Tag Archives: alpine climbing

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. 

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