Category Archives: Snow Anchors

Anchors made in the snow, usually with pickets.

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!

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 Snow Picket

Jive-Ass Snow Picket

Jive-Ass Snow Picket

Check out this Jive-Ass, Old-Skool, homemade snow picket we found on the Eliot Glacier on the north side of Mt. Hood this weekend. It’s a beauty! We were on the glacier practicing high angle rescue techniques and this thing was just laying on the ice on one of the lower ice shelves near the start of the terminal morane.

Like most glaciers, the Eliot is retreating and melting at a rather disturbing rate. My hunch is that this Jive-Ass homemade picket was frozen up there in the glacier for a fairly decent amount of time, until it finally it melted free of its icy grave, sort of like Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,300 year old man who popped out of the Italian Alps in 1991. 

 Ötzi the Iceman (photo: Wikicommons)

Ötzi the Iceman (photo: Wikicommons)

I’m not saying this picket was buried in the ice for anything approaching that amount of time, mind you. I’m thinking maybe a decade or two. This highly speculative hypothesis is supported in some small measure by the 1970s era Chouinard Carabiner attached to it. That thing is an antique. Yvon Chouinard hasn’t sold carabiners since Chouinard Equipment Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1989, due to several product liability lawsuites, and several former employees bought the inventory and founded Black Diamond Equipment

As to the picket itself? It appears to be a rather thin aluminum tube with a hole drilled in the end. Through that hole there is a piece of steel cable formed into a loop with a metal cable crimp. Notice also that the tube is sort of bent. I hope that didn’t happen while someone was hanging from it. 

Location: Eliot Glacier, Mt. Hood, Oregon, USA

 

 

Bollards are not Jive-Ass

Constructing a bollard snow anchor

Wim Aarts constructing a bollard snow anchor

I was teaching an intermediate level snow climbing class this weekend and was reminded of how suspiciously beginning alpine climbers view bollards the first time they see them. A rappel anchor made of a rope wrapped around a bit of snow?  I suppose we shouldn’t blame them, because at first glance they do look a little jive-ass. And to be fair, in making test bollards constructed in sloppy snow I’ve seen the rope cut through like a hot knife through butter. But in hard snow, where you have to chop the trough with the adze of you ice ax, they’re extremely strong. And if you back up the rope with a few pickets or ice axes (one of each in the photo above), have the heavier climbers rappel first, and then have the lightest person pull the back up gear and go last, it’s also quite safe.

At any rate, we built a few bollards this weekend to prove the point. The students weren’t convinced until one of the instructors, Andrew Rios, rappelled first, proving that one could do so and live to tell about it.

Andrew raps off of the bollard

Andrew raps off of the bollard

Location: White River Glacier, Mt. Hood, Oregon, USA

Obvious for all but the novice alpine climber? I’m not so convinced. Case in point: last summer I climbed the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak with my buddy Matt. This is primarily an alpine rock route, but the approach to the rock involves climbing up a couloir of fairly steep snow and ice. As the summer progresses and the snow melts, it pulls away from the rock leaving an intimidating moat on all sides of an ever steeper peninsula of snow.  It’s steep enough that most people prefer to rappel back down it rather than risk down climbing the late day mushy snow. There are bolts on the rock for late season when all of the snow is melted out. However, when we were there in July, when the couloir is still filled with snow, the bolts were an unreachable 2 meters from the edge of the snow ramp. A number of climbers–obviously more comfortable on rock than on high angle snow–made the dangerous and difficult decision to climb into the moat, risking a deadly slide under the snow and ice, to set up a rappel from those bolts.

A much faster, easier, and safer method would have been to carve a bollard into the edge of the snow, which is exactly what Matt and I did.

Steve making a snow bollard rappel anchor.

Steve making a snow bollard rappel anchor (Photo by Matt Sundling).

Location: Forbidden Peak, North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA