Thursday, June 23, 2011

Snow Sloggin' and Sandbaggin'

Last week I was out in the Cascades climbing Mt. Rainier with Marty Molitoris from Alpine Endeavors and four very dialed clients. We climbed the Kautz Glacier Route and descended the Disappointment Cleaver. A wild traverse across the Nisqually Icefall topped off what turned out to be one of my favorite days ever in the mountains. Our group was fit, cohesive and upbeat, and it was great to finally climb and work with Marty again. I snapped a few photos along the way and here are the best of them. For a more complete trip report check out the Alpine Endeavors blog.

Sunday, one day after being back on the east coast I worked with an aspirant guide named Allison Berg. She's a competent climber who's climbed and led lots of 5.9 and easy 5.10 in the Gunks but has shied away from the roofier climbs. We met up for a day of jug hauling on steep classic 5.10's in the Gunks.

For me, finding time to train for rock climbing this spring has been hard to do and I'm a little bit behind as far as endurance goes. We climbed Bonnie's Roof Direct (1 pitch, 9+), Falled on Account of Strain (one pitch, 10b), Erect Direction (the best 10 in the Trapps?? 10c, 10a) and pitch one of Nurse's Aid (whoa. heads up and challenging, 10a/b PG-R). We had a great day together but my arms were smoked by the end.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Good is that Anchor? Part 2

During two guided days 16 slings were removed from 4 anchors. 
I left 2-3 good slings remaining on all of the anchors
Most days it's not raining I'm out guiding in the Gunks. The majority of my guiding days thus far have been spent at the Mohonk Preserve. I've been making a conscious attempt to clean up ratty looking rappel anchors.

In a previous post I detailed my criteria for good rappel anchors: if it's not a bolt station it should be a good solid tree with 2 new-ish slings and 2 aluminum rappel rings or at least one steel quick link. Most rappel anchors in the Gunks have 6-8 slings of varying ages on them, so most of the time anchor improvement consists of mainly of cutting away old junk so it's easy to inspect the newer slings before you rappel.

During two consecutive guiding days last week I cleaned 4 anchors near the beginning of the Trapps and cut away 16 slings. Some were brand new and will be reused in other places, others were so worn that there were holes in them and they were knotted with what looks like half hitches.

One sling, found on the "Bunny" anchor was tied
 solely with half hitches. Hopefully the climber
 wasn't tied into the rope with this awful setup as well.
Nearly every day I come home with slings to throw in my garbage can and so far this year I bet I've thrown away a 10-13 gallon trash bag's worth of old webbing. I've found new slings and carabiners too. It seems that many climbers are really paranoid about the rappel anchors that they're using. From the amount of cord and webbing that I find on anchors, it appears that many climbers don't trust rappel anchors and feel that more is better.

Let's get things straight – this is a “less is more” situation. One, two, or three good slings is perfect; this anchor will only hold one person's weight at a time, and only during rappel. If you're going to toprope use your own anchor.

The same half hitched sling was abraded through

What about steel cable? The climb “Betty” has a steel cable rappel anchor at it's top on a pitch pine. At the beginning of the season (mid-April) I found this fixed anchor, no doubt placed by a local climber. It consists of two separate loops of 3/8” steel cable, looped and spliced at each end. The first time I saw it I thought “what the heck”, but after a minute of observation I realized that this simple anchor is incredibly stong. It is a bit ugly and in need of some touching up (loose cable ends could pierce your hand while threading the rope) but it's super strong. This week I came up to the same anchor and found 2 pieces of webbing and cord in addition to the steel cable. Apparently a few others climbers didn't feel the same way about steel cable that I do. Can you guess what I did next? That's right; I removed the webbing and cord for reuse elsewhere; that cable is stronger than 8” diameter the tree it's placed around.

I don't want to beat a dead horse here. My point is this: use common sense while rappelling and know your materials. If an anchor is in need of new slings, add one or two, but while you're at it remove the old, mildew covered, sun-bleached rotted slings of yesteryear.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why You Should Use a Grigri

A few winters ago a friend of mine was struck in the head by a rock at East Peak in Connecticut. She was belaying another friend on Cat Crack, one of the cleanest routes at that area. 70' up, the climber accidentally dislodged a rock the size of a grapefruit and fell in the process, all while toproping. The dislodged rock struck the belayer in the head. Not wearing a helmet, she was instantly unconscious and unable to maintain solid brake tension on her belay device. Her belay device of choice on that particular day was the Grigri. Her decision to use the Grigri probably saved the climber's life.

My seriously injured friend, near death, was hauled up to the top of the cliff and flown to a nearby hospital. However, had a Grigri not been used they probably would have been bringing a bodybag to the base of the cliff as well.

I teach several AMGA Single Pitch Instructor courses throughout the year. This course focuses on instructor use of the Grigri and this is what I tell my students: “If you have a Grigri you should be using it” and "If you're not using a Grigri there should be a very compelling reason why". I see people belaying with plate style devices (an ATC or similar device) all the time, when they have a Grigri in their pack or clipped to their waist. This is just plain lazy, or dumb and in the worst case scenario could be life threatening to your climbing partner.

Let's go through some excuses why people choose not to use a Grigri.

Excuse #1 – It's hard to feed rope for belaying a leader.
Response – There are many things in life that are hard. However, potentially saving my partner's life is not a hard decision to make. If a tool that's easy to bring along improves my margin of safety I'm going to use it. This is a lazy response. Practice makes perfect. You can feed rope out of a grigri very quickly and easily if you practice. Nowadays I'm faster at feeding with a grigri than with an ATC.

Excuse #2 – The grigri doesn't give a dynamic leader belay the same way that an ATC does. I don't want gear to pull out if I take a leader fall and I don't want a rough catch when I whip.
Response - It's true that an ATC slips more easily under heavy loads. It's also true that you should probably think long and hard about falling on a route that has gear that is marginal. Again, practice makes perfect. Practice catching leader falls with a grigri. Most of the load absorption comes from the belayer jumping up to soften the leader's fall. Additionally, brake tension is pretty hard to maintain when a heavy climber takes a leader fall with very little rope out.

Excuse #3 – The grigri is too heavy to carry on multipitch climbs.
Response – There's a good chance you can lose that weight off your belly by exercising more and potentially save your partner's life in the process.

Excuse #4 – The grigri doesn't work for top belaying.
Response – Bullsh*t. Hang it upside down off the master point and belay your partner up the pitch. It's easily releasable, which is more than I can say for the ATC Guide or Reverso. You can lower with it too, so long as you redirect the brake strand.

Excuse #5 – The grigri doesn't work on skinnier ropes.
Response – The grigri 2 has solved that problem. For what it's worth, I've been using a grigri on ropes down to 8.9mm for a few years now.

Excuse #6 – The grigri isn't good for ice climbing.
Response – The grigri is my belay device of choice for ice cragging. As long as the rope isn't soaked it's super strong and works fine. Plus, if you get hit by ice as a belayer you have an added security measure in place.

If I haven't sold you on the grigri yet, the following links should help my cause. The first is a review of rope grabbing devices for work and rescue loads published in Technical Rescue Magazine. The article is getting old, but many of the devices we use are still the same. The second is a test of climbing belay devices by Marc Beverly and Stephen Attaway. They looked at how commonly used belay devices behave under huge loads. The results are conclusive - the grigri has far more holding power than all other commonly used rope-grabbing devices.

Next time your putting your climbing partner on belay and you have a grigri on hand, make the right decision, you won't regret it. Oh, and don't forget your helmet too.