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Choosing the Best Site for Top-Rope Anchors

Where to Build Your Top-Rope Anchor


Choosing the Best Site for Top-Rope Anchors

Sheila top-ropes off safe anchors set up on the cliff-top at Quincy Quarries near Boston, Massachusetts.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Choosing the best site for your top-rope anchor. This is the first skill that you need to safely create a top-rope anchor.

Evaluate the Climbing Area

Where you decide to set up your top-rope anchor is very important and relies on your own evaluation and good judgment about the climbing site. First evaluate the climbing area. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kinds of routes does it offer?
  • What types of routes do the folks with you want to climb and what is their experience level?
  • Do established bolt anchors exist below the cliff-top that you can safely access from above?
  • Can you safely create a top-rope anchor on the top of the cliff using both natural and gear anchors?
  • What are the hazards and risks involved in getting to the cliff-top and how can you safeguard yourself once you’re up there?

Deciding Where to Build Your Anchor

After evaluating the top-rope climbing site, follow 2 basic ways to decide where to build your anchor.

Lead a Route to Anchors or the Cliff-Top

The first and easiest way is that you or another experienced climber will lead a route from the base of the cliff to a fixed anchor somewhere on the cliff face or on the cliff-top. This anchor is usually two or more bolts that you will then clip quickdraws or slings onto. Then you can equalize the load on the bolts with the slings and put your rope through a couple locking carabiners at the master point.

Scramble to the Top—But be Careful!

The second and most dangerous way is that you will scramble up an easy way to the cliff-top and then decide the best place to build your top-rope anchor. Be extremely careful on the cliff-top. Climbers die every year by either climbing unroped up an easy route to the cliff-top and falling to the ground, or by scrambling around unroped on top of the cliff and falling off by tripping over boulders or losing their footing. To be safe, anchor your rope to a stout tree or another type of anchor and tie yourself into it before setting up your top-rope anchor at the cliff edge. Your safety is your responsibility. Climb smart.

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