January 17, 2021

Sport Climbing: Respect the Rock

Top climber Emma Twyford talks you through the essentials of your first sport climbing trip to a quarry. She talks you through gear, bolts, loose rock, belaying, buddy checks, top roping and the all-important methods of how to thread the top anchors.

Quarried limestone gives technical, crimpy, steep wall climbing. If you’re sport climbing then you’ll typically need to bring 14 quickdraws, a 60m dynamic rope, helmets, guidebook and maybe a clipstick.

You’ll encounter a whole range of fixed equipment in quarries – from brand-new bolts – like these BMC-placed bolts in Horseshoe – to fixed equipment of widely varying age, quality, vintage and spacing. Check anything you’re about to trust including whether the rock it’s in is solid. And if you’re not sure, back it up or back off.

Loose rock:
Old quarries often have sections of great rock – and sections of not-so-great rock. Wear a helmet when climbing and belaying. Belay to one side of the route and move away from the base of the crag when having a break.

Belaying with skill and attention is always important, but when you’re outdoors with rocky landings and bolts further apart, then you need to be really on your game. If you’re using a standard belay device then make sure you have the tail rope locked off low, all of the time. Many climbers use Grigris for belaying on sport climbs. These are excellent, but they still require a hand on the tail rope at all times and take a bit of getting used to for feeding out rope to a lead climber.

Always tie a knot in the other end of your lead rope
Outdoor sport climbs are often much higher than indoor routes. Take great care that your rope is long enough, and tie a knot in the tail end of your rope. This sounds simple, but many experienced people have died or been seriously injured from the belayer lowering them off the end of the rope. It really is more easily done than you think.

Buddy check
Before setting off climbing, make sure that you’re tied in correctly and have put a knot in the end of your rope. Use the buddy check system to check that both you and your belayer are ready for action.

Take special care at the start of the route
Many people have an accident when falling off between the first and third bolt. This is because the ground is very close but you might have a lot of rope out. This is when the climber and belayer need to be doubly attentive. If you’re unsure about the start of a route, use a clip stick to clip the first bolt or two. And make sure that your belayer isn’t right underneath you – you don’t want to land on them…

What happens at the top?
The big difference between indoors and outdoors is that you need to know how to thread the belay station at the top safely before lowering off and retrieving your quickdraws. We look at two methods. It’s really important to practice both of these at ground level first. Some crags have special practice anchors. And if you’re in any doubt, then lower off and ask a more experienced friend to take over for you.

Top roping?
If you aren’t in the mood to lead climb and fancy working out the moves on top rope, then remember to use your own quickdraws on the top anchor to run your rope through. Don’t top rope with your rope direct through the lower off as this will accelerate wear on the bolts. And remember… never top rope or lower off on a single bolt

Bolt funds
Do contribute what you can to the local bolt fund in the areas you visit. They do great work, are entirely voluntary and are funded by climber’s donations

Heading off
After a great day’s climbing, remember to leave the crag. Camping or van camping isn’t allowed in these quarries. Now’s the time to pack up and head off to a local campsite, then spend some money with local businesses and celebrate your redpoint success in a great pub or café.

DOWNLOAD Our bolts user guide:

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  • At 11:03 top roping anchor is set up so that the gates of the quickdraws are facing the same way. This is a mistake that should be avoided. Putting the quickdraws so that the gates face opposite sides is much better as the chances of accidental unclipping are close to 0. The best practice would be to have at least one screwgate in the anchor

  • Probably a bit to much emphasis on process without going through the fundamentals of cleaning a route. Should emphasize the need to always be into two points, as one may fail. The risk is often climbers lead something then their second top ropes or seconds the route. If they follow method 1 to clean they would be hanging off of 1 bolt.

  • 8:47 being lowered off fixed glue-in bolts is a no, no! You should rap as this saves on wearing out the bolts (sustainability).

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