Tag Archives: climbing

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

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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.

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

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