Tag Archives: rappelling

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

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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

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.