Top and bottom roping in traditional climbing

Top and bottom roping in traditional climbing

If you don't want to lead you can climb using a top-rope or bottom-rope system. These are fairly straightforward to set up as long as you consider a few basics.

 Some days you may not feel like leading, or perhaps you want to try a harder route, so you may choose to top-rope. This involves setting up anchors at the top of the route and dropping the rope down. If the belayer stays at the top of the crag it is known as top-roping. If you organise it to belay from the base of the crag it is sometimes called bottom-roping although, confusingly, some still refer to this as top-roping.

Bottom-roping is slightly more complex to set up, but once it's ready to go it enables quick swapping between climbing and belaying

Basic principles
  • Consider other climbers. For example, don't stay on one route all day - if it looks like some one else wants to climb it let them have a turn too.
  • Always select bombproof anchors, as you would if you were leading.
  • It's normally obvious where the route goes when you're standing at the bottom but much less so when peering over the top of the crag. Leave a rucksack clearly visible in line with the route at the crag base.
  • Approaching the top of the route is not always straightforward. Beware of loose rock and scrambling around unroped.
  • Safeguard yourself while setting up. Place an anchor well back from the edge and attach yourself to this while you move around close to the edge.
Top-roping

Think of it as though you'd just led the pitch so you are already tied onto the end of the rope:

1 Select appropriate anchors.
2 Attach yourself using a combination of slings and the rope.
3 Position yourself where you can see, are comfortable and supported by the anchors.
4 Before throwing the rope down note any other climbers and loose rock and shout 'Below!'
5 Use a belay device attached to the rope tie in loop and the climbing calls to communicate.
6 When your partner arrives have a system for making them safe. Either let them climb past you to the crag top or tie into the anchors next to you and swap over.

Bottom-roping

This is slightly more complex to set up, but once it's ready to go it enables quick swapping between climbing and belaying. On cold, windy days it is more comfortable to belay in shelter at the base of the route than to stand shivering at the top.

1. Select appropriate anchors - be wary of using cams, once the system is running you won't be able to see what's happening at the top and cams can walk into cracks.
2. Equalise anchors using slings or an extra rope (low stretch rope is ideal as rigging rope, otherwise use a single rope)
3. Make sure the central point is just down over the edge otherwise there will be too much friction in the system.
4. Use rope protectors or padding anywhere the rope is rubbing against rock.
5. Use a screwgate karabiner to hang the climbing rope from.
6. Get someone to weight the ropes while you're still at the top so you can see how it all looks and make any adjustments.

Bottom-roping works best on steep crags with good anchors and solid rock. It does not work so well on long, easy or loose routes. Also avoid bottom-roping on multipitch routes or those that are busy with lead climbers.

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