Rappeling Off Sand: The Sandtrap Anchor System

A Revolutionary New Canyon Tool

Without a doubt, the most interesting and widely discussed canyoneering innovation of the last year or two has been Steve Woodford‘s “sand anchor”, a simple but brilliant contraption allowing canyoneers to rappel relatively safely off a plentiful canyon resource: sand. Though not nearly as simple or obvious to use as bolts or a tree, Woodford’s design enables trained canyoneers to leave no trace safely and securely in remote, pristine canyons much more easily than previous leading-edge “ghosting” techniques. As this tool, and the understanding of how to use it, spreads through the canyoneering community, I hope to see less new bolting in canyons, and perhaps even less rope scarring as well.

The Sand Anchor Concept

The fundamental idea behind the anchor design is straightforward: If you can spread a lot of weight over a large enough friction surface, you end up with a safe anchor to rap on. In the past, there have been lots of approaches to this concept, but most of them relied primarily on the weight variable, and not as much on the surface area variable. Thus, we always needed a sharp corner or deep hole to gain enough friction to hold the Weight steady. In scenarios with only minor or no depressions, a weight anchor just didn’t work. With Woodford’s sand anchor design, however, canyoneers get a much large friction surface, along with a much higher ability to add weight, almost to their heart’s content. Easy to test, easy to adjust.. an ideal canyon anchor for tough situations.

Rappelling on a Sandtrap

Nick Purcell Raps On the Sandtrap

Advanced Anchoring Skills Required

While Sand Anchors may be awesome tools, they are certainly not silver bullets. These anchoring devices are definitely in the “advanced” category, as they are prone to highly consequential user error. Perhaps the most critical aspect is using enough sand, and I have seen and heard stories of anchor failure due to casual sand placement. It is pretty easy, once you become comfortable with the tool, to slack off in your sand placement. As one might expect, vigilance is essential when rappelling off of sand.

While the above video provides an idea of the sand anchor concept, in no way does it substitute for competent or thorough instruction. To learn how to use a sand anchor well, you might start with Steve Woodford’s instructional videos for his original product, the “MaXXiPad”. If you are intrigued, you might take a class to thoroughly learn the basics and nuances of sand anchors, along with the tips and tricks on artful use. Zion Adventure Company offers thorough sand anchor instruction on our Lake Powell Canyoneering courses, where students get AMPLE practice sand anchoring, as well as our Progressive Canyoneering and Advanced Canyoneering classes here in Zion.

Get Your Own Sandtrap

Interested in owning a sand anchor of your own? Contact Zion Adventure Company for the Tom Jones/Imlay Canyon Gear version of the MaxxiPad, the Sandtrap ($99.95). Limited quantities available.


About Nick

Nick Wilkes found ZAC in 1996, working first as an outfitter, then a guide, then as webmaster. An ardent adventure enthusiast, Nick's recent exploits involve laying down roots in Wisconsin, chasing his kids around the house, working as a Madison, WI photographer and growing his Wisconsin climbing business. Connect with Nick on Facebook, Google+, or directly via email.
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