Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Totem Block Anchor Really Is The Smartest Way to Rig a Canyoneering Anchor

Often times teaching how to rig anchors becomes a bit confusing. There are many different ways that anchors can be rigged and even after taking classes and being taught how you should rig an anchor and what the safest method for rigging a canyoneerng anchor is, you forget, go back to your old habits and move on. Well, this is what I did for a while as well.  When I was first starting out canyoneering, the Totem didn't exist. When it came about I was set in my ways and had a hard time understanding why I should change what I was currently rigging.  Well, I finally sat down (really just stood there, but you get the point) and decided to practice using the Totem until it was ingrained in my head. It really does make the anchor rigging of a contingency anchor that much easier and safer.

Why use a contingency anchor you ask? Why not just drop double strand all the time and keep the rigging simple?  Well, one word - SAFETY!  By pre-rigging your rappel for safety in mind, you set yourself up for a winning combination if you ever find you or your group in a bind.

What can go wrong on a rappel and why would I need a contingency anchor?
Contingency means just that. It's a setup in preparation of something possibly going bad. Will it go bad? It may not. But wouldn't it be better for you to be ready to fix it if it does?  Have I had to use the contingeny anchor in an emergency situation?  Yes I have!!  Do I have to do it often? No I don't. In the years that I have been Canyoneering and guiding I have only had to deploy (lower) someone on a contingency anchor less than a handful of times, but I was sure glad that I had rigged for it instead of having to scramble to figure something out.

Ok, sorry for the long tangent, back to the question, what can go wrong?
Rappel length can be too short - if you can't see the bottom you may not know if the rope reaches all the way. What's that? You say just deploy all the rope in the bag and then re-adjust once someone is down. Can be done - if the canyon is dry. It does take some extra time. If the canyon is wet and you are rappelling into a pool of water or the canyon is flowing, you don't want a mess of rope in the pool below you as you are trying to swim and disconnect from the rappel and getting your feet tangled in a spaghetti mess of rope.
Items get stuck on the Rappel Device - This is one of the most common. Hair, T-shirts, Pack straps get sucked into the rappel device if the rappeller is not paying attention and can jam them up. Also if an Auto block type device is being used as a back up for a first man down, it could get jammed up if things don't go well and then they either have to self rescue or the contingency anchor gets deployed to lower them down.
Knot in the rope - Either a knot ends up in the rope, or it is intentionally put there to either tie out a bad section or tie two ropes together. A contingency can be used as a safety margin to lower someone when a knot appears, but can be pre-planned if a knot is placed in the rope and a lower can be used in order to help someone avoid having to pass a knot.

These are three of the most common reasons you may encounter in order to need a Contingency anchor. It's not a harm to put one in and not need it, but can be detrimental to not put one in and then need it.

This video is something I created for students who get home and forget how to tie the simple Totem Block Contingency anchor for Canyoneering and rappelling in general. What other uses can you think of for needing a contingency anchor?  What are some situations you have found yourself in where you wish you had had one, or glad you did have one?  Let me know.

If you are interested in picking up a Totem Click the link here to be directed to our store:

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