The Top Lower

Lowering from above is also quite simple, but the system dynamics are significantly different from the sport lower. In the sport lower, the belayer’s weight usually counterbalances the weight of the climber-the system feels balanced and relaxed. In the traditional top lower, the belayer lowers from his or her harness and must hold the weight of the climber directly.

This can complicate the system to the point of failure if the appropriate anchor, belayer position, and belay device are not chosen. The belayer will be able to maintain far better control of the top lower in most instances if he or she lowers directly from the anchor. But if the belayer decides to lower from his or her harness, he or she should take the following precautions:

  • The belayer should be in line and tight to his or her anchor so he or she will not be pulled out of position when the system is weighted.
  • The belay device must be attached to the belayer by a keeper cord (accidents have occurred when unsecured belay plates slipped down the rope away from the belay-most devices come with keeper cords; use them).
  • The belayer must be absolutely sure that he or she can hold and control the weight of the climber until the lower is complete.

Working directly from an anchor is slowly becoming more common and for good reason. Many years ago the prevalent philosophy was that the belay anchor was primarily a backup and that the belayer should always hold any forces that come on the system. This was also the era in which the accepted tenet was “the leader does not fall.” Times have changed. Anchors are more secure. Climbers fall all the time.

The new tenet is “if you’re not falling, you’re not pushing yourself enough.” The result is that more and more climbers have discovered the many benefits of using the belay anchor as an active, front-line part of the system. It certainly makes lowering more comfortable and, often, more secure. When lowering directly from the belay anchor, be sure that:

  • the anchor is strong enough, if it is not and cannot be improved enough, do not use it directly
  • the correct belay device is used-the Petzl Gri Gri or Munter hitch is a good choice; plates and tubes should only be used if the belayer can lock them off effectively