Anchor Safety

When it comes to climbing, safety must always be number one on your list.

Nowhere is this more evident than when setting an anchor for rappelling. Since you generally don’t have a belayer, you must put your entire weight and trust in your gear, a sometimes sketchy proposal.

Descending can be dangerous. I know. This last weekend my anchor ripped out on me as soon as I tensioned the rope. I fell 25 feet, sprained my right ankle, fractured two vertebrae and rolled backwards down a hill for another 15 feet, acquiring a lovely collection of cuts and bruises.

Four days in the hospital, one back brace, one air cast and one doctor telling me no driving or climbing for two months later, I wanted to put the word out that you must be sure of your anchors.

Start out with a good crack or taper. You want a minimum of two, preferably three points of contact with that rock. If you are using nuts, be sure they are the right size. I used a #5 when I should have used a six or maybe even seven. An SLCD (friend) works even better sometimes.

Again, the important thing to do is be absolutely certain the protection is in there. Do this by yanking on it in every conceivable direction. I only yanked downwards, not up, the direction it came flying out from. Be sure that each pro is on the same playing level, meaning that not just one is taking the full brunt of your weight, but that all three can share in the load.

You can clip a ‘biner to each, then run a sling through each of them, tie the slings in a figure-eight knot, and clip another carabiner to the end of that. This brings all three points to meet at one central point, like three rivers joining to form a much bigger river.

Hook in your quickdraw and clip in to your descender and rappel by leaning slowly and considerately back, until you feel your weight on your harness and not your legs. This was where mine ripped out.

But, I did not have a backup. I had one point of contact, my #5 stopper. If you do have a belayer, they too should be anchored in to the rock, so as not to get jerked from their feet if something should go wrong. They can belay as normal.

Remember, be safe out there. I had to send my 13-year-old brother-in-law back a quarter mile to get the truck, then we couldn’t back down the road (it was too narrow) so we ended up driving forward into a pasture or something.

But the point is, we made it out. You might not be so lucky. Remember, think bomb-proof.

Take care, be safe, see ya in the crags in a couple of months.

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