Unbelayvable: A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Anchor


Every Monday we publish the most unbelievable stories of climbing stupidity submitted by our readers. See something unbelayvable? Email unbelayvable@climbing.com and your story could be featured online or in print. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

We were toproping in the Gunks when an older climber showed up to lead Ken's Crack (5.7+) next to us. We learned he'd been climbing for 50+ years, but the leading and belaying techniques in his group were pretty poor. Despite this, he casually cruise up the route. He then asked if he could share one of the trees in our anchor for his own toprope. We told him it was fine. I later saw his anchor (picture, the red and white sling is part of our anchor). Cross-loaded carabiners, lack of redundancy, non-lockers, leg loops of a harness as webbing, etc. I was pretty uncomfortable with the situation. Unfortunately there was a strong language barrier, and he'd been climbing for twice as long as I'd been alive, so I didn't feel like my feedback would have any effect.—Alex, via email


LESSON: This is one of the worst anchors I've ever seen, but it did get me wondering: Is it really unsafe to use leg loops like this? Are leg loops just perfectly good nylon slings with some extra padding? I reached out to Misty Mountain, and Sales Manager Philip Hoffman had this to say:

"This is a God awful, terrible setup and in no way shape or form is our equipment to be used in this fashion. The 'leg loops' do not even appear to be leg loops, but actually look like gear slings. I have no way of knowing if they are gear slings or not without visually and physically inspect them in person. I just cannot tell what piece of equipment they are in this photo. What I can tell you is, whether they are leg loops or gear slings, this is NOT the application for which they are to be used. Once again, this method of use for this equipment is not something that Misty Mountain recommends or condones."

That's about what I was expecting. Strikes one, two, and three are for using inappropriate equipment for the primary anchor material. If that fails, the whole anchor fails. I'm not going to pick out every single other problem with the anchor (everything), but I encourage our readers to do so in the comments. What this anchor doesn't safely accomplish with 10 pieces of gear, you can easily accomplish with just three: a static line and two locking carabiners. Secure the static line around each tree. Extend a bight of rope from between both trees down over the cliff edge. Tie a BHK (Big Honkin' Knot, or BFK for those with potty mouths) in the bight hanging over the edge. Clip the two lockers (opposite and opposed) to the two loops coming out of the BHK. Your climbing rope goes through both of these lockers. Done. Easy.* Static rope is a great material for natural toprope anchors because it's strong, abrasion resistant, and allows you to extend your masterpoint as far as you need.

*Please don't try to build your own anchor with only these few sentences of instruction. Do more research and/or seek a qualified instructor first. It's not easy to explain how to properly set up a BHK anchor with just words.We want to hear your Unbelayvable stories! Email unbelayvable@climbing.com and your story could be featured in a future edition online or in print. Unbelayvable photos are welcome, too.