washington and Oregon, and all of my Portland area climbing pals were going ape shit crazy with all of the ice climbing opportunities. I managed to get out on two days myself, and even had the rare opportunity to climb the Crown Jewel below Crown Point on the Oregon side of the river. It’s two pitches of WI3. That’s my buddy Wim leading pitch 1 in the photo above. Not the gnarliest thing in the world, mind you, but you have to appreciate how rare it is for it to ever be ‘in’. Moreover, it’s far more exciting than a typical WI3 because it’s wet and warm and degrading as fast as it formed, leaving a lurking, spring-like fear that the whole works could de-laminate from the rock and send you hurling down the cliff.

Ah, fine and well, you might be saying, but where’s my jive-ass climbing anchor! Patience. We’re getting there.

When we were gearing up at the base of the route two stoners arrived. I call them stoners, because they roasted bowl after bowl of weed while they contemplated climbing the thing. They were rock climbers without much ice climbing experience, and I don’t know where they got it, but they were armed with positively antique ice climbing gear: straight shafted tools, pound in ice pitons, and some early Jeff Lowe ice pioneer era screws. Eventually, and much to my relief, they decided leading the thing probably wasn’t wise. So they asked me if I’d trail their rope up so they could top rope pitch 1. There’s a set of bolts at the top of pitch one. “Sure,” I said, “No problem.” And that’s what I did.

While I belayed pitch 2 from the top of pitch 1, Stoner guy #1 arrives and starts to reconfigure his top rope anchor to redirect it to the center of the ice. He reworked everything, from the bolts on. And here are the results:

Jive-Ass Sliding-X Top Rope Ice Climbing Anchor

Jive-Ass Sliding-X Top Rope Ice Climbing Anchor

He reconfigured a statically equalized, redundant anchor into this sliding x. Not ideal. No limiter knots, so not redundant. But I’ve seen worse. This isn’t what I’m here to share.

By the way, notice the ratty-tatty American Death Triangle rappel set up behind it! I should have cut that crap off, but I’m ashamed to say it didn’t occur to me at the moment for some reason.

Redirected Jive-Ass Ice Climbing Top Rope Anchor runs across the back of my calves...

Redirected Jive-Ass Ice Climbing Top Rope Anchor runs across the back of my calves…

So here is where the fancy redirected top rope ice climbing anchor gets interesting. The belay ledge is barely a ledge–maybe a foot width to stand on. Stoner guy runs the rope along the back of my calves. Unfortunately I didn’t notice this until he weighted the system to get lowered and the rope came tight on my leg.

Jive-Ass Redirect Rube Goldberg Contraption.

Jive-Ass Redirect Rube Goldberg Contraption.

Here’s the redirect anchor. One fairly solid screw, and one totally jive-ass back up screw. Stoner guy ground the screw in until he hit rock (oops!), and decided to call it good. It’s kinda redundant, right? Hopefully that other screw is bomber. I argued with him while he constructed this mess (and while simultaneously trying to concentrate on my belaying). I was able to convince him to clip the hanger on the jive-ass screw rather than sling the exposed shaft.

Once the system came tight on my leg, I complained to Stoner guy #2 when he got to the top of his lap. And he and Stoner guy #1 suggested I just step over onto the other side of the rope. I imagined an anchor failure where I get cheese-sliced off the wall and decided against it. Thus the rope sawed back and forth on the back of my legs until I was eventually able to climb away from the station.

Good times.

Location: Crown point, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, USA

Rock Climbing Anchor Trap

Metolius PAS: The 'Trap Yourself in the System' Rock Climbing Anchor

The ‘Trap Yourself in the System’ Rock Climbing Anchor

Behold the ‘trap yourself in the system’ rock climbing anchor, constructed from a Metolius PAS 22 (PAS stands for “Personal Anchor System”). Apparently personal pro can be team pro as well. I found this photo on a gear review site. The reviewers, who loved the PAS 22, listed its ability to be used to construct an EARNEST*  rock climbing anchor as one of its many virtues. At first glance this appeared to me to be a pretty jive-ass application (we’ll get to that shortly), so I searched through Metolius’ instructional material regarding the proper use of the PAS 22. I can’t seem to find any mention of using it to build your belay station.

Notice also that the PAS 22 is attached to the climber’s harness by the belay loop. Typically you’d girth hitch the PAS 22 to your harness through the same connection points you use when you tie in with the climbing rope (into the same two contact points that your belay loop is attached to)–which is what Metolius recommends.

Notice also that the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso in ‘plaquette (or autoblock) mode’, but the device is threaded backwards (thanks to commenter leadZERO for pointing that out)! This photo is all kinds of fucked up, which makes one wonder about those gear reviews. But I digress…

*Equalized, Angle, Redundant, NExtension, Strong/Secure, Timely

Background on Personal Protection Tethers

Before we dive into our analysis of this anchor, a bit of background about the Metolius PAS. As the story goes, the PAS was invented to provide a much safer alternative to using a daisy chain as a personal protection leash. A daisy chain is designed for aid climbing and isn’t intended to support more than body weight. This is due to the fact that the individual loops that make the daisy chain adjustable in length are formed by tack stitching in the webbing, which is only rated to hold 2 – 3 kN of force. It’s highly feasible that you might exceed that amount of force if you fall when there is slack in the system. And if you’ve clipped in short in the wrong (but most obvious and likely way), you could easily rip yourself out of the anchor completely, as demonstrated in this video from Black Diamond. The Metolius PAS (and many similar leashes sold by other brands) avoids this danger by making the link loops independent chain links, which are dramatically stronger (the ’22′ in ‘PAS 22′ stands for 22 kN).
Long story short, if you’re the kind of climber who likes to use a personal protection leash or lanyard of some type, the PAS is a big improvement on a daisy chain. My personal concern with the Metolius PAS 22 is that it’s constructed from nylon and dyneema. While dyneema has incredible tensile strength, it doesn’t have very good dynamic elongation properties. My worry is that in a Factor 2 fall the leash might fail like the dyneema sling in this cautionary video from DMM (this is also why it’s not a good idea to use a dyneema sling as a lanyard either). It’s actually alarmingly easy to generate a Factor 2 fall with a personal protection leash. All you need to do is climb above your anchor while clipped in with the leash until you’re at the end of your tether (e.g., to place your first piece for a tricky lead), and then fall. And even if you don’t climb above your anchor but are level with it, and then you fall with slack in the system, that’s already a Factor 1 fall.

Some other brands make similar personal protection lanyards that are made entirely of nylon (e.g., the Sterling Chain Reactor), which would be my preference if I used a personal protection system like this. However, I personally prefer to always tie in with the climbing rope, which is the strongest and most dynamic way I can tie into an anchor. And in situations where I may have to untie from the rope (e.g., to rappel), I prefer to use a Purcell Prusik as a personal protection lanyard.

About that “Trap” Rock Climbing Anchor

Now back to the anchor in the photo above. While to my knowledge (someone please correct me if this is wrong) Metolius doesn’t recommend using the PAS 22 to construct your belay station, I have a hunch how these gear reviewers came up with this application.

Metolius sells a product called an Anchor Chain, which is a chain link of nylon/dyneema loops that are used to very easily create an equalized and redundant rock climbing anchor. It’s essentially a much easier to use replacement for a cordalette. This anchor chain looks more or less the same as a Metolius PAS. In fact, here is a photo.

Metolius Anchor Chain.

Metolius Anchor Chain.

The instructions for use of both the Metolius PAS 22 and the Metolius Anchor Chain appear in the same document, right next to one another. My guess is that the reviewers are simply using their Metolius PAS 22 like an Anchor Chain.

So what’s wrong with using the PAS 22 to construct your climbing anchor? Well since a product constructed of the more or less the same material and design as the PAS 22 is sold as anchor building material, it’s obviously strong enough to build an anchor. I don’t have any problem with it, per se. It’s perfectly bomber (not this particular anchor, necessarily, but in principle, using a sewn chain link like a cordalette). What I find to be Jive-Ass is the idea of using the same leash to simultaneously serve as the main climbing anchor and as your personal protection lanyard. The problem is that the climber is trapped within his own system.

Notice that in the photo the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso 3. One of the great advantages of that set up is that in a rescue scenario, the belayer doesn’t have to escape the belay to go help his climbing partner. He’s already out of the system. But if you construct the belay station with your personal protection leash, you’re trapped. There is no way to escape the belay while it’s weighted short of cutting the PAS off of your harness with a knife. Similarly, it’s impossible to block lead with this set up, because you can’t get out of the anchor system to start your next lead short of disassembling the very anchor the two of you are attached to the mountain with. For these reasons, I think using your personal protection leash to construct your belay station is Jive-Ass.

What do you think?

Location: Unknown.