Tag Archives: belay

Model Belay Station

Rat's Nest Belay Anchor

Rat’s Nest Belay Anchor

Ever since the photo above was sent to me I’ve been having this recurring nightmare. In my dream I’m seconding a route. For some reason we’re using two fatty single ropes like a set of half ropes. I get up to the belay station and I see that my belayer is belaying me off of this…thing. My heart leaps. I am very afraid. I want to say “What the fuck, dude?” but before the words can leave my mouth the whole works comes undone and we both fall to our deaths.

What the hell am I looking at here? I am completely dumbfounded by this “belay anchor”.  I’m not sure where it starts and where it ends, or how it might have been constructed, or why. What sequence of events and chain of causes lead a human being to knit this rat’s nest together?  Were psychedelic drugs involved?

This anchor is from Little Cottonwood Canyon just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The person who submitted the photo wishes to remain anonymous to protect the identity of the mad scientist who constructed this masterpiece of jive-ass clusterfuckage. I can assure you that he has a good sense of humor. “Model Belay Station” is his name for this photograph. He also suggests that the best method for escape the belay from this set up might be a “boning knife”.

Take another look at this thing. Seriously. Do me a favor. Count the caribiners for me. What do you see? Including the one in the climber’s belay loop I see seven. Seven! I don’t believe what I see, but that’s what I see. What the heck are they doing, all of these carabiners? What is their purpose? Oh I know. They’re some how connecting two climbing ropes and, what is that? Are those quickdraws threaded in there? Notice that none of the carabiners appear to be locking carabiners. Are any of them at a single point of failure?

Seriously folks. This is a total head-scratcher. Why? That’s the question I’m left with. Why was this thing made the way it was made? This thing is terrifying.

Location:  Little Cottonwood Canyon, Salt Lake City, Utah USA

Macramé Project Rock Climbing Anchor

Jive-Ass Rock Climbing Anchor or Elaborate Macrame Project?

Jive-Ass Rock Climbing Anchor or Elaborate Macrame Project?

Whoa! Check out this elaborate jive-ass rock climbing anchor from Joshua Tree! I was asked to post this anonymously, so as not to embarrass the macramé artist who created it. There’s a lot going on here, so for purposes of orientation, let’s assume the four sides of the photo correspond to the four cardinal points of a compass. What we seem to have here is a three point anchor created out of the blue cordage, created for a ‘westward’ direction of pull. All fine and well, I suppose, except that belay device (Trango Cynch? Gri-Gri?) is set up for a ‘southward’ pull. Yikes! What keeps that blue cord anchor from getting yanked 90 degrees from the angle of pull it was designed for if the seconding climber falls? Oh yeah, that sort of tan colored rope coming from the west and tied to the blue cord anchor’s power point will keep that from happening, right? But wait, what the heck is that tied to? Well that’s revealed in the larger photo below (wait for it! don’t look yet!).

Regardless, what we have are, apparently, two opposite and opposed anchors set up for a horizontal (east-west) load force. There’s the blue cord anchor set up for a westward pull, and whatever is on the other end of the tan rope, which is set up for an eastward pull. Nothing wrong with that, if you’re expecting a horizontal (east or west) load. Ah, but that’s not what we expect! In this case we see a belay is set up at the power point for a vertical load (climber is coming from the south). That’s jive-ass–especially for a belay station.

Not to fear though. It appears the belayer has tied into a separate anchor with the climbing rope. That anchor is attached to the same pro as the blue cord anchor with a long double runner fashioned into a sliding x with no limiter knots (which is jive-ass). If the blue cord anchor blows by pulling the gear out of the rock, that back up jive-ass sliding x also goes.

Now back to the question a paragraph or so up. What’s that tan colored climbing rope coming from the west tied to? It’s tied to this:

The Rest of the Elaborate Joshua Tree Jive-Ass Macrame Project Rock Climbing Anchor.

The Rest of the Elaborate Joshua Tree Jive-Ass Macrame Project Rock Climbing Anchor.

It appears there is a second macramé project rock climbing anchor on the other side! It’s hard to see exactly how it’s constructed, but whatever it is, it appears to come to a power point as a sliding x, set up for an eastward load force. And how is it connected to the tan rope? Well the tan rope is just clipped into the power point biner. It’s not tied to it in anyway, which makes you ask, what’s at the other end of that tan rope? I have no idea, but I certainly hope it’s not yet a third elaborate macramé project. How many cordalettes, slings, and locking carabiners does this climber carry?

Oh yeah, one more thing! The in EARNEST stands for “timely”. How long do you suppose it took to knit this beast together?

This elaborate monstrosity is one of the most impressive examples of jive-assery we’ve seen on this blog yet! Very, very impressive. I hope no one was hurt.

Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

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

Rock Climbing Anchor Trap

Metolius PAS: The 'Trap Yourself in the System' Rock Climbing Anchor

The ‘Trap Yourself in the System’ Rock Climbing Anchor

Behold the ‘trap yourself in the system’ rock climbing anchor, constructed from a Metolius PAS 22 (PAS stands for “Personal Anchor System”). Apparently personal pro can be team pro as well. I found this photo on a gear review site. The reviewers, who loved the PAS 22, listed its ability to be used to construct an EARNEST*  rock climbing anchor as one of its many virtues. At first glance this appeared to me to be a pretty jive-ass application (we’ll get to that shortly), so I searched through Metolius’ instructional material regarding the proper use of the PAS 22. I can’t seem to find any mention of using it to build your belay station.

Notice also that the PAS 22 is attached to the climber’s harness by the belay loop. Typically you’d girth hitch the PAS 22 to your harness through the same connection points you use when you tie in with the climbing rope (into the same two contact points that your belay loop is attached to)–which is what Metolius recommends.

Notice also that the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso in ‘plaquette (or autoblock) mode’, but the device is threaded backwards (thanks to commenter leadZERO for pointing that out)! This photo is all kinds of fucked up, which makes one wonder about those gear reviews. But I digress…

*Equalized, Angle, Redundant, NExtension, Strong/Secure, Timely

Background on Personal Protection Tethers

Before we dive into our analysis of this anchor, a bit of background about the Metolius PAS. As the story goes, the PAS was invented to provide a much safer alternative to using a daisy chain as a personal protection leash. A daisy chain is designed for aid climbing and isn’t intended to support more than body weight. This is due to the fact that the individual loops that make the daisy chain adjustable in length are formed by tack stitching in the webbing, which is only rated to hold 2 – 3 kN of force. It’s highly feasible that you might exceed that amount of force if you fall when there is slack in the system. And if you’ve clipped in short in the wrong (but most obvious and likely way), you could easily rip yourself out of the anchor completely, as demonstrated in this video from Black Diamond. The Metolius PAS (and many similar leashes sold by other brands) avoids this danger by making the link loops independent chain links, which are dramatically stronger (the ’22’ in ‘PAS 22’ stands for 22 kN).
Long story short, if you’re the kind of climber who likes to use a personal protection leash or lanyard of some type, the PAS is a big improvement on a daisy chain. My personal concern with the Metolius PAS 22 is that it’s constructed from nylon and dyneema. While dyneema has incredible tensile strength, it doesn’t have very good dynamic elongation properties. My worry is that in a Factor 2 fall the leash might fail like the dyneema sling in this cautionary video from DMM (this is also why it’s not a good idea to use a dyneema sling as a lanyard either). It’s actually alarmingly easy to generate a Factor 2 fall with a personal protection leash. All you need to do is climb above your anchor while clipped in with the leash until you’re at the end of your tether (e.g., to place your first piece for a tricky lead), and then fall. And even if you don’t climb above your anchor but are level with it, and then you fall with slack in the system, that’s already a Factor 1 fall.

Some other brands make similar personal protection lanyards that are made entirely of nylon (e.g., the Sterling Chain Reactor), which would be my preference if I used a personal protection system like this. However, I personally prefer to always tie in with the climbing rope, which is the strongest and most dynamic way I can tie into an anchor. And in situations where I may have to untie from the rope (e.g., to rappel), I prefer to use a Purcell Prusik as a personal protection lanyard.

About that “Trap” Rock Climbing Anchor

Now back to the anchor in the photo above. While to my knowledge (someone please correct me if this is wrong) Metolius doesn’t recommend using the PAS 22 to construct your belay station, I have a hunch how these gear reviewers came up with this application.

Metolius sells a product called an Anchor Chain, which is a chain link of nylon/dyneema loops that are used to very easily create an equalized and redundant rock climbing anchor. It’s essentially a much easier to use replacement for a cordalette. This anchor chain looks more or less the same as a Metolius PAS. In fact, here is a photo.

Metolius Anchor Chain.

Metolius Anchor Chain.

The instructions for use of both the Metolius PAS 22 and the Metolius Anchor Chain appear in the same document, right next to one another. My guess is that the reviewers are simply using their Metolius PAS 22 like an Anchor Chain.

So what’s wrong with using the PAS 22 to construct your climbing anchor? Well since a product constructed of the more or less the same material and design as the PAS 22 is sold as anchor building material, it’s obviously strong enough to build an anchor. I don’t have any problem with it, per se. It’s perfectly bomber (not this particular anchor, necessarily, but in principle, using a sewn chain link like a cordalette). What I find to be Jive-Ass is the idea of using the same leash to simultaneously serve as the main climbing anchor and as your personal protection lanyard. The problem is that the climber is trapped within his own system.

Notice that in the photo the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso 3. One of the great advantages of that set up is that in a rescue scenario, the belayer doesn’t have to escape the belay to go help his climbing partner. He’s already out of the system. But if you construct the belay station with your personal protection leash, you’re trapped. There is no way to escape the belay while it’s weighted short of cutting the PAS off of your harness with a knife. Similarly, it’s impossible to block lead with this set up, because you can’t get out of the anchor system to start your next lead short of disassembling the very anchor the two of you are attached to the mountain with. For these reasons, I think using your personal protection leash to construct your belay station is Jive-Ass.

What do you think?

Location: Unknown.

Homage to Rube Goldberg: An Ice Anchor

Jive-Ass Ice Anchor

Jive-Ass Ice Anchor

Wow! Where do I even begin with this Rube Goldberg contraption? This Ultra-Jive-Ass Ice Anchor was submitted by Ryan Cupp, who is proving to be expert at finding jive-ass anchors. If we could issue tickets for every anchor building best practice violation, this anchor would cost a fortune.

I think a ‘laundry list’ is in order for this one, so let’s count them off:

  1. First, there’s the matter of the daisy chain personal protection leash (designed for aid climbing, not personal pro). It’s clipped in short to one of the ice screws, and the carabiner at the end if it–the one you usually use to clip yourself to the anchor for personal protection–is the power point of the freakin’ anchor! The belayer has thus trapped himself in the system. Short of cutting his leash, there is no way to escape the belay without un-weighting the anchor and at least partially disassembling it.
  2. The left ice screw is slung with part of a quick draw. It’s not clipped to the screw with a carabiner to ensure it won’t fall off. The sling is simply, well, slung onto the shaft of the ice screw. It’s not even girth hitched to the shaft to keep it from potentially falling off. Scary.
  3. Finally, look at that sling that joins the two screws into a power point. It is not redundant. Had he put a twist in one of the strands at the power point he’d at least have a sliding x. As it is, if one end of that sling comes lose (see issue #2 above), the whole system fails.

This thing is pretty sketchy. Whomever built it should really go get some instruction on anchor building. John Long’s classic Climbing Anchors isn’t a bad place to start. While it primarily addresses rock anchors, the principles are the same for ice anchors.

Nice use of a plaquette device (old school Petzel Reverso) though.

Location: Mt. Hood, Oregon, USA