Tag Archives: Knot

Jive-Ass Rappel Station

Jive-Ass Rappel Station with stopper knot affixing rope to a bolt

Jive-Ass Rappel Station

Gosh, how the heck do you tie a bight of rope to a bolt hanger after you already tied it to the other bolt hanger with a funky ass knot? This is the question I envision the crafter of the Jive-Ass Rappel set up above having in the midst of crafting this F-ed up anchor.  Now granted, I don’t know if the, um…the…what would you even call that? ‘Stopper knot’? The thing on the left I mean. The bight of rope affixed to a bolt hanger with an overhand knot (the idea apparently being that the big fat knot will keep the rope from pulling back through the hole in the bolt hanger). Let’s go with stopper knot. Anyway, I don’t know if the decision to create the stopper knot was due to fixing the other end of the rope to the other bolt hanger first. That’s just my spectulation. Call it imaginary forensics if you like. I frankly have no idea why anyone would do this.

This Jive-Ass rappel set up (abseil set up for the Brits and Aussies among us) was submitted by Drew Smith, who happened upon it at Twin Craigs in the Lake Tahoe region of California. And since a lot of you have expressed concern that we all actually do something to remedy Jive-Ass situations rather than just take photographs of them, I want it noted for the record that, yes, Drew removed this shit so no one would get hurt in the future.

Now can we go back for a moment and evaluate this thing? The knot on the right hand bolt anchor: what the heck is that? I thought maybe a bowline at first, but now I’m not so sure. I can’t for the life of me figure out what that is.

And the anchor powerpoint. What the hell is that knot? I thought an overhand on a bight, but it looks like that quick link is attached to only one loop. Where’s the second loop?

And finally, can I say it again? Why the hell would you affix a rope to a bolt hanger with a stopper knot?  Scary.

Location: Twin Craigs, near Tahoe City, 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

Nice dog! Is That a Bowline?

Dog securely anchored to a tree with a bowline knot.

Dog securely anchored to a tree with a bowline knot.

I was walking in downtown Portland, Oregon a while back and I came across a dog tied to a tree in front of a restaurant. I noticed that the knot used to tie the rope around the tree was none other than the infamous bowline knot, suggesting that dog’s owner was either a sailor or a climber. I didn’t get to talk to the owner, so I guess we’ll never know.

I have to admit that the bowline surprised and delighted me–enough that I was prompted to take this very poor photo. I think it’s in part a matter of context. As a climber I encounter this knot all the time in alpine climbing anchors. However, I don’t expect to run across a bowline in the city. I mean urban dog owners typically don’t know their knots. I would have expected a square knot at best, or a ‘granny knot’ at worst.

The dog just stood there staring attentively, like he was waiting for something to happen.

“What ya looking at boy?” I asked him. And I half expected him to respond.

“Well this rabbit came out of the hole. He ran around the tree, and then he went back down the hole. If he comes back out of that hole he’s mine.”

Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

Mystery Knot

Mystery Knot

Mystery Knot

Time to play “guess that knot!” Observe the mystery knot above (part of a top rope ice climbing anchor). What the heck is that? I know what you’re thinking: bowline. But I saw it up close and observed it from several angles. It’s unlike any bowline I’ve ever seen. It looks more like part of a trucker’s hitch or something, or maybe one of those knots you use to tie monofilament fishing line to a fish hook. Clinch knot? Is that what it’s called? My knot geekness is sort of limited to climbing knots, so I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that it looks like it’s about to come undone! The other end of this anchor has a similar “looks like it’s about to come undone” mystery knot.

Oh yeah, ice climbers were top roping off of this thing.

Location: Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado, USA

Mystery knot

Mystery knot from another angle

Knot Shoved in a Crack?

Knot stuffed in a crack anchor

Knot stuffed in a crack

This Jive-Ass rappel (abseil for you Anglophiles) anchor was photographed by Ryan Cupp. It’s on the summit block of Mt. Shuksan, in Washington’s North Cascades National Park. I actually saw this scary thing when I climbed the Fisher Chimney route in 2011 (imagine the UV damage that webbing has suffered in the meantime), but I neglected to photograph it. I’m so grateful that Ryan snapped a photo.

I didn’t trust this protection and neither did Ryan.

Location: Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA

The picture is pretty self-explanatory. This anchor point consists of a knot tied in a piece of nylon webbing and stuffed in a crack in the rock. Traditionally, this is known as a “knot chock”. They’re typically tied in rope, but also in webbing, and to be fair, some people will surely debate their Jive-Ass status.

It’s always been my understanding that in the early days of rock climbing and alpine mountaineering, and perhaps even up to the 1970s and 1980s among poor dirt baggers with limited funds, knot chocks were used fairly regularly as an inexpensive and effective means of passive protection. But with the advent of decent wire nuts and hexes, and eventually spring loaded camming devices (SLCDs), knot chocks went the way of the alpenstock and the hobnail boot. At least among the North American trad climbers and alpinists I know, knot chocks are archaic, old school, no longer is use, and of dubious trustworthiness. And I am certainly of this school. A knot stuffed in a crack looks, well, pretty Jive-Ass to me. I certainly wasn’t about to rappel off of one on the summit block of Mt. Shuksan (even if I could have been certain that the webbing was fresh and free of UV damage). As a modern, western gear geek I’m used to using bomber, thoroughly drop tested, field tested, UIAA and CE certified gear that’s reliably rated for a quantifiable number of kNs. I don’t know what kind of forces a knot in a section of 9/16 inch webbing can hold, so I don’t trust it. Maybe I’m just a prima donna that way, but I like being alive.

All of that said, I also understand that in some parts of the world using knots as passive pro is still common practice. I’ve been told that rope chocks are common place in parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, and even in Western Europe on delicate rock (like sandstone) that would be damaged by conventional metallic trad gear. And after a bit of my own informal online research, I also see rope chocks are sometimes still used by a few American canyoneering die-hards as an environmentally friendly (i.e. it doesn’t gouge sandstone) means of protection, at least if this article by Dave Black is accurate. So perhaps rope chocks aren’t so obsolete after all.

I still don’t want to rappel off of one though.

For some forum discussion on knot chocks, see this discussion from SuperTopo and this discussion from RockClimbing.com.