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Top Rope Rigging For Top Access Crags

Original Post
Matt Skorina · · Bend, OR · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 30

There are a handful of crags that I go to where there is no nice approach to the bottom of the cliff. Often times I want to set a top rope anchor, and then rappel on that rope so I can top rope the climb. That is fine, but to minimize rope drag and rope wear I like to set the masterpoint over the edge of the cliff. That makes transitioning from the top of the cliff to rappel a little dicey because I clip the shelf or masterpoint (which is beneath me) with my personal anchor while standing on the cliff, then climb down until my personal anchor is weighted, at which point I get on rappel. That puts me at risk for a factor 2 fall onto a static leash (ouch!). It is also really awkward if there isn't a nice ledge or good foot holds. It's also intimidating for newer climbers.

Does anyone have ideas about how to manage this safer and easier? Some of my thoughts...

Set the masterpoint on the top of the cliff to ease the transition. Pad the lip to reduce rope wear, and just deal with the extra rope drag.

Separate dedicated rap line.

Use a short section of old climbing rope fixed to a bomber piece (tree) up top that you use to rap to the masterpoint, go in direct to your personal anchor, then rap on the top rope line.

tomW · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2011 · Points: 10

This book has an excellent solution for what you described. Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual (How To Climb Series) Paperback – May 20, 2014

Basically, create your anchor with a master point above the edge and below the edge. Fix a line to the master point above the edge and lower yourself to the other master point. Be sure to tie a knot on the end of this fixed line just below the lower master point. If you're going to rappel from the lower master point, I'd recommend pre-threading into it before you lower yourself.

Andy Nelson · · Fort Collins, Colorado · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 343

Added security for newer climbers making the transition from a fixed line to the TR can consist of autoblock/friction wrap, additional locking carabiner on the belay device, a belayed rappel from the high master point, and so on.

Or you just top-manage that stuff to begin with - which is in my mind, safer and easier.

Mike13 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 10

I've done this two ways. Set it up as a top belay (the only time my grigri comes out) or set up the rap prior to going over the edge with a third hand backup. That way if you do fall at least there is some amount of stretchy rope prior to loading any personal anchor. I also think its a thing that takes a little practice to get the hang of-I usually would sit on the edge and lean out til my rap is taught.

Trever O'Brien · · SD · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 25

I agree with tomW. Look at the single pitch instructor manual it is helpful. I use the instructor tether method out of the book. I use a 150 ft static line for my TR anchors which allows me to extend my anchors if I need to and also gives me enough rope to rap on the instructor tether (single line of course with a stopper knot and a third hand) to the bottom without transitioning. The hikes are short so the I don't worry about the weight of the extra rope. If I do not have enough rope to get to the bottom I will rap down the tether just below my master point and transition over to my TR rope. Works pretty well and its fast if you don't have to transition. I don't know what you use for your anchors but a static line is worth the investment if you can put use to it. I would not recommend running your rope over the edge at all even with protection you will have more friction than you may think which will wear your rope pretty quick. Belay from the top rather than having your rope running the edge.

Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268

Added security for newer climbers making the transition from a fixed line to the TR can consist of autoblock/friction wrap,

This and test it out on top, tie a safety knot below the device, then Batman yourself down below the master point until there is tension on the rap device. Untie safety knot and rap with your third hand. Simple. Situation may arise where master point is too far from starting point, use common sense with this method.
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Yeah, that's a pretty common dilemma with top-set anchors. I've pulled the masterpoint up before and put myself on rappel from the top...that way, if you do drop suddenly, it's on dynamic rope, not a static are right to want to avoid falling on that. An autoblock is a very good idea for this. As long as you are careful to maintain the direction of pull, your anchors should still have equal tension once you get below the masterpoint. Alternatively, you could also go on direct to the shelf like you said but with a shorter tether (clip higher loops if you have a PAS), that way the masterpoint hangs normally and you're not ever on a static line with slack.

If you can, you might be better off just walking down rather than dealing with rappel shenanigans.

wivanoff · · Northeast, USA · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 487

There are a handful of crags that I go to where there is no nice approach to the bottom of the cliff. Often times I want to set a top rope anchor, and then rappel on that rope so I can top rope the climb.

Why wouldn't you just top manage the belay?

That's what most people do at sea cliffs - when not leading. The TR you see in the gym is the not only way.
bearbreeder · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 3,065

The "proper" way ....

Setup a dedicated rap line above you tie a stopper knot ...blah blah blah

The reality when you dont have higher anchor points, arent going to drag another rope, or are getting a ton of TR solo laps in and not resetting another rap line for everyone ...

Just get a dynamic leash, set up yr rappel, tie it off and hand lower yourself over ... Dont fall


Fortuna Wolf · · Durham, NC · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 20

two ways
A dedicated belay device (an old tuber for cheap) permanently attached to a 20' length of old rope with knots at each end. One knot has a locking biner you attach to an anchor. Use as a personal anchor when setting up the top rope and belay to the end of it and set up the top rope belay and then take off the belay anchor. It will be there when you get up to the top to clip into and climb over the top. If you have the money for it, use an assisted locking belay device.

Or just leave your PAS attached to one of the anchors at the top and hanging over the edge and clip into that when you climb up.

Matt Skorina · · Bend, OR · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 30

Thanks for the feedback!

I have a full 60m static line which could be used to build anchors and provide a full length separate rap line. It just seems a little excessive for times when a 30ft cordalette will work.

tomW, when you rap in on separate short line with a pre-rigged rap device on the top rope does each person need 2 separate devices? Or maybe leave 1 ATC on the separate line that can be reused by each person.

Mike13, I like the idea of prerigging the rap before going over the edge. I think if you your atc is positioned close to the masterpoint with an autoblock below and you fell while above that it would still be a pretty hard catch because very little dynamic rope is in the system. But the slip of the atc before the autoblock catches would probably make it softer than a fall on dyneema. I'll try that next time (but not the falling).

wivanoff, its a lot more comfortable to do a bottom top rope belay that belay from the top where the masterpoint is at your feet. Its also much easier to see the climber, and makes it possible to lead the climb, clip the anchor and lower down so someone else can top rope it. There are situations where I will top belay, especially on the "sea" cliffs of Lake Superior. I usually have the climber do a belayed rappel and when they get to the bottom they are already on belay and good to climb without having to run a loaded rope over the edge if I just lowered them.

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

I'm not sure why anyone would have a separate belay device specifically for rapping to the master point. Just rap down to the master point then clip your tether to the master point/shelf and set your new rappel from the master point. You only need one belay device this way and if you have multiple people then they don't have to pull up and reset the belay device on the top rappel line.

Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268

In order of danger as I see it.
1. Separate rap line.
2. Test rappel on flat ground, back it up and batman down until you are below the master point.
3. Rap to the master point and then attempt to switch rappel strands ( exiting and re-entering the safety system ) while you are dangling off a cliff.

Seems like so much could go wrong with #3.

Brady3 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2014 · Points: 15

Rick, your #3 is no different than doing a serious of rappels, such as off of some multi-pitch climbs. But yea, if he has a 60m static rope that is a suitable diameter to rappel on than that would be the easiest thing to do. Especially if he has other people to help carry all the gear.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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