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Scary Anchors, and How to Avoid Them


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Lee C · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0

Looking for some advice / responses from those more experienced:

I was the 5th and final climber on a 10.d in Joshua Tree, and after lowering off the route and walking-on to clean it, I discovered the anchor in this condition (photos). After my initial shock at what I was just hanging on, I returned to the ground to various reactions from my fellow climbers - some in equal disbelief, others had more of a "It's Josh, it happens" kind of attitude. The beginners expressed the shock, the more experienced were the more complacent. I wanted to pass this situation on to the forums and get some outside thoughts on how you might avoid a potentially dangerous/lethal (at very least, scary AF) blown anchor line on a trad route like this. I'm an experienced sport leader, and am comfortable working with fixed anchors, but trad is new to me. As such, I has no reason to check the anchor before climbing, given that the leader is much more experienced than me.

As you can see:
- The sheath of the cord is completely gone and the core was beginning to fray from abrasion with the rock.
- The anchor had two cams (a 5 and a 6, I believe), solidly placed in a crack low, and behind the master point
- The second (wider) angle photo shows the position of the cams, and the master point over a pretty sharp edge angled upwards, relative to the cams (the angle of the shot does exaggerate the upward angle, a little).

Looking for something a little more useful than emotional criticism of the anchor itself. Should the cord have inside a rope protector or oven a mat to protect it? Should more cams have been placed? Should it not have been built in this way at all? What could have been done to avoid this, or to have provided ample protection, if this anchor placement were unavoidable in the first place?



slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

hmmm, i would guess that your more "experienced climbers" are also total gumbies, albeit gumbies that don't want to look like gumbies in front of other gumbies.

pad the edge next time.  a pack works pretty well for this, if you don't have anything else.

Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

Stupid way to built that anchor in the first place. You could have just slung the rock outcrop to the left of the rope in the first photo and been in business. No need for cams or running a rope over a rough edge (which is EVERY edge in J-Tree.)

Don't use dynamic rope to extend anchors. Don't run rope over a rough edge when it's going to be pulled back and forth. 

JSH · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 1,028
others had more of a "meh, it happens" kind of attitude 

Don't climb with these people again.  What Slim said is right.

The anchor needed 1) a non-stretchy extension (cordalette, not dynamic rope), or padding where the rope ran; 2) a third piece.  Two is eyebrow-raising, side-eye minimal .... even for just a party of 2 on a multipitch.  For a toprope group of mixed experience, it's just plain irresponsible;  3) locking 'biners on those attachment points, because once you were down to one leg, you were on a single non-locker. It can seem overkill to use lockers everywhere on a TR anchor, but now you see why.
Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 113

Meh.

YGD™.

mediocre · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 0

I’d say that if you keep climbing with these people you certainly do have a reason to check the anchor before climbing. 

don'tchuffonme · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 25
Lee C wrote: Looking for some advice / responses from those more experienced:

I was the 5th and final climber on a 10.d in Joshua Tree, and after lowering off the route and walking-on to clean it, I discovered the anchor in this condition (photos). After my initial shock at what I was just hanging on, I returned to the ground to various reactions from my fellow climbers - some in equal disbelief, others had more of a "meh, it happens" kind of attitude. The beginners expressed the shock, the more experienced were the more complacent.
So, beginners had about a week of experience and the "more experienced" had how much time?  One leg of a two leg anchor fraying from top-roping shouldn't and doesn't warrant a "meh" attitude.  Stop climbing with these dipshits immediately and find someone that is actually experienced and cares about safety.
 I wanted to pass this situation on to the forums and get some outside thoughts on how you might avoid a potentially dangerous/lethal (at very least, scary AF) blown anchor line on a trad route like this.
Lead it.  Stop gang-top roping perfectly leadable routes with morons.
 I'm an experienced sport leader, and am comfortable working with fixed anchors, but trad is new to me. As such, I has no reason to check the anchor before climbing, given that the leader is much more experienced than me.
Doesn't appear so.  The fact that you were correctly alarmed at the situation when you saw it points to either A) you being more objective and critical about things, which is necessary, or B) you actually have more experience and the people that you were with were Class 5 chuffers.


As you can see:
- The sheath of the cord is completely gone and the core was beginning to fray from abrasion with the rock.
- The anchor had two cams (a 5 and a 6, I believe), solidly placed in a crack low, and behind the master point
- The second (wider) angle photo shows the position of the cams, and the master point over a pretty sharp edge angled upwards, relative to the cams (the angle of the shot does exaggerate the upward angle, a little).

Looking for something a little more useful than emotional criticism of the anchor itself. Should the cord have inside a rope protector or oven a mat to protect it? Should more cams have been placed? Should it not have been built in this way at all? What could have been done to avoid this, or to have provided ample protection, if this anchor placement were unavoidable in the first place?
I would venture a guess that at least one of you had a rope bag.  All rope bags have nylon rings.  A good way to protect edges like this is to use a friction hitch to secure the rope bag to the rope and position it over the edge underneath the rope.  Works great.  I also would have incorporated this horn in the anchor set up:


Seriously.  Stop climbing with the complacent, dismissive chuffers and find more people that are like-minded about safety.  The people you were with will probably either be dead, mangled, or will have returned to fantasy football once they've figured out that they're not suited for climbing.  Sorry to be such a snarky dick about it, but it's absolutely true.  I see it all the time.





JP S · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 0

I'm new to trad as well, but the idea of not examining and questioning the anchor simply because you're not as experienced is both unsafe and robbing you of the potential learning opportunity.   It is important to find partners with similar risk tolerances,and to also ask as many questions along the way as possible, while being respectful.  They probably would have admitted it's not ideal, but may not know a better way (see: slinging outcropping). Hopefully this is a good learning experience, considering nothing terrible happened, and you can use it to stay safer in the future.

Michael M · · Rockville, MD · Joined May 2018 · Points: 20

Cut a length of 1 inch tubular webbing and thread the anchor lines through the webbing to protect the rope. Secure it in place as you see fit. Your anchor line frayed like that because it was under tension. The webbing solves this problem. Alternatively, you could use a mat or buy an actual rope protector.

Your anchor cord looks like the crap 7 mm accessory cord you buy at REI. Use a length of 8-11 mm static rope instead, or use a fiber with more abrasion resistance like Technora. 

phylp · · Upland · Joined May 2015 · Points: 622
Lee C wrote: Looking for some advice / responses from those more experienced:

 but trad is new to me. As such, I has no reason to check the anchor before climbing, given that the leader is much more experienced than me.
I might suggest that since trad is new to you, you should take the opportunity to inspect every anchor that someone else places, to see if you have any questions or concerns.  Your life depends on i and it's the best way to learn.  When I am climbing with less experienced people, I always quickly walk them through the anchor construction. On multipitch, with a new partner, I will always inspect their anchor and invite them to look at mine. It only takes a few secs.  If I've set up a toprope, I will usually verbally tell the people on the ground when I get down, what I set up.  With longer term partner, the trust is there and it becomes a non-issue.

With this particular anchor, it's not the two pieces that bother me, those sizes in a good placement will hold a truck, but the placement of the rope over the edge like that is a red flag.  I don't think whomever set that anchor is nearly as experienced as you think they are, or as they think they are.

Another point is that not every route makes for a good toprope.  I will sometimes get to the top of something I was planning to set as a toprope, so I could lower to the ground and be comfortable, and then decide it made more sense just to sit there and belay from above.

Happy New Year!
. Mobes · · MDI · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 865

I'd probably whip on that at least once if the gear was good. 

Carolina · · Rural NC · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 75
don'tchuffonme wrote:
Lead it.  Stop gang-top roping perfectly leadable routes with morons.

You had me at Lead It. 

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 113

Unexpectedly sharp edge shreds TR anchor at Josh. News and live video at 10.

Nick B · · Anchorage, AK · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 61

When I have climbing students/mentees  I always impress upon them that it's their responsibility to always inspect their partner/my anchors.   This is important for learning and it keeps us both safer.   Buddy checks are incredibly important when possible and drastically reduced the chance of injury.  We are all human and make mistakes at some time or another. Hopefully they minor and are not of the YGD variety.   You are right to be concerned and if your partners were not properly disturbed by that anchor you should reconsider who you climb with.    I have had some good friends that I won't climb multipitch or on their anchors without seeing them as they consistently make anchor errors without learning from them.

Never fall entirely into "client" mode.   You are responsible for your own safety

Trad Dad Atlas · · charlotte, nc · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 5

Agree with the folks above in that it would have been better to sling that nub to the left in the first picture as well as find another crack or SOMETHING to back it up.  Then you at least have 2 solid pieces with minimal abrasion potential.  Ditch those clowns!

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

Is this climb right next to Hands Off?

Lee C · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2019 · Points: 0

Thanks for the perspective. It's reasonable that I'm underestimating my own experience, or at least my own ability to critically assess an anchor. I wouldn't have trust this setup on a fixed anchor, so trad shouldn't be any different - if I had checked it. That's probably the bigger mistake: assuming all was good and safe. Slinging the horn in an interesting idea I wouldn't have considered (lack of experience), in addition to the more obvious 'putting a bag/mat under the rope.'

It wasn't my cord, but I believe this is what was used: https://www.rei.com/product/118270/bluewater-7mm-x-30-ft-accessory-cord - What would have been a better product?

"Lead it." Also a prime idea :)

Vaughn · · Colorado · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 50

That is definitely scary and should not be dismissed.  It would have been better to avoid this anchor configuration altogether.

Should the cord have inside a rope protector or oven a mat to protect it?
-Yes if there is absolutely no other option for the anchor location, then a mat or other protector would have been appropriate. I've seen rubber hoses used which seemed legit.

Should more cams have been placed?
-Probably. Two cams for a top rope setup that will have 5 climbers is a little sketchy although if the placements were mega bomber and couldn't possibly walk then I guess its ok.

Should it not have been built in this way at all?
-Yes. as others have pointed out, there looks to be a nice horn in the photo there and there are probably other placements that would have avoided the cord over edge situation.

What could have been done to avoid this, or to have provided ample protection, if this anchor placement were unavoidable in the first place?
-Pad the edge, or consider not top roping this route. (lead or go someplace else). In general, if someone from my party is building an anchor from gear to set up a top rope I would like to see the anchor myself unless that person is someone I know very well and trust.

Assuming the "experienced" climber who built this anchor is your friend, I think it would be smart to have a one-on-one discussion with him/her about this incident and get their take privately. The "meh" reactions you got may partially be due to some defense of ego in front of other people and you may have a more productive discussion in private.

M Sprague · · New England · Joined Nov 2006 · Points: 5,014
Lee C wrote: Thanks for the perspective. It's reasonable that I'm underestimating my own experience, or at least my own ability to critically assess an anchor. I wouldn't have trust this setup on a fixed anchor, so trad shouldn't be any different - if I had checked it. That's probably the bigger mistake: assuming all was good and safe. Slinging the horn in an interesting idea I wouldn't have considered (lack of experience), in addition to the more obvious 'putting a bag/mat under the rope.'

It wasn't my cord, but I believe this is what was used: https://www.rei.com/product/118270/bluewater-7mm-x-30-ft-accessory-cord - What would have been a better product?

"Lead it." Also a prime idea :)

1/2" logging chain, the noob of the group always carries the anchor material ;)

Seriously, If you are going to be building TR anchors a length of something like Bluewater 11 static rope is really handy, being super strong, very abrasion resistant, yet still knots well. It is fairly heavy, but a lot nicer to use compared to webbing imo, and you can also use it for scrubbing routes and other things. There are often 120'  specials available. You still want to be aware of protecting the rope from sawing over edges, especially with rough sharp rock like that. - and the noob still gets the job of carrying it.
Señor Arroz · · LA, CA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10
Lee C wrote:It wasn't my cord, but I believe this is what was used: https://www.rei.com/product/118270/bluewater-7mm-x-30-ft-accessory-cord - What would have been a better product?

"Lead it." Also a prime idea :)

At least once per year I find myself camping with a group of people who look to me to set up some topropes for beginner climbers. On those trips I have a special TR-only rigging bag that contains the following: Two lengths of static rope, approximately 10mm x 60 feet. An old set of hexes (only time I ever use them). An old set of stoppers. Three lockers. A bunch of heavy old oval biners. A length of webbing for tying custom slings as needed around boulders. With this kit I NEVER have to dip into my real rack and good climbing gear to take care of my newbie friends.

The static lines let you rig really long TR anchors off things far away from the edge of your climb. Create a master point with a couple lockers and you're good to put your dynamic rope up as a TR without it rubbing along any edges.

I would NEVER use 7 mm cord in the fashion it was used in your example. That really shows poor judgement by whoever rigged it. 

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,810
Lee C wrote: 
It wasn't my cord, but I believe this is what was used: https://www.rei.com/product/118270/bluewater-7mm-x-30-ft-accessory-cord - What would have been a better product?

Josh rock is super rough. So for me it would be 9mm static MINIMUM. 10 or 11mm much preferred.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Trad Climbing
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