When a new climber first starts top-rope climbing, he/she will always have a more experienced rock climber set things up. Eventually, however, the climber will have to set up his/her toprope anchors.
Access to the top of climbing routes varies, as will the available anchoring points. For this reason, assessing and mitigating risks when setting up anchors – even when a trail to the top is available – is vital.
In this guide, we will explain the top rope anchoring in detail. We will put our focus on the versatile top-rope anchor – the quad. We will also cover cleaning (removing) the anchor once everyone is done climbing.
Setting Up Toprope Anchors Using the Quad – Step by Step Guide
For this guide, we will be starting with a common scenario – a sport-climbing area featuring rappel rings and chains hanging from 2 bolts at the top of the climbing route.
We are assuming that you already know how to tie climbing knots, hitches and bends and that you are proficient at lead belaying, rappelling, and lead climbing. The best way to learn these climbing skills is to find an experienced rock climber to teach you. Alternatively, you can sign up for classes featuring a certified rock-climbing instructor.
Below, we have outlined the steps you will need to follow when top rope anchoring:
1. Gather the Anchor Materials
In addition to all the essential climbing gear, you will need the following:
- PAS – Personal Anchor System – girth-hitched to both tie-in points on the climbing harness.
- 25 feet of 7-millimeter cordelette tied into a loop using the double fisherman’s bend.
- 4 locking carabiners.
2. Tethering at the Top of Your Climbing Route
With the top rope anchoring gear attached to the rack, lead climb the route leading to the 2 bolts where you intend to build your toprope anchors. Inspect everything to make sure that nothing is loose, rusted or worn. If anything is loose or you are in doubt, choose a different anchor location and route.
When clipping to permanent anchoring points, the first option is a bolt hanger. Next should be a chain link and last the rappel ring.
Clip your quickdraw to an ideal point below the bolt and clip the climbing rope into that draw. Next, tell the belayer to take in the existing slack – the belay will back up the PAS.
Using a locking carabiner, clip a PAS loop to the same clip-point as your draw. Clip a second PAS loop to an ideal point below the second bolt.
Essential: The PAS is designed to hold you quickly, and it might fail if you were to rely on it to catch a fall of any distance. Hence, you should choose PAS clip-in loops that feature the ability to take all the slack out of your PAS.
3. Setting Up the Quad
Take the cordelette and double it up so that you have 4 equal length strands. Into both strands of the loop end closest to your double fisherman’s bend, clip a locking carabiner. Clip the same locking carabiner into one of the bolts.
Hold the opposite end of the cordelette loop up the other bolt and grasp the low point of the loop with your fist. Approximately 8 inches apart, tie an overhand knot on either side of your fist.
Into both strands of the cordelette loop’s free end, clip a locking carabiner. Clip the same locking carabiner into the remaining bolt.
Create the anchor’s power point – where the rope will clip in – by clipping 2 opposed locking carabiners into 3 of the strands running between the climbing knots you tied earlier. Allow the fourth strand to remain free. This setup will catch (limit) the carabiners in the event one side of your anchor fails.
The SERENE-A Principles for Quad Toprope Anchors
This mnemonic trick helps a climber analyze the quality of his/her anchor. When set-up properly, the quad anchor should conform to the principles below:
- Solid – Every component on your anchor should be completely solid.
- Equalized – Rig your anchor so that the total load is equally distributed between the individual anchor points.
- Redundant – When building an anchor you must use redundant components such that if one component fails, your anchor will not fail automatically. At a minimum, use 2 solid anchor points. 3 or more are often recommended.
- Efficient – Avoid creating something complicated. The best anchor should be simple but efficient.
- No Extension – Construct the anchor so that if an anchor fails, it will not cause the anchor system to extend suddenly. A sudden extension can shock load the remaining anchor points, generating high impact forces.
- Angles – Consider the angles created by the slings in the anchor system. Larger angles will put more force on every anchor point. Hence, keep the angles to 60 degrees or less.
4. Lowering After Setting Up the Anchor
Lowering after completing the top rope anchoring setup follows the same procedure you would follow when top-rope climbing, with some few added steps:
- Call to the belayer for some “slack” and clip your climbing rope into the 2 carabiners of the anchor’s power point.
- Remove and rack the quickdraw.
- Double-check to make sure every carabiner is locked.
- Pull up slightly into your anchor and call for “tension” until your body weight is on the climbing rope and not the PAS.
- Unclip the PAS from the bolts and rack it.
- Unweight the beginner climbing rope again.
- Call to the belayer to lower you and then simply follow the basic lowering procedures.
Cleaning Toprope Anchors
Once you are done with using your climbing shoes, you will need to clean the anchor so that you can pack everything in your climbing backpack and head home. To clean the anchor, you will need to follow the steps below.
5. Prepare for Anchor Cleaning
Just as you did before setting up your anchor, attach a PAS by tying a girth hitch through the 2 tie-in points on the harness. Set up and then do a final top-rope climb to the top of the climbing route.
6. Tethering at the Top of the Climbing Route
Clip a quickdraw to an acceptable point (or one of the bolts) and then clip your rope into that draw. Tell the belayer to take in the slack. Use the locking carabiner to clip a PAS loop to the same bolt as the draw. Clip a second PAS loop to the second bolt, making sure that you choose a loop that keeps slack out of your PAS while working.
7. Break Down the Anchor
This process is quite simple. You will need to unclip the anchor from the 2 bolts and rack things neatly, trying to keep the bulky gear close to the back of your harness so that they do not get in your way while rappelling down.
Avoid using a rappel ring, chain link or a hanger to lower yourself. This causes undue wear to the components that aren’t designed to withstand friction. If you feel like you have to lower rather than rappel, consider “donating” a locking carabiner to the crag.
You should be familiar with rappelling. The following steps will help you transition to rappelling after breaking down the anchor:
- Ask for slack from your belayer and pull up approximately 20 feet of rope.
- Use a clove hitch to tie- off the slack and clip it into the belay loop. This will keep a mishandled rope from plummeting to the ground, potentially stranding you.
- Untie the figure 8 attaching the climbing rope to the harness and thread the rope through both rappel rings.
- At the end of your rope, tie a stopper knot to close the system. This, when combined with the stopper knot you should have already tied on the ground end of the climbing rope, ensures that you cannot rappel off once the rope ends.
- Feed your rope until the rope’s middle mark is at the top of the rappel.
- Have the belayer confirm that both ends of the rope are touching the ground.
The PAS, which should be attached tightly to both bolts, can be set as an extension of the rappel device. All you will have to do is clip a locking carabiner through 2 of the loops on the PAS, the cable of the rappel device, and the belay loop on the climbing harness.
Now you should be ready to set up your rappel device and rappel down to the ground. Double-check everything before rappelling down to avoid problems that may cause an accident.
Globo Surf Overview
Featuring the security of an anchored climbing rope above, top-roping is one of the safest ways to climb. When top-roped, a climber can rest on the rope whenever they get too tired, knowing that they can only fall a few inches from their resting position.
To achieve safety, however, one has to know how to set up top rope anchoring correctly. With the steps outlined above, anchoring correctly should be possible.