A couple of years back, a group of us came upon a large, water filled pothole at the edge of a long rappel off of a saddle-like lip. The rappel anchor used was a long piece of webbing off a chockstone far back in the slot. At the time, I remarked what a perfect place for a water trap anchor. A definite niche was discovered, a gap in the canyoneering arsenal of tools. I felt inspired to help find a solution to that niche. I found bits of conversation on the canyoneering forums but no one that was satisfied with the results of prototype water traps. As time progressed, I experimented with different closures and thicknesses of river bags, testing them off my deck. Nothing was without problems. I talked to a few plastic welders and decided that I’d just make one myself and put it out
as a prototype. Without an industrial machine, I took the fabric and design to an old Timberline Sports pal of mine and paid him to build it for me. It was a 3-day project and he refused to make another one. So, I took advantage of another generous friend and used his machine to build five.
The how-to-build photos
These PHOTOS are of the original design with one important addition; the plastic cord (it looks like a weed-whipper cord). During my testing, without the locking cord, pressure put on the water-filled bag popped the PVC slider off and the water loss was immediate! I tried holding a 3mm cord for a locking strip. It worked great but was cumbersome to hold in place. Thus, the stitched version you see in the photos.
I am a huge fan of Tom Jones’ SandTrap, an Imlay Canyon Gear product. An earlier and very similar version was developed by Steve Woodford and called the MaxiPad. I rarely descend a canyon without at least one SandTrap in our arsenal of tools. My intention from the beginning was to create a lightweight, safe, water holding anchor that would attach within the SandTrap. Why? Two reasons 1) I wanted to promote the use of the SandTrap (because I love it and in support of Tom’s business) and, 2) the water bladder would be protected if tied inside the SandTrap and reduce wear and tear upon retrieval.
So, a year or so ago, the Aguanchor went out in the field for testing. At the same time, Tom Jones developed several prototypes and some of the folks over at Zion Adventure Company experimented with some designs as well. The Aguanchor has been tested in many settings by several of the 5 owners. We are always on the look out for a potential test configuration. I always go last, as I feel that it is my tool, I should take the risk and it makes sense for the lightest person to go last (if the necessary skill set is there).
In the numerous tests, we discovered several things:
1) Fill ‘er up. Not to be completely round but full.
Filling the Aguanchor VIDEO
2) The PVC pipe pulls very easily, but the bag must be allowed to empty of water to ensure a soft retrieval within the SandTrap.
3) If the placement of the Trap is not vertical or near vertical, it must be cleared of mud/slime.
4) In the event of a failure, the back-up belayer needs to anticipate holding the weight of the rappeller AND the weight of the fully filled bag!
5) The Aguanchor/SandTrap works well even when not in the water. (Set up the same way as the SandTrap but full of water rather than sand.) We recently opted to test this configuration as the only other practical option was to farm dry sand from below. It was SandTrap solid once the rock lip was cleared of mud.
6) This anchor should be thoroughly inspected prior to each trip. The version I made with the lightest weight fabric was found to leak in several places making for a very scary rappel for the last person – Me! I hate fear and I’m still processing the adrenaline from that experience. The PVC is susceptible to breakage as it does pull free of the protective SandTrap. At some point it is possible that the PVC will break down due to UV and/or fractures. There is a more durable grade of PVC pipe available and would be a better choice.
I have no intention of marketing this anchor tool. I made 5 and will make no others. My hope is that Tom, Brendan, Doc Rosen, Lukester, or someone out there will come up with the perfect water anchor and put this one into retirement before it wears out. Feel free to take my design, morph it, test it, share it, whatever you wish. I would be delighted to see a better system created. Mine is complex, expensive to make and it takes time to become familiar with the nuances of it. It is still in the test stage, although it has proved to be quick and reliable. Still, we learn something new about it on nearly every trip.
Please share your discoveries and innovations along the way.