What is an Anchor? Some will say it is something strong and dependable, something the rope goes through, or an established point you can hang from. All of these answers are good, but let’s read on to refine our knowledge and understanding of an anchor.
The sky is bright blue and clear in all directions. The view down canyon is remarkable and promises a few challenges this afternoon. You and your friends are poised on the edge of a 170-foot drop, looking down into an inviting pool below. The group leader picks up a stick about as thick as your small finger, pushes that stick into the ground to its halfway point, wraps some webbing (rated at 4000 lbs. tensile strength) around the stick, slides a rappel ring into the webbing (minimum break strength “MBS” of 8800 lbs.), threads a rope (safe working load “SWL” of 540 lbs.) through that rappel ring, deploys the opposite end of the rope off the cliff and turns to the group to say ”the anchor is ready, who’s going first?”.
Would you go first? Why or why not? Is it because the rope is too weak or that you know the rope’s history? Could it be the rappel ring doesn’t have a CE certification and isn’t rated by a manufacturer who guarantees the product for life safety? Maybe the single loop of webbing bothers you. There seems to be a lack of redundancy with just the one loop. Could it be the “anchor point” itself? And did you just see your leader jam a small stick into the mud to use as an anchor? That surely couldn’t hold any weight! You can’t call that stick an anchor, can you? An anchor has to be a steel post driven deep into the ground, enforced by concrete, and set back far from the cliff edge! The base of a large oak tree, a huge boulder; anything has to be better than that stick. After a few moments of doubt and some suspicious nods from your teammates, you say “Very well then, I’ll go first”. You rig yourself up for rappel, take a deep breath, and swing out over the edge. After a brief descent you open your eyes and realize you’re still there, so the anchor must be safe. You congratulate yourself and yell up “Off rappel!”. You’re alive and the anchor held. What now? It held you and carried your weight. Is it safe to say the stick in the ground is a reliable anchor, or was it just luck? Make the decision, your friends are waiting…what are you going to do?
We feel this is a great opening scenario for a book written about canyoneering and canyon anchors. It is also the very first scenario we present when we teach our West Coast Canyoneering Method (WCCM) Anchors Class.
The purpose of this book is to capture our anchor building curriculum using the WCCM certification guidelines. Our intent will be to differentiate between fact and fiction, myth from reality, and prejudice from truth concerning the very nature of the equipment we use, and how we use it, in what is being called the “harshest-vertical-adventure-risk terrain on earth”. We will also explore the fine art of anchor building using materials found in the canyon environment, as well as acceptable materials and equipment that can be carried. In this text you will discover and learn some of the most important lessons we have practiced, all from years of specific and related experience both in the field and through controlled testing and product development. We have taken this knowledge and sequenced it into a format that has been presented and taught to a wide range of people both new to the sport and to professionals within various related industries.