Last summer when I was belaying my partner on the Bastille, another climber came in from the side a began to set up a belay about 15′ away. I was at the big ramp on the top of the long first pitch of the Bastille Crack and he came in from Wide Country/XM and was headed up and right to finish with Outer Space. The belay there is a splitter crack in great rock with plenty of cam and nut placements available. He quickly sank in two cams and a nut, whipped out his cordalette and, in 60 seconds, knotted up a perfect SERENE Anchor, clipped in and yelled “off belay”!
Not too bad, I though, he didn’t even waste much time. But things went down from there. His partner arrived, they re-racked the gear and then led off right to the hanging dihedral that is the first pitch of Outer Space. The problem instantly became obvious. Like EVERY cordalette anchor I’ve ever witnessed, this one was perfectly oriented to equalize the load of the hanging (or standing and leaning back) belayer. As soon as the leader put in her first piece it was clear to me that if she fell, the anchor would get loaded, not in the 6 o’clock direction in which it was oriented to equalize, but at 2 o’clock. Sure enough, when she boomed off at the top of the pitch, the belayer was first yanked to the right (2 o’clock) then, when the directional nut (where the leader changed from traversing to climbing up) blew, yanked further up and right. The lowest piece in the cordalette troika popped out and, fortunately, the other two held and that was where the epic ended. I asked the dude if he was okay and he responded with, “Yeah, I sure am glad I had a SERENE anchor set up.”
So, not only was this dude clueless as to what had happened, he was glad that he had done the wrong thing.
My bottom line is that I think climbers are over-thinking anchor
systems with all this talk. Blown belay anchors are extremely rare yet
we lose sleep over them like they were killing people right and left.
They’re not. Maiming and death come from bad belaying, not wearing
helmets, having running protection pull out, rappelling accidents and
getting lost or benighted. I’m aware of 3 anchor failures in the US in the last 30
years: one was from clipping into an
American triangle that had decomposed webbing. The other 2 were both
from the total failure of perfectly set up SERENE anchors that weren’t
Again, I urge you consider where you are spending your energy. The
single most important skill you need to have in your tool box is to be
able place and recognize bomber protection, whether on lead or while
setting up an anchor. If you get to the end of a pitch and you don’t
have the right size piece, or if the rock is all choss, your first
instinct must be to move to a more suitable location. Only if that is
completely out of the question should you worry about equalization or
load distribution. Choss is choss and a SERENE anchor will only go so
Here’s a cool method for topping out on a sport route that eliminates the need for daisies or chicken slings. Better still, the climber re-threading the anchors will always be secured through at least 2 points.
The leader climbs normally until they reach the anchors.
The leader then clips each anchor with a 24″ runner rather than a draw. Check that you’re still on belay and that your belayer is paying attention and lower.
When the second gets to the last draw before the anchors, she unclips the draw and clips it to the other strand of rope.
At the anchors she unclips one of the runners from the rope and clips it directly to her belay loop. Then the other.
Now, still on belay through the last bolt, plus being clipped in directly to the two anchors, she unties and re-threads the lead rope, or even better, pulls up 6′ of slack, pushes a bight of rope through the anchors, ties a F8 on a bight and clips in with a locker or two.
Now the leader “takes” to check the system then unclips and cleans the runners to lower off.
During this transition the leader is never off belay and is always clipped into at least two pieces.
The two runners at the top are nice because if gives the climber room to make the transition without having to have extra gear.
This system works well regardless of whether the climber lowers or raps.
Hidden in the back of my 2003 Toyota Tacoma is super-simple, super cheap and comfy sleeping rig. It goes in and out in less than a minute, and I can get two bikes and 3 full-height ActionPackers and a cooler inside. I can hang out and cook inside if the weather blows and can hide all my gear underneath the full-width bed. Read on…
Check out the split deck configuration. You can see how it’s made in this photo. A ¾” plywood (don’t try to use ½” ply. It sags.) bed is supported by two sections of 2”X4” that are diagonally braced. The other part of the bed simply rests on top of the shell lip. The bed is held in place by 2 cam straps that pull the wood diagonally down and into the corners of the truck bed. Suck up the front one really tight, then the back one just snug enough to hold it down. I built up small ledges on the middle side of the posts on which to rest the other half of the bed. This is how I set it up if the weather is crappy. I have a low beach chair which I can slide in and then I cook and read from inside.
Here you can see the double bed rig set up. The second half of the bed is simply a flat ¾” plywood board cut the same size as the main deck. When it’s stored on top of the main deck, as in the previous picture, there is room for a lawnmower or two bikes. Just slide it over and you have a double bed. On this bed I stapled some scrap carpet so it’s more comfortable. In some previous beds I glued a foam layer between the carpet and boards thinking that I wouldn’t need a ThermaRest. Nope… Still needed that. I’ve talked to a lot of people who set their bed level at the top of the wheel wells, thinking that they wanted the extra headroom. BS I say. That completely cripples your under-bed storage space and—what do you need headroom for? I’m only on the bed when I’m sleeping and I usually sleep lying down.
Here’s a nice detail: notice the bottle opener on the center post. The old chalkbag is to catch the bottle caps. To fool the cops in Utah I bought one that says Coke rather than Budweiser. The blacked ribbed tailgate cover sucked. It was so slippery that even when flat, things would slide off of it. Sooooo.
I took off that slippery black plastic tailgate cover and screwed on a plywood one. It’s a cutting board, knife holder and cupholder. The cutout perfectly fits a JetBoil for no-spill tailgate coffee.
Here’s another good trick. The picture on the left shows a Yakima Side Loaders I’ve bolted through the shell. I put them on to support a safari rack I use when the Yakima cross bars aren’t enough. On the right, you can see that, inside, I hung bolt hangers from which I can hang water bladders, trash bags, clotheslines or whatever else I feel like.
- If you’re buying… get a shell that is raised up above the top of the cab. It’s not so much about the headroom inside, it’s about the height of the door. It’s much easier to get in and out as well as fitting in road bikes easily, etc.
- Again, if you’re buying be sure to get a shell with a liner. You can see it in the bolt-hanger picture. Not only does it prevent the shell from getting loaded up with condensation while you’re sleeping inside, it’s a perfect mate to hook-side Velcro. You can stick stuff all over the place, including…
- Get a battery powered LED light bar. Glue hook-side Velcro to the back and then you can stick it anywhere inside the shell. Glue a couple of pieces of soft side Velcro to the back window (You can see Velcro circles in my half-shell picture) and you have a perfect kitchen light.
- The side window on the front right side of the shell folds up. This is HUGE when loading the back. Be sure to get this feature if it’s an option. It’s usually called a contractor’s window.
- You NEED a boat hook to grab stuff that’s way up underneath and pull it out. Some people have rigged long sliding drawers to make access easy but I think that’s overkill. I use my cheater clip stick and screw on a painter’s hook that costs 79 cents at McGukin’s. A broomstick works great if you’re a trad climber.
- It’s not a bad idea to augment the cheeseball twisty latches and lock that came on your shell with a gate hasp and padlock.
I travel with a MSR (formerly Moss) Parawing. This is an amazing piece of nylon which will keep rain and sun off, even when it’s blowing 50 mph. It’s by far the best piece of nylon I own. If I set it up carefully, I can back the truck underneath and have a beautiful and welcoming “porch” under which to hang out and drink afternoon margaritas. It’s insanely expensive and worth every penny. Get the 19’ version and buy 4, 24” pieces of rebar to use as stakes. Be sure to get the rebar “caps” or you’ll chew up your shins when you get up to pee in the night. I replaced all the guy lines with at least 30’ feet each of that cool reflective tent cord. I think they call it “Nightline”. Don’t forget to bring a BIG hammer for the rebar. I carry a 3lb sledge just for this purpose.
So if you’re out in the desert or camping at a crag somewhere stop on by for a first hand look. More than likely I’ll have a cool beer or a margarita available.
See you soon,
I continue to be amazed at the support that the ice climbing community shows for the Ouray Ice Park. Sure, it’s a unique resource that draws ice climbers from world-over, but I think there’s more going on than that. Maybe it’s a community that knows they have created something cool, or maybe it’s just a warm place for ice climbers to gather. Whatever, last Sunday night in the Main Street Theater I, once again, was staggered by the generosity that ice climbers can show when they see a direct benefit.
The got stump? auction raised right around $8,000 this year bringing the total raised by a dirty t-shirt to over $44,000. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Read the got stump? chronicles here.
Craig Luebben is near and dear to all of us and his loss dealt to a body blow to the entire climbing and guiding community. Craig, who invented the Big Bros while he was an engineering student at CSU, has been receiving a nice royalty stream from our Big Bros sales since we licensed the design from him in 2001. After he passed we diverted those royalties into a 529 college fund for his beloved daughter, Giulia. In addition, the artist Jeremy Collins has drawn a caricature of Giulia head and face which will be engraved on every Big Bro.
At the AMGA Guide’s meeting last week in Moab, I auctioned off the very first set of the Giulia-engraved Big Bros to the guides and, impressively, astonishingly, the set of five went for $4,000! Perhaps more amazing was that there were three guides who were enthusiastically bidding for them after the bid price was over $2,500. The entire amount, not just the royalties from them, will go to “seed” her college fund.
Craig, you brought great joy, enthusiasm and safety into our lives and we are all better off because of that. Thank you for all you have done.