Model Belay Station

Rat's Nest Belay Anchor

Rat’s Nest Belay Anchor

Ever since the photo above was sent to me I’ve been having this recurring nightmare. In my dream I’m seconding a route. For some reason we’re using two fatty single ropes like a set of half ropes. I get up to the belay station and I see that my belayer is belaying me off of this…thing. My heart leaps. I am very afraid. I want to say “What the fuck, dude?” but before the words can leave my mouth the whole works comes undone and we both fall to our deaths.

What the hell am I looking at here? I am completely dumbfounded by this “belay anchor”.  I’m not sure where it starts and where it ends, or how it might have been constructed, or why. What sequence of events and chain of causes lead a human being to knit this rat’s nest together?  Were psychedelic drugs involved?

This anchor is from Little Cottonwood Canyon just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The person who submitted the photo wishes to remain anonymous to protect the identity of the mad scientist who constructed this masterpiece of jive-ass clusterfuckage. I can assure you that he has a good sense of humor. “Model Belay Station” is his name for this photograph. He also suggests that the best method for escape the belay from this set up might be a “boning knife”.

Take another look at this thing. Seriously. Do me a favor. Count the caribiners for me. What do you see? Including the one in the climber’s belay loop I see seven. Seven! I don’t believe what I see, but that’s what I see. What the heck are they doing, all of these carabiners? What is their purpose? Oh I know. They’re some how connecting two climbing ropes and, what is that? Are those quickdraws threaded in there? Notice that none of the carabiners appear to be locking carabiners. Are any of them at a single point of failure?

Seriously folks. This is a total head-scratcher. Why? That’s the question I’m left with. Why was this thing made the way it was made? This thing is terrifying.

Location:  Little Cottonwood Canyon, Salt Lake City, Utah USA

Deadly Optimism

This utterly brilliant, ultra-sketchy Jive-Ass Anchor was photographed and submitted by Andrew McLeod, who happened upon it at one of the UK’s most popular crags (Stanage). I would like to commend Andrew right at the outset for providing exceptional photographic documentation, and delicious expository prose with his submission. Indeed, he had me at the caption of the first photo, which reads, “This was one of the most, if not the most, optimistic sling placements I have ever seen.” He was referring to this:

Sheer Luck Sling: An Optimistic Sling Placement that is barely holding on the edge of a slab of rock.

Optimistic Sling Placement

Whoa! Optimistic indeed. This would be the ‘dark side’ of optimism. It looks as though that thing is going to just slip over the edge at any moment. And this provokes an interesting bit of climbing philosophy to ponder. There is value to being a bit pessimistic about climbing. I don’t mean so grim and hopeless that you see no point in leaving your living room sofa to go out climbing. What I mean is having enough pessimism to plan and be prepared for the worst case scenario even if you always hope for the best case scenario. This is sometimes described as “protective pessimism“. It gives you a better margin of error. If you’re counting on everything to come off perfectly in order to succeed, you’re eventually going to get screwed badly–especially in as unforgiving an activity as climbing. This is what I mean by the dark side of optimism (illustrated well in the photo above).

But I digress! Let’s examine this “optimistic” anchor further, starting this time at the power point and working backwards.

Clove hitch loving power point.

A Power Point for Clove Hitch Lovers.

This is the power point. Notice that there are a lot of clove hitches attaching the rope to the carabiner. “for reasons unknown,” as Andrew notes. What the fuck are the clove hitches for exactly, I mean apart from creating a rat’s nest of clusterfuckage? Note also that the power point isn’t extended far enough to make it over the edge of the rock, so there is a spectra/dyneema sling attached. Notice that that spectra/dyneema sling is girth hitched to the carabiner, again for reasons unknown (knots and hitches weaken cordage, so this isn’t helping).  As Andrew also notes, there was more than enough rope left to extend that power point over the edge (especially if you were to remove a half a dozen of those clove hitches). The sling is unnecessary.

So just to orient you for the next pictures, here is Andrew’s handy description of where the strands run: “Left hand rope goes to sheer-luck sling [Editor’s Note: aka the Optimisitic Sling Placement], right hand rope to boulder-jam thread, centre to under-boulder gear.” Sounds delightful, no? You’ve already seen the sheer-luck sling, so let’s move onto the boulder-jam thread.

Boulder Jam Thread.

Boulder Jam Thread.

Oh hell yeah! Let’s thread a sling between two rocks pinched together! What could possibly go wrong (i.e. more dangerous optimism)? Never in the history of climbing has a sling pulled through a pinch between two rocks!

Thread the pinch!

Thread the pinch!

Here is a close up from another angle. Don’t do this, okay? This is Jive-Ass.

Let’s move on to the middle strand of rope (the short leg of the three point anchor), which Andrew described as “under-boulder gear”.

Underside of the boulder pinch.

Under-Boulder Gear.

This is a bit hard to see, so I’ll leave it to Andrew to describe: “Originally I thought this was two bits of gear and two quick-draws but looking at the photo more carefully I am beginning to think it is just one size 10 nut (the one my friend got out; the silver colour matches if it is DMM) with two opposed quick-draws. Which, given the completely non-redundant single sling over the edge, would be kind of insane, but believable…” I will add this point though: given the optimistic sling placement and the sketchy rock pinch, if this nut is well placed, then it’s really the only thing holding this mess together. That’s right. If I understand this correctly, they’re essentially top roping on a single nut placement. I hope it was well placed!

And there you have it. Luckily top roping doesn’t generate large forces. Thank’s for sharing Andrew McLeod. And to the rest of you, keep taking photos and sending them along.

Location: Stanage Edge, Derbyshire/South Yorkshire, UK

Wrench in the Works

Trad tool?

Trad tool?

Behold! Yeah, that’s right. Take a good, long, hard look. Let it soak in for a few minutes. This piece of trad climbing performance art/mockery was discovered by Chis Mills outside Val David, in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. As Chris himself put it, “looked surprisingly well-placed as climbing spanners go!” He made this remark after asking if this counts as Jive-Ass, which reveals that Chris has a healthy sense of humor.

Have you looked it long and hard yet? Yeesh! This is one of those things that leaves you scratching your head, thinking to yourself, Why is this here? Or more importantly, how is it that this is here? How did this come to pass?

“Can’t say whether or not it’s ever been used in anger,” Chris told me, “but it’s definitely stuck up there!” WTF? Who carries a wrench up a trad route?

Wait, let’s back up. Let’s start over. Okay? Okay, here we go:

Imagine you’re out trad climbing with one of your friends. You’re on the sharp end. You’re up the wall a ways and suddenly you notice. “Shit! I’m completely out of gear!” Why are you out of gear? Heck, I don’t know. Maybe you sewed it up. Maybe you have a very small rack. Maybe you left your rack home. I don’t know. Work with me here. Anyway, there you are on the sharp end and maybe you’re a good way above your last piece, right? And you say, “Shit! I’m completely out of gear!” But no worries! It’s cool, because you’re an automobile mechanic! And you left work with a few tools still in your pocket, and….

No, no, no! You’re not a mechanic. You’re the cable guy! Yeah! You’re the cable guy, and you’ve just spent all day installing cable television and broadband in residential houses in Val David. They have cable television in Val David, right? Surely they do. And because you’re so into cable TV installation you go everywhere with your tool belt! You’re hanging there in the middle of a trad route, your empty rack, your harness, and your cable TV installer’s work belt! It’s strapped there around your waist. And you say to yourself, “Shit! I’m completely out of gear! But wait! I have this spanner. This Crescent wrench device. It’s about as wide as the crack I think. And if it’s not, no matter! This tool is adjustable to fit! And you’re almost out of draws too. You only have one, and it only has the one carabiner on one end, so you tie the other end of the sling onto the crescent spanner wrench thing with…holy crap, what is that? With a square not? A reef knot? An overhand knot? It doesn’t matter. Pick a Jive-Assy knot! My hand’s getting sweaty here! And off you go!

I’m sure that must be what happened. Yeah.

Location: Near Val-David, Quebec, Canada

These Bolts are Screwy

Imagine you’re leading a sport route. It’s a “soft” 5.12a, but you’re a strong climber, so no big deal. You top out and encounter a rappel anchor set up like this:

Innocent looking anchor bolts.

Innocent looking anchor bolts.

Nothing to see here, right folks? Perfectly acceptable and bomber set up. NBD, right? Right. But looks can be deceiving. Imagine a guy involved in a rebolting project shows you that the bolts holding this anchor into the rock actually look like this:

Rusty rappel station bolt. Wait, what is that?

Rusty rappel station bolt. Wait, what is that? A wood screw?

Holy shit! Is that rusty thing a wood screw? A lag bolt? Here’s the other one:

More Jive-Assery.

More Jive-Assery.

Damn! That one is sketchy as hell too! This is what you were rapping on, and not just here, but other bolts on this and several other routes. They looked perfectly fine when they were bolted in. But when they’re unscrewed they look like this:

Jive-Ass Lag Bolts(?)

Jive-Ass Lag Bolts(?) from Ozone, near Portland, Oregon.

These bolts were replaced at Ozone, a little climbing crag near Portland, Oregon, USA, by Topher Dabrowski and Micah Klesick as part of the Portland Re-Bolting Project. And bless those guys for volunteering their time to do so! This project is financially supported by local climbing club, The Mazamas and by the American Safe Climbing Association.

Topher and Micah rebolting at Ozone.

Topher and Micah rebolting at Ozone.

Now back to those Jive-Ass bolts. We have a policy here on Jive-AssAnchors.com not to name, shame, or ridicule anyone who may have, inadvertently or otherwise, engaged in acts of anchor jive-assery, That would be wrong. This being the case, I’m not going to name the routes where these anchors were found. You know the route, then you can figure out who put up the FA. And the person who put up the FA is almost certainly the person who bolted the route. Yes? So we won’t mention that. There has already been a bit of butt hurt in the Portland area climbing community on climbing forums concerning this delicate subject. In this regard, it has been pointed out by unnamed witnesses to the original bolting effort, that these screws are not just some garden variety lag bolts. Rather, they are actually Hilti Reusable Coil Anchors, considered acceptable for climbing purposes by some people, somewhere, at some period in history, damn it. And they’re not just “lagged” into a rocky hole, because there’s actually a little steel coil in that hole adding strength, like so:

Hilti HCA Resuable Coil Anchor: for dry indoor use only please.

Hilti HCA Resuable Coil Anchor: for dry indoor use only please.

Now that’s all fine and well, I suppose, except that the Hilti folks themselves stipulate that these bolts are to be used in dry, indoor conditions only, and not in the wet, outdoor, “temperate rain foresty” conditions of the American Pacific Northwest. They’re not intended for climbing routes, and they’re not even stainless steel!  Moreover, as Topher has pointed out, “The first bolt only required a 1/2 turn of the head by hand and it came right out!” Yikes. And Micah has pointed out that they were lead to rebolt this area due to several bolt failures in which bolts came loose–one on an overhang, and one due to a lead fall! So yeah, don’t use these.

At any rate, those Jive-Ass bolts have been replaced with nice, solid, climbing-route-appropriate stainless steel, torqued into place like so:

Nice new stainless steel bolts, torqued to specification.

Nice new stainless steel bolts, torqued to specification.

Long story short, donate money to rebolting efforts in your area. The ass that get’s saved may be yours!

Location: Ozone, near Portland, Oregon, USA

The Bow Tie

Holy crap, I am so excited to share this anchor submission with you all! It’s awesome jive-assery of the “over-engineered macrame project” variety (my favorite style). Beyond that it’s just bizarre. It’s from the Ouray Ice Park (hard to believe, I know) and the photos were submitted by Kent Bailey, who was visiting the park for the first time.  Kent calls this beast “The Bow Tie”, which is aptly named, as you can see.

An utterly strange ice climbing top rope anchor, macrame stylie.

Figure 1: An utterly strange ice climbing top rope anchor, macrame stylie.

As you can see, this is a redundant two point anchor. One anchor point is that simple loop of rope tied around the left tree with a knot I can’t quite identify. Here is a closer view. Any ideas anyone?

Bow Tie Ice Climbing Anchor from Another Angle.

Bow Tie Ice Climbing Anchor from Another Angle.

That knot on the left edge of the photo: it doesn’t quite look like a bowline. Not sure what it is. At any rate, here is a third photo from another angle:

Figure 3: Bow Tie Ice Climbing Top Rope Anchor from another angle.

Figure 3: Bow Tie Ice Climbing Top Rope Anchor from another angle.

Let’s move onto the second anchor point of this redundant anchor. It appears to be the load end of that elaborate spiderweb of rope wrapped around the two trees and tied up in a bow. You can see it better in figure 1. Yep. Looks like that’ll hold. I think it’ll hold. Which brings us to the question–to the elephant in the room as it were: why are those two trees bound together with that macrame project of rope? Is the idea to keep one of them from uprooting and getting yanked down the ice wall? They seem like pretty stout trees to me. Is this intended to be an art installation? In the end it really doesn’t look all that dangerous. It’s just…well…bizarre. I really don’t get it. I think Kent put it best when he wrote “I’m not really sure what all is really going on in this anchor.” My thoughts exactly, Kent. This is Jive-Ass Gold!

Location: Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado, USA