Harmful And Ridiculous Climbing Anchors


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A top rope anchor I found in Carderock, Maryland. No, that wasn’t staged. – Courtesy of John Gregory of Dumb Anchors. Check out Dumb Anchors for many, many more terrifying climbing anchors.

LESSON: Before reading any further, I recommend clicking on the photo above to see the full-size version. You have to see it really big to understand what’s going on here. This anchor is ridiculous. Let’s start by looking at what got right. This tree is a solid piece of conservation. It’s over 6 inches in diameter, alive and appears to be firmly rooted in the ground (as far as I can tell). The tree was attached to the system with a webbing sling. The rope runs through a locking carabiner that protrudes over the edge of the cliff. And the whole system is secured with this big rock. This anchor could be a bomber, but it has some massive problems.

Metal-to-Metal Connections – Take a close look at the quickdraws in this anchor. They are all connected to other quickdraws from carabiner to carabiner. The problem with this is that carabiner-to-carabiner connections can move, twist and loosen. Since that is every quickdraw in this anchor, there are six different points at which the anchor could fail. Not exactly ideal. The safest way to connect two quickdraws is to remove a carabiner and attach the loose dogbone to the free end of the desired center carabiner. Basically it should work: Carabiner->Dog Bone->Carabiner->Dog Bone->Carabiner.

Redundancy – This anchor has some redundant elements, but not in a really meaningful way. There are two quickdraws that attach the tree sling to the locking carabiner. These quickdraws really only support each other. If the tree sling catches a sharp piece of bark, the entire side of the anchor will fail. The same applies to the express chain. The legs of this anchor support each other, but neither leg has its own redundancy.

Simplicity – Depending on which anchor acronym you subscribe to, an anchor should be efficient or timely. This anchor is neither nor. I count 27 (!) pieces of equipment in this anchor. Every single piece of equipment is a potential source of error. In addition, it becomes difficult to assess and inspect a twisted anchor like this. The same anchor could be reached more easily and safely with four long slings and two lockers. Two slings around the tree and two around the rock (or something better) would provide two redundant sides, with all slings going to the two lockers over the edge.

These are the biggest mistakes, but we’re not over the mountain yet. The blue noose seems ready to jump off this rock. The stone itself is questionable. The anchor is not balanced. And the non-locking carabiner on the rope hangs over the cliff edge. It could break if put under load. I can safely say I wouldn’t climb that anchor


Seen in Joshua Tree. Uncomfortable with a trad anchor, the climber traversed 10-15 feet and ran the rope through the rappel rings. Notice how the rope runs over the rocks in several places. The pair then proceeded to shore up this setup. – Derek Pickell, via email

LESSON: That single piece of Trad gear in the top left photo makes this anchor way more dangerous than it needs to be. First, there is quite a large angle between the Trad Pro and the rappel rings. This multiplies the force on all gears involved, which brings us to the other problem: lengthening. If the gear on the left fails, it will introduce a lot of play into the system. 10-15 feet of extra rope might be enough to send a falling climber onto a ledge or the ground. Then there is the surer. If the belayer is working from the right rope, they should be fine (although the climber can make a big swing). If she belays off the rope on the left and the Trad Pro fails, the force of a fall could send her 10 to 15 feet off the ground, possibly injuring her and causing the system to sag even more. Here you have a choice of either cleaning the trad gear and only securing it to the fixed hardware, or not using the fixed hardware and building a bomber trad anchor. The best answer depends on whether you’re climbing the route on the right or left.

Another problem here is that the pair are supported by rappel rings. While this is not dangerous (unless the rings are worn to a sharp edge), it wears out the fixed parts and they will need to be replaced sooner. Do your local route developers a favor and attach two quickdraws to the bolt hangers for your top rope, or check out this option for a bolted top rope anchor.

want more? Check out these additional installments

What’s wrong with this anchor?

Thought the rope from Home Depot was good for climbing

No vacation for danger

Lowered by a toy carbine

Hooklength decks when experienced climbers botch the belay

Saw someone else’s rope

Only secured with your hands – no device!

Smoke brick weed and go rock climbing

Secure with a knife in hand

Don’t let an unsuspecting father take a kid rock climbing

She became frustrated and unattached – on a leash