Clean sport anchors by lowering - New AAC guidelines


The sport climbing anchor debate of “should I lower, or should I rappel” debate has raged back-and-forth over many years.  It’s not my wish to fan these flames.

But, shared here as more of an FYI, public service announcement, the American Alpine Club (AAC) has officially come out with the stance that they support lowering.

Summary of reasons:

  • Changing from one safety system to another (from belaying to rappelling), and the potential for communication errors regarding whether a climber is on or off belay, has contributed to many accidents

  • The climber is never untied from the rope, which means they never have a chance to drop it

  • No additional specialty gear, such as a rappel device, extra carabiners, daisy chain, tether, or PAS, is required

  • The well intentioned rationale for rapping is usually to avoid putting wear and tear on the anchors, but the AAC calls this “. . . misplaced sense of stewardship that seeks to preserve anchor hardware.” Modern anchor hardware is extremely robust, and ideally meant to be easily replaced

The AAC anchor cleaning method is described here, with a nice explanation and step-by-step photos.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. The second climber climbs the route, cleaning gear as needed.

  2. The second climber arrives at the anchor, and clips temporarily with a quickdraw from their belay loop to a solid part of the anchor.

  3. Remaining on belay, the second pulls up a large bight of rope, and feeds it through the anchor hardware meant for lowering.

  4. The second ties a figure 8 loop onto the bight, and clips it to their belay loop with a locking carabiner.

  5. The second then unties their main tie in knot from their harness, and pulls the tail of the rope through the chains.

  6. The second cleans the anchor from the bolts.

  7. The second calls for tension from the belayer, tests that the system looks right and is holding, removes their quick draw “fifi”, and lowers to the ground.

To clarify, this does not mean that a group of two or more should initially set up to top rope on the anchors. You should always do this on your own equipment. This scenario is only for the last person up the route, who needs to clean the gear and safely get back to the ground.

The AAC is certainly not saying that every sport climber should start to do this on all routes tomorrow, nor that it’s best in all situations. But for the AAC to make an official policy statement on this seems like a pretty big deal, many instruction schools and guiding companies are doing this already, and thus it’s important for the climbing community to be aware of this, regardless of your own thoughts on the matter.

Here’s a nice video that covers these steps in detail.