Outdoor Top Rope Safety

Setting up a top rope outdoors is a great way to safely work a project, introduce friends to the sport, or enjoy a laid back session. However, while top-roping is safer than lead climbing, there is still a right and a wrong way to do it.

Setting up a top rope outdoors is a great way to safely work a project, introduce friends to the sport, or enjoy a laid back session. However, while top-roping is safer than lead climbing, there is still a right and a wrong way to do it. Many people rig a top rope by threading the rope directly through the chains at the top of a route, as you would when cleaning after your climb. However, these fixed anchors don’t last forever and they are far from cheap. Thus, it’s important that the community works together to preserve their longevity and structural integrity – the best way to do this is to rig an anchor with your own gear, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about today.

Setting up your own anchor not only helps to preserve fixed anchors, but it will also reduce wear on your rope – which is pretty important since your life depends on it. There are several top-rope anchor set-ups, but we’re going to stick to the two easiest methods:

1. Quickdraws with locking carabiners (static equalisation anchors)

2. Quad with locking carabiners (self-equalising anchors)

Off-set anchors being equalised with quickdraws (left) and a quad (right)

When setting up your top-rope anchor, make sure you are tethered to the fixed anchors with a personal anchor system. We recommend clipping your anchor system into the top hanger so you can leave the chain/ring/perma-draw open and easily accessible for cleaning or rigging. It is advised to leave the last quickdraw of the route clipped (to both the rock and the rope) as an extra backup should the anchors fail; to prevent the quickdraw from interfering with your climbing, pull the rope through the anchor (not all the way) once you’ve come down and have the next climber tie in to the other side of the rope.

Quickdraw and quad top-rope setup with the last quickdraw on the route clipped. The third image illustrates how the quickdraw acts as a backup if the anchor fails.

Method 1: Locking Quickdraws

All you need for this anchor system is two quickdraws and four locking carabiners. Simply remove the original non-locking ‘biners from the draw and replace them with strong, rated locking ‘biners. Alternatively, you can purchase some dog-bones if you don’t want to dismantle your draws.

This is a static equalisation anchor, meaning that it’s ideal for two fixed anchors that are exactly in line with each other, and it’s best used for routes that run relatively straight up with no traversing sections.

STEP 1: Clip one quickdraw onto each of the two anchor points. Make sure the carabiners’ gates are opposing. Lock the top carabiners.

STEP 2: Clip your climbing rope through the two lower carabiners of the quickdraw. Lock the bottom carabiners.

And that’s it – pretty neat how easy safety can be if you find the right solutions! If you top-rope outdoors often, it’s a good idea to have some dedicated anchor draws. And you can make it extra wallet-friendly by using dogbones and inexpensive bail ‘biners – these are incredibly durable steel carabiners that wear much slower than the fancy, lightweight ‘biners on regular quickdraws.

Method 2: Quad

For this slightly more advanced (but still dead-easy) set-up, you’ll need four locking carabiners and six meters of 7mm nylon accessory cord tied into a quad.

This is a self-equalisation anchor, meaning that it will adjust itself to keep the anchor equalised if the fixed anchors are offset or if the climber has to weave from side to side up the route.

STEP 1: Clip one locking carabiner to the each of the end loops of the quad, and then attach to the two anchor points.

STEP 2: Clip one locking carabiner through two strands of the four bottom strands, and another through the other two strands in an opposite and opposed direction. DO NOT clip your carabiner through all four strands – if you do and one of the anchor points fails, the carabiner will slide off the quad. 

When everyone is done climbing, you can clean the sport route as per normal.

The only time this set up should be used is when you’re finished cleaning and you need to pull the rope down.

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