Dangerous and ridiculous climbing anchors

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A toprope anchor I found in Carderock, Maryland. No, it wasn’t staged.—Courtesy of John Gregory of Dumb Anchors. Check out Dumb Anchors for many, many more teeth-grinding inducing climbing anchors.

LESSON: Before reading on, I recommend clicking on the photo above to see the full size version. You really have to think big to appreciate what is happening here. This anchor is ridiculous. Let’s start by looking at what was done right. This tree is a solid piece of natural protection. It’s over 6 inches in diameter, it’s alive, and it seems to be firmly rooted in the ground (from what I can tell). The tree was attached to the system with a sling hitched to the circumference. The rope passes through a locking carabiner that extends over the edge of the cliff. And the whole system is supported by this big rock. This anchor could be a bomber, but it has huge problems.

Metal-to-metal connections – Look closely at the quickdraws of this anchor. They are all connected to other carabiner to carabiner quickdraws. The problem here is that carabiner-to-carabiner connections can move, twist, and unclip. As this is each quickdraw of this anchor, this means that there are six different points where the anchor could fail. Not really ideal. The safe way to connect two quickdraws is to remove a carabiner and attach the loose dog bone to the free end of the carabiner you want in the middle. Basically it should go: carabiner->dogbone->carabiner->dogbone->carabiner.

Redundancy—This anchor has some redundant elements, but not in a really significant way. Two quickdraws connect the tree sling to the locking carabiner. These quickdraws only support each other. If the tree sling catches a sharp piece of bark, the whole side of the anchor will fail. Ditto for the quickdraw chain. The legs of this anchor support each other, but none of the legs has its own redundancy.

Simplicity – Depending on which anchor acronym you subscribe to, an anchor should be effective or timely. This anchor is neither. I count 27 (!) pieces of equipment in this anchor. Every piece of equipment is a potential point of failure. Even beyond that, a convoluted anchor like this becomes difficult to assess and inspect. The same anchor could be done more easily and safely with four long slings and two lockers. Two slings around the tree and two around the rock (or something better) would provide two redundant sides, with all slings running to the two lockers above the edge.

Although these are the most significant flaws, we are not off the hook. The blue slingshot seems ready to jump from this rock. The rock itself is questionable. The anchor is not equalized. And the non-locking carabiner on the rope hangs from the edge of the cliff. It could break if loaded. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t ride that anchor,


Seen at Joshua Tree. Uncomfortable with a traditional anchor, the climber traveled 10 to 15 feet and threaded the rope through the rappel rings. Notice how the rope passes over the rock in several places. The couple then proceeded to remove this configuration.—Derek Pickell, via email


LESSON: That single piece of traditional gear in the top left of the photo makes this anchor much more dangerous than it should be. First of all, there is quite a wide angle between the trad pro and the rappel rings. This will multiply the force on all gear involved, which brings us to the other issue: extension. If the left gear fails, it will introduce a lot of slack into the system. 10 to 15 feet of extra rope could be enough to send a climber falling over a ledge or the ground. Then there is the insurer. If the belayer is working from the right rope, you should be fine (although the climber may make a huge swing). If she belays off the left rope and the trad pro fails, the force of a fall could pull her 10 to 15 feet onto the ground, potentially injuring her and adding even more slack to the system. The options here are either to clean the traditional gear and belay from the fixed gear only, or to skip the fixed gear and build a traditional bomber anchor. The best answer depends on whether they are going up the road to the right or to the left.

Another issue here is that the couple is relying on booster rings. Although this is not dangerous (unless the rings are worn on a sharp edge), it does wear out the fixed hardware and it will need to be replaced sooner. Do your local route developers a favor and attach two quickdraws to the bolt mounts for your toprop, or check out this option for a bolt-on toprop anchor.

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What’s wrong with this anchor?

I thought the rope from Home Depot was perfect for climbing

No vacation for danger

Lowered from a toy carabiner

Leader Decks when an experienced climber misses the belay

Sawing through someone else’s rope

Insured only with hands, without device!

Smoke Brick Weed and go climb

Belay with a knife in hand

Don’t let a clueless dad take a child rock climbing

She was frustrated and untied – on a leash

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