Rock Climbing Essentials: How to Set a Bolted Top Rope Anchor

rock climbing
Photo: Makasana Photo/Shutterstock

The first few times you venture outside of a climbing gym, chances are your climbing partners will be the ones setting you up and helping you climb—but just like you should always bait your own hook, it’s better to get your hands dirty right away.

Setting up a bolted top rope is a pretty easy and essential lesson as long as you have safe access to the top of the cliff where the bolt anchors are placed. Even if you have stable footing, always anchor yourself to a deep-rooted tree or crack nearby with a safety sling before you begin (because when you’re looking down from the top of a cliff, it’s always better to be safe than sorry). And remember to practice with an expert before trying this on your own.

Gear you’ll need: Four carabiners, two pre-sewn slings, and a climbing rope.

All photos by Brandon Scherzberg.
All photos by Brandon Scherzberg.

Step 1: Check your bolts (they may sometimes be attached to heavy metal chains). They should be in good, clean rock, free of major damage. Wiggle them to make sure they’re tight and only attempt to set up a top rope if you trust the bolt job.


Step 2: Clip in two carabiners to the bolts or to the end of each chain. Clip the slings into each biner if they aren’t there already. If you’re using locking biners, lock them now so you won’t miss this step later. Double-check yourself (again, you don’t want to be sorry later).


Step 3: Clip the remaining carabiners to the bottom of the slings, making sure the gates of each biner are facing outward and away from each other.


Step 4: Clip the center of your climbing rope through both of the bottom biners. If you’re using locking biners, lock them now.


Step 5: Give the rope a strong tug to double check that your slings are weighted evenly and all of your biners are placed correctly. Feed the rope through your belay device and get ready to rappel down the cliff—don’t forget to place all of your weight on the bolted anchor system before unclipping from your safety anchor.


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