Stone mountain tops
Used, worn, passed on
Artifacts of actions past
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo and video courtesy of Greenpeace
These techniques can prove useful in a variety of scenarios where tension, together with movement, can be used to access something that is lower and to the side of your initial anchor. These techniques are commonly used by big wall rock climbers to move from one crack to another or over a blank section of rock but can also be used for retrieving a line, rigging a banner, or positioning oneself for work – among other things.
To do a tension traverse you must have a surface in front of you to move on; the less vertical the easier. Lower yourself off your anchor and keep your feet flat against the wall for added friction; now walk yourself across the wall and keep eyes on your target as you make your way towards it.
The farther you have to move horizontally then the higher you want the anchor you lower from to be from your intended destination. You want the tension to help you so keep your angle small to avoid fighting additional forces and think about the distance you’re moving – including what you may swing in to if you lose purchase! It may be easier to have a partner lower you in cases where you need to use your hands and feet to pull yourself along as you go down.
A pendulum is the dynamic version of a tension traverse. Consider the swing and risks involved. Do not do this in cases where obstacles and hazards exist. Lower yourself off your anchor and stop along the same horizontal plane of your intended destination; lower yourself slightly below this point and lock off your descent. The tricky part is judging how far to lower so when in doubt start out high. Now run back and forth across the wall until you’re able to swing past the blank section to your final destination – don’t risk taking an uncontrolled swing, anchor in and get safe.
Warning: Tension traverses and pendulums when lowering involve movement and this can be damaging to your rope. Protect any edges, use rope protection, get eyes on your lines, tie stopper knots at the end of your rope(s), and assess all associated risks before proceeding.