What is Top Rope Climbing?

In general there are two types of rock climbing that most people start with when beginning the sport. Bouldering, climbing short climbs with out a rope and crash pad below you and top roping. Top roping is a great way to begin learning about rope climbing. The risk is relatively low and dangers are managed easily. On guided top rope climbing trips I generally tell my clients the most dangerous part of their day will be driving to the climbing site, not the rock climbing itself.

The top rope climbing system is also called a “sling shot setup.” The way it works is that 80 to 100 feet up the rock there is an anchor, often built by a guide using cams and stoppers, or using permanent bolts and hangers. One end of the rope is tied to the climber’s harness using a figure eight follow thru, usually, and then runs up the rock, thru the anchor, and back down the rock to the belayer (see labeled picture below). The belayer will have a belay device (i.e. Gri-gri, atc, stich plate, etc) that the rope runs thru and is clipped to the belayer’s harness.

Top Rope Climbing

As the climber goes up the rock, the belayer will take in rope thru their belay device, thus keeping the rope relatively tight/snug on the climber. In the event the climber falls, the belayer will hold the rope in the brake position, to stop the climber’s fall. “Most” of the time the climber will only really fall the stretch of the rope. In rock climbing we use dynamic ropes that have 6% to 8% stretch.  This means that if there is 100 feet of rope in the system the rope will stretch, roughly, 6 to 8 feet. The amount of stretch is, of course, dependent upon the weight of the climber.

Now, the frequent question asked is if I weigh 125 pounds as the belayer and the climber weighs 200 pounds, how will I hold them if they fall.  Every time the rope bends, the amount of weight the belayer holds is reduced. When the rope bends thru the anchor and again thru the belay device the weight is eventually reduced to roughly 15 to 25% of the actual body weight of the climber when the belayer is in brake position. When the weight of the belayer is substantially less than the climber I often tie them to a ground anchor so they are not picked up off the ground. The amount of weight they hold in their brake hand remains minimal, but the counter weight can still pick a belayer off the ground in a climber’s fall.

To let the climber down the belayer simply lets the rope slowly slide thru their hands, while still in brake position, to lower the climber to the ground in a controlled manor.

This article in no way is to act as a substitue for professional training or mentorship.  By reading this article alone you will not be considered ready to top rope rock climb on your own. This article is meant to educate and help climbers and aspiring climbers understand the general concept of tope rope rock climbing.  To get instruction in top rope climbing contact BRG Guides or another legitimate rock climbing guide service.

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