Monthly Archives: May 2013

Are You Proud of Your Anchor?

Martial Dumas is super proud of his anchor.

Martial Dumas is super proud of his anchor.

Petzl produced a nice mixed climbing video several years ago, filmed in characteristically (so I am told) terrible conditions on Ben Nevis. In it, Petzel athlete Martial Dumas pridefully “owns” his anchor is a way that’s both humorous, but also kind of awesome. The dialogue is as follows (if you’re a Francophone you don’t need the subtitles):

“Martial Dumas”
“Yes?”
“Are you proud of your anchor?”
“Super proud.”

What’s great about Martial’s proud pronouncement is that the anchor building conditions are far from ideal. He’s got two hexes in an icy crack (always a somewhat sketchy proposition), statically equalized with a spectra sling. In short, he makes due with what he’s got to work with.

This conversation happens in the video at 6:40. Check it out here:

I’d like to suggest that when whenever you build an anchor you should imagine that upon completion an interviewer will show up with a camera and ask you if you are proud of your anchor. If you build your anchor with a view to being able to exclaim with pride and confidence “super proud!”, I suspect you’ll end up constructing a pretty good anchor.

Location: Ben Nevis, Scotland

Mystery Knot

Mystery Knot

Mystery Knot

Time to play “guess that knot!” Observe the mystery knot above (part of a top rope ice climbing anchor). What the heck is that? I know what you’re thinking: bowline. But I saw it up close and observed it from several angles. It’s unlike any bowline I’ve ever seen. It looks more like part of a trucker’s hitch or something, or maybe one of those knots you use to tie monofilament fishing line to a fish hook. Clinch knot? Is that what it’s called? My knot geekness is sort of limited to climbing knots, so I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that it looks like it’s about to come undone! The other end of this anchor has a similar “looks like it’s about to come undone” mystery knot.

Oh yeah, ice climbers were top roping off of this thing.

Location: Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado, USA

Mystery knot

Mystery knot from another angle

Knot Shoved in a Crack?

Knot stuffed in a crack anchor

Knot stuffed in a crack

This Jive-Ass rappel (abseil for you Anglophiles) anchor was photographed by Ryan Cupp. It’s on the summit block of Mt. Shuksan, in Washington’s North Cascades National Park. I actually saw this scary thing when I climbed the Fisher Chimney route in 2011 (imagine the UV damage that webbing has suffered in the meantime), but I neglected to photograph it. I’m so grateful that Ryan snapped a photo.

I didn’t trust this protection and neither did Ryan.

Location: Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA

The picture is pretty self-explanatory. This anchor point consists of a knot tied in a piece of nylon webbing and stuffed in a crack in the rock. Traditionally, this is known as a “knot chock”. They’re typically tied in rope, but also in webbing, and to be fair, some people will surely debate their Jive-Ass status.

It’s always been my understanding that in the early days of rock climbing and alpine mountaineering, and perhaps even up to the 1970s and 1980s among poor dirt baggers with limited funds, knot chocks were used fairly regularly as an inexpensive and effective means of passive protection. But with the advent of decent wire nuts and hexes, and eventually spring loaded camming devices (SLCDs), knot chocks went the way of the alpenstock and the hobnail boot. At least among the North American trad climbers and alpinists I know, knot chocks are archaic, old school, no longer is use, and of dubious trustworthiness. And I am certainly of this school. A knot stuffed in a crack looks, well, pretty Jive-Ass to me. I certainly wasn’t about to rappel off of one on the summit block of Mt. Shuksan (even if I could have been certain that the webbing was fresh and free of UV damage). As a modern, western gear geek I’m used to using bomber, thoroughly drop tested, field tested, UIAA and CE certified gear that’s reliably rated for a quantifiable number of kNs. I don’t know what kind of forces a knot in a section of 9/16 inch webbing can hold, so I don’t trust it. Maybe I’m just a prima donna that way, but I like being alive.

All of that said, I also understand that in some parts of the world using knots as passive pro is still common practice. I’ve been told that rope chocks are common place in parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, and even in Western Europe on delicate rock (like sandstone) that would be damaged by conventional metallic trad gear. And after a bit of my own informal online research, I also see rope chocks are sometimes still used by a few American canyoneering die-hards as an environmentally friendly (i.e. it doesn’t gouge sandstone) means of protection, at least if this article by Dave Black is accurate. So perhaps rope chocks aren’t so obsolete after all.

I still don’t want to rappel off of one though.

For some forum discussion on knot chocks, see this discussion from SuperTopo and this discussion from RockClimbing.com.