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For Safety’s Sake Don’t Do This: American Death Triangle Entire-Rope Anchor

They were trying to be safe, but in their zeal they neglected to follow three tenets of basic anchor construction.

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I came across this anchor at local crag near the town of Milton in Ontario, Canada. The three guys using this for their toprope seemed a little peeved that I asked them about it, so I backed off and later took a picture when I was walking along the top of the crag.
—D. Lue, via email

LESSON: Wow. This anchor reminds me of the old saying, “If you can’t tie knots, tie lots.” It’s both incredibly overbuilt and flawed in very basic ways. Very interesting!

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s go back to basics. One way to evaluate a climbing anchor is with the SERENE acronym. Is the anchor Strong, Equalized, Redundant, Efficient, No Extension? There are other acronyms, but they all boil down to the same concepts.

  • Strong—Well, it would be absurdly strong with those nine strands of rope if it wasn’t an American Death Triangle.
  • Equalized—This anchor actually is equalized. Both bolts are sharing an equal load.
  • Redundant—If I’m seeing this correctly, this anchor was built with a tied loop of rope folded in half many times. Therefor, if any of the strands in the anchor rope are cut, the entire anchor will fail. This anchor is not redundant.
  • Efficient—This is perhaps the biggest failure of this anchor. It looks like they used an entire climbing rope as the primary anchor material. It would be very difficult to inspect this setup to make sure everything is in proper order.
  • No Extension—A moot point. An anchor has to first be redundant to achieve this one.

So comparing this to best practices, it’s not great. They did at least use lockers on the bolts and for the rope, which adds a little security. I would suggest flipping the bolt-side carabiners around so the gates aren’t rubbing against the rock.

There are many ways to build easy SERENE anchors using two bolts. My personal favorite for toproping is the quad, which the AMGA explains in the video below.

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