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Tech Tip On Cairn anchors, and other canyoneering anchors...

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ratagonia, Oct 24, 2021.

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    (in answer to a question about protocols on Cairn anchors)

    My personal beef on cairn anchors is that people build them too big. They should be big enough to get the job done, and no more. I apply a Wilderness Ethic, where best practice is the 'minimum tool' allowing transit. Anything more than the minimal tool is an intrusion, a trammel, which is undesirable in a wilderness setting.

    We are also now making easily inspectable cairn anchors where possible, related to Swaney's Death Valley cairn anchors. Huge cairns tend to be un-inspectable and discourage inspection of the webbing.

    Proper protocol for cairns is full inspection, ALWAYS. Tugging on it is insufficient. Backing it up and having it not fail on the first five people is insufficient - progressive failure is possible.

    With clients and students, my personal protocol is that I go last, and back up everyone else. This is kind of a standard protocol for all natural anchors - thems that built it go last. Being the guide and or teacher means that you supervise building it, so you go last.

    There are other trainings on how to securely tie off rocks, etc... if you have spent time with Rick Green you probably have already done these (as I do them the way Rick taught me).

    Tom
  2. jsb4g

    jsb4g

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    Hey Tom, thanks for post. What are your thoughts on inspection of dead man anchors?
  3. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Same.

    Basically Deadman Anchors and Cairn Anchors are close to the same thing, require the same protocols.

    Tom
  4. jsb4g

    jsb4g

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    So you are saying you dig up and inspect every deadman anchor you use?
  5. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Yes.

    Do you want to live?
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  6. Matt M

    Matt M

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    LNT, or more accurately, leave minimal trace regarding anchors is an ever evolving target in the climbing sector and I suspect will become more so with canyons as popularity, traffic etc continues to increase. In the climbing world, the long held stigmas against fixed anchors as "more impactful" on the environment is giving way to "it depends", even in staunchly traditional areas like the 'Gunks. 'Tat, tied-off trees, erosion, abuse on trees used as rap points, rock grooving etc has forced users to evaluate what "low impact" means. This obviously can have different meaning in a canyon vs a cliff but less so than one might think... Is a large, stacked pile of rocks really less impactful (esp if it fails?) vs fixed anchors? As with much of our adventure in the outdoors... It depends...

    Appreciate the safety reminder on these styles of rap station!
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2021
  7. jsb4g

    jsb4g

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    Yes. But can you come up with a counterargument does not involve a reduction in survival chances? I can. Hint: Start with the fact that deadman anchors are not actually the same thing as cairn anchors in a couple of highly relevant respects. Either I can make the argument, or you can, and then you can try to dispel it (because I can already think of a counterargument to the counterargument).
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  8. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Your ADA chops are showing...

    (I realize ADA might not be the correct attribution, but it is what comes to mind)
  9. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Yes, Deadman anchors are often quite challenging to inspect. I have dug up a few that revealed themselves to be very marginal, and that would fail by progressive failure, which having people rappel backed up and watching the anchor does not protect against...

    and?
  10. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Yes, and...

    In high-traffic areas, we have been managing impacts for quite some time. But with a careful hand.

    There is an important 'big picture' issue here. If all the beginner canyons are bolted at every 4 foot drop, then beginners will think ALL canyons are bolted. I think beginners should learn fairly early in their canyon 'career' that being able to come up with anchors is an important part of the sport. We do not produce 'safer canyoneers' by making every canyon 'safe'. We produce dumb canyoneers, which is inherently unsafe.

    I understand all the canyons in Disneyland are thoroughly bolted.

    Tom
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  11. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    So are the rock climbs.

    Push now is clip-and-go anchors for climbing. Instead of having to thread a rope. Too many fatalities. The upkeep is easier with newer anchors.

    You can have that careful hand (and kudos for trying), but, when the swarms of the masses over run your position...you'll be left in their prop wash.

    Key is to engage the younger set. If they don't get your put, then, you're sunk trying to maintain the status quo.

    And, massively deep rope grooves and stacks of rock, buried slings, and fatalities from misuse and accidents related to SRT and fiddlesticks...all work against selling your "big picture".

    Good luck. If you're on the FB feed for the local SAR here in SL County, you can see we haven't had much luck with climbers...
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  12. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Are you saying you don't? Dig up a few, you might be surprised what you find down there. I've found a few that were tied to rapidly degrading burlap bags full of sand that ripped apart with a slight pull.
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  13. jsb4g

    jsb4g

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    I havent said what I do. So did they rip apart with a slight pull while buried? Why would they not rip while buried and rip when uncovered? Does that say anything relevant to this discussion? Can you think of a way to examine evidence of the condition of a dead man without digging it up (other than by load testing it)? Consider the environmental differences between a dead man anchor and a cairn anchor. Separately, Is Tom correct that load testing is dead man is not sufficient? Realistically, what could happen to an underground anchor in the few minutes it takes for the heaviest person in the group to rap with it backed up and the lightest person to rap off of it last? This question in part relates back to environmental factors. In addressing this question, are you referring to the webbing or the anchor? The considerations for webbing are different than those for the actual anchor? No? And with regard to referring to things buried in the sand as marginal, i'd say a sand trap or similar device is also marginal without the sand. It is more about the sand and less about the object in the sand as long as the webbing is in fact securely attached to an object. My biggest fear is actually improperly secured webbing that slips off over time, but can that actually happen when the webbing and object are buried?

    Feel free to discuss and offer opinions. My post is meant to encourage and facilitate discussion. I also find that canyoneering, much like the world, is not particularly well suited to being viewed in a black and white manner. As is so often the case, I see validity in both sides of the argument. And to answer your question, I try not to use dead man anchors. I would just assume use a sand trap since I control the setup.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2021
  14. jsb4g

    jsb4g

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    Close enough. I was federal. ADA is state.
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  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Yes.

    How often? probably not often. But it is a 1 - 0 kinda thing. It only has to kill me once to be a problem.

    Some of the deadmen I have dug up have been of the "how did this thing hold anything" variety. If your evidence is webbing coming out of the sand, you do not know if that was A. how a deadman was constructed by a competent person, or perhaps B. that is just how it ended up after a flood. Perhaps after the B. flood, a group came through and cleaned up what is showing so now it looks like an A. Maybe the group was all lightweights, and my group includes Mongo who will apply much greater force to the anchor. Maybe when the deadman was constructed, the sand was somewhat wet and thus heavier and more clingy. Now that it is dry the holding power is compromised.

    My vivid imagination has been helpful in keeping me alive to this point. Sometimes (especially in winter) I struggle to have a good time in a canyon because my mind is churning through the possible disasters ahead.

    Tom
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  16. Jon Adams

    Jon Adams CanyonSlacker

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    While I don't have that much technical experience, my experience as an engineer informs me that I must not trust an anchor that was pre-existing, unless I can fully inspect it. I've rapped off of deadmans (backed up by meat), but each deadman I was either there to build or I watched someone else with better than my own pre-school earthworks civil engineering skills do so.

    I am amazed tho at how much grip a couple of sandbags properly laid down, and properly used, can do. I am an electrical engineer, however, so maybe that explains my childlike glee.

    Cheers - Jon
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  17. Jon Adams

    Jon Adams CanyonSlacker

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    Confused. Is ADA "Americans with Disabilities Act"? That's the ADA I work with...

    Naively, Jon
  18. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    It was in response to this...

    An ADA is an Assistant District Attorney - a working attorney, usually prosecutor, in the state District Attorney's office. jsb4g is retired from being a Federal AUSA, from being a trial lawyer at or near the top of the profession.

    Thankfully I have no actual experience with either, but I do Stay Tuned With Preet. I have admiration and respect for those who take on this challenging and important job, serving the public in this way. He is a professional in discussion and interrogation. His questions are direct and penetrating, and get to the heart of the matter quickly.

    Tom
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  19. Jon Adams

    Jon Adams CanyonSlacker

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    Preet is an incredible asset to this country, and a funny, interesting, brilliant guy to boot!
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  20. jsb4g

    jsb4g

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    Response to Jon and Tom: I appreciate your comments. Between what you have said and other accident stories I have read about recently, I think I will continue the practice of not relying on anchors I do not inspect. I asked as a point of discussion because I have been out with folks that do not regularly inspect dead man anchors. Just not worth the risk IMO...
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