"Ghosting" using rock-pile cairn anchors

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T2
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"Ghosting" using rock-pile cairn anchors

Post by T2 » 10 Mar 2020, 14:05

Some useful information for people interested in ghosting techniques, particularly in more remote wilderness areas where leaving nothing behind is the preferred ethic. This post is a reproduction of a Facebook post by American canyoneer Scott Swaney.

HOW TO LEAVE A ROCK CAIRN ANCHOR WITHOUT PUTTING IN WEBBING OR RAPPEL RINGS

"Ghosted": in canyoneering (canyoning) the term means to get down a canyon and leave nothing behind; leaving the canyon in a pristine state.

This album is for canyoneers who may be interested in putting in canyon anchors, and leaving nothing behind in the canyon (no man-made materials), and also anywhere else where canyons are found around the world. Leaving no webbing or rappel rings.

Many canyons in many places, you can put in bolts, pitons, climbing nuts, etc, but in some parks like Death Valley you are required to only use natural material found in the canyons. Nearly all cairn anchors have webbing wrapped around a rock, and then additional rocks are added for additional weight for strength.

Many other natural anchors can be done by making Rock-Chocks or Knot-Blocks, but they also have to use webbing to leave behind & usually also leave a rap ring as well. Cairn anchors are hard not to leave something behind on.

Using Retrievable tools like a Fiddlestick, you can drop the rope down without using webbing, but the cairn has to be constructed in a certain way where the rope can easily be pulled around a smooth "pull-rock" and not hang up on anything.

Leaving just the rocks you found there as the only thing left behind, these techniques allows you to get down a canyon and cost nothing in man-made materials.

I have spent a lot of money building many hundreds of Cairn Anchors, having to carry spools of webbing and rappel rings, leaving behind webbing that will eventually turn to trash in a year or so out there in the desert heat & sun.

Also being shown are Fiddlestick retrievable tools used on boulders and natural rock horns found there.

All these points will leave the canyon in a much more pristine state for others going through in the future, with no litter/trash when the webbing deteriorates and has to be replaced.

NOTE: Also being shown here is an additional rope temporarily used as a back-up anchor to be taken off for the last person down at risk (LAMAR). Usually tied with an alpine butterfly knot on the rappel line.

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A hand-built rock horn from the boulders found there and set up to work and blocked by other rocks in front for additional weight and strength

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Artificial rock horn built from the rocks laying around. Stood the tall one up on end to make a horn. Blocked it with other rocks added for strength. Showing the additional rocks set in front to strengthen the horn from being pulled over.

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Addtional weight added on top as a bridge for more weight, but no interfering with the pull-line.

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NOTE: Green line is a temporary back-up rope to be taken off by the last person at risk

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Re: "Ghosting" using rock-pile cairn anchors

Post by T2 » 10 Mar 2020, 14:14

Scott also shared some good photos showing how a Fiddlestick can be used to anchor off larger rocks, fixed boulders, and rock flakes.

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Re: "Ghosting" using rock-pile cairn anchors

Post by canyoning.cat » 17 Oct 2020, 09:36

Some interesting anchors there T2. I was lucky enough to go on a few trips with Scott whilst I was around Death Valley, his prowess at anchor building was amazing to watch (and learn!), particularly his knot chocks.

The cairn anchors you generally see (or that I generally saw) aren't at all like the ones pictured above. Most ppl burry the rock which makes it essentially impossible to inspect the tape (AKA webbing) without dismantling the anchor and rebuilding. There was a death in Death Valley not that long ago, I think because the group did not inspect the tape before abseiling.
Last time I went through Looking Glass (~6yrs ago) there was a cairn anchor. We also build one recently whilst exploring and couldn't find any anchor options.

I've been using a toggle for canyoning here (Australia) now and it has lightened my pack for remote trips considerably as I now don't need to carry as much rope or tape. Just last week we used a Smooth Operator around a rock. I haven't had any issues with the pull cord and/or toggle getting stuck in vegetation... yet.

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Re: "Ghosting" using rock-pile cairn anchors

Post by T2 » 19 Oct 2020, 12:59

Yeah, most cairn anchors are buried, but I was keen to share images that showed best practice. Using the designs above allows them to be ghosted with a fiddlestick-style toggle, or if there is tape it can be easily inspected.

One of the reasons I am uncomfortable with some people's promotion of "wrap three, pull two" anchors is the reduced inspectability. This style of rigging makes it very hard to move the webbing around the object, so if it's a partly buried rock or log, or even tree that is hard to get behind, you can have sections of webbing that aren't easy to inspect.

Best practice canyon anchors can come in many forms, but they should always be made of appropriately strong materials, and be easy to inspect by future groups. A fancy anchor that requires people to blindly trust it is a bad anchor.

Using a fiddlestick around a rock (whether a boulder, a bollard, or a chockstone) can be really effective. The ability to anchor directly on rock is a huge advantage. It's also wonderful to be able to leave canyons pristine following your visit.

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