What to consider when setting up a top-rope on an exposed formation

rock climbing, rock climbing outdoors, top-rope
Photography by: Elias Silvas

We asked this climber a series of questions on why and how she set up this top-rope anchor:

How come you chose to set up this anchor from the top?

“It’s the end of the day and I am too tired to lead it.”

What options did you have?

“I had three options; trad lead a pretty easy 5.8 dihedral, sport lead a well protected 5.11a, or simply walk to the top. Being relatively tired at the end of the day, I chose the third option thinking it would be the easier of the the three.”

This rock formation seems to be on an overhanging edge. How did you manage to build your anchor?

“After scrambling up I realized that the top of this formation was very narrow and exposed. To get to the main bolts, I had to worm my way to the edge of the formation to avoid tripping over my own shadow; as high up as I had already gone I was not going to turn back.  Once there, I got to work; my anchor consisted of a large sling doubled up, two opposed locking carabiners on a magic-x for the master point, and limiting knots for redundancy.”

Did you secure yourself somehow?

“With all the climbing rope and anchoring gear I had on me, creating a back end anchor and securing myself would be a little complicated; the thought came to mind: ‘What would MacGyver do?’ so I wrapped two giant boulders with one end of the rope, attached myself to it with a prusik knot that I attached to my harness, then started my worm trek to the edge. You can’t really see it on the photo, but it’s there. Being as high up as I was and as scared of heights as I am, laying on a narrow block of rock was a tad scary for me, but the back end anchor I was attached to gave me much confidence.”

Was this setup easier than the alternative choices?

“Not at all. Setting the rope from the top was definitely much faster, but more complex than the alternative. However, I didn’t need to gear up for a trad lead, nor did I need to hunt down a good lead-belayer.”

With this experience, would you build this anchor from the top again?

“Probably, yes. I like facing complex situations when it comes to anchor building, since set ups can vary from crag to crag. I try to go for the best course of action that will keep me safe at all times and this scenario will probably not be the last I will encounter.”

If you were using the rope itself to secure yourself, how and when did you switch it for the top-rope?

“After passing the other end of the rope through the master point and throwing enough of the rope down to make it to the ground, I did the reverse worm crawl back to a secure area, untied the two boulders and threw the other half of the rope over. I think MacGyver would have given me a high five. Haha”

Were you setting this top-rope for yourself?

“No. I was too tired at this point of the day, but wanted all others who still had energy left to enjoy it. When you look at the big picture, this anchor had 2 or 3 really fun routes making this corner one of the favorites of the day.” 

rock climbing outdoors, rock climbing
Photography by: Elias Silvas