Unbelayvable: The Best of the Worst of 2014! (Part 2)

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Kevin Corrigan
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This week we're highlighting some of the most unbelievable Unbelayvable stories of 2014. It's one superlative you don't want to achieve. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

>>I was climbing in the gym when I noticed a mom "belaying" her daughter nearby. Mom was holding the rope in her hands and pulling down slack, without any assistance from a tube-style device or Munter hitch, as her daughter ascended the wall. I mentioned that she might consider getting a harness and belaying with a device, she told me she "wasn't tired" and that it was fine. Her kids weren't weightless three-year-olds, so we gave an employee a heads up. He said he disagreed with it, but there was some weird policy that allowed parents to belay how they wish, or something along those lines. A couple minutes later, we saw the same woman belaying both her daughter and her son at the same time with the same technique (see photo). Thankfully, this prompted the employee to rush over and take charge before any accidents could happen.—Submitted by Brighton Kilgore, via email 

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LESSON: What this mom lacks, besides a general concern for the well being of her children, is friction. Belaying is all about friction. When you use any acceptable form of belay, friction locks the rope in place and transfers the force of a fall into your body (or anchor). It's your weight that does the work to hold your climber in place. The force of a falling body accelerates quickly and would be very difficult to catch with arms alone. Even the static weight of a child hanging on the rope would be tough to hold with one hand for much time. Many gyms wrap their topropes around a pipe at the top of the route. This provides extra friction, which absorbs some force in a fall and generally makes the belayer's job easier. While it's a little difficult to see in the submitted photo, it does not appear that this mom was in one of those gyms. She was on her own, or rather, her children were.

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How not to build a climbing anchor. (Click for full size.)

>>I was setting a toprope anchor when I noticed this anchor next to me (see above). It was the classic American death triangle, using one sling and one carabiner at the bottom.—Caden Picard, via email

LESSON: Ah, yes. The American death triangle, a climbing anchor so dangerous it has its own Wikipedia page. The site sums it up simply, stating "[these anchors are] infamous for both magnifying load forces on fixed anchors and lack of redundancy in attachment to the anchor." The problem with a triangle setup is the strand that runs between the bolts or pro. This causes downward force to pull them towards each other, magnifying force in the process. It can potentially generate enough force to cause the anchor to fail. To add to the problem, the sling is not redundant. If a strand is cut, the anchor fails. A V-shaped anchor with a low angle is preferable, as it keeps the direction of pull downward and minimizes the amount of extra force added by trigonometry. Tie a knot down near the power point and you've got yourself a redundant anchor. See how to build quick, easy, and strong anchors in Bolted Toprope Anchor. Never use anything with "death" in the name unless it's the Euro Death Knot. That one is actually OK.

>>A toprope anchor I found in Carderock, Maryland. No, this was not staged.—Courtesy John Gregory of Dumb Anchors. Check out Dumb Anchors for many, many more cringe-inducing climbing anchors.

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LESSON: Before reading on, I recommend clicking the photo above to see the full size version. You really need to see it large to appreciate what's going on here. This anchor is ridiculous. Let's start by looking at what was done right. That tree is a solid piece of natural protection. It's greater than 6 inches in diameter, it's alive, and it appears to be firmly rooted in the ground (from what I can tell). The tree has been attached to the system with a girth hitched sling. The rope is running through a locking carabiner that's extended over the edge of the cliff. And the whole system is backed up with that big rock. This anchor could be bomber, but it has some massive issues.

Metal on metal connections—Look closely at the quickdraws in this anchor. They're all connected to other quickdraws from carabiner to carabiner. The problem here is that carabiner to carabiner connections can move, twist, and unclip themselves. Since that's every quickdraw in this anchor, that means there are six different points at which the anchor could fail. Not exactly ideal. The safe way to connect two quickdraws is by removing one carabiner, and attaching 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 any real meaningful way. There are two quickdraws attaching the tree sling to the locking carabiner. Those quickdraws are really only backing up each other. If the tree sling catches a sharp piece of bark that whole side of the anchor will fail. Same goes for the quickdraw chain. The legs of this anchor back up each other, but neither leg has its own redundancy.

Simplicity—Depending on which anchor acronym you subscribe to, an anchor should be efficient or timely. This anchor is neither. I count 27 (!) pieces of gear in this anchor. Every single piece of gear 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 accomplished more simply 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 over the edge.

While those are the most major faults, we're not out of the woods. The blue sling looks ready to pop off that rock. The rock itself is questionable. The anchor isn't equalized. And the non-locking biner on the rope is hanging over the edge of the cliff. It could break if loaded. It's safe to say that I would not climb on this anchor.

See something unbelayvable? Tell us in the comments and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print. Got an unbelayvable photo? Send it to unbelayvable@climbing.com.