Top rope climbing is a climbing method in which the climber is attached to a rope for security which in turn is connected to an anchor system at the crest of the climb, and a belayer system at the bottom of the climb.
The responsibility for the climber’s safety lies on the belayer who has to ensure they keep taking in slack so that the climber may only fall for a short distance if they do, and on the strength of the anchor which has to carry the climber’s full body weight in addition to the pulling forces.
Although lead climbing is the most popular style for treading natural climbing routes. Top rope climbing becomes essential in scenarios where leading would prove dangerous to the climber’s safety or to the environment.
The sandstone rock in Kent and Sussex in South East England is soft and liable to getting eroded, so placement of gear on the natural rock is undependable as well as environmentally damaging. Top roping is more or less the only option to ascend such routes.
Psychologically, top-rope climbing seems easier and is also less physically demanding than lead and trad climbing where the lead climber has to set up and secure protection.
Although many frown upon top rope climbing because it leads to an increased frequency of climbers on routes that are otherwise too difficult for them and the possible destruction of natural resources by overutilization of anchor points, top-rope climbing is ideal for beginners as a first introduction to ascending natural rock.
The fundamentals of climbing in the open can be very well acquired while being comparatively secure. Setting up anchor on the top of the climb, learning to belay climbers and lower them to the bottom, while fully focussing on mastering their climbing techniques on a rocky structure that is less comprehensible and gives more acute experience than gym holds. And all of this, without a worry about falling down and hurting oneself.
Top roping is done by expert climbers on certain routes that are inaccessible for practicing technique by other methods and for building strength and stamina.
Essential Equipment for Top rope climbing
There is nothing much required apart from your basic climbing equipment that would include your harness, climbing helmet, rock climbing shoes, rope, quickdraws, carabiners, belay device, belay gloves, and chalk.
A semi-static or a low stretch rope of a large diameter is perfect for top-rope climbing. If you want to have one rope that would work well for both top rope and lead climbing, get a dynamic one. Dynamic ropes are more elastic and are designed to efficiently absorb the impact if a climber falls. The large diameter static ropes precisely used for top-roping are perfect for use in the anchoring of gear, rappelling, and lifting gear up a rock face.
A rope’s function is to protect the climber in case they incur a fall. The strength of the rope is provided by its core while the sheath provides protection to the core while making the rope easier to handle. A rope of larger diameter will have more longevity when used for top-roping.
This is a protection equipment, and although you’ll see many climbers avoiding its use, we recommend you always put your safety first. There is no heroism in being careless with your life. A helmet protects you from falling rocks when you are belaying for your climbing partner, lest you zone out with one hit.
An equipment could fall and hit your head. You could be climbing and hit your head on a protruded rock while ascending. Worst scenario, you could fall and your helmet would protect you from a serious head injury. The back of your head is essentially prone to getting injured by surrounding rocks while ascending and a helmet will serve you like your best guard.
You owe it to your climbing shoes for keeping your body stable and firm on the rocks, they are the most important component of a climber’s equipment set. You should choose your pair based on comfort and an all-rounder performance objective. High performing shoes suited to specific skills and your aspired climbing techniques can be an upgrade when you master your overall climbing capabilities.
The rope is connected to the climber by the means of a harness. You require one harness each for the climber and the belayer. A harness is basically a waist belt that is reinforced and padded and contains loops for legs and a loop for belay that gets attached to the belt on the waist.
Different climbing styles require different types of harness. While tailoring, features, and price influence the one you get yourself, make sure your harness is comfortable.
The rope is controlled while belaying by a mechanical frictional device known as a belayer. The purpose of the belayer is to halt the rope if the climber incurs a fall. A rappelling climber or a climber coming downhill can also be aided and guided with this device.
Belay devices come in active and passive varieties. While passive belay devices are nonautomatic and depend upon the friction applied by a brake hand to function, active ones provide additional assistance in order to tackle a fall and are operated automatically.
We recommend you to get used to passive belaying devices first and shift to active devices only when you are experienced in the fundamental belaying techniques.
Direct dependence on active belaying devices often leads to negligence due to their expectation of functioning automatically. More advanced devices will surely offer more protection but the adeptness in fundamental techniques is essential for operating them too.
Remember to protect your hands with belay gloves to prevent rope burn.
Carabiners are loops made of metal that have gates loaded with spring used as connectors. Carabiners come in two varieties: locking and nonlocking.
Locking carabiners are used for more important attachments, for connecting the rope to the anchor, connecting a climber to the middle portion of the rope. Their essential feature is the ability to lock automatically so that the gate does not open when put into use. The mechanism of locking may differ from screw gates to twist locks and magnet secured locks.
If the scenario is less serious, non locking carabiners are put to use. The rope is attached to a piece of protection as a part of a draw or as the part of an anchor.
Locking carabiners may not always be more strong than non locking ones and stronger carabiners may not always be better.
Quickdraws are required to connect the rope together with a piece of protection while climbing. Short, pre-sewn webbings can be used to connect two non locking carabiners with one piece of quickdraw. In this setup, one carabiner is tightly fixed with the help of a rubber strap to clip the rope firmly while the other carabiner is kept loose.
In another scenario, two non locking carabiners can be attached to a portion of shoulder-length webbing to make alpine draws that provide much more elasticity in length.
Chalk’s function is to absorb moisture from the hands of the climber so that sweat and moisture don’t interfere with firmly gripping holds and ascending. A chalk bag is attached to the climber’s harness for holding the chalk.
Steps to follow in Top rope climbing
Finding and analyzing the route
Once you have done your research about the best top climbing routes around you, the next step is to scrutinize the fixed protective gear, bolts, and nuts by hiking to the top of the cliff with your protective helmet and safety gear set up and locating the perfect anchor points.
Setting up the safety anchor
After getting to the top of your route, pitch in an anchor for your safety. This is not the anchor you’ll rely on for climbing. But this will protect you from falling over the cliff edge while you are setting the climbing anchor in place. If you get careless enough to fall over the edge head first while pitching your main anchor, it’ll be the most avoidable threat to your life.
What you need is a perfect rock, or tree or another heavy secure object that will handle the forces of top-rope climbing.
Setting up the top rope anchor
The rope is your lifeline and the top rope anchor is your god. This is the anchor on which you will depend on for your whole ascend. Any negligence in the firmness and stability of this anchorage could be fatal.
There are various types of anchors available for you to choose from based on your need and the nature of the terrain. Most sport climbing routes have bolts rigged on the top of the climb that needs to be clipped in after inspection
Another common method is with the help of a top rope quad. You just need to clip your rope into the quad and lock your carabiners and get set go.
Quickdraws can also be very well used for anchoring by clipping a draw to each bolt and then linking the rope to the free carabiner of either of the draws. This method is considered dangerous because the biners could in some cases open the gates if they clash with a rocky face or get broken.
Slings work by getting clipped to each bolt and fixing the rope to the tied end but this setup is often difficult to equalize in response to pull from both directions.
If multiple trees or rocks are available for anchorage, you can choose one firm structure to hang on to, this is called a single point anchor. Another method to rig a tree is by wrapping a rope around the base of the tree, pulling the two loops in a V direction, and tying a figure of eight knots with them to make a master point. This method is known as a basket hitch. A tensionless hitch on the other hand uses a whole length of rope tied around a tree base to create enough friction and the free end of the rope is secured with the load end with the help of a biner.
Master point position and Rigging the rope
Your master point should be in the right position so that the rope drag is reduced and the carabiners do not open. Your rope is rigged after this step by locking two carabiners in opposite positions and opposed to each other. This provides more surface the rope can move across without enduring hard wear and friction. Protect your rope at the cliff edge where it could rub against sharp pieces of rocks or the sharpness of the edge itself. Commercial rope protectors are available for this purpose. You can also use a garden hose, fire hose, or even a carpet.
Setting up and Tying into the rope
Inspect and ensure that every knot and lock is proper and rigged firm before you head down to tie yourself and begin the ascend. Your rope should be positioned in the correct manner.
Climbers usually tie into the sharp end of the rope by using a retraced figure of eight knots.
Belaying can be done either from the top of the route or the bottom and it works on friction.
To belay from below, the rope is run through the anchor so that both ends touch the ground. One end is tied on by the climber and another by the belayer.
To belay from above, the rope runs in a straight line from the climber, through the belayer, and to the anchor at the top of the cliff.
When heading out for top-rope climbing, you should ensure that your clothing isn’t loose or prone to get stuck into any equipment. Your helmet is a promise to save your life in case of an accident and take care that your long hair is tied up to avoid getting caught in the belay device. All your connections, knots, and joints should be inspected. You are trusting them with your life. Make sure your safety isn’t compromised in any way. We hope you keep ascending.