Top Rope Anchors 101

It was an unusually warm day today and I wanted to go out climbing, but surprise, surprise, everyone who I know that climbs wasn’t picking up their phones… Anyway, I just wanted to reflect on something that happened last fall. I was at our local crag, setting up a top rope on one of the crack climbs here (this is different than most outdoor/gym climbing, because you actually stick your hands inside of the rock), and noticed there was a group top roping a route next to mine, using only 2 quick draws?! Is this normal? This did not seem safe at all. They had one quick draw on each bolt, but all of the carabiners were NON LOCKING! This doesn’t seem safe to me because its quite easy for these carabiners to unclip the rope in the event of a fall.

I believe in being “bomb proof”, so I try to make a top rope anchor that can survive a number of catastrophes, something like this:  anchor

This way, I can keep myself, and others safe, and not have to worry about the rope unclipping itself.

Please, before you go out trying to top rope, learn how to be safe first!

Be safe, have fun, “send” me your thoughts! (get it?)

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62 thoughts on “Top Rope Anchors 101

      • You shouldn’t load the carabiner from two different directions. They are not designed to withstand cross-loading. The biner that is connecting the two sides of your anchor.

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      • I agree with Jess. Basic vector force intuition says your last carabiner will be triaxially loaded, which is a big no-no when using carabiners. This is actually one of the most dangerous top rope anchors I’ve seen so far…

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    • It’s not that it’s unsafe, it’s that it’s overbuilt. Part of building any anchor is knowing when enough is enough. Contrary to what Serene is saying, you won’t have any shock load on either bolt if one blows, but you can accomplish this with a lot less stuff than you have here.

      Check out books written on the subject by people like John Long or Craig Luebben – some of these are available online. You can get a better sense of how to build a good anchor from sources like those.

      Toproping through two quickdraws is generally considered to be pretty safe, as long as the two carabiners holding the rope are opposed. To be more general, the relative safety of one locking carabiner is about equal to two opposed nonlockers in similar situations (i.e. not for connecting you to your belay device).

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    • it’s really hard for me to understand why a person would invest so much time in creating a troll website which encourages improper etiquette, poor attitude, and unsafe practices, but for those who are inexperienced and don’t see through the fucking horror that is every post in this blog, the bottom carabiner is taking the sum of the forces of the climber, belayer, and any impulse from a fall while being compromised by being loaded triaxially. this is coming from a mechanical engineer.

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  1. Actually, I like to use as many locking carabiners as possible on every anchor. I think that the exercise of checking and rechecking 4, 5, 8, or 10 locks really helps keep me focused and builds muscle memory so I always remember to lock my belay carabiner. I make sure that they are in a chain so if even one fails my partner will probably die. It keeps me honest about how well I checked the anchor.

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  2. I thinks it’s great that you are trying to give information to others that you think will help, but much of what you are doing here is providing misinformation. There is nothing wrong with the 2 quickdraw set up, to assert otherwise is misinformative. The set up you display is purely overkill and would cause people to think that throwing more gear at the situation is helpful.
    In my 35+ years of climbing and 25+ years of teaching, researching, testing, and the practice of climbing and rescue I have had the pleasure and horror of seeing many things in the field that can all be summed up in 4 types of people: 1.people who don’t know, 2.people who think they know, 3.people who know, and 4.people willing to learn from those who know ( I am in this group and that’s with 35+ years of experience under my belt). From reading your blogs, I would have to put you in the 2nd group. This is not meant as an insult, but a warning. Please take more time to learn, from multiple sources not just the ones your comfortable with and practice modesty with your information.
    You will be raked over the coals by the climbing community, not from jealousy or arrogance, but from the time on rope paying the toll. Yes there are those who do things wrong and become complacent, but many of us grind others because we have lost friends to the craft. We all want the newer climbers to come into our world, not with misinformation, but good basics and a willingness to learn. Don’t take the poking, razzing, grinding, insulting, or general arrogance as anything more than the cultural nature of the climbing community, we live and play in a world that can kill us and all recognize that.
    Take care

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think his advise will kill anyone. He is just being extra safe , which i for one think is great if you are new to climbing. Great blog by the way!!!

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      • He is not being extra safe…there is a difference between being safe and just teaching poor technique. The anchor shown demonstrates that the poster does not have fundamental grasp on the basics and if you don’t have that then you should teach. His post are only going to produce a group of people who ‘think the know’.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Locking carabiners aren’t all that necessary when it comes to toprope anchors. If you position the gates of non locking biners opposite to each other, it has the same exact purpose of a locking as well as a redundant backup to each other. In addition, those extra two locking biners clipped into both of the other two locking biners isn’t really that safe. I try to stay away from metal to metal contact as much as possible. If there was to be a dynamic force generated on a top rope system, there wouldn’t be anything to absorb the shock between those four biners.

    I’m not saying this entire system is not safe, it’s just not practical. I don’t know about you, but most times when I’m setting up a top rope, I’m not carrying 8 locking biners including a belay biner and a PAS biner. It just creates extra clutter and unnecessary weight.

    Educate yourself with either “the sliding x” or the equalized figure 8. The safest anchors are the simplest anchors, there’s less room for error.

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  4. I know this is most likely a piss-take, but that anchor setup is actually dangerous, so maybe best not to be posted on the internet! The central biners in this setup would be loaded in three directions, which drastically reduce their strength.

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  5. Yo, so there’s a lot of noise about the extra biners. I agree that this creates possible mistakes and extra steps to check and should be avoided. Case in point, none of the bottom carabiners are locked. Once he checked the top two, he probably got distracted and didn’t finish the check.

    However, I think the award for “Least Safe Component of a Very Unsafe Anchor” goes to the fact that the slings are doubled instead of tripled. In general, having exactly 2 strands of a sling through a biner is a recipe for the entire sling sliding through. A simple rotation of either biner and he’s clipped to nothing at all. This is, of course, exacerbated by the second sling, which obscures the first and makes them both harder to check. Slings are like condoms people, don’t use two when you could use just one. Also a bad habit he’ll probably one day apply to ropes and break his back when the elasticity isn’t what he needs for a big lead fall…

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  6. Gosh I think the people above don’t know what they’re talking about!

    I’ve climbed at the local gym fOr over 6 months – sometimes three times a week – so I do know what I”m talking about!

    You should always set up your anchors exactly as you show in your picture. The reason is, your setup distributes the forces in three directions, instead of the nornmal two. This makes the setup 3/2 or 1.5 times stronger than having the forces in only two directions. Obviously the people above don’t understand the theory involved!

    Good worK on your blog. I look forward to reading more tech tips!

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      • Sorry but I disagree!

        Climbing outside is perceived to be “harder”. But that’s because the outside guys don’t know modern gym technique! Our local instructors have told me that things like flagging, backstepping, the “rose move” etc. were developed in gyms, and spread to outside.

        Do you know the “rose move”? Have you ever done a “backstep”?

        Cheers

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      • Helloooo! There are topropes in the gym. In fact, there are dozens of them! How can you say gym climbing doesn’t mean you know everything about toproping?

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  7. Son… your anchor is wrong…very wrong. Here’s an image that might help you. I also recommend purchasing the book “How to Rock Climb” by John Long

    [image]http://www.rockandice.com/images/stories/144.5/anchor%20systems/cordelette.jpg[/image]

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    • His setup is better because it distributes the forces in three directions instead of the nornmal two. This makes his setup 3/2 or 1.5 times stronger than having the forces in only two directions!

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      • No!! This is coming from an engineer who knows a little about forces and loading. The middle carabiner is loaded from multiple directions which significantly weakens it. A carabiner is designed to be loaded on ONE direction. Which is why it has that arrow on the side pointing up and down.

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  8. OMG – you NEVER clip biner to biner like that. Please, for the sake of all the other folks reading this blog, learn the proper technique before posting online. Other readers – please seek multiple sources of information before climbing outside.

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  9. You have a big ego. You are ignoring people with 30 years of experience. You build an anchor that AMG certified guides would tell you is ridiculous, yet you CANNOT BRING YOURSELF TO ADMIT YOU ARE WRONG! This is the kind of attitude and big ego that kills.

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  10. The producers of carabiner specifically say that you should NOT pull the carabiner in three different directions. The structural integrity of the biner is only guaranteed for two forces pulling opposite to each other and vertically on the carabiner (e.g., http://www.petzl.com/en/outdoor/carabiners). The load capacity of the carabiner is not the same if you pull in other directions.

    There is an easy way to verify this: just send the picture of your anchor to the customer support of the company that produces your carabiners and ask them if it is safe.

    In addition, as other people have already noted, you do not want metal on metal, which leads to very inelastic shocks.
    Finally, your anchor is not equalized, which means that you have to be careful to always climb right below it (again, the load that the gear is able to carry is not independent from the direction of the force).

    I think two quick draws is not the optimal solution for an anchor, but I would take it over your anchor any day. Please hire a certified guide to show you how to prepare a safe anchor.

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      • If I were you… I would re-take whatever you’re certified in at other place because you MUST not put metal on metal carbiner for anchor set up. It is very very bad! I took rock climbing classes at University.. at public climbing hall.. AMGA.. and finally PCIA. All courses taught me NOT to set up an anchor like that. Please don’t teach the others your way until you know for SURE that is safe. If your gym are using it.. check with their manager or the crew who built them! (Ex. T-Wall.. Entre-Prises, etc) Thank you.

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      • I think you meant WordPress…. and BTW, what is supposed to be the point of that last biner? Are you running your rope through that single point? What if that breaks? Wouldn’t it be safer to just run it through the two biners and eliminate the last one? And on that note, what’s wrong with two quick-draws? Like pretty much everyone will use for setting up a top-rope?

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  11. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more
    of your magnificent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

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  12. There is a lot of debate on how to set the “best” anchor, but certain fundamentals are universally accepted. Two rules any smart climber knows which this anchor violates:

    -Never clip a carabiner directly to another carabiner
    -Never, Ever, EVER triple load a carabiner (allowing it to be pulled in 3 different directions)

    Sure there are elements of this anchor that are overkill, but whatever, that’s not the issue here. Using this anchor is unsafe. Yes, it will probably prevent a fall the first time, maybe even the second, or third, but every time you load this anchor you’re going to damage and weaken the gear, and eventually, the gear will fail. It may take 100 falls, but if you use this set up repeatedly, it will without question fail at some point, and you’re going to get hurt.

    After reading all of the comments, I’ll also add that climbing in a gym in no way prepares you to build anchors outdoors. You may be able to climb a 5.14, even outdoosrs, but being good at actually climbing doesn’t mean you understand how to safely place protection or build bomber anchors. Please, don’t assume you can climb safely outdoors just because you’ve spent time in a gym. That’s how people get hurt.

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  13. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert (20+ years of climbing on/off trad – but very much still learning in many ways and open to new ways of doing things). However, I concur with the fact that the bottom crab is loaded 3 directions which is NOT good. Its also possible (and this would concern me more personally!) that the 3 crabs could orientate themselves and cross load/twist bending the bottom crab open – (best not clip a crab to another crab – EVER!).

    Personally, i’d have just one long sling with a figure-8 loop tied in (easier to untie). Then stuck the 2 opposed screwgate craps on that loop for the rope to clip run through. Or, if not long enough – 2 (identical) slings overlapped and tied with fig-8 to make a small loop. Either way, the 3 way loading is on a knot rather than a crab. I tend to always use 2 opposed screwgate crabs to have the rope run through – just paranoid, but it kinda makes sense as this bit will be moving around, so in theory could rub against rope and unscrew

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  14. Others have said this, but I need to reinforce it because this is a pretty high-up result on Google for top rope anchors. I agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with being extra safe, but a few things about this anchor are manifestly unsafe.

    But first, here’s what’s good about it:
    1) Locking carabiners on the bolts and the master point. That can never hurt. Opposite and opposed non-lockers are also a good option for the master point. If you want to be extra careful, use opposite and opposed lockers.
    2) Extra slings. These really aren’t necessary, but hey, it can’t hurt to be careful.
    3) It’s redundant, with minimal extension. If one side fails, the other will hold and won’t get too badly shock-loaded.

    Now here’s what’s wrong:
    1) Carabiners attached to carabiners. The two carabiners attached to the bottom of the slings aren’t adding any redundancy, and in fact are reducing the safety of the system. For one, they’re an extra, unneeded element in the chain (i.e. an extra thing that could fail). For two, you’re attaching hardware to hardware. Metal on metal can create grooves in your carabiners, which can cut your rope. And lastly, they twist the master point so that the rope is rubbing against the rock as it’s pulled through.
    2) The master point carabiner is triaxially loaded. This is the big one. Carabiners are strongest when the force travels in a single direction, straight down the spine. When they are pulled side-to-side, they are “cross-loaded” and much weaker.

    Here’s how to fix it:
    1) Skip the extra ‘biners and attach the master point directly to the slings. If you want, use one of those extra lockers opposite and opposed the existing master point for redundancy.
    2) Knot the slings together before attaching to the master point. You might want to use longer slings so the load angle doesn’t get too wide. Then, when the rope pulls on the master point, it will pull along the major axis of the carabiner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen!
      Any readers – hopefully scroll down far enough to benefit from this very well laid-out argument to stay alive.
      Author – please consider your personal liability (or at least ethics) now that you been advised that the information provided by you could put others in danger and remove or correct the misinformation.

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  15. If this is a joke then it’s a bad one. Before you become a danger to yourself or people reading this blog, please hire a guide to teach you some basic anchor skills. Or you can find a class at REI.

    You should never clip a biner to another biner. Second, note that by adding more gear you increase the chances of something failing.

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  16. stumbled across this …. this is so bad .. can’t even begin … Please study this for a lesson in WHAT NOT TO DO … .. Please remove this post.

    It’s clear that no one agrees with the original post or your assessment of this “anchor” . The community has spoken and you cannot listen. Obviously you are untrainable and a lethal danger to yourself and others.

    Just because you are unable to comprehend your many mistakes, does not mean they don’t exist.

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  17. I don’t know a whole great deal about anchoring but I know enough to see this is wrong it’s pretty basic stuff and there is tons of information on simple proper anchoring without having to understand the mechanical dynamics about it, although it doesn’t hurt and I would encourage anyone to understand how forces work upon gear. But definitely over done unpractical, dirty looking and should not be publicly posted this just misleads and misinforms.

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  18. I don’t know why everyone is so concerned about the triaxially loaded biner. That is obviously a 25kN biner, which means it can hold the extra force. I’m sure that any brand new climber who has never toproped outside can easily tell the difference from the photo and would not attempt to replicate this anchor with a weaker carabiner.

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  19. Ok lets calm down, at the end of the day, his anchor will be fine (I’m a guide). It’s overkill, he shouldn’t be posting advice at his skill level, but it’s really not that big of a deal, lets not be lame about it.

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