Bolted Toprope Anchors


Setting up a simple yet bomber anchor

Once you start venturing outside the gym to pull on real rock, you or your climbing partner might not be quite ready to tie into the sharp end, so it’s essential to know how to set up a solid anchor for toproping. Many climbs have two bolts (or chains or rings attached to bolts) at the top, making it easy to establish a secure toprope. Once you master this setup, you can climb worry-free and focus on getting stronger and having fun.

Warning: This technique only applies if you have safe access to the top of a cliff, where bolt anchors are often placed. Anchor yourself to a tree or crack with a long sling or length of rope before approaching the cliff edge to set up a toprope.

Illustration by Chris Philpot

The Gear

You’ll need four locking carabiners and a double-length sling (48”). Wider slings (3/4” or 1”) are generally more durable. You can use pre-sewn slings or an appropriate length of loose webbing tied with a tight water knot. (See Climbing 308.) Alter your sling length if the setup causes the sling or rope to rub over the edge of the cliff or a block.

1. Clip In
Clip one locking carabiner through each bolt/ring/chain, and then clip the sling into each locking biner. Lock these biners now so you won’t forget later. Following the same steps in the same order each time will help you avoid mistakes.

2. Equalize the Sling
Pull the sling down so that each hanging loop is even and the bartacking (or water knot) is close to one of the biners clipped to a bolt, but not in direct contact. This keeps the bulkiest part of the sling out of the way of the master point. Gather all four strands of webbing hanging down, and pull the loops in the direction of the climb to equalize the tension on each bolt.

3. Create a Master Point
Tie a figure eight on a bight with all four strands. The knot makes each arm of the anchor independent, providing redundancy in case one side should fail. Pull the knot snug, and make sure it’s clean and well-dressed—no big gaps.

4. Clip the Rope
Clip two locking biners through both strands of the figure-eight bight. Make sure to oppose the gates (have them facing different directions). Clip the rope through each biner and lock them. You’re good to go.

Anchor Options

  • Two shoulder-length (24”) slings can be used instead of a single 48” sling, by clipping one to each bolt. It will be harder to equalize the anchor if the bolts are at different heights. Try doubling one sling, extending it with a quickdraw, or girth-hitching a second sling to the first.
  • The standard anchor setup used by sport-climbing leaders can also be used to set up a toprope. Clip a quickdraw to each bolt and clip the rope through the lower carabiners on the draws. Two essentials: 1) Make sure the gates are opposed on the lower biners, so the rope can’t come unclipped. Using locking carabiners on one or both draws is safest. 2) Make sure the upper biners are not positioned in a way that they can be pried open by the anchor chains or the rock. Clipping into the rings at the end of the chains is best, and once again, locking biners will make the system safer.
  • Setting up toprope anchors on trees is a common practice—so much so that many people will leave slings and other gear for a permanent anchor. (Make sure to get proper instruction before setting up your own toprope anchor on a tree.) Before using an existing anchor, double-check the quality of the gear and the tree. The tree should be alive, at least five inches in diameter, and well-rooted (i.e., not just sitting in a thin layer of duff). The slings and other fixed gear should not be cut or torn at all, and there should be minimal fraying or fading. If there is anythingthat looks suspicious, don't trust it. Build your own anchor instead.
  • Gear inspection goes for bolts, chains, and rings, too. They should all be relatively rust-free without any major wear spots, and bolts should be tightened.

Comments

AMGA TR standards do not call for so many locking niners...Two opposing gate non-lockers are good enough on the rope b/c they will eventually unlock due to rubbing on each other. Francisco is right on about only clipping the bolt hanger as well.

Jason - 09/16/2014 7:07:35

There are lots of safe ways to rig a bolted TR, and this article outlines one of them. However, I am surprised that the quad isn't covered. Keeping a pre-rigged quad on my rack saves me a lot of time, especially when the goal is to set an equalized TR. It's also solid as a truck, equalized, and easy to tie. But for those moving from gym to crag, the setup described here is safe and simple. Better, though, would be to climb outside with someone experienced and learn the nuances of outdoor rigging.

Peter Jackson - 09/16/2014 7:30:46

Set up is sound if the rap ring are and would be in thus case steel. There are still plenty of rap stations out there that have aluminum worn rap rings. Even the steel ones can be worn thin. I say clip directly to the bolt hangers and the rap rings will be clear if you need then to get down after cleaning the anchor. Gates opposed on an anchor is safe, using non lockers is safe. Once the rope is through the anchor it is impossible for it to come unclipped if both slings or draws are opposed. I only use lockers on wall anchors, hanging belays, etc.. This is just my opinion and what I've used for 20 years.

Steve Kraft - 09/16/2014 5:47:37

What's the purpose of the slings? Feed the climbing rope through the "1." biners. This is equivalent to feeding the rope through 2 lower offs. It's usually quicker to set up statics if possible, to allow an easy rap down instead of walking back down. Rapping on the setup shown is very dodgey.

Andy - 09/16/2014 12:01:18

no mention of the quad? John Long knows whats up.

Sabot - 09/15/2014 9:00:39

The way suggested is fine, but Craig Lubben's bible on the subject 'Rock Climbing Anchors' suggest adding a couple of overhand knots to reduce the shock loading, should one leg fail. It also suggest just using a twist in one of the strands of the sling and putting the carabiners through that (the sliding X). T

Ziggy - 09/15/2014 8:28:40

Evan, with the method you described if one bolt fails then the sling suddenly lengthens to it's full length. The resultant force from the climber dropping then being caught by the lengthened sling would put incredible force on the remaining bolt, thus shock loading the system. The knot eliminates this big drop and is safer in the shock loading sense.

Rebecca - 09/15/2014 7:19:12

Evan, with the method you described if one bolt failed, the sling would lengthen to it's full sized and the resultant force of the climber falling then being caught by the lengthened sling would shock load the system. Tying a knot eliminates this dramatic drop and is safer in that sense.

Rebecca - 09/15/2014 7:16:11

@dan, evan and matt; fixing the webbing of an anchor with a knot is downright crazy for climbing. it defeats the whole purpose of an anchor where the biner should be flexible in case rope is pulled sideways during the climb. a rigid belay works only in caving, canyoning, SAR, etc. where you will descend / jummar long and negative walls (free hanging and no lateral movements). rigidity may also serve you on certain occasions in alpine / mix environment, but definitely not in crags... facing towards the anchor, if you make a single loop on the top-side of the webbing and simply feed the biner through it before clipping on the bottom-side, you will get perfect redundancy (what matt is describing). should one of the bolts fail, the biner will get stuck thanks to the loop and you will be safe. cheers...

halil - 07/22/2014 2:37:46

Crazy article, crazy comments. This anchor cannot self equalize. Some of the comments are downright scary, several people in the comments are building anchors with no redundancy. One comment about shock loading seems rather irrelevant since when leading all your protection is shock loaded, and there you have one bolt at each point, not two. I came to this website to if I could find some info for a friend getting in to climbing, and I am running away scared.

Steve - 07/01/2014 7:10:48

On any given day of toproping I may use 4 or 5 different setups. It all depends on the shapes and features of the rocks, the anchors available (or not), and the gear I have on hand. There is no one perfect setup and I think people need to remember this. It's better to build in redundancies and be versatile and know why you are doing what you are doing than to stick to one strict method that might not work in special circumstances.

Kevin - 02/17/2014 3:03:08

the carabiners should not be clipped to the rings or chain... only to the bolts

Francisco - 01/22/2014 4:23:09

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