Tag Archives: rock climbing anchors

Jive-Assery at Castle Rock State Park

Two Quick Draws to Top Rope Climbing Anchor
“Hmmm. I’ve slung all my shit together but the rope doesn’t quite make it to the edge. Dang! I wish there was a way I could extend the dyneema sling I tied off short to my quick draws…”

Imaginary conversation. I often construct these sorts of conversations when I encounter a jive-ass rock climbing anchor in an attempt to put myself into the head of the person who constructed it. This is the narrative that came to mind in this case. Why couldn’t this be extended just another few inches? I see no reason. And while we’re at it, who top ropes through a pair of rappel rings?  Where they worried about wearing grooves in those quick draw biners? How long are they planning to top rope here?

This Jive-Ass rock climbing top rope anchor was digitally captured in the wild by Devin Prouty at Goat Rock in Castle Rock State Park in California’s Bay Area. Devin says there are frequently J.A.A.s to be found there.  But wait, we’re not done with this one yet. There is more jive-assery. Usually I start at terra firma and work my way to the powerpoint, but today let’s work in the other direction. So here’s the bit that comes next.

Girth Hitched Soft Goods, because Carabiners are Very Expensive.

Girth Hitched Soft Goods, because Carabiners are Rare and Expensive.

Are soft goods girth hitched directly to soft goods? Yes. Yes they are. We’ve discussed this problem many times, for instance, here and here and here. Despite covering this topic over and over again the practice apparently continues, which shows what a fat lot of good this blog is doing!

I know you’re looking at those two slings stretched into those two locking carabiners. Wait for it…

Two lockers here, none at the next link in the system.

Two lockers here, none at the next link in the system.

—and here they are! Question #1 from yours truly: hey, I see you have not one but two locking carabiners there at that connection point in your fancy anchor system, but you don’t have any carabiners at the next connection point. I appreciate the extra redundancy here and all, but if you’re short on biners you might have…um…moved one of these lockers to that jive-ass girth hitch point.

Weird side loading on those lockers due to slings pulling at opposite angles? Maybe so. I don’t know how those things are attached to planet earth. Certainly not ideal.

I do want to make an announcement though. Some people on various climbing forums, the climbing sub-Reddit, etc. will occasionally wag their virtual finger, insisting that people should not be photographing jive-ass anchors to post on a blog for our fun and entertainment. No, instead, they should be instructing and correcting the fabricators of said jive-ass anchors so that they might mend their jive-ass ways, become enlightened, and climb safely in the future. Point well taken, even if it takes earnestness to a level that threatens to suck just a little bit of joy out of life. These people are correct, of course. We should all take the initiative to point out unsafe aspects of the climbing anchors we see in order to keep others from harms way. It’s the right thing to do.

To that end, I want you all to know that Devin was a good Samaritan. He informed the party responsible for this anchor about some of the jive-ass-pects of their anchor. Now you have to be delicate about this, because we climbers are a bunch of know-it-alls and we don’t always take criticism well. One might suffer a punch in the nose, or at the very least some scornful looks when one tries, ever so delicately and diplomatically, to tell a person that his or her climbing anchor may not be up to snuff. Devin reports that this party untied a sling (the dyneema one near the powerpoint I suspect) so that the rap rings at lest hung over the lip. They also offered some excuses about expecting to be able to use non-existent bolts.

Here is what we can’t see, according to Devin: “the green and blue/white sling are girth hitched to several other short slings that are run around a large mushroom of rock at the top of the cliff.” Oh my…

Location: Castle Rock State Park, California, USA

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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

Rock Climbing Anchor Trap

Metolius PAS: The 'Trap Yourself in the System' Rock Climbing Anchor

The ‘Trap Yourself in the System’ Rock Climbing Anchor

Behold the ‘trap yourself in the system’ rock climbing anchor, constructed from a Metolius PAS 22 (PAS stands for “Personal Anchor System”). Apparently personal pro can be team pro as well. I found this photo on a gear review site. The reviewers, who loved the PAS 22, listed its ability to be used to construct an EARNEST*  rock climbing anchor as one of its many virtues. At first glance this appeared to me to be a pretty jive-ass application (we’ll get to that shortly), so I searched through Metolius’ instructional material regarding the proper use of the PAS 22. I can’t seem to find any mention of using it to build your belay station.

Notice also that the PAS 22 is attached to the climber’s harness by the belay loop. Typically you’d girth hitch the PAS 22 to your harness through the same connection points you use when you tie in with the climbing rope (into the same two contact points that your belay loop is attached to)–which is what Metolius recommends.

Notice also that the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso in ‘plaquette (or autoblock) mode’, but the device is threaded backwards (thanks to commenter leadZERO for pointing that out)! This photo is all kinds of fucked up, which makes one wonder about those gear reviews. But I digress…

*Equalized, Angle, Redundant, NExtension, Strong/Secure, Timely

Background on Personal Protection Tethers

Before we dive into our analysis of this anchor, a bit of background about the Metolius PAS. As the story goes, the PAS was invented to provide a much safer alternative to using a daisy chain as a personal protection leash. A daisy chain is designed for aid climbing and isn’t intended to support more than body weight. This is due to the fact that the individual loops that make the daisy chain adjustable in length are formed by tack stitching in the webbing, which is only rated to hold 2 – 3 kN of force. It’s highly feasible that you might exceed that amount of force if you fall when there is slack in the system. And if you’ve clipped in short in the wrong (but most obvious and likely way), you could easily rip yourself out of the anchor completely, as demonstrated in this video from Black Diamond. The Metolius PAS (and many similar leashes sold by other brands) avoids this danger by making the link loops independent chain links, which are dramatically stronger (the ’22’ in ‘PAS 22’ stands for 22 kN).
Long story short, if you’re the kind of climber who likes to use a personal protection leash or lanyard of some type, the PAS is a big improvement on a daisy chain. My personal concern with the Metolius PAS 22 is that it’s constructed from nylon and dyneema. While dyneema has incredible tensile strength, it doesn’t have very good dynamic elongation properties. My worry is that in a Factor 2 fall the leash might fail like the dyneema sling in this cautionary video from DMM (this is also why it’s not a good idea to use a dyneema sling as a lanyard either). It’s actually alarmingly easy to generate a Factor 2 fall with a personal protection leash. All you need to do is climb above your anchor while clipped in with the leash until you’re at the end of your tether (e.g., to place your first piece for a tricky lead), and then fall. And even if you don’t climb above your anchor but are level with it, and then you fall with slack in the system, that’s already a Factor 1 fall.

Some other brands make similar personal protection lanyards that are made entirely of nylon (e.g., the Sterling Chain Reactor), which would be my preference if I used a personal protection system like this. However, I personally prefer to always tie in with the climbing rope, which is the strongest and most dynamic way I can tie into an anchor. And in situations where I may have to untie from the rope (e.g., to rappel), I prefer to use a Purcell Prusik as a personal protection lanyard.

About that “Trap” Rock Climbing Anchor

Now back to the anchor in the photo above. While to my knowledge (someone please correct me if this is wrong) Metolius doesn’t recommend using the PAS 22 to construct your belay station, I have a hunch how these gear reviewers came up with this application.

Metolius sells a product called an Anchor Chain, which is a chain link of nylon/dyneema loops that are used to very easily create an equalized and redundant rock climbing anchor. It’s essentially a much easier to use replacement for a cordalette. This anchor chain looks more or less the same as a Metolius PAS. In fact, here is a photo.

Metolius Anchor Chain.

Metolius Anchor Chain.

The instructions for use of both the Metolius PAS 22 and the Metolius Anchor Chain appear in the same document, right next to one another. My guess is that the reviewers are simply using their Metolius PAS 22 like an Anchor Chain.

So what’s wrong with using the PAS 22 to construct your climbing anchor? Well since a product constructed of the more or less the same material and design as the PAS 22 is sold as anchor building material, it’s obviously strong enough to build an anchor. I don’t have any problem with it, per se. It’s perfectly bomber (not this particular anchor, necessarily, but in principle, using a sewn chain link like a cordalette). What I find to be Jive-Ass is the idea of using the same leash to simultaneously serve as the main climbing anchor and as your personal protection lanyard. The problem is that the climber is trapped within his own system.

Notice that in the photo the belayer is belaying off of the anchor with a Petzl Reverso 3. One of the great advantages of that set up is that in a rescue scenario, the belayer doesn’t have to escape the belay to go help his climbing partner. He’s already out of the system. But if you construct the belay station with your personal protection leash, you’re trapped. There is no way to escape the belay while it’s weighted short of cutting the PAS off of your harness with a knife. Similarly, it’s impossible to block lead with this set up, because you can’t get out of the anchor system to start your next lead short of disassembling the very anchor the two of you are attached to the mountain with. For these reasons, I think using your personal protection leash to construct your belay station is Jive-Ass.

What do you think?

Location: Unknown.

Helmet Chock Anchor

Jive-Ass Helmet Chock Anchor

Jive-Ass Helmet Chock Anchor

This “unnatural pro” is awesome scary, and awesome jive-ass. I don’t even know if its for real. Apparently someone submitted it to the I Love Climbing community Facebook Page, and several climbing buddies ended up forwarded it to me.  I Love Climbing also has a website, if you’re interested.

At any rate, traditional rock climbers all have at least one or two tales of desperation in their repertoire of climbing stories. Shit happens, and we deal with it in the moment, and hopefully we live to climb wiser in the future. But shoving your climbing helmet into an off-width crack as a piece of trad pro? That’s certainly the most desperate of desperate measures, in par with last month’s Leather Belt Anchor. How many kilo-newtons of force can a plastic rock climbing helmet withstand when slung as a chock stone? You know what? We’ll probably never know, because who in the heck would ever think to test such a thing? I’d certainly hate to take a fall on that thing.

Location: Unknown.