5 Safety Tips to Set Up Top-Rope Anchors

Use the 5 safety tips to properly set up a toprope from anchors at Tusher Canyon near Moab
Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

The most dangerous part of top-rope climbing is going to the top of the cliff and placing anchors. Most top-rope accidents happen when unroped climbers fall off the top. You can minimize the dangers by following basic safety procedures, keeping alert and paying attention at the crag, and not letting your guard down. 

5 Safety Tips to Set Up Top-Rope Anchors

Use these steps every time you set up top-rope anchors. Accidents can happen in an instant. If you practice these methods, you will reduce your risks.

1. Prepare Before Leaving the Ground

It's best to prepare before leaving the cliff-base. Eyeball your proposed climbing route from the ground. Look at features you might be able to use to establish your anchor. Are there trees that you can sling for natural anchors? Remember that a tree should be at least four inches in diameter; thicker is better of course. What cracks can you see and how wide are they? Try to decide the sizes of cams and nuts that you might need so that you don't have to carry a big rack of gear up.

2. Gear Up Below the Climb

Next, gear up before leaving the ground. Put on your harness and rack the needed cams and nuts on your harness gear loops. Add some 2-foot and 4-foot slings with free carabiners clipped to them and carry them looped over your shoulder. Some top-rope routes might require using an extra rope so that the anchor's master point can be extended over the top edge of the cliff. Remember to put on your climbing shoes so that you have sure footing when you are scrambling around on the cliff-top.

3. Always Tie Yourself in on the Cliff-Top 

When you reach the top of the cliff, look around and locate a secondary anchor that you can use to secure yourself into with your climbing rope. Whenever you set up top-rope anchors on a cliff-top, tie yourself into an anchor with a climbing knot. Make it a habit. Every year climbers die after falling off a cliff-top while setting up top-rope anchors.

4. Set Up Your Top-Rope Anchor 

Once you are tied into a cliff-top anchor, you can freely move around to set up your anchor. Check out your predetermined anchor location. If it looks good, place at least three pieces of gear like cams, nuts, or natural anchors like trees or tied-off boulders and then equalize the gear using the acronym SECURE. Create an equalized master point, thread your rope through double-carabiners (locking carabiners are best since they never open accidentally).

5. Tie Into Rope and Lower to Ground

Finally, you might want to tie the end of the rope into your harness using a tie-in knot and ask your buddy on the ground to put you on belay. Now you can scramble back to the top and remove or clean your secondary anchor. Climb back down to your anchor and have your partner lower you back to the ground. Now you're ready to rock and roll using a slingshot belay. Whenever you are lowering rope, take care so it doesn't end up twisted and snagged.

Every time you go top-roping, you need to be vigilant to dangers and do everything possible to ensure a safe climbing environment. With these tips, you will be less likely to become a cautionary tale for others. Have fun and always be safe.