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For Safety’s Sake Don’t Do This: Let Parents Belay Through A Bolt Hanger

Parents love their kids and will do anything for them, including taking them toprope climbing when they don't have a clue.

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The Incident

I was climbing at Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado. After our first route, we moved to another next to a family that was toprope climbing. My partner pointed out that they were toproping off a single bolt in the middle of the route. We quietly shared a grimace. When I was halfway up our route, I noticed that their toprope was actually running directly through the bolt hanger with no other gear. One of their pre-teen kids was climbing the route.—Will, via email

A bolt and hanger fixed to a rocky cliff.
The sharp edges of a bolt hanger are no place for a climbing rope.

The Lesson

There are two major issues here. First, bolt hangers are not designed for the rope to run directly through them. Some companies do make big, fat, rounded hangers that you can lower or rappel through, such as the Metolius rap hanger, but these would only be found at the top of a route. The angular metal edges of a typical hanger will not be friendly to your rope as it grates and stretches across them. The amount of wear from a group climbing up, lowering down, and taking toprope falls over and over will surely knock months off the life of your rope at best.

Furthermore, bolts can and do break sometimes, so you should not depend on just one. Notably, a climber died while rope soloing a route last year because he was only attached to one bolt and it failed. Bolts are very strong, but sometimes things do go wrong, which is why it’s important for anchors to be redundant. Just climb to the top of the route and build a redundant anchor on two bolts. This is sport route, after all. Sport climbing is an entire discipline that was designed to make things less sketchy. And toproping should be even less sketchy than that. I shudder to think of how this person even went about threading a rope through a bolt hanger mid-route. I hope the climber was standing on a massive ledge.

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