Friday, November 11, 2011

Tyrolean Traverse

My preferred set-up for a tyrolean traverse includes:
-Petzl Tandem Pulley on the bottom
-Petzl Mini Traxion on top, for progress capture

For heavier climbers, climbers with a backpack, and long traverses, I add a chest harness to the system (the BD Vario Chest is excellent--in this photo we've improvised with a sewn runner)

Top Rope Soloing

My preferred device for top-rope solo climbing is the Petzl Mini Traxion, used with an anti-cross-loading carabiner :

Here is my basic anchor setup (note that the end of the climbing rope is weighted and that a second strand of rope is used as a back-up and a rappel line):

The system at work:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dyneema & Nylon Drop Tests

Jaw-dropping tests results and outstanding analysis from the folks at DMM:
The take-home is that climbers need to use extra caution whenever clipping to an anchor using a sewn-nylon or -Dyneema sling. A short fall using either material will produce extremely high forces.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What is a BHK?

The BHK, or "Big Honkin' Knot," is a simple way to make a redundant Masterpoint using two arms of an anchor cord. I have seen the BHK advocated by both the Professional Climbing Instructor's Association and the American Mountain Guides Association in their Top-Rope Instructor and Single Pitch Instructor courses.

As visible in the images above, there is a vestigial loop that sticks out of the back of the Masterpoint, as a artifact of making the Masterpoint redundant.

Another option for making a redundant Masterpoint (and the option that I use 99% of the time), is to slip 4 feet of 1-inch tubular webbing over the anchor cord and then to fully incorporate the webbing into the Masterpoint. As long as the webbing sticks out of the knot on both sides, the resulting loop is redundant. It is possible to slide the webbing around, placing it wherever it is needed on the anchor cord. I have also found that this protective sheath on the Masterpoint also preserves the anchor cord, enabling it to last longer before wearing out.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The J-Tree $Money$ Anchor

It is currently high season in Joshua Tree, and I have been getting lots of inquiries about the best way to build top-rope anchors in the Park. Anyone who has been to J-Tree before knows that there is a near absence of fixed protection and that gear placements and natural anchors are often located well back from the edge of the cliff.

My basic J-Tree Anchor-Building Tool Kit includes:
  • 50-80 feet of 10mm anchor cord
  • 1 cordelette (24 feet of 7mm nylon cord, tied into a continuous loop)
  • 2 double shoulder-length sewn runners
  • 3 miscellaneous carabiners
  • 3 non-locking oval carabiners, used for the masterpoint

The following diagram shows the basic anchor set-up that I use for most routes. Following the diagram is a series of steps that represent my usual work-flow when approaching top-rope anchor building in J-Tree. This system applies to more than 90% of the top-rope anchors that I build.

  1. Create a solid, multi-point anchor that is located a comfortable distance back from the top of the cliff. In many cases, available protection is 10-30 feet back from the top of the route.
  2. Clip the end of a 10-11mm anchor cord to your multi-point anchor. (If necessary, it is possible to use a klemheist or rappel device on the anchor cord to protect yourself as you approach the edge of the cliff.)
  3. Using a "BHK," tie the masterpoint at the desired point on the anchor cord (and at the desired location at the top of the climbing route).
  4. Place one more piece of protection near the cliff's edge. Be thoughtful about the location of this piece, as its main function will be to keep the masterpoint in the location that you have selected. Clip the anchor cord to this piece of protection using a clove hitch. The clove hitch will allow you to micro-adjust the position of the masterpoint (shorten the strand of anchor cord to draw the masterpoint closer; lengthen the strand of anchor cord in order to move the masterpoint father from the piece).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spectra & "Tech Cords" versus Old-School Nylon

Important information about Spectra and other high-tech cords--things are not as they seem. If you use any of these small-diameter, high strength materials in your climbing practice, this is must-read information:

Use & Abuse of the Clove Hitch

The AMGA, with the help of Blue Water Ropes, has done some excellent research on the use of the clove hitch:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beginners & the Gri-Gri - from the AMGA

From the Summer 2009 issue of Mountain Bulletin, the quarterly newsletter of the American Mountain Guides Association:

"Put [the Gri-Gri] in the hands of a lighter, less experienced belayer, add a pair of gloves and you have a recipe for pushing hard on a rock climb with a high level of confidence that you will not be dropped."
--Rob Hess, AMGA Technical Director

This is a surprisingly strong endorsement of the Gri-Gri for use with beginners.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lead Belay with Gri-Gri & Cinch

Gri-Gris have been a common sight at local crags for many years. The "auto-locking" characteristic of the device offers an excellent back-up to the belayer's brake-hand and also takes some pressure off of the belayer during hang-dogging sessions. A few years ago, Trango released a capable competitor to the Gri-Gri, called the Cinch. One of the few drawbacks of these devices is the propensity to lock-up just as the belayer is trying to quickly give out slack during a lead belay. In many instances, belayers feel forced to let go of the brake-end of the rope in order to unlock the device and feed out rope.
Both Petzl and Trango recently released revised instructions for belaying a lead climber with the devices. Both techniques greatly enhance the effectiveness of a lead belay, making the devices even more valuable as primary belay tools.

To download more detailed instructions from each manufacturer, click: Petzl & Trango

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No Such Thing as a "Beginner's Belay Device"

I often hear climbers (including some guides and climbing gym owners) criticize mechanical-assist belay devices such as the Petzl Gri-Gri and the Trango Cinch. One local climbing gym, here in Southern California, completely bans their use. Many people seem to regard Gri-Gris, and similar devices, as only being appropriate for "experts." In contrast, tube-style belay devices (like the ATC and the Trango Pyramid) seem to be the standard choice for use when teaching belay technique.

I have a very different take. First, I use the Gri-Gri or the Cinch every single day that I am in the field. Second, I allow climbers of every experience-level to belay with the devices (and I actually expect most clients to belay my lead climbs with the Cinch exclusively). To be clear, I am not saying that the Gri-Gri and Cinch are beginner's devices. My take is that NO belay device is a beginner's tool. Where beginner's are belaying, certain precautions must be taken, regardless of the device that is in use.

To take a step back for a moment, I want to discuss the usual criticism of the Gri-Gri, and similar devices in more detail. The usual criticism has two different facets:
  1. Mechanical-assist devices are counter-intuitive--when lowering a climber, the belayer pulls back on the handle to initiate movement; the belayer releases the handle to stop the climber. Intuition, and experience belaying with a tube-style device, indicate that pulling back should stop a climber.
  2. The increased complexity of mechanical-assist devices increases the risk of human-error.
To quickly dispense with the second point, I have not seen any evidence in the various annals of accident reporting which indicate that Gri-Gris contribute to more accidents or to a higher likelihood of accidents than any other belay device. I can site examples of belay-failures involving both mechanical-assist devices and tube-style devices.

In response to the first point, my feeling is that belaying is counterintuitive; the mechanical complexity of the act of belaying, in general, lends itself to human error; only expert belayers should ever be trusted to belay without using a reliable back-up. I hold these assertions to be true for every belay technique and every belay device.

A case in point is an accident that happened here on the central coast in 2008. An inexperienced belayer was belaying an experienced climber up a 5.11 sport climb, using a tube-style belay device. Without any warning, the climber fell from a point 60 feet up on the route. At the time of the fall, the belayer was situated with both the guide-hand and the brake-hand out in front of the device (the break hand was NOT in the brake position). As the climber's weight came onto the rope, the belayer's intuition was NOT to pull down on the brake hand, applying friction to the rope and locking the tube-style device. Instead the belayer's intuition was to grip the rope as tightly as possible with both hands in their current orientations (out in front). The belayer gripped the rope and never applied the brake. Miraculously, the belayer arrested the fall after 40 feet of rope fed through the device. Very sadly, the rope did serious damage to both of the belayer's hands (and permanent nerve damage to the belayer's guide-hand).

In this photo, you can see the damage done to the belayer's hands. The belayer is right-handed, thus the brake-hand (the right hand) is seen on the left side of this photo. Interestingly, the brake hand suffered less damage than the guide-hand.

The most perverse aspect of this story is that the belayer, who will not climb to this day, blames herself for the accident. She feels that she nearly killed her climbing partner. In truth, she did not need to be placed in this position in the first place--there are basic tools and techniques which would have averted the accident.

The most important lesson that can be learned from this case is : always use reliable back-ups to the belayer. Reliable back-ups include a back-up belayer who attentively holds the break-end of the rope, blocking knots in the brake-end of the rope, and mechanical-assist belay devices like the Gri-Gri. In this situation, it is very likely that the injuries suffered by the belayer would have been avoided had she been using any one of these three back-ups.

As I mentioned earlier, my own practice includes the careful use of the Gri-Gri and the Cinch. I have found the Cinch to be the most effective and reliable device for belaying a lead climber. The technique for belaying a lead is somewhat complex but can be taught to most people. Click here to see how. I tend to use the Gri-Gri extensively for belaying re-directed top-ropes; although, I use extra precautions to avoid accidents while lowering with the devices (I routinely use a back-up belayer and/or blocking knots on the brake-end of the rope to ensure a safe lower). When I am climbing with only one other person and need to be lowered by that person, I place a klemheist on the belayer's end of the rope and attach this to my harness. I then push the klemheist down the rope as I am being lowered.

The take-home point is that the Gri-Gri is no more or less safe than any other device. Belaying, in general, is a difficult job with very severe consequences. The only way to ensure a safe belay is to back up your belay.