Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Rope Anchors off Bolts or Chains – Part II

I’ve been meaning to write on this topic for a while now and thought it would be a good follow up to Jason Martin's Toproping Sport Climbs

My initial inspiration for this topic came from the following Mountain Project Thread: How to use rap rings and chains properly

I find it interesting how such a simple topic receives so much controversy and attention, but I do understand why. I believe that most climbing, especially toproping, is extremely safe when done correctly, but the consequence of a simple mistake can prove fatal.

It's always tough weeding through threads like this for the good information. There are many misnomers in the thread like reference to the “AMGA Way” or self proclaimed experts that believe their knowledge base is greater than the combined knowledge of hundreds of AMGA guides and then accusing the AMGA of teaching incorrect methods.

There really is no AMGA Way; if you asked 5 Certified AMGA Rock guides to build a toprope anchor off bolts, I’m pretty sure you would see 2 or 3 different ways. Through my experience of taking both my Rock Instructor course and Rock Guide Course/Aspirant Exam I’ve found that the AMGA teaches us to use many different techniques, but the main thing they try to do is help us to develop sound judgment to decide what techniques are appropriate for the given situation. A common theme throughout advanced courses is, “what is the price paid (in time and energy) and what is gained from that?”

So how does this relate back to the topic of building topropes off bolts or chains? I think there are a few factors you should consider before deciding on what method to use. For the purpose of this discussion, I am working under the assumption that we have two well placed, solid, 3/8” or larger bolts. Anything less than this, you may want to consider working another anchor point or back up into the system.

One of the techniques discussed in the thread is toproping off two quickdraws. I don’t see a big safety issue with a toprope through two opposite and opposed quickdraws that are well equalized, overhanging and in sight. My question with this is “how much time and effort would it be to incorporate a draw with a locking carabiner?” I think a locker adds a considerable safety factor with very little effort. Also, in real life, the bolts aren’t always placed so the draws meet all of the above requirements.

If anchor bolts are out of sight, not well equalized, or rubbing against rock, my favorite toprope setup in the Quad. This is a form of the equalette and can be found in John Longs Climbing Anchors on page 172.

One of the great things about the Quad is that it self-equalizes, but for that gain you lose part of your "No Extension." My rule of thumb for extension is something that I learned in Search and Rescue Training: "Keep it to 6 inches or less" The quad can typically be tied and used on multiple anchors with little or no adjustments to the extension limiting knots to keep it less than 6 inches. I also like to use the quad on multipitch climbs with bolted belays stations, in that application I anchor into only two strands(using 7 mil cord) and then belay and anchor the second into the other two.

No matter what method you decide to use to set up your toprope anchor, you should try to take into consideration the above factors and anything else that could affect your setup and build it to SERENE principals.

I hope everyone had a great fall and is getting stoked for some good snow and ice.

Doug Foust, Instructor and Guide

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