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Use SECURE to Evaluate Your Top-Rope Anchor

How to Build a Top-Rope Climbing Anchor


Always run your climbing rope through two locking carabiners at the anchor master point.

Use SECURE to evaluate all your top-rope anchors like this one that utilizes two trees as natural anchors.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Use anchors bolts on sport climbing routes for safe anchors.

Clip a couple quickdraws with locking carabiners for a quick and safe top-rope climbing anchor.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green
Cindy McCaffrey climbing at Trashcan Rock in Joshua Tree National Park.

Cindy relies on great top-rope anchors on top of Trashcan Rock for her safety.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

You've built a top-rope anchor system on top of a cliff at Carderock in Maryland or at Pixie Rock in Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. You've placed both primary and secondary anchors, placing cams in a crack and tying off a tree and a boulder as natural anchors. You've equalized all of the anchors above an equalized master point where the climbing rope is attached to the anchor system by being threaded through a locking carabiner.

Check Your Anchor System

Now you need to check the anchor system to make sure it's safe, secure, and correctly and safely built. Use the six-point SECURE safety criteria to evaluate the top-rope anchor and make any necessary safety corrections before you tie someone into the end of the rope and actually use the anchors.

Use SECURE to Evaluate Anchors

Always use the acronym SECURE to evaluate the strength and reliability of your top-rope anchor by asking these six important questions:

  1. Is the anchor STRONG enough?
  2. Is the anchor EXTENDED over the cliff's edge?
  3. Is the anchor CENTERED above your intended route?
  4. Is the master point (the carabiner connection between your rope and anchor) an UNBROKEN ring of metal?
  5. Does the rope RUN easily through the unbroken ring of two carabiners or a large steel locking carabiner?
  6. Is the climbing rope extended below the cliff EDGE so it doesn't abrade or cut on any sharp rock protrusions?

Use SECURE Then Test the Anchor

If your top-rope anchor meets all the criteria of SECURE and you can answer "Yes!" to all the questions, then your anchor is a keeper. First though, you can test it by having a climber on the ground tie into the rope and climb a few feet up with a belay, then weight the rope, bounce on it, and then lower down.

Your Safety is a Perfect Anchor

If your anchor doesn't completely meet the SECURE safety criteria, then reevaluate it, figure out any problems, and re-rig it. Your safety and your life depend on a safe anchor. Check and double check it. Now you're ready to go climbing!

Making Top-Rope Anchors is an Essential Skill

Learning to create a safe top-rope anchor is an essential skill for climbing on your own outside on real rock. Remember that your top-rope anchors are the most important part of your climbing safety system. If the anchors fail, then the climber relying on them to hold his weight and a possible fall can be killed or severely injured. A top-rope climb is only as safe as the anchors that you rig at the top.

Take an Anchors Class to Learn Anchor Safety

Always remember that creating top-rope anchors is a very serious climbing skill and if you don’t know what you are doing when making equalized anchors, then you have no business rigging them and then letting anyone else rely on them for their personal safety. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you know how to make safe anchors by reading a book about climbing. Take an anchors class from a climbing guide or serve as an apprentice to an experienced climber so you learn how to rig safe anchors and how to us SECURE to evaluate those anchors.

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