We all know that lead-climbing can be dangerous. But when you’re toproping and walking around on a nice flat cliff top, it’s easy to forget the hazards and scramble around unroped. I have known two guides and one recreationalist who slipped over the edge this way — only one lived.
Toproping should not be risky. With the right gear, you can stay clipped in the entire time you’re near the edge. Here is a quick method of building equalized cliff-top anchors that will keep you from taking the plunge.
WHAT YOU NEED A long (up to 80 feet) single length of 9mm to 10mm static cord or webbing for building an equalized two-point anchor; two locking carabiners for the toprope anchor point; and a separate 30- to 40-foot length of cord to keep yourself safe near the edge. Plus gear for constructing the anchors, if needed.
BUILD SIDE-TO-SIDE ANCHORS Let’s assume you plan to use two solid anchor points for your toprope. Start by creating the first anchor — say, with a solid tree — by tying into it with one end of your static cord secured with a bowline or figure-8-follow-through. Now, before you even approach the edge, attach yourself to the anchor with a separate safety line (a short length of webbing or rope) tied just long enough that you can reach the edge. Even better, attach yourself to the safety line with a Grigri so you can self-belay yourself to the edge and back — just be sure to tie into the end of the line as usual so you don’t inadvertently rappel off it.
Scramble to the edge, being careful not to kick any rocks loose, and tie two figure-8s-on-a-bight side by side in the anchor rope just over the edge. Attach a locking carabiner to each bight so they are reversed and opposed, then clip the middle of your climbing rope through the biners and lock them. Yell “Rope!” and drop the climbing rope. Be sure that your anchor point extends over the edge, so your toprope in motion doesn’t rub or cut on it.
Now, move back from the edge to where you intend to construct your second anchor point. Once it’s built, pull up the anchor rope just enough to equalize it with the first anchor point (the weight of the hanging toprope should clue you in to when it’s equalized), and secure it to the anchor point with an easily adjusted clove hitch and locking biner. Be sure to cinch tight the clove hitch so it doesn’t slip.
Once you’re done building the anchor, leave your safety leash attached to the first anchor — it may be helpful when you take down the toprope or make adjustments. And be sure you’re safely away from the edge before unclipping from it.