Category Archives: Ice Anchors

Anchors made in the ice, usually with ice screws and/or v-threads.

Comrades in Arms

Some climbing buddies pointed out to me today that Climbing Magazine posted a Ridiculous Anchors Edition of their Unbelayvable series (which recounts harrowing tales of reader-submitted climbing stupidity). And this installment does indeed deliver some high quality climbing anchor Jive-Assery, the most noteworthy being this one:

Jive-Ass Quick Draw chain anchor, from John Gregory's blog "Dumb Anchors"

Jive-Ass Quick Draw chain anchor, from John Gregory’s blog “Dumb Anchors”

The Climbing magazine piece quotes a guy named John Gregory in its photo caption (it would have been decent of them to at least post a link to his fine blog) [UPDATE: they did add a link to John’s site in the Climbing magazine piece–nice work!], so I looked him up to discover that John is almost like a long lost brother, a comrade in arms as it were. John manages an awesome blog–not unlike Jive-Ass Anchors–called Dumb Anchors. Most of his examples appear to be from Carderock, Maryland, USA. And indeed the photo above is from his blog. In fact, John has also posted a photo of this “dumb anchor” from another angle, which illustrates the full cluster-fuckery of this horrible anchor even more explicitly. There are some real gems in John’s blog. You should check it out.

At any rate, seeing this sort of inspired me to offer a shout out to everyone out there fighting the good fight by documenting and dissecting all of the Jive-Ass anchors we encounter out there in the world. And for those of you who see and photograph them, I’d also like to encourage you to not only witness but also to intervene. If you see something particularly dangerous and you can fix it, or educate the builder of said Jive-Ass anchor (with a bit of tact and diplomacy of course), please do so. Here are a few of the more prominant lousy anchor resources online:

  1. As I just discovered, there is the Dumb Anchors blog from John Gregory: http://dumbanchors.blogspot.com/
  2. The Mountain Project forums has a Bad Anchors section with some pretty good (bad) stuff too: http://www.mountainproject.com/v/bad-anchors/108031892
  3. The forums on SuperTopo has a rather awesome section called Good Anchors, Bad Anchorshttp://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/569713/Good-Anchors-Bad-Anchors
  4. And finally, while not devoted exclusively to horrifying climbing anchors, the /r/climbing sub-Reddit on Reddit often has instances of pure Jive-Ass gold. People send me stuff form here all the time: http://www.reddit.com/r/climbing

Missing anything? Let me know!

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Nothing EARNEST or SERENE

Not very EARNEST  Alpine Anchor

Not very EARNEST Alpine Anchor

Imagine you’re climbing some alpine mixed route, and your buddy belays you up to this anchor. Hmmm…. What great time to review your climbing anchor mnemonics!  SERENE? Not so much:

Strong/Solid placements: Single boulder precariously fused into frozen pile of mud  (No).

Equalized: To what? It’s a single sling (No).

Redundant: Single sling  slung onto a single boulder is a single point of failure (No).

Efficient: Like the trains in Germany (Yes).

NExtension: Well if a piece should break the climber and anchor fall, what, 60 meters? Farther? How high are we again? (No).

EARNEST? I don’t think so:

Equalized: A single strand is always equal to itself, right? (No)

Angle: What angle? You need two intersecting lines to make an angle (No).

Redundant: Well if the sling breaks or the rock comes unstuck from the mud….um….(No).

NExtension: Yeah sure, there’s a lot of ‘extension’. But when the climber eventually hits the ground he/she will not shock load the detached anchor, so is that a yes? (No).

Solid/Secure: Sling girth hitched to boulder, boulder attached to…?  (No).

Timely: Oh hell yeah! I bet this anchor took less than a minute to build. (YES!).

Brad Farra sent me this photo. And I know who built the anchor, but I’m not telling (and no, it wasn’t Brad!). I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a case of “desperate times demand desperate measures”. Sometimes you come to the end of your rope and, well, there just aren’t a lot of options–especially in the alpine. So you make due with what you have. I once buried a Black Diamond Viper in the snow as a ‘deadman’ belay anchor on Devil’s Kitchen Headwall on Mt. Hood. No ice to take a screw and I was out of pickets. It happens.

But let’s make no bones about it: this anchor is ultra Jive-Ass. Extra points for the old school first generation Petzl Reverso.

Location: Unknown, but somewhere in North America no doubt. 

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