Climbing Shell’s Polar Pioneer Oil Rig

4.8.15 | Updated with additional insight, video, and revised topo

As I write this a multi-national team of six climbers from Greenpeace are camped beneath the main deck of Shell’s Arctic-bound oil rig, the Polar Pioneer.  Greenpeace intercepted the oil rig the morning of April 6, 2015 in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 750 miles north-west of Hawaii, in protest of Shells plans to drill in the Arctic.  The Polar Pioneer is being transported on a 712 foot long heavy-lift vessel called the Blue Marlin and is on route to Seattle where it will meet up with the rest of Shells drill fleet before heading to the Alaskan Arctic.

Why are they doing this?  Read this campaign briefing on Shell’s Arctic failures to learn more and hear what the climbers have to say in the video below.

I’ve seen Greenpeace climbers scale oil rigs before but I found myself intrigued by the intricacies of this climb as I looked thru photographs and followed social/mainstream media. The climb is not over but one thing is for sure — the skill demonstrated by the climbers is impressive and worth noting.

The Climb | April 6, 2015

Note: The following account is an attempt to cover the ascent of Greenpeace climbers as they made their way up the Polar Pioneer oil rig.  It’s accuracy cannot be guaranteed as details can only be verified by the climbers themselves.

A team of six climbers — Andreas Widlund from Sweden, Aliyah Field from the USA, Johno Smith from New Zealand, Miriam Friedrich from Austria, Zoe Buckley Lennox from Australia, and Jens Loewe from Germany — left the Esperanza shortly after 0600 onboard an inflatable boat which they used to access the base of the oil rig on the starboard side.  It was from this point that a throw line was used to gain access to one of the skids hanging beneath the pontoon of the rig.

Greenpeace climbers start their climb on the Polar Pioneer. © Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Greenpeace climbers come along side the Blue Marlin where they gain access to a skid of the Polar Pioneer and begin their climb. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

What follows is likely the most technical climbing thus far.  A section of aid climbing that many would try to avoid.  This first portion of the climb navigates a series of what appear to be sacrificial zinc anodes going up the side of the pontoon.  It was climber Andreas who led this section using an extendable pole with a hook on the end (often referred to as a “cheat stick” by climbers).  Attached to the hook was a caving ladder.  Using the pole he carefully hooked the ladder to the anode above which would otherwise be out of reach.  After getting a stable hook placement he free climbed the ladder to the anode where he re-attached himself using a second hook as a temporary anchor.  This allowed him to take his weight out of the caving ladder so he could use the extendable pole to reach the next anode — these moves were repeated until he was able to throw a long lanyard to reach the stairwell.  The fact that this style of climbing was done on a moving vessel at high seas is extraordinary.  Something that was captured thanks to whatever genius suggested using the “cheat stick” as the most bad ass selfie stick ever — as evident in the video below.

The start of the aid climb. © Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

The start of the aid climbing section. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

Andreas Widlund aid climbs between sacrificial zinc anodes on the pontoon of the Polar Pioneer oil rig. © Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Andreas navigates between sacrificial zinc anodes on the pontoon of the Polar Pioneer. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

A Greenpeace climbers uses a long lanyard to aid in a final move as they finish climbing the pontoon section of the Polar Pioneer oil rig. © Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

A long lanyard is used to access the stairwell after climbing the pontoon of the Polar Pioneer. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

Once at the stairwell Andreas gained easy access to an outer leg of the Polar Pioneer and continued upward to one of the eight sea anchors.  It was at this point that he fixed a line for the remaining five climbers to ascend.  This proved to be highly efficient as it allowed for the climbers to bypass the pontoon by ascending directly from the inflatable below.

Six Greenpeace Climbers Scale Shells Arctic-Bound Oil Rig

Andreas makes his way up the outer leg of the Polar Pioneer. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

A Greenpeace climber ascends a fixed line to one of eight anchors on the Polar Pioneer oil rig. © Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace

Aliyah climbs a fixed line onto the Polar Pioneer. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

Jens just before taking his first step onto the Polar Pioneer. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

Six Greenpeace Climbers Scale Shells Arctic-Bound Oil Rig

Greenpeace climbers gather at an anchor on the Polar Pioneer during their ascent. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

Less than an hour from when it began and all six climbers were at the anchor hauling bags with enough rations for 24hrs.  From here the climbers continued upward to a high point among catwalks beneath the main deck.  It was here where they chose to make camp.

Six Greenpeace Climbers Scale Shells Arctic-Bound Oil Rig

Greenpeace climbers reach their high point beneath the main deck of the Polar Pioneer. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

Greenpeace climbers take a moment for some much needed r&r after reaching their high point. (Photo: Jens Loewe/Greenpeace)

Greenpeace climbers take a moment for some much needed r&r after reaching their high point. (Photo: Jens Loewe/Greenpeace)

A successful resupply of materials from the Esperanza was delivered to the climbers in the afternoon making a prolonged stay possible.  Additional footage of the climb can be seen below.

Six Greenpeace Climbers Scale Shells Arctic-Bound Oil Rig

General view of the camp set up by Greenpeace activists underneath the main deck of the Polar Pioneer oil rig more than 24 hours after boarding it in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: Vincenzo Floramo/Greenpeace)

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 Photo and video courtesy of Greenpeace


Angles and vector forces are an intimate part of rigging and it’s easy to get lost in the numbers.  Heck, it can even get frustrating!  Use this simple exercise to cut out the math and get a feel for how vector forces and angles play into rigging.  The math, numbers, and vector charts can come after.

Tug-O-Angle draws on experiential learning and is a fun way to kick-off an anchor workshop as it puts a variety of concepts into perspective and provides participants with an opportunity to feel and experience forces directly.  This exercise requires a minimum of 3 people but the more the merrier.


There are multiple ways to set-up this exercise.  My preference is to have two separate lengths of rope.  Find the middle point of one of these lines and tie an eight on a bite — these are the legs for your anchor.  Tie an eight on a bite at the end of your other single line — this is your load line.  Attach your load line to your anchor line using a carabiner.  See below.


Assign an equal amount of participants to each leg of rope.  This may not look fair but that’s the fun part.  Start with the legs of the anchor at a 45° angle with the load line positioned for a straight pull.  Make sure that each leg of rope and it’s assigned participants run straight in the intended direction.

The job of those on the anchor side (left in the image above) is to be a solid and strong anchor.  Direct them to hold fast and strong with legs shoulder width apart and one leg in front of the other — they must only hold and not pull!  Check in with your anchor teams and make sure they’re ready and “bomb proof” before moving onto the load team.

The job of those on load side (right in the image above) is to apply their load to the anchor.  Direct them to start with a static pull — if the anchor side holds strong direct them to apply some dynamic pulls or shock loads.

Observe what happens and debrief with participants on both the anchor and load side.  How did it feel?  What did they notice?

Repeat the exercise increasing the angle of the anchor side to 90° then 120° and finally 180°.  What do you observe each time?


Pull from the group and debrief the overall exercise.  What conclusions can be made?

Have fun with this exercise.  Add a change of direction, throw in some pulleys, change up your anchor, etc.  Find something cool?  Let us know what you discover.

Contributed by Basil Tsimoyianis

DIY Lanyards

Lanyards, sometimes referred to as cows tails or lobster claws, come in many forms.  Common uses include connecting to an anchor, assisting in vertical or horizontal progression, and/or holding position where needed.  You can buy adjustable and non-adjustable lanyards or make them yourself.  Those from manufacturers will often have sewn termination points instead of knots and adjustable versions will usually consist of mechanical rope grabs or buckles — they also cost considerably more than DIY options.

A climber uses lanyards as a means for progression while aid climbing during a training.

A climber uses three DIY lanyards while aid climbing.


  • Materials are easy to acquire
  • Knots are much better at absorbing shock then sewn termination points and will reduce the impact on your body in a fall
  • Prusiks are lighter, cheaper, and easier to acquire than mechanical rope grabs
  • Customization!  Length, color, rope diameter, composition, etc.
  • Low budget
Climbers use DIY lanyards to hold themselves in position while rigging a tri-bi-mono-pod during an Earth First! Climbers Guild camp in Oregon.

Climbers use DIY lanyards for work positioning while rigging a tri-bi-mono-pod during an Earth First! Climbers Guild camp in Oregon.


Know your equipment.  Use equipment rated for climbing.  Don’t use rope or gear that you would not otherwise climb on.  Retired gear should not be made into a lanyard!  Know the history and condition of the equipment you’re using — if you have doubts then best not use it.  It’s good practice to label, track, and retire lanyards accordingly.

Dynamic or Static?  It depends.  Dynamic lanyards have the benefit of absorbing impact forces resulting from a fall.  Use them to connect to static systems, move across multiple points, or to protect against a fall.  Static lanyards (made from webbing or static rope) lack the elastic properties found in dynamic lines and do a better job at reducing unwanted movement or bounce.  Use them when you plan to work or move directly on loaded lanyards.  Examples of this would be progressing up a tree, sitting back on your lanyard for positioning, or restraining yourself from an edge.

icon_1636A fall on any static system can result in serious injury or death.  Use proper technique when climbing with static lanyards to avoid shock loading your system.  Use a shock absorber or prusik hitch as a link to your static lanyard to reduce the impact on your body in case of a fall.

How about the diameter?  10.5mm and 11mm diameter lines are the go to if you expect your lanyards to take a beating.  Wrapping your lanyard around trees or beams and/or running it over edges will reduce the life span and integrity of your lanyard.  Thicker lines are a good choice for training programs or extended actions where prolonged wear and tear is likely.  That said, 9.4mm to 10mm lanyards are lighter, less bulky, and easier to work with.  They’re plenty strong but are best reserved for experienced climbers and their condition should be carefully monitored.

Climbers with Greenpeace on the Arctic Sunrise in the Barents Sea. Photo: Igor Podgorny, July 2012

Climbers with Greenpeace on the Arctic Sunrise in the Barents Sea. Photo: Igor Podgorny, July 2012

Know your knots.  The figure eight follow thru, eight on a bite, and barrel knot/scaffold knot, are the three most useful knots for tying your own lanyards.  The figure eight follow thru is the knot of choice for tying a lanyard directly to the master point of your harness (the overhand follow thru is a low profile alternative but is much more difficult to untie once firmly loaded).  The figure eight on a bite is great for when you’re able to clip in directly or want carabiners to rotate freely.  The barrel knot is best in situations where you want to use minimal rope or capture a carabiner in a specific orientation — this helps restrict movement and prevent cross loading.

icon_6770Keep your knots low profile!  The gain (eye of your knot) should be kept short to prevent snagging and conserve rope length.  The tail of your knot should be about a palms width and no longer (it’ll just get in the way).  I often tape my tails so they don’t flap around once I have everything adjusted.

Lanyard lengths cut from dynamic climb line and labeled accordingly with length, diameter, and date of service.

Lanyard lengths cut from dynamic climb line and labeled accordingly with length, diameter, and date of manufacture.

Length.  This is highly dependent on your intended purpose.  Short lanyards are common practice in rope access or rock climbing where you’re often connecting lanyards to devices or anchor points within reach.  Longer lanyards are necessary for climbing trees that require you to wrap large diameter trunks or extend to limbs beyond your reach.  Regardless of what you choose it’s often useful to have at least one lanyard that’s an arms reach — this includes the knots and carabiners.  A 6 to 7 foot (~2m) length of rope is a good place to start.  If you want to tie two lanyards consider doing it with a longer single length of rope — about 12 to 14 feet (3.5-4.5m) or more depending on your needs.  This alternative will leave you with a third point of attachment between the two lanyards (see below).

icon_1635Lanyards extending beyond your reach require specific techniques and should be used with caution.  They are best restricted for use as a flip line, restraint line, or progression in trees.

Two lanyards tied from one 12ft length of dynamic line. The point isolated between the lanyards creates a loop that serves as another point of connection.

Two lanyards tied from one 12ft length of dynamic line. The bridge (bight of rope isolated between the lanyards) serves as another point of connection.

Adjustable lanyards.  There are multiple ways to do this but the simplest and most recognized method uses a prusik loop (6mm works well with lanyard diameters of 9 to 11mm).  Start with a short prusik loop and tie a prusik hitch around your lanyard.  Clip the prusik back to the master point on your harness (you can avoid using a carabiner by retying the prusik loop directly to your harness as seen in the image below).  You can also fasten a quick link/screw link beneath the prusik hitch on your lanyard and back to your harness as pictured — this will tend the prusik and allow you to shorten the lanyard with one hand (this technique was shared to me by a friend who had climbed with Robin Wood, a German environmental organization).

icon_6770Adding a prusik as a point of connection to your lanyard can help reduce impact forces resulting from a fall.   A prusik will slip slightly before locking up if subject to high loads or forces.  This absorbs energy and will reduce stress on your overall system and body.

Adjustable lanyard. Notice the four components: barrel knot restricts carabiner movement, prusik for adjustment, screw link tends prusik, eight follow-thru tied directly to central point on harness.

Adjustable lanyard — notice the four components: barrel knot restricts carabiner movement, prusik captures preferred lanyard length, screw link tends prusik for one handed adjustment, eight follow-thru tied directly to central point on harness.

The addition of a quick link allows for one handed operation when using prusiks.

The addition of a quick link allows for one handed operation when using a prusik to create an adjustable lanyard.


  • Be made of climb rated materials in good condition
  • Be connected to a load bearing point on your harness intended for the job
  • Hold you where you want to be
  • Catch a fall while minimizing impact
  • Be simple and easy to use
It’s important to note that there are many options and nuances for lanyards not covered here.  If you’re unsure of something ASK!
 Dynamic rope (sold by the foot!) — Visit our store for current pricing

Input or tips?  Please share. 

Rope and Edge Protection

edge_damaged-ropeThe potential risk for damage from abrasion or cutting must be evaluated and eliminated anytime softgear makes contact with something.  This is particularly true anytime softgear runs over an edge or rubs on itself since the components of softgear, nylon and polyester, are not very resistant to abrasion or heat.  Remember – rope and webbing are extremely strong when pulled under load but can cut quickly when subjected to lateral abrasion while under tension.

Always make sure to protect your rope and other softgear from sharp or abrasive edges.  Evaluate all points of potential contact and assess whether or not some kind of protective barrier or space must be made.  Building anchors high or directing ropes away from edges can eliminate the chance of abrasive damage all together.


A heavy duty canvas rope pad and commercial edge roller both include attachment points for tie-off cord.

A heavy canvas tarp folded over itself or rubber car/floor mat work well as edge protection.  Commercial rollers, gutters, and other forms of edge protection are also available.  Tie these back or secure in some fashion to keep in place and prevent from falling.  Avoid using synthetic materials in cases where friction from moving lines can generate enough heat to melt both the rope and intended protection.


A rope sleeve cut and sewn from a reused banner.  A velcro closure helps secure the sleeve around a climb line and a grommet is used for a prusik tie back point.

Rope sleeves are another common and useful form of rope protection that can be secured directly to the rope and held in place with the use of a tie back or prusik.  Buy these or save some money by making your own. Canvas and old banners can be cut and sewn together for great rope protection.  Rope sleeves like these are easy to carry and great for protecting against edges while on rappel (sometimes referred to as over-the-side hot spots) since they are simple to move and secure with a prusik.

A canvas tarp covers the vertical beam and protects the rope from edges at the anchor.  The climber carefully rappels with a rope sleeve to protect against the edge of the lip below.

Here a canvas tarp is used to cover a vertical beam and protect against sharp edges at the anchor. A rope sleeve is also used and carefully positioned by a climber prior to navigating the lip below.

The rope sleeve protects the climb line from the edge on the lip above and is easily adjusted and secured in position using a prusik.

The rope sleeve protects the climb line from the edge on the lip above and is easily adjusted and secured in position with a prusik.

Note:  Don’t just protect your rope – protect what you climb on.  Use edge and rope protection to reduce damage to anchor points or areas subjected to tensioned lines.  Be smart and place where necessary to prevent damage to property when working in industrial or urban areas.  Use canvas wraps to prevent girdling trees and damage to the natural environment.

The ABC… Safety Check

Rope work and safety checks are not mutually exclusive – if you disagree then I suggest you find a different way of interacting with the world.

It’s hard to find a “standard” safety checklist that’s perfect so take the time to adopt and modify one to your specific needs.  This is crucial in avoiding ‘checklist fatigue’ – where points are read off or stated as if already checked and not properly accounted for.  There’s no room for such negligence in climbing so be sure to create a checklist or system that works for you.

Below is an exhaustive rendition of the ABC Safety Check referenced and used by many climbers.  Share these with others and modify them as needed.  Your check list may shrink as you grow and gain experience but don’t let this lead to mistakes or missteps!

Artist: Cy WagonerANCHOR

  • What is the rope attached to?
  • Assess the knots and their condition.
  • Are the carabiners locked and oriented correctly?
  • What is the condition of the climb line?
  • Rope and edge protection where needed.
  • Anchor angles less than 90 degrees.
  • Equalized, redundant, no extension, strong.



  • simple_harnessHarness belt above hips and tightened.
  • Check condition.
  • Double backed.
  • Loose straps tucked back.
  • Leg loops fastened and snug.
  • Helmet strap fastened.



  • connectors_cyCheck all connections inline (carabiner to lanyard to you).
  • All carabiners locked and oriented correctly.
  • Screw links/delta locked and oriented correctly.
  • Are your lanyard knots dressed and weighted?
  • What is the condition of your lanyard line?



  • Check all devices you will be using.
  • Which lines are your devices attached to?  Are they correct?
  • How many points of protection do you have?
  • Check proper function of devices (moves up, moves down, holds you when locked).


Artist: Cy WagonerEND OF ROPE

  • Rope on the ground or long enough to reach your destination.
  • Clear of tangles (properly stacked if using a bag).
  • Stopper knot at the end of rope or fixed to bag.



  • Where’s your buddy?
  • How will you communicate?  Verbal, radio, hand signals, etc.
  • Check in with your buddy.  Talk through plan or concerns as needed.
  • How do you feel?  Headspace, fatigue, hydration, etc.


Artist: Cy WagonerGEAR

  • What’s the plan?
  • What will you be doing?
  • Do you have all the gear you need to make it happen?
  • Is your gear organized and racked?
  • Nothing hanging below your knee.



  • Is your helmet in safe working order?
  • Buckle closed and helmet secure.
  • Hair tucked and out of the way.


Artwork by Cy Wagoner