Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sport Climbing: How to Clean A Top Rope Anchor

I took a lesson yesterday from climbing instructor, Dean Olin, who runs his own climbing business here in the Tri-Cities called The Rock Climbing Guide. I am so lucky to have found such a knowledgable resource like him to start teaching me how to safely navigate my way up and down rock walls. Dean is an incredible instructor from his 26 years of experience climbing and teaches private or group lessons, as well as guided trips in the outdoors. Check him out to the right doing what he loves to do!

I was completely satisfied with the skills he shared with me because what he taught was exactly what I've wanted to learn for years! Climbing on rock is the first step towards eventually climbing on ice. Can't wait to learn more and take a few trips in the outdoors with him soon.

Sport climbing is super popular in the outdoors and there are tons of spots around the state and nearby that have good routes ready to be climbed. Dean set up a top rope anchor for me on the rock wall at the Tri-City Court Club so we could simulate reaching the top of a pitch and how to safely get back down while cleaning off your gear.

This blog post may be confusing if you don't have any knowledge of the climbing gear used in this sport. I'll try to make it simple. When you outdoor climb, a lead climber must set up the route by climbing up with the rope and using quick draws to secure the rope into the fixed bolts on the rock wall. At the top they'll set an anchor, belay down, and the route is now ready to be climbed again and again. The last climber will be the one in charge of bringing all that gear down once they're finished with climbing for the day. So "cleaning the anchor" is an important skill to know because you're at a dangerous position up at the top where you must untie yourself and re-thread the rope. There are two ways to get down from there, either by belay or self rappelling. I think rappelling is way more badass.

Check out the photo to the left. This is a standard set up for a top rope anchor, although with alpine draws instead of quick draws. The bolts get incredibly messy with so many carabiners and bites of rope tangled in there. From here you would need to re-thread the rope from the carabiners into the fixed bolts so that you can take your gear off the wall. We practiced this technique a few times, threading the ropes into belay and self rappel modes, working with knots and making sure to not drop the rope.

A few important rules I learned from Dean: 

◆ once you have a method that works for you, use that method every time
◆ secure your personal anchor in two places instead of just one, as shown in the photo
◆ always test your new system before you unclip, whether that's your personal anchor, on belay, or any new belays
◆ it's highly recommended to use a friction knot as a backup if you self rappel
◆ always use a stopper knot at both ends of your rope so you don't rappel off the end of it and die

To then right is the finished product of cleaning into a self rappel. You can see the quick draws and gear have been removed and the rope is now fed through the fixed bolts/chain links. I'm still clipped in by my personal anchor and tested the rappel with tension before unclipping. I did not use a back up friction knot as Dean taught but I think I will from now on because rappelling is very dangerous and it would be handy to have ready.

The American Mountain Guides Association is a great resource for learning and has tons of good how-to videos online. For a better description of this technique, check out this video here on how to clean an anchor. Click here for a good vid on how to set up a rappel. 

To learn more about Dean and climbing in the Tri-Cities, check out his climbing business on Facebook and his webpage

Cheers to the mountains! I'll be up there soon.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is a great post on sport climbing. It is beyond any doubt that Dean is a great instructor. I read this post because I am interested with the sport, and I also want to learn some basics of rock climbing. Those rules you learnt from Dean are very resourceful, thanks for sharing. I also checked out the following site on rock climbing knots: http://survival-mastery.com/skills/camp/rock-climbing-knots.html