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

@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

Agreed entirely Allen. Also, if instead of tying a figure eight in the sling you do a simple twist in the top half of the sling and hook your locking biner through the twist's loop and the other side of the sling the traction on the bolts will be the same even if the rope is pulled to one side and if a bolt pops, you're still safe.

Matt - 10/30/2013 4:25:22

I do not believe clipping the slings to the rap rings is a best practic. First, such a setup will be below the finish of a climb. Thus a climber may go above the lowest part of the anchor and if they fall will introduce a shock load. Second, the rap rings get enough wear from ropes as such I believe it is better to clip into other parts of the system thus spreading out the wear. Third, the last person needs to clean the anchor. With the biners clipped into the rap rings they can be in the way. If clipped elsewhere the rings are free and clear thus easier for feeding the rope. I prefer to clip directly to the hangers.

Allen - 10/14/2013 4:01:04

@Evan If I understand correctly, yes it would be less safe because you lose redundancy in the webbing. If the webbing breaks in a single place anywhere in the above setup, the anchor will still hold. If you don't have a knot in your webbing, then a break in one of the arms of the anchor will cause both to fail. And note that the knot used is a figure eight on a bight, which is stronger than an overhand. @Meg Besides the fact that it is easier to equalize the two arms of this setup compared to using two quick draws, it also gives you some flexibility in terms of overall length. You don't want a carabiner sitting right over the edge of a rock as the lateral force can cause it to snap. As you can't adjust the length of a quick draw, you could run into this issue on some bolts. Hope this helps.

Dan - 09/26/2013 6:40:10

I was taught a slightly different method. Most people I've climbed with don't tie an overhand knot but instead twist one end of the sling after clipping in to the anchor rings, as they bring both ends down to clip in to the opposed locking biners. This allows the biners to move left and right while maintaining equal tension on both chains. It ends up looking like the illustration above minus the knot, with a twist in the webbing. Any reason why this would be less safe?

Evan - 09/22/2013 8:08:27

would it not be even better to use the exact set up as above but use two webbing slings? is there any downside to that? then you would have 4 separate pieces of the webbing holding the two lower biners?

scott - 09/21/2013 8:52:02

While I love using two quickdraws for a quick sport anchor, Meg, I call this an "institutional top-rope anchor" mainly because I use it when belaying large groups on the same anchor, all day long. Its more redundant and bomber (locking biners, 1" webbing, two loops/two biners in the masterpoint).

Chris - 08/31/2013 8:28:02

I prefer to clips the top biners into the bolts (or top chain ring) rather than the rap rings for two reasons: 1)Makes cleaning the route easier 2) less "gear" in the system (i.e less things to fail)

Greg - 08/06/2013 11:06:55

Is there a reason to do this instead of using two quickdraws? Or is it just another option for people who don't have quickdraws b/c they're not sport climbers, but would presumably have the gear you mention in the post?

Meg - 07/12/2013 7:55:12

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