Types of Anchors for Top Rope

Types of Anchors for Top Rope

Many climbs have bolted ‘sport anchors’ at the top. This is the standard for sport climbs worldwide, but is also common at many North American trad climbing venues.

These bolted anchors will usually be equipped with mallions (quick links) or lowering rings, sometimes connected with chains. You won’t be able to simply clip your rope through this type of anchor like you would at the gym. Instead, you’ll need untie from the rope and thread it through. After that, you can either abseil, or have your partner lower you down.

It’s important to learn how to do this in the correct order. If you thread an anchor incorrectly, you could drop your rope and be ‘stranded’ at the anchor, or even become completely detached from the bolts.

Sport Anchors: Lower, Abseil or Walk Off?

There are basically three ways to descend; walk off, lower or abseil (rappel). You will either lower or abseil to get down from most sport routes. Your choice largely depends on the type of anchor, how it is positioned and what you plan to do after the climb.

Lowering from a sport anchor is quicker than abseiling. It’s also much easier to retrieve gear on your way down when lowering. However, abseiling puts much less wear on the rings and your rope. This could be the best option if the rings are already showing signs of wear.

If the next climber is going to top-rope the route, you should make an anchor from your own gear and lower down from that.

If you are the last person to climb the route, you’ll need to clean all your gear from the anchor before you descend.

For anchors which are in a poor position for lowering or abseiling (e.g: far back across a ledge), it is much better to belay your partner from the top of the climb. You can then walk off.

Each of these scenarios requires a different anchor setup. These are described in the following articles.

Distribution of forces at the belay station

With increasing angle the balance of forces acting on the belay station anchor points changes. By correctly connecting  the individual protection points we ensure distribution of load and weight which impact the belay station – at the same time we ensure functionality of the belay station in case of failure of one of the protection points. Use sufficiently long loops to decrease the angle.

Setting Up a Top Rope

With the security of an anchored rope above, top-roping is the safest way to climb. A top-roped climber can rest on the rope whenever they are too tired to continue, safe in the knowledge that they will only fall a few inches. Top-roping is great for beginners, large groups or for experienced climbers who want to push their physical limits.

You Will Need:

* Four screwgate carabiners

* A cordelette/ long sling

Best Situation To Use this Method:  If the next climber will top rope the route

Step 1

After leading up to the anchor, clip a screwgate carabiner directly into each bolt. They will usually be better orientated if you clip them underneath the lowering rings.

Step 2

Clip the sling or cordelette to both carabiners. Pull it down in the middle so both strands of sling are equal.

Step 3

Tie an overhand knot in it.

This creates a central point.

Step 4

Clip two screwgate carabiners into the central point with their gates facing in opposite directions.

Step 5

Clip the rope through the carabiners from the back so the rope is coming out towards you.

Step 6

Ask your belayer to take you tight. You are now ready to lower and the top rope is set.

Setting Up a Top Rope from Above

At some crags it is possible to set up a top-rope by walking to the top and equalizing anchor bolts or trees. Be careful when walking around the top of a crag un-roped. You may need to make an anchor further back from the cliff edge and then be put on belay while you set up the top-rope anchor.

If the bolts are set back on a ledge, or situated in a place which causes the rope to rub over an edge, you should extend the anchor and pad the edge.

Make sure to double up the slings or cordelettes which extend the anchor over the edge. An old piece of carpet, foam pads or garden hose pipes (without metal lining) make good padding.

Even if your anchor is bomber, extended and well padded, it is wise to check it periodically if it is being used repeatedly.

Cleaning the Anchor

Cleaning a sport anchor means removing all of your gear from it. Three of the main ways to do this are described below.

Which you choose depends on the type of anchor and whether you plan to lower or abseil.

How To Clean a Sport Anchor For Lowering – Method 1

This method is suitable for anchors with a central point which is big enough to feed a bight of rope through. You will remain ‘on belay’ during the whole setup.

You will need:

* Two spare quickdraws

* One screwgate carabiner

Step 1

Clip your rope through a quickdraw on one of the anchor bolts.

Step 2

Clip another quickdraw into the other anchor bolt and clip it directly to your belay loop. Rest your weight on this quickdraw.

Step 3

Pull up a little slack and push a bight of the rope through the main anchor point as shown.

Step 4

Tie a figure-8 on the bight and clip this to your belay loop with a screwgate carabiner.

Step 5

Untie from the end of the rope

Step 6

Pull the end of the rope through the main anchor point.

Step 7

Remove the quickdraw which isn’t holding your weight. Ask your belayer to take you tight.

Step 8

Rest your weight on the rope, then remove the other quickdraw. You are now ready to lower.

Cleaning Sport Anchors – Top Tips

  1. Always double-check the setup before you untie each knot. A mistake could be fatal.
  2. Make sure to communicate with your partner so they know if you plan to lower or abseil. If you plan to lower but your partner thinks you will abseil, they will take you off belay! Be clear about what you are doing.
  3. Look out for sharp edges beneath the anchor. Consider abseiling, rather than lowering, if your rope could run over a sharp edge.
  4. It’s important that you don’t add wear on the anchor rings by top-roping off them. Make sure to use your own screwgates and slings for top-roping so any wear is on your own gear rather than the rings.
  5. Always inspect the quality of the anchors and the rock around them before trusting your life to them.
  6. Never thread a rope directly through a bolt hanger. The square edges are likely to damage or cut your rope. Only thread your rope through round-edged metal.

Clipping The Top Anchor

Once you get to the top of the wall, you’ll need to clip the rope through the top anchor. Different walls have different systems for this – some have two snapgate carabiners, some have one or two screwgate carabiners that you’ll need to unscrew first. Ask one of the staff before leading if in doubt.
Once you’ve clipped your rope through the top anchor, you can be lowered down in the same way as if you were top roping.

Incorrect Top Anchor Setups

Clipping your rope through the same carabiners as another rope will cause the ropes to rub together when you lower down.

This will damage the ropes, making them less safe for future use.

Only clipping half of the anchor is dangerous because you will be risking your life to a single carabiner. Clip them both.