Tag Archives: Abseiling

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 American Death Triangle Fairy

Apparently there is an American Death Triangle Fairy travelling around crags unwittingly doing a safety disservice for climbers. He was spotted by Nicole Castonguay at Smith Rock State Park back in October, although apparently (and unfortunately) she didn’t realize he was the American Death Triangle Fairy at the time. Here’s the story, from what I can gather from what Nicole told me:

Nicole decided to climb Chalk Wave with a pair of climbing students in Early October. Chalk wave is a sport route, meaning it has bolts (duh!) and a bolt rap anchor at the top (duh!). Bear with me, this will be important later.

Anyway, at the base of the route they encountered a couple who were just packing up to leave (SPOILER ALERT: One of these two people was the American Death Triangle Fairy!). As Nicole and her students set up, and the couple packed up, they engaged in some climbing small talk, you know, like you do. Anyway, one half of this couple, this unidentified guy whose name we may never know, informed Nicole that it was very difficult to pull your rope if you rappelled directly off of the bolts. So as a public service he’d constructed a rappel anchor with webbing, so people could rappel from a proper rappel ring, from which it is oh so much easier to retreive your rope. He added that Nicole and her students need not clean his webbing rappel anchor, that he always brought extra webbing with him for this purpose, and that in fact, he provided this kind public service frequently. My, what a kind, thoughtful person!

So they eventually said their goodbyes and Nicole lead up the route to the anchor, where she encountered this:

Classic American Death Triangle, Double Looped for Fake Redundancy.

Classic American Death Triangle, Double Looped for Fake Redundancy.

Oh yes. That’s right. Classic American Death Triangle! This is the gift that nameless couple guy leaves “frequently”! And this is why I have dubbed nameless couple guy The American Death Triangle Fairy. Is his philanthropy limited to Oregon? The Pacific Northwest? Does he provide this service internationally? We may never know. When I asked Nicole if she had an opportunity to tell this guy that his public service was Jive-Ass (in kinder, more diplomatic terms), she sadly told me, “He was long gone by the time I discovered his handiwork.” Dang!

As Nicole herself pointed out, notice that this is not only a classic American Death Triangle, but it’s double threaded from the same piece of webbing. Presumably the double wrap is for added strength and redundancy. But there are no limiter knots tied anywhere. It’s just one continuous loop of webbing. So the entire system is a single point of failure.

So what’s the big deal with the American Death Triangle? Well it’s an anchor so jive-ass that it has its own Wikipedia entry. If you’re not familiar, take a look, but in summary, the American Death Triangle creates unnecessary magnification of force on the two anchor points. It’s also not redundant in any way. Any bit of the webbing fails, and the whole works fails.

And okay, fine, these are bolts, which are pretty bomber, and we’re only talking about rappelling, which doesn’t generate a lot of force. And in that sense, this American Death Triangle isn’t likely to fail if you rappel off of it. But that doesn’t make it okay. It certainly isn’t EARNEST or SERENE. And most importantly, this certainly isn’t a very good public service.

In conclusion, I’d like to put out an APB (All Points Bulletin) to the climbing community. Be on the look out for The American Death Triangle Fairy: a man who leaves American Death Triangle rappel anchors with a fake redundancy extra loop on sport routes, last seen in Central Oregon, and considered dangerous (to himself and others). Find this man, educate him, and make him to stop leaving Jive-Ass anchors around.

Location: Smith Rock State Park, Oregon, USA

Jive-Ass Rappel Station

Jive-Ass Rappel Station with stopper knot affixing rope to a bolt

Jive-Ass Rappel Station

Gosh, how the heck do you tie a bight of rope to a bolt hanger after you already tied it to the other bolt hanger with a funky ass knot? This is the question I envision the crafter of the Jive-Ass Rappel set up above having in the midst of crafting this F-ed up anchor.  Now granted, I don’t know if the, um…the…what would you even call that? ‘Stopper knot’? The thing on the left I mean. The bight of rope affixed to a bolt hanger with an overhand knot (the idea apparently being that the big fat knot will keep the rope from pulling back through the hole in the bolt hanger). Let’s go with stopper knot. Anyway, I don’t know if the decision to create the stopper knot was due to fixing the other end of the rope to the other bolt hanger first. That’s just my spectulation. Call it imaginary forensics if you like. I frankly have no idea why anyone would do this.

This Jive-Ass rappel set up (abseil set up for the Brits and Aussies among us) was submitted by Drew Smith, who happened upon it at Twin Craigs in the Lake Tahoe region of California. And since a lot of you have expressed concern that we all actually do something to remedy Jive-Ass situations rather than just take photographs of them, I want it noted for the record that, yes, Drew removed this shit so no one would get hurt in the future.

Now can we go back for a moment and evaluate this thing? The knot on the right hand bolt anchor: what the heck is that? I thought maybe a bowline at first, but now I’m not so sure. I can’t for the life of me figure out what that is.

And the anchor powerpoint. What the hell is that knot? I thought an overhand on a bight, but it looks like that quick link is attached to only one loop. Where’s the second loop?

And finally, can I say it again? Why the hell would you affix a rope to a bolt hanger with a stopper knot?  Scary.

Location: Twin Craigs, near Tahoe City, California, USA

Captain America’s Jive-Ass BD Cobra Rappel

Captain America's Foes Rappel off of Black Diamond Cobras

Captain America’s Foes Rappel off of Black Diamond Cobras

Last Sunday I watched the new Marvel Comics summer Hollywood blockbuster, Captain America: The Winter Soldier with my climbing buddy Andrew. And while the comic book action hero genre isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I have to say I actually enjoyed the film. It takes on grand, global political themes related to security and freedom, information secrecy, black ops, international assassinations, and various other realpolitik horror that resonates rather well in today’s scary world. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

The Winter Soldier has unorthodox rappelling techniques.

The Winter Soldier has unorthodox technique.

In this film Captain America’s nemsis is a black clad supervillian with a metalic arm named “The Winter Soldier”. And this fellow and his band of rogues wreak havoc on a fairly grand scale. At one of those frantic, frenetic moments in the film, where shots are cut into lightening quick action sequences, the Winter Soldier’s minions decide they’re going to rappel off of a freeway overpass. The overpass is litered with crashed cars. And in a quick edit sequence we see these fellows unzip dufflebags and pull out Black Diamond Cobras! Yes, black, carbon fiber ice climbing tools (the black carbon fiber fits in nicely with the minions’ black and metalic bad guy gear and apparel aesthetic). And at this moment Andrew and I looked at each other with our stupid 3-D glasses and said, “Whoa! Black Diamond Cobras!”

Hollywood Urban Rappel Anchor: Black Diamond Cobra

Hollywood Urban Rappel Anchor: Black Diamond Cobra

In the flim these Cobra ice climbing tools each have a rope attached to the pommel. Captain America’s nemesis minions used them as urban rappel anchors! Yes! That’s right. They used them as rappel anchors. The sequence works thusly:

  1. Pull Black Diamond Cobra with rope affixed to the pommel from duffle bag.
  2. THWACK the Black Diamond Cobra right into the sheet metal (the roof, the hood, etc.) of an abandoned automobile.
  3. Rappel!

Now that’s some awesome summer blockbuster jive-assery. I have no idea if those Cobras would rip a large gash in the sheet metal once weighted with body weight, or if they’d hold. I’m sure Black Diamond wouldn’t recommend it. If the Zombie Apocalypse ever happens maybe those of us with ice tools will find out.

Black Diamond says rappelling from your Cobras no es bueno.

Rappelling from your Cobras no es bueno.

Location: Hollywood, California USA

Forbidden Rappel Anchor

Matt descending the final gendarme near the summit of Forbidden Peak.

Matt descending the final gendarme near the summit of Forbidden Peak.

Last weekend I climbed Forbidden Peak, just a few miles from the Canadian boarder in Washington’s North Cascades National Park. It’s an absolutely gorgeous climb–one of the most stunningly beautiful climbs in the United States in my opinion. It’s not surprising that it’s listed as one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America. It’s a huge ridge climb with fairly easy rock climbing (mostly  4th class with a few low 5th class moves) on solid, grippy granite, but with dramatic exposure and breathtakingly amazing vistas. The photo above is my climbing buddy Matt descending the final gendarme before the summit (I was on the summit when I took this shot). As you can see, it’s not exactly an ugly place.

You can see Forbidden Peak itself from the approach trail in the photo directly below.

Photo of the approach to Forbidden Peak in North Cascades National Park

Forbidden Peak: One of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America

At any rate, we were behind several other teams and one of them was particularly slow. We ended up stuck behind them all day, which made for an extremely long day. As a result, we ended up rappelling (abseiling for you Anglophiles) down the approach gullies in the dark.

Perhaps you’ve been there, setting up rappel stations in the dark with a headlamp when exhausted and sleepy and descending into the dark void, again and again, wishing you were back at camp snug in your sleeping bag.

I think it was around the sixth rappel that I found myself at the rappel anchor in the photo below.

Jive-Ass Rappel Station

Jive-Ass Rappel Station

I wasn’t the first in my team to arrive, mind you. Several of my party had already rappelled. I was just hanging there with my climbing companion Margaret, waiting for my turn, looking at the anchor. Did I mention I was tired? With nothing else to do, I examined the anchor (as is my habit). It occurred to me that what we had here was a bit of 6 mm perlon cord double wrapped through a little hole in the rock. The little hole was made by one protuberance of granite touching another, but they weren’t exactly connected. It wasn’t one continuous piece of rock. It was almost like a slung chockstone. And as if knowing this was a potential failure point, the anchor builder took one strand of that 6 mm perlon and tied it off to two bits of webbing slung around some rocks a bit higher.

I didn’t like it. After a few moments I took out my camera and took the photo above, to which Margaret said, “You think this is jive-ass, don’t you?” This is what people say whenever I take a photo of an anchor now. I said, “Yes!” And with that, we backed up the carabiners with a section of webbing tied to the slung rocks above and went on our way.

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