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How to Clean Sport Climbing Anchors   

Tagged in: Anchors, Beginners, Sport Climbing
by Julie Ellison
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One of the best parts about sport climbing is its utter simplicity: Clip some bolts as you climb, and - well, that’s pretty much it. The most complicated part is cleaning the anchors; in other words, threading your rope through the rings or chains at the top so you can lower down, grab your draws, and not leave any gear behind. This procedure is potentially dangerous because you may have to untie from your harness and retie after threading - and mistakes happen. We learned the following technique from Rick Vance, technical information manager at Petzl, and we like it because it’s simple, clean, quick, and your partner never takes you off belay. You'll need two quickdraws and one extra locking carabiner.

Rock Climbing Photo: Cleaning Sport Anchors

Cleaning Sport Anchors
When you get to the top, clip one quickdraw to each bolt or ring/chain, with the bottom biner gates facing in opposite directions. Clip your rope into the right-hand draw, and clip the left draw directly into your belay loop. (You may have to pull up on one of the draws to get your body close enough to the anchors.) Slowly sit back in your harness; the left draw should support all of your weight. Find a comfortable position to work on the anchor. (Fig. 1)

Have your partner keep you on belay throughout the process. Ask for some slack and pull a long bight of the rope that runs between your tie-in knot and the right-hand quickdraw, keeping the rope clipped through that draw. Tie an overhand or figure eight on the bight, and clip that knot back to your belay loop with a locking biner. (Fig. 2) Ask your belayer to take in any slack, but not so much that it pulls you up into the anchor. Now, as long as your belayer keeps you on, the knot clipped to your belay loop acts as a backup to the draw you’re clipped directly into.

Untie your tie-in knot (usually the figure eight follow-through) completely. Thread the end of the rope through the bottom of both chains or rings (the specifics will depend on each anchor’s setup and wear), then retie your figure eight follow-through on the tie-in points on your harness. Double check that the rope runs smoothly through both pieces of the anchor and that your knot is tied correctly and dressed properly. (Fig. 3)

Unclip the locking biner from your belay loop and untie the knot it was clipped to. Recheck that the rope is running through both pieces of the anchor and that your tie-in knot is correct and dressed. Have your belayer take in slack until you can pull up toward the anchor and test the system by weighting the rope without unclipping from the draw.

Once you’re 100 percent sure that you’re good to go, remind your belayer again to “take,” remove both draws, and clip them to your harness. Because you’re fully weighting the rope, the draws should be easy to unclip. Now you’re ready to be lowered and get your gear!

Note: Lowering off the anchors is a common practice, but keep in mind that the friction from dirty ropes wears anchors very quickly, especially in high-traffic areas. Always check the anchors for excess wear before you lower off, and consider rappelling instead of lowering to preserve the anchors and your rope.

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Comments on How to Clean Sport Climbing Anchors Add Comment
By Alexander
From: Los Angeles
Jun 18, 2014
Wait. Does this mean your partner is lowering you off the anchor rings? Then that means you are adding wear to the anchors the rope is running through. That's a lot of wear on a long route and with dirty rope, especially when your partner is lowering you quickly. Before you know it, the route setter has to replace the chains/rings.

Rappel. This is the only way to keep the anchors intact.
By Adam Fern
From: San Diego, CA
Jun 18, 2014
I second Alexander's comment.
By Damian Herman
From: Denver, CO
Jun 18, 2014
Hence the note at the bottom.
By rr12
Jun 18, 2014
Inexperienced climbers should understand that in many sport climbing areas it is considered bad form to lower off anchors. Over time it wears out the fixed gear necessitating costly and time consuming replacement. So, it is generally a much better idea to learn to rappel. It is easy and only takes an extra minute or two to set up. You will also save excessive rope wear caused by running your rope over old rough fixed anchors and looking like someone that doest care about the people that have spent their hard earned money and time establishing the route.
By dave bingham
Jun 18, 2014
I'm surprised the diagram shows draws being clipped in to the same chain link as the threaded rope. That's fine if there are rings, but running the rope and a draw thru the same chain link is like an elephant humping a chipmunk.

While the overall sequence is fine, it's a bit slow, and certainly not the only safe option when threading.
By Jake R.
From: Truckee, California
Jun 19, 2014
looks like a long process, just bring an anchor system on your harness. anchor in. untie and set up a rappel.
By H2O
Aug 20, 2014
Why can't people just read the all the comments before making a comment that is covered in the article.
By Wayne Polcin
Sep 25, 2014
This is a good instructional option for cleaning a sport anchor. It highlights preparation, redundancy, communication, patience and redundancy - did I already say that? The note at the end of the article clearly identifies this method as potentially harmful to the fixed gear. I wouldn't recommend using this method on public routes either, but any beta on easy and safe options is always good food for thought and conversation. As for the time it takes to safely deploy this method, I would say it's not a significant factor on a sport route. Bottom line: rappel, but always have a safe option.
By John Fatseas
From: Denver, CO
Oct 19, 2014
Lowering off the rings is not as bad as many people make it sound. It could possibly reduce the overall life of the rings by a couple years - for a ring that's designed to last 20+ years... Also, I support and donate to Access Fund, who (in my local climbing areas) check and replace fixed gear regularly.
By Daniel Joder
From: Boulder, CO
Dec 22, 2016
Continuing Fatseas' thought...I would add that in certain areas they would actually prefer that the last climber lower off of the rings/chains/hooks rather than rappel. Why do it this way? Generally, it is seen as safer (lower accident probability than untying and setting up a rappel) Also, crags that see a lot of use and thus often have the anchor gear regularly inspected and replaced are where you might see this policy. So, check the ethic (might be in the local guidebook, or ask knowledgeable locals) at whatever crag you are at. But, yes, a rappel saves wear and it is what I would do if in doubt about local rules. Whatever you do, just be careful, double-check how you are tied in while fussing about the anchor, and communicate with your belayer.

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