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Building a Safe Top-Rope Anchor

The 3 Basic Skills to Build a Top-Rope Anchor

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Building a Safe Top-Rope Anchor

A top-rope belayer is safely anchored at the edge of Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Photo © Stewart M. Green

Okay, you've done some top-rope climbing in the gym and on your buddy's rope out at Carderock along the Potomac River. You've bought the basic top-rope climbing equipment you need to get out on the rocks. Now you want to learn how to safely create your own anchors out at the cliff.

Learn With an Experienced Guide

I recommend, however, that you read the information here and then if possible go out to the cliff with an experienced climber or with a knowledgeable climbing guide and learn how to establish top-rope anchors under their watchful eyes. Creating anchors as an apprentice makes a world of difference and is a heck of a lot easier and safer than by trying to doing it by yourself.

3 Basic Skills to Create an Anchor

You need to know 3 basic skills to be able to set up a safe top-rope anchor.

  1. Choosing the best site for your top-rope anchor.

    Deciding the best site to set up your anchor is crucial. You need to evaluate the cliff and the types of climbing it offers; the experience of the climbers that are with you; and finally the cliff-top where you will establish your top-rope anchor. Also consider the hazards and risks to reach the cliff-top and try to minimize and mitigate all the risks. One way is to fix a rope and tie into it to avoid falling off the cliff while setting up the anchor. Don’t laugh. It happens and is a leading cause of climbing accidents and injuries.

  2. Building a safe and redundant anchor using bolts, gear, trees, and boulders.

    Once you’ve evaluated the site, build your anchor using both primary and secondary anchors. Then equalize them all above the master point, the point where the rope is attached to the anchor system, to distribute the load or weight of a falling climber over the entire system. Remember that all anchors must be bombproof, backed up, and equalized.

  3. Evaluating the safety of your anchor by using SECURE and then making necessary safety corrections.

    SECURE is an acronym used to evaluate the strength and reliability of your anchor. SECURE means Strong, Extended, Centered, Unbroken, Run, Edge. If the anchor meets all these criteria, it’s safe and ready to rock and roll.

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