Lowering To An Anchor

Not all lowers end on the ground. If you want to top-rope the last pitch of The Nose on El Capitan, for instance, there will still be about 3,000 feet of air under the climber’s feet when he or she reaches the end of the rope. In situations like this, the system is simple. The belayer lowers the climber to the point where he or she will begin climbing.

Since the climber is already on belay, he or she simply begins climbing and the belayer takes the rope in as the climber moves upward. As was mentioned in the precautions for the top lower, be sure that if the climber cannot do the moves, the team has the equipment and expertise to have the climber ascend the rope or to create a simple raising system.

It is also possible to use lowering as part of the system to retreat from a multi-pitch route. For example, as a climber ascends the third pitch of a route, it begins to rain and the party must go down. The simplest and fastest retreat is for the climber to lower down to the last anchor and clip back in. The belayer would then rappel to that anchor and the party would continue their descent using whatever methods they choose. This will work fine if:

  • the anchor below is fixed
  • the second knows how to clip back into the anchor safely

But what if the second is a novice and is uncertain about how to clip in correctly? If the second is in clear view when he or she reaches the anchor, the belayer can coach and visually verify that the second is clipped in correctly.

The second can also have slings girth-hitched to the harness and ready to be clipped into a fixed anchor with locking carabiners. But suppose the belayer cannot visually verify that the second is clipped in correctly?

Or what if the anchor was built from nuts and cams and the second cannot reconstruct it? In these cases, the best option is for the leader to descend first via rappel with the second pre-rigged to follow. Lowering is an excellent tool, but be careful not to use it in situations in which complications could arise that you are not prepared to deal with.