Tag Archives: Climb

Deadly Optimism

This utterly brilliant, ultra-sketchy Jive-Ass Anchor was photographed and submitted by Andrew McLeod, who happened upon it at one of the UK’s most popular crags (Stanage). I would like to commend Andrew right at the outset for providing exceptional photographic documentation, and delicious expository prose with his submission. Indeed, he had me at the caption of the first photo, which reads, “This was one of the most, if not the most, optimistic sling placements I have ever seen.” He was referring to this:

Sheer Luck Sling: An Optimistic Sling Placement that is barely holding on the edge of a slab of rock.

Optimistic Sling Placement

Whoa! Optimistic indeed. This would be the ‘dark side’ of optimism. It looks as though that thing is going to just slip over the edge at any moment. And this provokes an interesting bit of climbing philosophy to ponder. There is value to being a bit pessimistic about climbing. I don’t mean so grim and hopeless that you see no point in leaving your living room sofa to go out climbing. What I mean is having enough pessimism to plan and be prepared for the worst case scenario even if you always hope for the best case scenario. This is sometimes described as “protective pessimism“. It gives you a better margin of error. If you’re counting on everything to come off perfectly in order to succeed, you’re eventually going to get screwed badly–especially in as unforgiving an activity as climbing. This is what I mean by the dark side of optimism (illustrated well in the photo above).

But I digress! Let’s examine this “optimistic” anchor further, starting this time at the power point and working backwards.

Clove hitch loving power point.

A Power Point for Clove Hitch Lovers.

This is the power point. Notice that there are a lot of clove hitches attaching the rope to the carabiner. “for reasons unknown,” as Andrew notes. What the fuck are the clove hitches for exactly, I mean apart from creating a rat’s nest of clusterfuckage? Note also that the power point isn’t extended far enough to make it over the edge of the rock, so there is a spectra/dyneema sling attached. Notice that that spectra/dyneema sling is girth hitched to the carabiner, again for reasons unknown (knots and hitches weaken cordage, so this isn’t helping).  As Andrew also notes, there was more than enough rope left to extend that power point over the edge (especially if you were to remove a half a dozen of those clove hitches). The sling is unnecessary.

So just to orient you for the next pictures, here is Andrew’s handy description of where the strands run: “Left hand rope goes to sheer-luck sling [Editor’s Note: aka the Optimisitic Sling Placement], right hand rope to boulder-jam thread, centre to under-boulder gear.” Sounds delightful, no? You’ve already seen the sheer-luck sling, so let’s move onto the boulder-jam thread.

Boulder Jam Thread.

Boulder Jam Thread.

Oh hell yeah! Let’s thread a sling between two rocks pinched together! What could possibly go wrong (i.e. more dangerous optimism)? Never in the history of climbing has a sling pulled through a pinch between two rocks!

Thread the pinch!

Thread the pinch!

Here is a close up from another angle. Don’t do this, okay? This is Jive-Ass.

Let’s move on to the middle strand of rope (the short leg of the three point anchor), which Andrew described as “under-boulder gear”.

Underside of the boulder pinch.

Under-Boulder Gear.

This is a bit hard to see, so I’ll leave it to Andrew to describe: “Originally I thought this was two bits of gear and two quick-draws but looking at the photo more carefully I am beginning to think it is just one size 10 nut (the one my friend got out; the silver colour matches if it is DMM) with two opposed quick-draws. Which, given the completely non-redundant single sling over the edge, would be kind of insane, but believable…” I will add this point though: given the optimistic sling placement and the sketchy rock pinch, if this nut is well placed, then it’s really the only thing holding this mess together. That’s right. If I understand this correctly, they’re essentially top roping on a single nut placement. I hope it was well placed!

And there you have it. Luckily top roping doesn’t generate large forces. Thank’s for sharing Andrew McLeod. And to the rest of you, keep taking photos and sending them along.

Location: Stanage Edge, Derbyshire/South Yorkshire, UK

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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

That’s Just Lazy

Girth Hitch that Bolt Hanger!

Girth Hitch that Bolt Hanger!

‘Tis the season to get Jive-Ass Anchor submissions from Smith Rock State Park, apparently. I received this photo, taken last weekend, from several climbing friends. Credit to Eric Kennedy for being the first. And here’s the juicy kicker: several people have pointed out to me that this anchor was constructed by a climbing guide who was teaching clients to climb. Yeesh!

The offense here, of course, is that this ‘guide’ girth hitched a spectra/nylon sling directly to one of the bolt hangers rather than attaching it with a carabiner (like on the other bolt).

And yeah, yeah, okay. It’s just a top rope anchor. No one is going to generate big fall forces. And for top roping or rappelling, girth hitching like this is probably no big deal (unless there is a burr or a sharp edge on that bolt hanger). And it’s tied off with a figure 8, so its redundant, so even if the girth hitch failed the strand attached to the other bolt would still hold. Points all well taken. But it’s a Jive-Ass rock climbing anchor just the same. Wish someone would have asked. Lazy? Out of carabiners? Missed that day at guide school? What?

Location: Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.

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

 

 

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.