Surviving Sedona.....January 8th is my new second birthday


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Trad climber
The state of confusion
Jan 13, 2013 - 09:27pm PT

Talk about cool under pressure.

That's JD!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 13, 2013 - 10:42pm PT
How would one test them? IMO, if it's white, it can't be trusted.

Clip your harness to the sling and weight it, then bounce it (requires a backup and a non-fragile back).
You can also do a less severe loading by jerking on it with your arm, or clipping a sling to it and stomping in the sling.

The complete visual inspection that Jim did is also important. It's not equivalent to a full body weight test, though. This is part of the standard sequence you do while still clipped into the rappel rope (if this is a lower anchor in a series). Although sometimes steps get skipped to save time. Redundancy is good....

I've tested plenty of white slings in Yosemite that pass the loading test with my (light) body weight. I also have an occasional relatively new slings whose original color is white (with a single black strand). Most nylon slings are fortunately colored these days. And specta etc. has two colors.

These days I have a tiny knife on my harness, and often spare tied slings in my pack. Often I will untie and remove slings from anchors that have "too many" (> 2) "good" ones, and move them to other anchors that have "too few" ( < 2 ).

Almost all slings I see pass my bounce testing and many look very bad (faded on top, fully faded, frayed partway through, very dirty/moldy, etc.). If I have extra slings with me, I remove and replace. Otherwise I might remove a few of the worst ones if there are still 2-3 semi-bad ones left.

As for trust, I trust the ones I've vigorously tested. And I vigorously test stuff when there is poor/no redundancy, or possibly suspect slings. I don't bounce test stainless 3/8" double-bolt anchors, or colored/non-faded slings.... :-)

Social climber
The internet
Jan 13, 2013 - 11:31pm PT
Clip your harness to the sling and weight it, then bounce it (requires a backup and a non-fragile back).
I understand the whole testing thing, really.

The thing is, let's say the sling can hold 500 lbs for 5 seconds and your testing uses up about 3 seconds of that and you don't notice anything wrong? I think the right answer is not testing - it's hey, this sling is white, can't be trusted, and may fail at a really low force - better have a plan B.

Not that I don't believe in testing everything all the time - but it's mostly to verify that things I already know and trust are all connected - not to expect I can do some kind of material science voodoo testing out in the wild on the individual componants - that's just crazy, really, if you think about it and have done much of this sort of testing in a formal way. You're really just rolling the dice - still. Sample of one and no controls doesn't tell you anything. The sling just can't be white w/o a backup.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 13, 2013 - 11:38pm PT
As for trust, I trust the ones I've vigorously tested.

Blind trust: bad.
Empirical, evidence-based trust: good.

Trust (aka faith) can be a tricky animal, no doubt. In relationships. In rock climbing. In belief. But one thing's for sure: blind trust (aka blind faith) is of the worst case, last resort type.

restores my faith in knots jammed into cracks

Which, it's worth noting, ain't a blind faith. ;)


the sling can hold 500 lbs for 5 seconds and your testing uses up about 3 seconds of that

That makes zero sense. Back to science class, mr.

material science voodoo testing... Sample of one and no controls doesn't tell you anything...

Neither does this. Makes zero sense. Nada. Beta: If I were you, I'd not do any more rappelling until you're clear on the basic dynamics involved. (Also, the basic statics.)

I understand the whole testing thing, really.

Not according to your post, you don't.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 14, 2013 - 02:39am PT
I'm with JLP on this, actually... and it's because of the type of accident represented in the OP, maybe Donini can elaborate on his habit, that is, whether or not he tested the sling with force before weighting it.

It is certainly true that after inspecting the slings, and cleaning up the station, I might decide that there are good slings there and I can trust my life to them.

But if I have any doubt, independent of testing, I just put a new sling on the anchor. Looking at Donini's picture, I would have put a new sling on the anchor... that's me.

This isn't the first accident, and certainly not the first "near miss" that has occurred with old slings. Maybe you're ok going through the test ritual, but if there is any doubt, why not just contribute to the upkeep of the rap stations and add a sling? and maybe clean up a bit of tat?

It's not so much of an effort... and there is no uncertainty regarding the integrity of the anchor when you do it.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Jan 14, 2013 - 07:12am PT
Now filed under: 'Old dogs, new tricks'.

Reminds me I did know a guy long ago to whom you could give a gnarly, old, outdoor tomcat and he'd return a sweet house cat after three weeks. He said there is always a way to teach an old cat new tricks. He was expensive, though, and only had one rule - you couldn't ask him how he did it.

It was nice of Jim to be so forthcoming in this case.
Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Jan 14, 2013 - 07:24am PT
i think you missed my point entirely, ed. it isn't a scientific one, but it could easily become so.

of course everyone is glad when someone survives something like this. we've spent the whole thread telling jim we're glad he's alive and well. for the record, i am too. i'm not suggesting we pick apart the incident. as you say, jim was gracious enough to share it with us. but in his original post he said that he read some sort of technical article which seemed to say how strong an old sling can be. that's what i want to pick apart, the everlovin' article. are you in the camp with moosedrooler such that you never question anything once it gets into a "respectable" publication?

as an aside, i hope dirtbag made coffee. mt. piños has powdah, powdah, powdah. cold is good. i crashed at 8 pm and now i'm up way too early.

Trad climber
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Jan 14, 2013 - 08:36am PT
Yeaaarrrrrgh! Spooky stuff there, Jim. I haven't been bringing webbing for a while now and plan to put it back on the gear list for obscure and/or poorly maintained areas.

The last, crap anchor I rapped off of on the Diamond had at least four separate pieces of rotten webbing.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 14, 2013 - 08:38am PT
I agree that testing might potentially weaken a sling or anchor component so that it would then fail under a lower load than if untested.
Such a "test-weakened rappel sling failure" seems unlikely to me, though.
Probably this is based on some years back, where I towed my car with a motley collection of slings, including some 1/2" webbing that I thought was junk.
Nothing broke, in spite of many repeated jerks when accelerating after each stoplight. And much larger loads than we can generate rappelling, even with big guys and lots of gear.

But we want a rule which keeps the risk below an "acceptable" level.
What's acceptable to me might not be acceptable to other folks (even if we had a good estimate of the failure probability), so I don't expect my methods will be best for everyone.

Example rappel anchors with new slings and rings, clean rope:
1. One sling, no rings.
2. One sling, one ring.
3. One sling, two rings.
4. Two slings, no rings.
5. Two slings, one ring.
6. Two slings, two rings.
7. Three slings, three rings.

Every time we add redundancy, we reduce the failure probability.
I'm fine with #1, especially if I think it will never be used again.
I've had partners who insist that #1's risk is too high - they want one of the safer options.
#6 is fairly standard, for a frequently used rappel station.
#7 is safer, though....

Yes, the gear is cheap.
It takes a little effort and time to bring the gear along and add redundancy.
Whether it is worth the extra effort/time depends on your level of acceptable risk and how you value your time.

And the above 7 anchors are a situation where we can have good estimates of the breaking strengths of the components.
The probabiliy of failure is very low in #1 and gets ridiculously low in the others.
So if we can't solve the above, there's no chance in making an easy-to-use rule for making acceptable anchors with partly faded slings.

JLP has a reasonable point that if:
1. a sling "looks/feels bad enough", and
2. we have enough spare webbing,
then we should just replace it instead of testing it.

The main problem is that you have to develop a set of rules for (1.) "looks/feels bad enough" to calibrate them against sling failure probability.
You need testing (by yourself or others) to develop this set of rules.
I do it often when I'm removing tat, because I want to see if I can predict how weak a sling is from its look and feel.
And you might want to do continued random testing of slings that meet your rules for safety, to make sure your rules still work in a new area.

And what if you don't have (2.) sufficient spare tied slings to reach around a big block (Jim's exact situation, 8')? If you have a knife (I carry a tiny one), you can cut off the end of one of your ropes and use that. But there had better be a good reason to do that (it will create other risks and it's not cheap). Spot testing in such a situation is no guarantee you will live if the sling holds, but if the sling fails under test you have learned something important.

Finally(?), testing also tests more than just the slings.
One of the goals is to uncover unobserved flaws in the anchor system.
So I believe testing is still quite useful in the real world.

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Jan 14, 2013 - 09:50am PT
If it's white, it ain't right!

Credit: drljefe
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 14, 2013 - 10:23am PT
EH wrote,
I'm with JLP on this...

Riley wrote,
I'm with JLP also.
We really shouldnt even have to debate this one.

To be clear, let's take the two specific points I referenced, no better, criticized. You guys are with JPL regarding...
the sling can hold 500 lbs for 5 seconds and your testing uses up about 3 seconds of that
Really? Testing uses up time? Citations from either modern engineering physics or life experience, please.
Sample of one and no controls doesn't tell you anything...
Really? So if I encountered a slung boulder in the manner described by JD: an old badly weathered 1" sling that I was thinking about rapping from, testing it wouldn't tell me anything? Let's say, I recognize it as weathered, it's testable under daisy chain and in the line of force (a point JD was not clear about), I bounce test it to 8-10 g, it holds, moreover this simple part system still looks same; also taking into account my intention to rappel the line smoothly at 2g max say, precisely because it is a compromised questionable system... then this, according to JPL, "doesn't tell you anything"?

But you're right, Riley, we shouldn't even have to debate this one.


No one's arguing, I don't think, that an extra sling wouldn't have strengthened the system. Geez.

But to not test the system (under load, many times body weight, too, by bouncing, under visual inspection, while backed up) esp when possible, esp one suspected of being dangerous, is neglectful if not foolish. That's the main point. Applies to rapping off old bolts as well as slings, too. Obviously.

Testing the system before use saves lives.


Donini curiously has remained mum (even since my first post) regarding (a) whether this rap station lended itself well to apriori load testing (some don't); (b) whether or not he in fact tested the system (I suspect not).

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 14, 2013 - 10:32am PT
I didn't test it. I was completely off base rapping on the, obviously, badly UV damaged sling. My point in posting was that even someone who has rappelled as many times as me can make a bonehead decision.
Do Not become blase about rappelling!!!
It is the single most dangerous thing that climbers do!!!
The best climber in the world is not going to change the results of a failed anchor!!!


Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Jan 14, 2013 - 10:35am PT
I just hope them younger climbers are listening up and paying attention.

Jan 14, 2013 - 10:43am PT
Yow! Nothing like a little good luck when you need it!

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jan 14, 2013 - 11:59am PT
JLP--I posted a link and a quote from the BD QC Archive that might well have been what Jim remembered. Note the part I rendered in bold. I have both read and been told about other tests that reached similar conclusions. A lot of old tat is, in fact, good enough for rappelling.

I've never bounce-tested a rap anchor and don't imagine I ever would, unless perhaps I was faced with either using what is there or cutting the rope. Adding good webbing makes far more sense than trying to test the old stuff in my opinion, and as I said previously, I've also taken to backing up all rappels for the first person down whenever it is easy and efficient to do so, which has been most of the time for me. Backing up in-situ webbing is usually simple and quick; it isn't always easy or possible to back up the entire anchor with an independent anchor point.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that with just a tiny bit of ingenuity, the climbing rope can be used to back up slings for the first person down, something that is useful if the slings in question are very long and the party doesn't have anything that will work.

When climbing routes in which the second carries a pack, I've always had twenty feet of 1/2 inch or so webbing and a few descending rings. If the pack is at the base of a route that is 400 feet or less, the extra slingage usually stays there---at worst, we can tie our two half-ropes together and make it back to the pack from the top to retrieve the slings if they are needed.

The situation I haven't attended to appropriately is when no pack is carried and there is none at the base, or the base is too far to reach from the top. Here it seems to me that it makes sense to wrap up my twenty feet of sling and the few rap rings and carry it on the harness like the cordelette I almost never use, or, alternatively, just carry the 6mm cordelette that mostly naps in my pack.

I think having stuff with you for rap anchors matters---it affects the psychology of evaluating what is in place. If you are going to have to cut up and knot sewn climbing slings (triple fisherman's for dyneema please!), I think you are less likely to back up anchors that might be a little questionable.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 14, 2013 - 12:07pm PT
I always test my system before undoing my redundant connection to the anchors, with full body weight and usually a bit of bouncing.

This is something that I try to do for every rap, to make sure I've threaded the rope properly through the rap device, that the anchor is secure (though usually I'm connected to the anchor, and a test to failure of the anchor wouldn't be a good thing). Even after I've put a brand new sling on...

I'm sure I don't always do this... but it is a part of my ritual... as Jim says, rappelling is one of the more dangerous things we do...

I've been working on making sure I have some sort of backup on rappel too, but haven't developed a consistent habit of employing a backup on rappels. It's a bad habit not to, but my training is difficult to overcome.

As for understanding the weathering process on nylon, I would imagine that the process is difficult to specify when the exposure conditions are unknown. Any assumptions I would make would leave a very large uncertainty in the conclusion, and if I'm down that path in my thought, it's because I have some doubt regarding the integrity of the anchor... I use that doubt as a trigger to replace the slings, plain and simple.

However, that is a judgement call, and as the OP points out, it is not so difficult to exhibit poor judgement.

Once again, I am very happy the outcome of this event has resulted in a thread which invites analysis of that judgement and not one where we are trying to understand the cause of a tragedy.

High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Jan 14, 2013 - 12:17pm PT
the sling can hold 500 lbs for 5 seconds and your testing uses up about 3 seconds of that

What does this mean? Can anyone tell me? To me, it points to a lack of savvy regarding a rappel system and how its parts work esp in terms of functionality, forces and failure.

I've never bounce-tested a rap anchor and don't imagine I ever would

This is certainly a disturbing remark from someone so experienced. Esp concerning something so basic to the sport of climbing.


Then, also, we have all this talk about replacing old webbing (which goes without saying, really, when it's called for, so why is it even an issue), well the same philos about testing the system also applies to top rope anchors with suspect bolts. If you're in the backcountry, for example, and you encounter a questionable anchor, you're not necessarily in position to go out of your way to replace a questionable rap anchor or top rope anchor of whatever makeup. So what do you do under many circumstances? You stand below it and bounce test it while backed up by something else. I've done this hundreds of times over my climbing history. Along similar lines, when I'm at a crag and encounter a questionable anchor for TR, say, which might amount to simply an unknown anchor, history-wise, say, I'll bounce test it when I'm near the ground for both myself or the group as the case may be for the ensuing top rope session (which we can imagine might last hours). This should all be Rappel Basics 101 or Top Rope Basics 101. For everybody who cares about safety.

Insofar as it isn't, no wonder many shirk rappelling. While others love it.


Other points have been made, too, regarding anchors that are suspect, which aren't really of any issue; instead, it's all just Rap 101. For instance, (1) sending the heaviest down first while he is backed up; (2) providing a fireman's belay at every opportunity (though not an anchor issue) just a backup safety issue that often requires no extra effort.

Maybe we should add the obvious: If one is considering a rap at a suspect anchor of any sort that (a) cannot be backed up for testing and (b) is hanging or thereabouts, whose failure would spell a fall, then he should NOT bounce test it (which can subject the system to many g's). But thankfully I think the majority of climbers understand this point.

Finally(?), testing also tests more than just the slings.
One of the goals is to uncover unobserved flaws in the anchor system.
So I believe testing is still quite useful in the real world.

Yes, indeed.

Social climber
The internet
Jan 14, 2013 - 01:56pm PT
JLP--I posted a link and a quote from the BD QC Archive that might well have been what Jim remembered.

The one I'm recalling was much more broad and tested many more samples. Some of those samples were the tester's own that they dated and later tested - possibly a few years later. This test was linked to and talked about on these forums for quite some time. The biggest surprise and most of the discussion was about the weakness of Spectra after UV damage. It was defintitely before 2005, possibly long before. Maybe I'll search for it at some point.


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jan 14, 2013 - 02:01pm PT
This is certainly a disturbing remark from someone so experienced. Esp concerning something so basic to the sport of climbing.

The remark in question is about not bounce-testing rap anchors. I might have added that I've never climbed with anyone who bounce-tests them either, and over 56 years I've climbed with a lot of experienced climbers. Maybe I'm just climbing with the wrong folks. Who here regularly bounce-tests their rap anchors?

I guess the main problem with bounce-testing is that it is total folly without an independent back-up anchor that is good enough to hold a short fall on static material, and such anchors are not always available or may require time and effort to rig---they will have to be good enough for considerably higher loads than the rap anchor requires.

As I've said, I almost always back up the slings, even pretty new-looking ones, with an independent sling for all but the last person down, so the initial raps do constitute a substantial and realistic test of the sling integrity. I almost never rappel on a single sling without installing another one for redundancy. If it is easy to rig an independent anchor or if it isn't but the rap anchor itself appears dodgy to me, than I'll install the extra anchor and, once again, let the first rappeller(s) constitute the rap anchor test.

I might add that I always test the set up of the rappelling device with a bodyweight test and small jerk while still tethered to the anchor as Ed mentions, but of course this test already assumes the slings and anchor are adequate and does not seem to me to be germane to the present discussion.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Jan 14, 2013 - 02:10pm PT
understanding the weathering process on nylon

I wonder if a better material is available. According to what I'm reading on the internet, Dacron/polyester has the best UV resistance of all fiber types and is used to support antennas. Also, I notice that these dacron ropes are colored black, I wonder if the color makes a difference? If so then just using black nylon slings might help.
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