Starting Out – No.5 – Making the transistion Outdoors

In the previous articles we looked at equipment, risk and protection. This time we look at turning those placements into belays, as well as the fundemental principles that are associated with belays. As well as looking after yourself, crag and the rope when rigging bottom roping systems.

The first thing is in order to climb outside you need to be able to find firstly the crag, secondly the climb and thirdly the top of that climb. This is typically done by using a guidebook. The research should start at home, read and taking in the information so that you drive straight to the crag, without the inevitable hour driving around the vicinity of the crag. However UKC now has a Google earth facility, showing you a map and/or satellite image of where the crag you are going to is.

When approaching the crag use this time to look at the guidebook, and identify the section of crag you are looking for whilst you have an overview of the whole crag. It is often far more difficult with the limited view you get stood at the bottom of the crag. Having found the start of your route you need to then find the top of it, by either leaving a bag just out from the base, or a friend at the bottom. Alternatively there may be a obvious feature you can identify from above.

From here you need to identify the approach to the top of the crag. This might well be a serious scramble, so remember to take care. Having found the top of the crag, and then your route you need to identify a useful selection of gear. I do this by putting my arms out in front of me with my back to the cliff but not right on the edge, to narrow down where to place protection. Alternatively imagine a V projected on the ground with the point at the point where the climb top out.

Having done this you now need to place a selection of gear, and assess its suitability in terms of will it hold a fall? You then link them with a rope and slings to make a strong point over the edge of the cliff at the top of the route. Which the centre of the climbing rope is clipped to, coiled and then thrown down the cliff.

Before we go further into the rope systems we need to look at the underlying key principles that any belay we construct employs. These fundamental principles should be applicable to any belay you make, at any point in you climbing career. They might not employ the same rope system but the principles will be the same.

This article looks specifically at rigging bottom roping systems, as such you will need two ropes, one for rigging at the top and another to climb on. The rigging rope can be another climbing rope, or you can buy static rope, ideally the rigging rope needs to be 20-30 metres, depending on the crags you climb on, at some place the anchors are further back than others.


This stands for anchor – belayer/belay – climber. You need to get all three in a straight line so that in the event of a fall the system stays equalised, and the belay, belayer or climber don’t get dragged across the crag.

IDEAS Principles

This is part of an acronym IDEAS.

I – Independent

D – Directional

E – Equalised

A – Angles

S – Solid

So in a more descriptive form it mean that if one of the belay points fail the others are totally independent and under equal tension so sharing the load. The whole system from anchors to the strong point is pointing in the right direction and the angle between the anchors is ideally under 90 degrees. On top of this the anchors are solid.

We will cover this more practically later, and refer back.

Rigging Bottom Rope Exercises

Either at home, bottom of a crag or at the climbing wall equalise a sling that is clipped into two points, These could be banisters, chair or table legs. When you have done it apply a little tension to the system and see if it equalised, if it is the tension will be the same on either anchor. See diagrams.

1. Over-hand on bight.

2. Overhand in sling.

Now use a rope to link two points. Again apply a little tension to see if the system is equalised.

If you can find enough points to use, now equalise a sling on two points and then try and equalise the rope into the equalised point of the sling. These systems can get more and more complex, although with a little thought, it is often easy to incorperate up to four anchors into one top roping system.

Practicing these skills in a safe environment means that when at the top of the crag with very real dangers you won’t have to be thinking as much about the ropework, instead you can concentrate on your personal safety.

When you put all this into practice at the top of the cliff, the central strong point needs to be extended over the cliff edge, this helps stop erosion of the rock, the rope jamming and damage to the climbing rope. To protect the rigging ropes you can get and off cut of carpet to place under the ropes where it goes over the edge. This protecting the ropes is essential if the rock has sharp edges, as those edges can literally saw through the rope.

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