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how not to build a toprope anchor


Original Post
rafael · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 50

So I climbed up to the top of 90 foot wall a month ago, and I saw this anchor. It wasnt equalized at all, and all the weight of the toproping kids was on the locker that was stacked on top of the other. There was a third bolt literally 3 inches from this double biner'ed bolt, so why the guy put 2 biners onto one bolt is totally incomprehensible. So, here is this single locker, pulled onto a second (non-locking) biner so it torques the bolt, putting outward pressure on it. Theres a second non-locker, which is placed such that its gate was getting opened by a rock feature, and was likely going to be opened more as the toproping train kept going.

 And, the worst part was there were lots of kids (literally children and teenagers) running laps on this thing. The guy was leading some sort of group, they had rented (or gotten loaned) gear from the sacramento climbing gym. 

The leader was informed that this anchor and the one next to it made all non-lockers were sketch, he was not grateful to be told this and gave us the stinkeye the rest of the morning.

Takehome message to build less awful anchors: 

1) if kids are going to run many laps the anchor should be perfect

2) equalize the anchor

3) never put torque on a bolt, downward force is fine, outward is a big nonononononono NO NO

4) Lockers are good, and but if you must use a non-locker, (quickdraw, etc) DONT place it such that its gate is held open, biners get destroyed this way, they are way weaker when open 

5) more than 2 bolts? Pick the best 2 to use, or consider using all 3

6) Listen to more experienced climbers when they tell you your anchor is bad

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 877

Sounds like someone just finished reading some anchor books and got up on his soap box.  So, tell us how much outward force a good bolt can withstand since it is a big nononono? How do you know the bolts are not load sharing?  

Mae Rae · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2011 · Points: 15
rafael wrote:

6) Listen to more experienced climbers when they tell you your anchor is bad

It's not a textbook setup, but it's not going to fail.

I hope the kids had fun.

Stagg54 Taggart · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 10
Dave Kos wrote:

It's not a textbook setup, but it's not going to fail.

I hope the kids had fun.

Based on what was presented, that would be my opinion as well...

Ben Williams · · van · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35

I agree with point #5. If you have 3 bolts, why not use all of them? 

rafael · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 50
Greg D wrote:

Sounds like someone just finished reading some anchor books and got up on his soap box.  So, tell us how much outward force a good bolt can withstand since it is a big nononono? How do you know the bolts are not load sharing?  

I felt the slings, only the one was loaded, and it was getting worked constantly by the many people toproping. 

Its not a question of max force, its the repetitive outward force thats a problem. You seriously dont think that a constant stream of people building this and working a single bolt outward is a problem? And the kids were falling constantly, its not like a toprope anchor that only takes a bit of tension here and there. 

rafael · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 50

and maybe this particular bolt was OK, but I doubt a newbie has the experience to be able to judge the quality of bolts, so they should not be loading them like that or building anchors like this. Hence posting this in beginner climbers section

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 877

Have you ever seen people climb and fall repeatedly on an over hanging sport route?  Way more force than Jr with braces taking a tr fall.  Outward force nonetheless.  

Go to bed.  There is no perfect anchor.  This one is not going to get anybody killed.  

rafael · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 50
Greg D wrote:

Have you ever seen people climb and fall repeatedly on an over hanging sport route?  Way more force than Jr with braces taking a tr fall.

yes, and those falls typically put downward force on the bolt, and usually not with such a constant stream of falls.

This biner was put such that it was torquing the bolt with outward force. And why? two biners on the same bolt? it makes no sense, the second biner on the bolt is worse than pointless

And the non-locker getting opened by the rock when if it was flipped it would be fine?

Greg D · · Here · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 877

Umm.  Lead fall on over hanging rock yields a fair amount of outward force.  Way, way more than this top rope.  And it is a single bolt taking all of the load in a lead fall.

The anchor is not great but adequate for the purpose.  

Skye Swoboda-Colberg · · Laradise, Dornans, Bham, Cr… · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 115

If this was an accident waiting to happen, there would be a lot more accidents. You get a look at the master point?

Chris Walden · · Soldotna, Alaska · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 630

From what I can see and guessing (since we can't see the rope attachment/master point) is that he setup a top-rope with two non-lockers (totally fine here) and possibly ran a sling with the locker as backup?  If that's the case then the locker/sling combo might not even be weighted just serving as a backup either way, totally legit.  Possibly the sling with the locker wouldn't reach the third bolt as it would be solely weighting the top rope setup so he clipped into the anchor shown here?  I have seen some #jiveassanchors but this doesn't look to be one...

Just saw this in Africa on Mt. Kenya this will kill you!

My friend plucked the lower piton out with two fingers and the top one came out with pulling force. 

Skye Swoboda-Colberg · · Laradise, Dornans, Bham, Cr… · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 115

Lol, an American Death Triangle in Africa...

Chris Walden · · Soldotna, Alaska · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 630
Skye Swoboda-Colberg wrote:

Lol, an American Death Triangle in Africa...

Exactly they didn't want to feel left out - Africa Death Triangle... 

Ben Williams · · van · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35

Also worth mentioning, at max the kids will be putting 3kn of force onto a single bolt. If a bolt can't handle repetitive 3kn forces in any direction of pull then i should probably stop sport climbing

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2
rafael wrote:

So I climbed up to the top of 90 foot wall a month ago, and I saw this anchor. It wasnt equalized at all, and all the weight of the toproping kids was on the locker that was stacked on top of the other. There was a third bolt literally 3 inches from this double biner'ed bolt, so why the guy put 2 biners onto one bolt is totally incomprehensible. So, here is this single locker, pulled onto a second (non-locking) biner so it torques the bolt, putting outward pressure on it. Theres a second non-locker, which is placed such that its gate was getting opened by a rock feature, and was likely going to be opened more as the toproping train kept going.

 And, the worst part was there were lots of kids (literally children and teenagers) running laps on this thing. The guy was leading some sort of group, they had rented (or gotten loaned) gear from the sacramento climbing gym. 

The leader was informed that this anchor and the one next to it made all non-lockers were sketch, he was not grateful to be told this and gave us the stinkeye the rest of the morning.

Takehome message to build less awful anchors: 

1) if kids are going to run many laps the anchor should be perfect

2) equalize the anchor

3) never put torque on a bolt, downward force is fine, outward is a big nonononononono NO NO

4) Lockers are good, and but if you must use a non-locker, (quickdraw, etc) DONT place it such that its gate is held open, biners get destroyed this way, they are way weaker when open 

5) more than 2 bolts? Pick the best 2 to use, or consider using all 3

6) Listen to more experienced climbers when they tell you your anchor is bad

While we can't actually see the rope-attachment point, the rest of this looks acceptable to me as a top-rope anchor.


1. I might prefer locking biners everywhere -- but even without the locking biner on one side, this is fine.

2. Equalization on bolts is irrelevant.  Redundancy -- if one bolt fails (or sling, or biner, or whatever), there will be another.  From what we can see, this is just fine on equalization.

3. Say what?  Bolts are rated for both outward force and downward force.  And, in fact, both of these hookups do not appear to be putting any levering force on the bolt.  

4. Gate held open?  Do you mean the non-locker that is with the locker?

5. Why complicate the anchor using three bolts?  Simple is better.  Maybe they did pick the best 2.  Maybe they picked the two that left the master-point where they wanted it.

6. Their anchor wasn't bad.  Are you sure you were the more experienced climber?

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 195

Why wear one bullet-proof vest when you can wear two?

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,249
rafael wrote:

So I climbed up to the top of 90 foot wall a month ago, and I saw this anchor. It wasnt equalized at all, and all the weight of the toproping kids was on the locker that was stacked on top of the other. There was a third bolt literally 3 inches from this double biner'ed bolt, so why the guy put 2 biners onto one bolt is totally incomprehensible. So, here is this single locker, pulled onto a second (non-locking) biner so it torques the bolt, putting outward pressure on it. Theres a second non-locker, which is placed such that its gate was getting opened by a rock feature, and was likely going to be opened more as the toproping train kept going.

 And, the worst part was there were lots of kids (literally children and teenagers) running laps on this thing. The guy was leading some sort of group, they had rented (or gotten loaned) gear from the sacramento climbing gym. 

The leader was informed that this anchor and the one next to it made all non-lockers were sketch, he was not grateful to be told this and gave us the stinkeye the rest of the morning.

Takehome message to build less awful anchors: 

1) if kids are going to run many laps the anchor should be perfect

2) equalize the anchor

3) never put torque on a bolt, downward force is fine, outward is a big nonononononono NO NO

4) Lockers are good, and but if you must use a non-locker, (quickdraw, etc) DONT place it such that its gate is held open, biners get destroyed this way, they are way weaker when open 

5) more than 2 bolts? Pick the best 2 to use, or consider using all 3

6) Listen to more experienced climbers when they tell you your anchor is bad

This has got to be one of the least alarming anchors I've ever seen, I'd be happy to TR on that anchor any day and would even be happy to take many TR falls without a single worry about the outward force applied to that bolt.

Beean · · Canmore, AB · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 0

I give anyone who comments on my anchors the stinkeye too. This anchor looks a bit messy but appears to be otherwise fine. 


Posts like this are why I like reading MP.

James Schroeder · · Sauk County, WI · Joined May 2002 · Points: 3,108

I see nothing to be alarmed about here. Granted, there might be some unseen issues with the where and/or how of the masterpoint, but I'd seriously doubt it based on what I can see. And, other than it's probably an unnecessary redundancy (again, hard to judge based on the photos), I see no problem with the additional locker. 

Louis Weiher · · Milwaukee, WI · Joined May 2015 · Points: 6

I'm pretty sure the OP would have a heart attack inspecting anchors at Devils Lake......    

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Beginning Climbers
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