Tag Archives: knots

If You Can’t Tie a Knot, Tie a Lot


Here is a classic macrame project top rope rock climbing anchor.

Here’s an interesting jive-ass anchor submission from Remillard Park in Berkeley, California sent to me by Alex Duncan and Chris St. Amant. This one’s subtle. It’s one of those instances where there’s enough redundancy going on that it’s probably not going to kill anyone. Besides, it’s for top roping. It’s not going to generate big fall forces. However, there’s enough weird shit going on that it’s pretty clear that the anchor builder is sort of just making it up as he goes.

As Alex himself put it, “We decided that this man had adopted the ‘If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot’ policy.” And you know what? If you don’t exactly know what you’re doing that’s probably a better policy than going minimalist. If your knots suck there may be safety in numbers.

So we’re starting from the power point and going back to the anchor points on this one. Looks like someone’s climbing without a personal protection leash on this excursion, because it’s being used as part of the power point. No big deal I suppose. Let’s move back a bit.

Someone actually backed up an anchor bolt with a daisy chain girth hitched around a bit of pipe in the rock.

It’s always good to back up a bolt with a daisy chain girth hitched around a piece of pipe, said no one ever.

One leg of the anchor is attached to a proper rock climbing anchor bolt with a locking carabiner. Bomber! I feel really good about that.

There’s some other shit going on here too involving a piece of aid climbing gear. I don’t really understand that part.

This top rope rock climbing anchor knot is sort of like a Bowline Knot

Classic Mystery Knot.

The other leg of this two point natural pro/bolted pro combo is tied to a rock with a…knot. At least I think it’s a knot. It could be a random tangle in the rope. Alex writes that neither he nor Chris could identify it, nor could two other people they asked.

See, now this bit is pretty jive-ass. And there’s really no good excuse for it. You can teach yourself how to tie a freakin’ bowline right here on the internet. Here’s a how to tie a bowline tutorial. And here is another. And here is another. And here is yet another. There are many more. Yeesh.

Location:  Remillard Park in Berkeley, California, USA

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

Allergic to Metal Top Rope Anchor

Allergic to Metal Top Rope Anchor, witnessed in The Gunks.

Allergic to Metal Top Rope Anchor, witnessed in The Gunks.

Alex Fox found this little gem when climbing in The Gunks a few weeks ago. “Allergic to Metal” is his name, due to the fact that, well, there is nary a carabiner or nut or cam other piece of metal anywhere to be seen. I’ve certainly seen worse anchors, but this is pretty Jive-Ass just the same. 

Apparently the yellow cord going off-camera is tied to a tree with some exotic knot Alex couldn’t identify. “[I]t was backed up with a double overhand,” he added, “so was likely fairly secure.” All fine and well I suppose. But the stuff in the shot? Yeah. That’s Jive-Ass gold! Here are the issues Alex was able to enumerate himself:

1) “The webbing is tied around a completely detached boulder.” In other words, a classic Wiley Coyote set up. It’s a pretty big rock, mind you. But it’s not really that big!

2) There is some “hot nylon-on-nylon action” (my words being quoted by the way!) where cord meets webbing in a girth-hitch. Why, oh why not just connect the pieces of cord with a carabiner? We know what can happen when you connect soft goods together with a girth hitch. This happens (note the paragraph titled “Cyclic”).

3) Then there is a dyneema sling, which has a melting point of about 130 to 136 °C (266 to 277 °F), rather precariously girth hitched around another rock. 

4) Finally, and this is the clincher, Alex notes that both the nylon and dyneema webbing have a few random overhand knots tied in them, which, as Alex eloquently puts it, “didn’t appear to serve any purpose aside from weakening its overall strength.”

Location: Shawangunk Ridge (The Gunks), New York, USA

Hot Spectra-on-Spectra Action!

Spectra girth hitched to Spectra

Hot Spectra-on-Spectra Action

I see soft goods girth hitched to other soft goods in anchors all the time. In this case a spectra/dyneema sling is girth hitched to a spectra/nylon mix runner on a hex.

Location: Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Spectra-on-Spectra Close Up

Spectra-on-Spectra Close Up

I’ve posted more than one “soft goods girth hitched to soft goods” anchor (see Girth Hitch Death Wish), so let’s discuss this knots issue. Any knot in cordage or webbing decreases its strength. These girth hitches reduce the strength of the slings to only 60 – 65% of their original strength. Had a carabiner been placed between the slings, there would be no knots, and the slings would still be full strength.

And how about the webbing material? HMPE (High Modulus Polyethelyne) fiber, sold under the brand names Spectra and Dyneema, is stronger than steel, light weight, and offers minimal elongation (i.e., it doesn’t stretch far before breaking). It also has a relatively low melting point: 147°C. That’s not a lot hotter than the temperature of boiling water. Friction, at enough pressure and speed, can generate enough heat to melt this fiber. An example of this pressure and speed would be if, for example, you girth hitched a Spectra runner to another Spectra runner and then had a climber fall on it. Those girth hitches would immediately tighten very tight, a great pressure and speed, and…well you get the idea. This isn’t just ‘theory’. There are examples from the field of Spectra slings melting and failing at knot points in this way, so it’s just not a good practice to tie Spectra webbing together like this.

If you care to geek out, here’s some testing from Black Diamond and the folks at Caves.org, and here’s a recent article on the pros and cons of Spectra v. Nylon from Rock and Ice. Finally, Here’s an interesting video testing knotted Dyneema from DMM. They don’t test slings girth hitched together, but the basic idea from the results are instructive just the same.


Update: Todd Eddie offers the following link to tests from Black Diamond testing just what we’re addressing: webbing girth hitched to webbing.