Unbelayvable: Two Terrible Anchors

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I was teaching college students some basic rock climbing skills when I noticed these anchors nearby. Both had been set up by the same couple and were in use. Once I identified myself as a rock climbing instructor and showed genuine concern for their well being, they became open to feedback. I then showed them how they could improve the set up. The thing that stood out to me when watching this group was how much extra gear they had at the base. They had several shoulder length slings and a half dozen locking carabiners just sitting there. It was a happy ending all in all. They learned a bit from us, we get to look at some poor real-world anchors and learn from them, and there were no injuries.—Jake Manning, via email

LESSON: These anchors look like the work of someone figuring it out on the fly. Maybe they heard something about locking carabiners at some point, but they’re not sure what they’re doing or why. The most obvious red flag here is the American Death Triangle on the left. We’ve covered them in this column before. The short version is that they multiply the force on each bolt because of… physics (I am not a physicist). But the left anchor has a few more red flags. Take a look at the left-most carabiner. It’s a locker, which is good, but it’s being loaded off-axis and on the gate, which is bad. Carabiners are strongest when loaded along the spine (the longest piece of metal). Their strength goes down significantly in any other configuration. Finally, the rope appears to be threaded through what looks like a single quicklink. Whether it’s a quicklink or carabiner, best practices call for two locking or three non-locking carabiners (opposite and opposed, of course). That’ll give you an anchor with that sweet redundancy us climbers love. As far as the death triangle, something like this using that same sling, clipped to the bolts, would be far preferable.

Now let’s talk about that anchor on the right. It’s almost decent. In most situations it’s perfectly fine to toprope through two opposite and opposed quickdraws, as long as the angle between the draws is 60 degrees or less. That’s a common anchor on bolted routes. In this instance, that extra locking carabiner isn’t accomplishing anything, except possibly making the anchor less safe because it’s more likely to twist itself off the other carabiners than the rope would be.

Anchor building isn’t something that should be done with guess work. Take a class with a qualified guide, or pick up a copy of Climbing Anchors by John Long. You’ll thank yourself when you’re not building anchors with a bunch of random gear and hoping for the best.

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