Bay Area Rock Climbing Message Board › Climbing safely outside- Are top rope anchors safe?

Climbing safely outside- Are top rope anchors safe?

Marya
user 6363215
Lowell, MA
Post #: 3
I recently took a course in outdoor climbing and mostly learned about anchoring to trees and boulders. There's a top-rope setup here which looks very easy, but it wasn't taught in the course:
about.com sport anchors page
Does this look safe to everyone? It's two quickdraws clipped separately into two separate bolts. It looks so easy and quick, I'm tempted to get a couple quickdraws for the cases where this would work. I guess the downside would be if the bolts are so far apart that the angle between the quickdraws would be large enough to add significant tension between the two bolts, in which case you'd want to use something longer than quickdraws.

TIA for opinions.
- Marya
Richard B.
Richard_Bothwell
Group Organizer
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 135
Hi Marya, (and everyone in the Meetup)

I think it's awesome that you're asking the question to the group, and that you've thought about potential downsides... sounds like you're on the right track to managing the risks of outdoor climbing!

Instead of asking "is this safe?" I like to ask, "when would I use this technique?"

In my world the anchor system you've shown is very much appropriate for lowering off of a sport climb, especially when you are pulling the rope and your partner is going to lead the pitch again, after you. It also creates an acceptable way to tether yourself to the anchor while rethreading the rope to rappel off a sport climb. (if there were chains or rap hangers at the anchor)

Why I would choose not to use this anchor for top roping: You're right- if the bolts aren't close together you're increasing the forces put on the gear. Using two quickdraws doesn't allow you to control the equalization on the anchor, either. Typically this anchor will put one carabiner gate against the rock while lowering, possibly leading to the gate being opened. OR you'd end up with both gates facing the same direction, which isn't really acceptable, either. We use ovals because there is no front or back, so the rope doesn't get pinched between the spines of the carabiners while lowering. If the carabiners are going to be against the rock, we often use three ovals, which will set the rope to travel "left to right" while lowering. Two carabiners will often pinch the rope between the biners and the rock while lowering.

If you are setting up a top rope for you and your friends to climb, and you are all going to be at the base of the climbs together (a base-managed top rope) I'd use something different. There are many acceptable ways to create a good anchor. What we (the Outdoor Adventure Club) teach in our Gear and Anchor Class is to use a double length runner, clip each bolt and pull down the strands between the bolts. From here we teach two different techniques.

1)Pull the strands down in the direction of the climb and tie an overhand knot, then clipping two oval carabiners, with gates opposite and opposed into the loop. (pictured)


or
2) Create a sliding X, clip the two oval carabiners in the X, then tie an overhand knot on each arm of the anchor, relatively close to the ovals. The X creates self equalization, the two overhand knots create redundancy and minimize extension if a piece of gear fails.

There are many other acceptable methods- cordolettes, webolettes, equalizers, quads, Moroccan Shim-Shams, etc., etc. We teach these two techniques for two-bolt anchors because they show the fundamentals that we hope all good anchors possess.

Richard Bothwell
Outdoor Adventure Club
Marya
user 6363215
Lowell, MA
Post #: 4
Hi Richard,

Thank you for the thoughtful response.

The two techniques you mentioned are great. I actually just learned them a couple of weeks ago, but not from my course. I had gone rock climbing with someone who described the sliding X system (I think he called it "magic X"). It sounded good, so I wanted to learn more. I bought Luebben's "Rock Climbing Anchors: A Comprehensive Guide", which describes both the sliding X system, and the other one you mention, on pp 30-35.

I have a couple questions about your photo. How do you feel about the two wire-gate carabiners as part of your anchor? I've seen people use exactly this configuration, but it goes against what I was taught in the course (always use at least two biners at each point, opposite and opposed). Someone even recently told me they would only use two *locking* carabiners in their anchors, which sounded excessive to me.

Another question, since you recommend 3 oval biners at the power point, what do you think of using 2 as shown in the photo? It looks OK, but when weighted with rope, I wonder if the pinching problem would occur as you described. Do you feel this anchor would be improved by adding an extra oval at the power point? And maybe replacing each wire-gate with a pair of opposite/opposed ovals, or at least with one locking biner?

TIA,

Marya
Richard B.
Richard_Bothwell
Group Organizer
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 136
Hey Marya,

I'm teaching an anchoring class tomorrow. I'll take a picture of the "sliding X anchor" and post it here after the class.

Both of the current anchoring books are awesome, and anyone interested in building good anchors should read them:
Rock Climbing Anchors by Craig Luebben
Climbing Anchors (2nd ed) by John Long

How do you feel about the two wire-gate carabiners as part of your anchor? I've seen people use exactly this configuration, but it goes against what I was taught in the course (always use at least two biners at each point, opposite and opposed). Someone even recently told me they would only use two *locking* carabiners in their anchors, which sounded excessive to me.

I would advise that you need a redundant anchor, but that doesn't mean you need two carabiners at each point. You do need two carabiners at the "master point", where the rope is hanging from the anchor, unless you are belaying from above.

When we teach anchoring classes, we teach the SERENE acronym- Solid Equalized, REdundant, NoExtension.
The definition we use for redundancy is "there is no one critical link in the anchor" or, if any one piece fails, there is not a catastrophic failure of the entire anchor. Our definition of redundancy does not mean there are two of everything. In the anchor pictured, any single piece of the anchor could fail, without a catastrophic failure of the complete anchor. Either of the carabiners connected to the bolts can fail and the climber would probably not even notice. Adding a second carabiner would not create redundancy where there was none.

Locking carabiners: Adding locking carabiners does not make a non-SERENE anchor SERENE. I've seen too many super-dangerous anchors created with locking carabiners!! Locking biners can enhance an anchor, but they don't make an anchor "safe". There are times that I definitely use lockers in my anchors, especially if I set the anchor up from above, and I am going to climb down over the edge to rappel. I've seen non-locking carabiners unclip from bolts in this situation, so now I always use at least one locker in that situation. I do use locking carabiners if the gate of my carabiner may rub against the rock, like on a sling that is deep in a crack, or if one arm of the anchor may press against the gate, pushing it open. I also use locking carabiners on my anchors if I have them and don't need them elsewhere, but I don't feel they are necessary. I'd rather keep a locker handy for a rappel backup, or for my first piece of gear above the anchor (the so-called "Jesus Nut") than have it in the anchor, for instance.

Another question, since you recommend 3 oval biners at the power point, what do you think of using 2 as shown in the photo? It looks OK, but when weighted with rope, I wonder if the pinching problem would occur as you described. Do you feel this anchor would be improved by adding an extra oval at the power point?

Two ovals, opposite/opposed satisfy SERENE. Three ovals are better for your rope. From a "would I climb on that anchor?" perspective, it doesn't really matter. That particular climb is pretty low angle, and the rope doesn't really run against the rock when lowering.

Hope that helps!

Richard Bothwell
Outdoor Adventure Club
Marya
user 6363215
Lowell, MA
Post #: 5
OK thanks for the clarification. So to restate it: you want two carabiners at the master point because if you only used one, and it failed, you'd be gone. Whereas you only need one carabiner at other anchor points because if the one carabiner goes, you still have the other anchor point. Is that pretty much the rationale?

I thought we were taught to use two carabiners at all points, but it may have been because we were using a lot of ovals, so we needed two for opposite and opposed. We got a lot of stuff thrown at us in the course and I had trouble absorbing it all!

Right now, when I build an anchor, I try to imagine what would happen if any point failed - will the other anchor(s) catch me? But it can be hard to figure out what's really redundant. I read about the Happy Hour Crag accident where the guy had a splice in his webbing and died (PDF):
http://www.rockymount...­
After taking my course, I think I wouldn't have made those mistakes, but I wonder. The fatal flaw in that accident was that the setup had *two* points of failure.

I wish I could take your course. Even though I understand how to build simple anchors, I'd like to get more experience and understanding. I'm on the wrong coast for it, though. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge here on the boards. Very helpful!

Marya
Mike K
user 6839315
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 2
Richard,

I had believed that two non-lockers, opposite & opposing, on the master point of an anchor should be plenty strong, and something that I would be glad to have my friends and family climb on -- but I no longer do. I have watched as two ovals literally open each other up when loaded, significantly reducing the strength of the anchor. You can see my photos on this RC.com post. I'm evolving to the position that there's really no excuse to use anything other than lockers in that master point, unless you're down to your last biners in an emergency or light&fast alpine climbing.

Cheers,
Mike
Richard B.
Richard_Bothwell
Group Organizer
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 148
Hey Mike,

Ewww! not good!

Thanks for the post, and the photos in rc.com. Yet another example of how important it is to keep thinking about what we do, how we do it, and be ready to learn new techniques, and challenge old ideas. And how cool the climbing community is- we get to share ideas and steer the direction of climbing.

I've never seen this happen, so I'm stoked to see your pictures. We definitely want to keep gates closed. Does it only happen on wire-gate ovals? In your rc.com post you point out that the gates are wider than the bodies of BD wire gates. Have you tried/seen, or heard comments from anyone who has seen the same thing with solid gate ovals?

My initial thoughts is that it's an issue with the BD oval wiregate, and not with all ovals. With a traditional solid gate oval, the biners should be able to rub against each other without affecting the gates.
I think I only have one BD wire-gate oval. I'll get another one and play with them. See if I can get them to do the same thing, and see if "old school" ovals do the same thing. I'd encourage everyone to do the same thing. See how they work, see how they don't work. Get to know your gear. Tell us what you find.

I've got some ideas about what this means, but I'll hold on to those thoughts until I play with the wire gate ovals.

Has anyone else seen this happen? Anyone else interested in what it means? Anyone have an opinion or idea to share?

Richard Bothwell
Outdoor Adventure Club

Stan H
user 13474167
San Jose, CA
Post #: 32
I've seen the same thing happen with the wiregate oval biners about 7yrs ago out at Deep Sea Crags. It is caused by the wiregates being wider then than the body of the biner as u suspect I noticed it on the anchor of a party that was TRing next to us. As I was admiring their anchor on a horizontal crack using three tri-cams I noticed that every time the climber weighted the rope both of the gates on the wiregate biners opened about a quarter of an inch or so. I recognized the biners because I racked my cams and passive gear with them back then so had several on my harness. I remember the incident clearly because the first thing I thought of was that 1/4 inch gate opening decreased the anchor strength by 2/3. I told the climbers what happened then made a mental note to figure out how it happened later when I got back home. It turned out to be easy to duplicate.

One thing I noticed about the wiregate "oval" is the curved part of the biner is not symmetrical like a standard oval. The biner is actually more like an oval with a slight d-shape offset towards the spine (away from the gate). so if you preset the rope towards the spine on a couple of opposed wiregate ovals then the wire gates actually sit off the edge of the spine of tge opposite biner and the gates do not open when weighted.
I have never seen this happen with standard ovals.

A simple and foolproof solution when building top-rope anchors is to just use locking biners in all parts of the anchor (bolts and master point). Since u are on the ground 50+ft or so below the anchor, you cant always see what is going on up there. This is especially important for beginners who dont have much experience setting up anchor systems. Oval biners $5. Inexpensive lockers cost as little as $6.50. Basic anchor on 2 bolts needs 4 biners. 4 ovals = $20. 4 lockers = $26. A $6 difference. Is it worth spending the extra $6 for piece of mind and an added level of safety?

One common sense challenge to an old idea. And common sense goes a long way in the climbing world.

Good discussion.
Vlada M.
Vlada
Redwood City, CA
Post #: 1
Hey Mike,

Ewww! not good!

Thanks for the post, and the photos in rc.com. Yet another example of how important it is to keep thinking about what we do, how we do it, and be ready to learn new techniques, and challenge old ideas. And how cool the climbing community is- we get to share ideas and steer the direction of climbing.

I've never seen this happen, so I'm stoked to see your pictures. We definitely want to keep gates closed. Does it only happen on wire-gate ovals? In your rc.com post you point out that the gates are wider than the bodies of BD wire gates. Have you tried/seen, or heard comments from anyone who has seen the same thing with solid gate ovals?

My initial thoughts is that it's an issue with the BD oval wiregate, and not with all ovals. With a traditional solid gate oval, the biners should be able to rub against each other without affecting the gates.
I think I only have one BD wire-gate oval. I'll get another one and play with them. See if I can get them to do the same thing, and see if "old school" ovals do the same thing. I'd encourage everyone to do the same thing. See how they work, see how they don't work. Get to know your gear. Tell us what you find.

I've got some ideas about what this means, but I'll hold on to those thoughts until I play with the wire gate ovals.

Has anyone else seen this happen? Anyone else interested in what it means? Anyone have an opinion or idea to share?

Richard Bothwell
Outdoor Adventure Club

Hi Richard, this is a reply to an older discussion on the message board.

We also saw the problems with using oval biners in top roping situations. Our BD wire gate ovals would partially open because their gate is wider than their spine (another problem with the BD wire gates is that they are not really oval - they are slightly D-shaped and do not align properly when they are loaded).

I also saw gates opening on ovals with solid gates. I looked closer and saw what caused the problem. The pins holding the gate on the BD ovals are slightly longer than the width of the spine. This sticking-out pins prevent the biners from aligning well and can partially open the gates when the bines are pinched together under the load of the rope.

We solved the problem by using only Omega Pacific ovals. These work really well for the master point of a toprope annchor. We didn't see any problems when using them in the 2 or 3 oval configuration.

To see what I am taking about, take 2 BD ovals and put them next to each other as they should be in the anchor. You will see the problem. Then take 2 Omega Pacific ovals and try the same to see the difference.

Vlada
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