How do you like your stake?

Ever seen one of these?

I was away sea cliff climbing recently and found this stake.  It was the only anchor in place and it would have been madness to use it. Stakes can look brown and rusty and reasonable (?) but are actually disintegrating below the surface.  This particular stake was probably originally plain steel and not galvanised. I went back the next day armed with a heavy hammer, gave it one tap and the flakes fell off that I am holding in the photograph. One of the flakes was 3/4 of the thickness of the wall of the stake.

At first glance it didn’t look knackered but with the trusty tapping hammer the truth emerged.

All the crew should know that with anchors at the top of sea cliff climbs they can look OK but the flakes are actually all “blown” and will just come off. The only solution is at least to have a hammer to test the stake whether you use it or not. Putting your own stakes in place is moderately skillful and means that you have to lug one or more and a hammer.  The ones shown in this article are specialist bits of gear that place and remove easily because they are threaded.  They are not readily available.

However keen somebody is, using the anchor that everyone uses is just playing roulette. I showed the flakes to a couple of other guys and they said (white faced) – “we used that to abseil in yesterday”.

Heuristic (Oxford dictionary – allowing or assisting to discover – proceeding to a solution by trial and error) is the smart jargon word used for following people who happen not to get killed and thinking you will survive because they did.

Top down sea cliff stuff adds a whole set of interesting hurdles just to get to the sea. Coming back the other way and crossing 20ft or more of loose blocks bedded in dust, bound together with brambles is another area for interesting interpretation of the “climbing rule book”. I usually bring 20ft or more of back rope, anchor it to the top and chuck it over the edge with a crab on the end.  At the top of a lonely run out it’s like somebody welcoming you with the kettle on. Somebody once said “isn’t that cheating?” You choose.