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.