Cleaning Sport Anchors

A quick, safe way to clean bolted anchors

Illustration by Chris Philpot

One of the best parts about sport climbing is its utter simplicity: Clip some bolts as you climb, and—well, that’s pretty much it. The most complicated part is cleaning the anchors; in other words, threading your rope through the rings or chains at the top so you can lower down, grab your draws, and not leave any gear behind. This procedure is potentially dangerous because you may have to untie from your harness and retie after threading—and mistakes happen. We learned the following technique from Rick Vance, technical information manager at Petzl, and we like it because it’s simple, clean, quick, and your partner never takes you off belay. You'll need two quickdraws and one extra locking carabiner.

When you get to the top, clip one quickdraw to each bolt or ring/chain, with the bottom biner gates facing in opposite directions. Clip your rope into the right-hand draw, and clip the left draw directly into your belay loop. (You may have to pull up on one of the draws to get your body close enough to the anchors.) Slowly sit back in your harness; the left draw should support all of your weight. Find a comfortable position to work on the anchor. (Fig. 1)

Have your partner keep you on belay throughout the process. Ask for some slack and pull a long bight of the rope that runs between your tie-in knot and the right-hand quickdraw, keeping the rope clipped through that draw. Tie an overhand or figure eight on the bight, and clip that knot back to your belay loop with a locking biner. (Fig. 2) Ask your belayer to take in any slack, but not so much that it pulls you up into the anchor. Now, as long as your belayer keeps you on, the knot clipped to your belay loop acts as a backup to the draw you’re clipped directly into.

Untie your tie-in knot (usually the figure eight follow-through) completely. Thread the end of the rope through the bottom of both chains or rings (the specifics will depend on each anchor’s setup and wear), then retie your figure eight follow-through on the tie-in points on your harness. Double check that the rope runs smoothly through both pieces of the anchor and that your knot is tied correctly and dressed properly. (Fig. 3)

Unclip the locking biner from your belay loop and untie the knot it was clipped to. Recheck that the rope is running through both pieces of the anchor and that your tie-in knot is correct and dressed. Have your belayer take in slack until you can pull up toward the anchor and test the system by weighting the rope without unclipping from the draw.

Once you’re 100 percent sure that you’re good to go, remind your belayer again to “take,” remove both draws, and clip them to your harness. Because you’re fully weighting the rope, the draws should be easy to unclip. Now you’re ready to be lowered and get your gear!

Note: Lowering off the anchors is a common practice, but keep in mind that the friction from dirty ropes wears anchors very quickly, especially in high-traffic areas. Always check the anchors for excess wear before you lower off, and consider rappelling instead of lowering to preserve the anchors and your rope.


Does anyone have a link to a good description/instructional for how to rappel off of a route? If it's apparently the best option and way to do things.

Brightonk - 03/31/2014 9:46:33

What is the gain from your having your partner never taking you off belay? Why not just clip both quickdraws to your belay loop, so you're self-secured while cleaning the anchor?

Thomas - 12/10/2013 8:08:31

Some real quality constructive criticism here.. What an astute observation of others "noob" tendencies. If you're all this way on the rock, I'm surprised and suggest un-wadding your.. harness. That said, yeah, always rappel. It's a trick you have to learn, mainly, because if enough people top off of the bolts, for long enough, that's another death. Climbing is an amazing sport for a vast amount of reasons BUT, one of the most relevant and understood reasons is, safety. I have a lot of friends that are athletes and I, climbing massive rock faces and throwing myself at a seemingly life-risking path, have sustained a small fraction of the number of injuries as they have. So if you see someone lowering off the bolts, don't be an ass about telling them, but always, always, tell them why they shouldn't lower in that manner, and how to rap down. I've lost count of the number of ATC's I've given to climbers I saw bolt lowering. No one resents a lesson that saves a life so if you know it, teach it, and if you don't, learn it.

Matt - 10/30/2013 4:10:12

Sad to see Climbing Magazine call lowering "common practice" without any mention of local ethics. I wrote an article on this discussion (about a time I experienced the issue at the New River Gorge) and the local Mike Williams said it was New ethics to lower, but not necessarily the case everywhere. Read here if you're interested:

Lee Kennedy - 09/09/2013 12:11:09

I cannot believe you idiots are still publishing this stupid article. "Lowering off the anchors is a common practice" BS BSBSBSBS If you can't rap and clean a steep route, then you're still a noob, regardless of what is said above. So many ways to deal with this. DO NOT LOWER OFF ANCHORS. I'm having to consider cancelling my subscrip to Climbing given all the idiotic info they've been handing out. Going to kill all the gymies with their bs like using unachored belays, simul rapping, etc... These are advanced techniques that require some experience to evaluate and master.

David Dangerfield - 08/22/2013 5:29:01

PLEASE DON'T EVER LOWER OFF OF FIXED GEAR, CHAINS, RAP RINGS, OR BOLTS!!! It wears out the gear much much faster, and is unsafe, since people have decked when their rope was severed due to being cut over worn out gear (sharp notches and grooves are etched into the gear due to the friction caused by the rope rubbing on the metal after repetitive lowering). Instead, clip in directly to the bolts (I like to use the Metolius Personal Anchor System, with locking carabiner and one quickdraw, each clipped to different bolts for redundancy), pull the rope through the rap rings or last chain links (or bolts if they are specifically designed to accommodate rappelling), pull the rope to the mid point and rappel. DON'T FORGET THE SAFETY KNOTS AT THE ENDS OF BOTH STRANDS OF YOUR ROPE. You can clean your draws as you rappel down. Not knowing how to rappel is no excuse, since, you should already know this simple skill before you lead your first sport route. Another big reason to keep the fixed gear at the crag in tip-top shape is that there are good, hardworking, people maintaining them. This equipment is not cheap, and these route developers and maintainers often freely volunteer their time and money to keep the crag clean and safe. Lets give them and the crag the respect they deserve and do our part by minimizing the wear on gear. Also, check out this awesome facebook group for some scary examples of worn out fixed gear: Be safe, and have fun. :)

Mr MaTaN - 08/22/2013 3:43:13

If on steep routes you don't want the hassle of lowering from and subsequently retrieving your own gear, or perhaps don't feel comfortable with good rappel techniques and don't want the admitted hassle of cleaning on rap, then stay off steep routes or donate some gear--leave community gear for folks not tempted by laziness into a tragedy of the commons. At the very least, you'll set a good precedent for all of those newbs, gumbies, or folks otherwise possessed of 'limited experience'.

Derek - 07/26/2013 7:12:50

There are several comments here describing anyone who lowers as a noob. My take is that the climbers making those statements have limited experience and probably climb mostly vertical and slabby routes. Each method has its benefits. Not only is it really difficult to clean steep routes on rappel, but it can also be unsafe trying to hold the device safely while maneuvering in to the wall and retrieving your gear. Learn the pros and cons of both methods and when it's best to use them. Knowledge is power, and in climbing knowledge is life.

Phillip - 04/29/2013 8:54:51

I would have to agree with Richard Dingman. Lower off your own gear, replace your own gear.

Matt - 04/12/2013 9:04:25

So what is best practice for setting up rappel in same scenario?

scouper - 03/21/2013 12:03:33

"Absolutely ! Never lower off the anchors. bad form, sign of a newbie and a dweeb." - Paul Paul so when you were a "newbie dweeb" you never lowered off anchors, and why is that a bad thing for a beginning climber? Throwing out a blanket statement like "never lower off the anchors" is ridiculous. Everyone knows top-roping directly off of an anchor is frowned upon for the reasons listed above... but I would be a little more concerned about a beginner's safety than how they are perceived by some "dweeb" at the local crag.

Joe - 01/07/2013 1:19:08

We always lower off the anchors. Its a taste thing.

Wes - 12/26/2012 12:17:58

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