Tag Archives: climbing anchors

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

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

Desperate Anchor Measures

Square knot anchor?

Square knot anchor?

Ever tie a climbing anchor with the same knot you tie your shoe laces? Yeah, me either. But whomever built the anchor above has. This is an honest-to-goodness jive-ass anchor photographed in the wild (on Oregon’s North Sister) by Stephanie Spence. As Steph notes, what we have here is a “square knot backed up by two overhands”(!). And judging by all of the loose sand around it, that rock the rope is slung around is pretty suspect as well.

This looks like a Wiley Coyote set up. You take a fall on the anchor, the rock the anchor is slung around pulls loose, you fall to the bottom of the cliff, and to add insult to injury, the rock you just pulled loose lands on your head. Here’s a rough dramatization for those of you unfamiliar with Road Runner cartoons.

But wait! There’s more! There is another anchor in this jive-ass set:

Sketch Slung Horn Anchor

Sketch Slung Horn Anchor

As Stephanie notes, this one is at least tied together with a double fisherman’s knot, although I don’t get the overhand knot in the middle. Presumably it was supposed to cinch the rope around the horn to keep it from falling off (there are better ways to accomplish this). More importantly, as Stephanie notes, “it’s just barely draped over that rock that may or may not be attached to the mountain.” I wouldn’t want to take my chances falling on this one anymore than the Wiley Coyote set up.

Below is a close up showing that there’s not much of a horn to keep the rope from slipping off of the rock:

Close-up of sketchy slung horn anchor.

Close-up of sketchy slung horn anchor.

So why would anyone in their right mind make such jive-ass anchors? Stephanie gives us some insight on that question.

“I was scrambling on up [North] Sister yesterday,” she writes, “and noticed these amazing anchors along what I believe is typically considered the “terrible traverse”.  One can only assume someone tried to cross this section on snow having not brought any pickets.” And there you have it. Desperate measures sometimes call for desperate climbing anchors. Another thing to note, which corroborates Steph’s impromptu forensic investigation, is that these anchor slings are made out of sections of climbing rope! It paints quite a desperate picture of someone panicked by exposure, having underestimated the climb, having failed to bring any protection, and having marginal technical skills (see the square knot), actually chopping off sections of his or her climbing rope to build some desperate anchors on the rock above the snow. Scary stuff, huh?

Location: North Sister, 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

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