Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Most climbers begin their career by toproping.  If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you've toproped before.  So I'd like to try something new with this blog.  I'd like to ask each of you out there in the dark corridors of the internets what you see wrong with each of the set-ups in the following pictures.

Don't jump ahead to the answers. Just see what you think. If you're really good, you'll write down all the things that you think are wrong before scrolling down to see if you were right...

Picture #1 -- This first photo was taken at Barney's Rubble in Leavenworth.  What's wrong with this picture?

Picture #2 -- This second picture was taken at the top of a sport route on the Aquifer Wall in Red Rock Canyon. What's wrong with this picture?

Picture #3 -- This last picture was taken at the top of a route at Mount Erie.  What's wrong with this picture?

So there are three pictures of toprope anchors that may or may not be problematic.  Write down your answers and then look below...

The Answers:

Picture #1:

This first anchor is a mess.  Here is a quick breakdown of the problems:
  1. The rope is going through a single quickdraw.  This is not what is considered industry standard. There should be redundancy at the power-point. Most often, the redundancy is reached by using two opposite and opposed lockers or three opposite and opposed non-lockers.
  2. The entire system is an massive Magic X or Sliding X. If your goal is to build an anchor that  meets the standards of the anchor building acronyms SRENE or ERNEST, then an open Sliding X is the wrong choice. The problem with a large open "self-equalizing" system is twofold. First, there is the potential for a shock-load if one of the pieces fail.  And second, there is no redundancy in the sling. If you need some level of self-equalization, the best thing to do is to add load limiting knots to the system. Load limiters will decrease the shock-load while creating redundancy in the sling.
  3. It's not at all clear what the sling on the right is for.
  4. Some people might believe that there should be two locking carabiners into the bolts.  I don't believe this to be necessary. As there are two bolts, and a carabiner into each bolt, there is redundancy.
 Picture #2:
  1. One should not directly toprope off of chains. The constant lowering motion of the rope slowly damages the anchor.  It is best to toprope directly off of your own gear and then to rappel with the ropes through the chains.
Picture #3:
  1. Yep, that's an American Death Triangle, which means it's bad. There are dangerous vectors between the two bolts, and there is no redundancy in the system.
  2. In a toproped setting, the power-point should have at least two opposite and opposed locking carabiners or three opposite and opposed non-locking carabiners.
  3. Like Picture #1, some people have stated that they would put locking carabiners into the bolts.  I don't believe this to be necessary. As there are two bolts, and a carabiner into each bolt, there is redundancy.
--Jason D. Martin


Stephen Gordon said...

1 - Single draw is a no-no. Always use two opposed screwgates. Looks like a piece of carpet would be good too if you want your rope to live a long healthy life ;)
2 - Don't toprope from chains directly as you'll wear through them and they will need replacing. Use opposed screwgates when toproping. The only time your rope should run through the chains is at the end of the day when you retrieve it.
3 - American Death Triangle. Luckily we never see this in Australia. Use a sliding cross.

I think you should confiscate all of these anchors as a service to the community :)

Jeremiah Moore said...

Picture 1: not redundant because they are only using 1 quickdraw

Picture 2:Fine for rappelling, not fine for top roping, you will wear through the metal eventually....

Picture 3: American Death Triangle, and only one locking carabiner

good idea! it was a good study break for me :)

Claudiu said...

Last picture the anchor has a big problem that is not equalized.

First picture. I would have have used either 2 quickdraws in opposite directions or one locking carabinier for the rope.

In the secodn picture. I would have used either 2 quickdraws in opposite directions or a slick with a carabinier.

Anonymous said...

#1 - Looks like a non-locker (and only 1 biner at all) at the master point; appears to violate the non-extension principle; also, not keen on the way the climbing rope runs over the edge.

#2 - Running the rope through the chains/links will create undue wear on them when lowering.

#3 - American Death Triangle - increased forces generated on each bolt.

Scott said...

Oh wow. These are just horrible. The first one is using non-locking biners on the anchor and a quick draw for the master point. But that's nothing compared to the fact that they're just using two slings with no form of redundancy at all.

Second one, through the fixed gear. Jeez.

The third one. No lockers on the anchor, single biner on the master point, and ONE SLING.

Anonymous said...

1) No limiting knots which will allow too much extension if one side of the anchor fails. Master point should be two opposed and opposite locking carabiners.

2) It would be fine if someone had just cleaned the anchor and was rapping or lowering but if toproping the rope will wear through the fixed gear quickly, especially at a sandstone craig.
3) American Death Triangle - Show them something about anchors before they kill someone, and tell them to stop yelling at their kid that is freaked out halfway up the climb.

Erik said...

1. Looks like a sliding x, but the anchors should be lockers, I'd prefer to have two runners, and would swap out the draw for a locker, or two. Nothing is redundant.

2. Safety wise this one is better, though it's still pretty bad because you're wearing out the pieces that ought to only be rapped on. You should be on your own gear here...

3. From the top down... anchor biners should be lockers. It's the American Death Triangle- puts a lot more force on the bolts that there needs to be (pulls sideways against eachother). I'd like to double up on the sling, and the locker at the bottom as well.

By the way- really dig the blog, been interesting reading this summer as I've gotten into climbing- thanks for the cool content.

Lord of the Files said...

I think that you should post the answers to the quiz in the post. You're leaving readers like me, who pretty much know the answers but would like to confirm, with way too many slightly differing opinions to read through!

I'm left with questions like "is there any reason to use a quickdraw (or two opposed) like in picture 1, instead of a 'biner (or two opposed)? ", and "what , then, *should* I be doing in picture 2?"

I can come up with answers I'm 95% sure of, but that's not a high enough number for something I'm going to trust my life to!

Jason Martin said...

@Lord of the Flies,

Come back tomorrow and I'll post the answers inside the blog!


armandino said...


a) Use of non-locking biners in an anchor rig
b) Use of a quickdraw to extend the anchor (no redundancy, single non-locking biner clipped at rope and slings)


a) Using fixed protection as the rope attachment (friction wears out the protection over extended use).


No redundancy, sling is the single point of failure. Only one biner on rope.

George Sudarkoff said...

Picture #1 - (1) webbing is rubbing against the rock, (2) single non-lockers are used as attachment points.

Picture #2 - It's not a good idea to toprope like this, but for rapping off of a sport route it's perfectly fine.

Picture #3 - American death triangle - bad, bad, bad!

Lord of the Files said...

Great, looking forward to it!

Anonymous said...

Picture 1: What's wrong with this?!?! They're climbing slab of course. Nah just kidding. Non-redudant system.

Picture 2: Roping up through the anchors, but what's also wrong is someone sold these jerks a rope. That irritates me when people do that.

Picture 3: Obviously the ADT, but I've got a question. Isn't the rule of thumb for bolt spacing 6 inches? Those bolts look much closer. I could be wrong, I don't really bolt, that's just from memory of stuff I've read.

Anonymous said...

I think everything was covered, except that on Picture 2, the first chain link appears to be broken!

I would put a locking biner on each bolt, do a sliding X with a sling or two, and use a locking biner (or two opposed and opposite) as the anchor point.

To rap off, put the left lower locking ring on the right bolt, don't use the chain, it's broken.

Rob Donnelly said...

#1 Doesn't meet "no extension" criteria. Use of quickdraw instead of two lockers or three ovals at the power point. Not to mention lockers preferred at the bolts and quickdraw adds unnecessary complexity.

#2 At first I though nothing wrong, "they setup a rappel." But then saw "top rope." Should not use chains, rings, whatever existing hardware for top rope as the friction can wear down the links. Should build anchor from the bolts.

#3 Death triangle! Multiplication of forces. Bad bad! Not to mention single locker and non-lockers at the bolts. It does meet "no extension" criteria though haha.

ChrisOnTheRoad said...

#1 - The quickdraw removes redundancy from the system.

#2 - Seriously? Using the rappel chains as toprope anchors?

#3 - Not redundant, and will also result in the actual force distribution being straight in-wards on each of the anchors, dramatically increasing the force on each anchor point.

Anonymous said...


One thing you pointed out is that you do not need locking carabiners from the anchor points to the sling or cordelette. I get asked about this often with people wondering why you don't need them there but that you should use them at the power point?

Once you place the carabiner correctly at the anchor points making sure that it is not laying over an edge or nothing is pushing against the gate, there will be little movement or repositioning forces that could foul the placement. Also, as you mentioned, it is redundent since you have multiple anchor points.

The carabiners at the master point of a toprope anchor are more likely to move around which could push open a non-locking gate(that's why you use lockers) and the rope movement could unscrew a locking carabiner(that's why you use two opposite and opposed)

I think this quiz on your blog is a great idea and I hope you keep it up.


Anonymous said...

1) Look closer, that is not a sliding X. Each side has it's own sewn seam. Does anyone make a sewn runner with two seams? I don't think so. Doesn't mean the rest of the setup isn't poor, but a non-redundant sliding X is not one of the issues.

Jason Martin said...


Thanks for the additional comments. This was clearly popular. Now I just have to find some more good subjects for this!


climbamt said...

Nice post Jason.....

Jason Martin said...

Two things have been pointed out.

First, someone correctly noted that the first picture actually doesn't have a sliding X. It is two independent slings. So redundancy in that part of the system is not a problem, nor is shockloading.

Second, someone asked when 2 opposite and opposed carabiners or 3 opposite and opposed non-locking carabiners became industry standard. This is a standard that the AMGA has been pushing in the Single Pitch Instructor course since about 2008.



Lord of the Files said...

Thanks for the answers - great post!

Clemens said...

#1 No redundancy: Rope runs through a single carabiner/quick-draw. Should it fail, a fall results. Also, the slings look a bit twisted. Personally, I'd use locking carabiners.

#2 Rope fed directly through the anchor chain. Fine for abseiling/rappelling, but dangerous for top roping as the metal from carabiners clipped to the chain will have roughened the surface, so pulling the rope through that can be abrasive.

#3 American death triangle, putting a lot of strain on the bolts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,

This post got me thinking about my preferred belay anchor system. I have been using a system where I clip two pieces with a double sling creating a magic or sliding x. I then clip a third, independent piece with a second sling to the power point. In my view this equalizes better than a cordalette and is redundant. Will Gadd advocated such a system on his blog. Care to comment?

Dan Smith

Jason Martin said...


Thanks for the note.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Will Gadd's concept, but you should be aware that you can make a sliding x redundant by simply adding "load limiter" knots on either end of the x.

A more modern technique that has gained favor with guides over the last five years or so is the Quad. In my opinion this is one of the best variable load anchors. Here's a link to a post about it: