The Ten Rules of Toproping

Finnegan gets ready for his first toprope with “Auntie B.” Pictures-see number 9 below-are acceptable (encouraged) if you’re this adorable. Photo courtesy of Brandi Horn.

Hayden Kennedy gave the closing keynote presentation at this year’s International Climbers’ Festival in Lander, Wyoming. His topic: The 10 Rules of Alpinism. His presentation was by far the best, as he didn’t stumble over his words like several other athletes, despite being more than a handful of beers deep, and he talked humorously about alpinism instead of just presenting on his accomplishments and how awesome they are—though they’re pretty awesome.

This led me to the idea for “The 10 Rules of Toproping,” since I’m less rad than Hayden and know a lot more about toproping (TRing) than Alpinism.

Hayden approved the idea, so here you go:

  1. Don’t toprope. If you’re trying to look like the strongman/woman at the crag—or, perhaps, are trying to impress a member of the opposite sex—then don’t TR. You simply won’t look like a pro when you’re sitting on the rope ever five seconds even after letting your buddy give you a boost through the crux.
  2. In the case of overhung routes, toprope through the draws. Don’t be that kid who takes a 20-foot swing into a tree because you fell at the second draw TRing an overhung route. Even if there aren’t any trees or other obstacles you’ll swing into, getting back on the route will be impossible. Don’t be lazy; pulling the rope through also helps even the wear on the rope, and you’ll have less rope drag as move up the route and unclip each draw.
  3. DO NOT TOPROPE OFF THE ANCHORS. Hang your own quickdraws off the anchors instead of putting unnecessary wear on the quickclips. Only clean the draws and lower (or rappel) off the anchors when you’re done.
  4. Don’t take it too seriously. You’re not tied into the sharp end, so enjoy the flow of the climb as you discover your beta. Don’t yell at your belayer to “take” when you get nervous or get frustrated when they accidentally lower your two inches below the last hold you reached. And don’t, whatever you do, make excuses for why you’re TRing to make yourself seem more competent. It won’t work. Just have fun with some stress-free climbing.
  5. Stick-clipping up a route = more complicated toproping. Sometimes you really want to TR a route to work out the moves without whipping five times from every bolt, but you aren’t climbing with someone strong enough to run up it and hang a rope for you. This is where the stick-clip TR technique comes in: Stick-clip the first bolt and climb to it, bringing your stick-clip with you. Stop. Go in hard with a quickdraw. Stick-clip the next bolt. Go back on belay, and climb up (or pull up) to the second bolt. Stop, and go in hard. Stick-clip up to the third bolt. Repeat until you reach the chains.
  6. Know when to employ toprope aid climbing. If you’ve fallen thrutching for the same move 15 times in a row, you might want to employ some “TR aid,” that is if you ever want your belayer to let you TR his/her project ever again. The simplest form of TR aid is the boost: Have your belayer take in all the slack before you fall and sit back even when you start climbing again, continuing to help pull you up the route as you try the sequence with weight off. Think of it like getting a power-spot. Another method is the “nylon-jung,” where you pull on the dogbone of the quickdraw above you or the other side of the rope (going to your belayer) to skip a difficult section.
  7. Don’t hate on toproping. If you’re going to do it, don’t hate on it. Even if you’re not going to do it, some of us prefer to work out moves without taking 75 whips on one route—it’s better for the rope.
  8. Don’t use toproping as an excuse to stop leading. Sure it’s nice to not worry about taking a whip, but don’t let TRing become your norm. Dial in difficult, scary sequences on TR, but let that give you confidence to then lead the route clean. You can even pretend to clip on TR to give you confidence that you’ll make each clip on the sharp end.
  9. Don’t take (too many) pictures. Rock and Ice does not put any pictures of TRing in its magazine. So if you want to impress the Instagram climbing community, don’t post too many TR pictures; save it for your leads.
  10. Just have fun climbing! Whether you’re TRing or not, don’t get so worked up about sending your project that climbing becomes just another thing to check off your To Do List.  Take a minute to remember why you’re out at the crag and have fun! You never know, maybe if you take a little pressure off and focus purely on the movement, you’ll loosen up enough to send.

Originally published August 10, 2015, on 

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