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Cleaning a sport route

Cleaning a sport route

Posted by Allister Fenton in collaboration with Candice Bagley on 1st Jul 2020

Climbing outside is unadulterated pleasure – an indulgence in figuring out efficient sequences up seemingly insurmountable rock walls. Even the most accessible types of outdoor climbing require careful and well-informed safety choices that indoor climbing does not. It is irresponsible to assume sufficient knowledge after having climbed solely at the gym or reading a single blog post (say this one?) or watching a single video, but, these resources might give you a good measure of your mentor’s knowledge, and may be good refreshers for those of you who have learnt but are unpracticed. It’s crucial that you are walked through these initial forays into cleaning a route by an experienced climber. Preferably through an accredited instructor. However, this blog will guide you through the basics and arm you with some information on how to clean a sport route. Do not attempt this for the first time (or first 10 times) without an experienced climber or (preferably) an instructor.

The premise

When you have finished climbing a sport route, you will need to remove your equipment from the rock. This is a simple procedure, but if done incorrectly can have dire consequences. No matter your level of experience, when tired after a difficult climb, or when in a rush, it is easy to make an error. Remember, errors in this environment could be fatal. Make sure that you communicate clearly with your belayer and follow these steps to clean an anchor.

Principles of cleaning:

  • You need a method to connect yourself to the anchor so that you can use both hands
  • You should never go off belay.
  • Make sure the anchors are suitable for lowering
  • • Smooth and rope friendly (no hangers)
    • Solid and strong (not too rusted or worn)

    The process of cleaning

    1. Clip into both bolts, using two separate short slings girth hitched to your harness. (This is arguably a safer method, but using one sling or a quickdraw will also work, provided you stay on belay).

    2. Ask for slack from the belayer and hang from the slings. Pull a metre or so of rope up through the anchor toward you. Tie a figure-eight on a bight in the rope and clip it to the belay loop on your harness with a locking carabiner (this keeps you on belay while you untie the rope and also prevents you from dropping the rope). Make sure your belayer keeps you on belay.

    3. Untie the rope at your tie-in point, thread the rope-end through the fixed lowering hardware and tie back into the end of the rope. Tie the rope through your harness exactly as you did when you were climbing.

    4. Check your system again: Is the rope threaded through the fixed equipment? Is it tied into your harness correctly?

    5. Remove the figure eight loop backup, untie it.

    6. Ask the belayer to take the rope tight. Confirm your system is holding you and that everything looks correct. Clearly, and loudly shout ‘Got me?’ to confirm with your belayer that you are on belay and that they are ready for you to unclip your slings.

    7. When, and only when you hear confirmation from your belayer that they are ready, unclip the tether slings, and clean the rest of your equipment from the anchor.

    8. Your belayer can then lower you to the ground. You must collect the remaining gear from the route as you are lowered. Remember to say ‘Stop!’ when you reach a quickdraw you want to remove.

    Pro-tip: On overhanging routes or routes with big traverses, lowering straight down means it’s hard to reach all the quickdraws. Clipping a draw from your belay loop to the belayer’s side of the rope will keep you close to the wall and allow you to pull yourself in or sideways to reach each quickdraw.

    Simple right? But with a high risk factor. So be vigilant in your procedures and ask a more experienced climber if you are uncertain. Should you have any questions, consider booking a course with a qualified instructor.