What is recommended after finishing a sport climb--lowering off from the anchors or rappelling ? Rappelling preserves the hardware better, but is usually thought to be more dangerous since you take yourself off-belay.

I'm assuming the answer changes depending on the hardware at the top:

  • fixed carabiners (lower-offs)
  • rap rings
  • chains
  • eyebolts

Also, I think it depends on:

  • how overhung the route is
  • whether the last person has seconded and cleaned the climb already or has to clean on the way down.

2 Answers 2


This, probably more than any issue in climbing, has generated more discussion, heated debates, and vitriol (especially on the internet) than any other issue in climbing. Both sides (lower vs. rappel) are equally ardent in their belief that their way is the One True Way. Unfortunately, both sides are wrong.

My rule is simple: Climber's choice. You should choose the method you prefer and believe is safer, and you should do it the same way each time to minimize the chance of a serious climber error. (You should still know both ways.)

If you are the last climber going up and will clean a route, it's important to tell your belayer what you intend before you leave the ground. This way, both parties have a clear idea of what will happen. This can be helpful if communication is hard from the top, and decreases the chance of a miscommunication.

When you get to the top, your command to your belayer should be clear and completely unambiguous:

  • "Off belay": I will rappel, you can take me off belay and go do something else.
  • "Slack": Just give me slack (for a lower). I don't say "in direct" because some belayers may misinterpret that to mean off belay (I've trained that out of anyone that belays me regularly, but you never know).

The tradeoffs roughly fall into three categories:

  • Speed: lowering is significantly faster.
  • Safety: when done correctly, both are equally safe. However, lowering tends to have slightly fewer steps where you can mess up and more places where you can "double check" yourself.
  • Ease when cleaning draws: lowering is significantly easier because the belayer controls your descent and can help pull you back into the wall on steep climbs.
  • Equipment: rappelling puts slightly less wear on the fixed anchor and the rope. Most rap-vs-lower arguments revolve around wear and tear on the anchor; as long as you're not top-roping directly off the anchor this is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned.

Personally, in regularly visited areas I almost always lower. It's my choice, but if I'm belaying someone who wants to rappel I do as they wish.

Some exceptions to the "climber's choice" rule would be if the area's guidebook says otherwise, or if the local climbers all rappel ("do as the locals do" is always a good rule of thumb). In seldom-visited areas, I generally rappel.

  • Could you explain more about your reasoning re the voice command "in direct?" Is this a common command? What does it mean? I've never actually heard this, but in my limited sport-climbing experience people use the word "direct" to refer to putting themselves on a direct connection to the anchor. If I'd heard someone say "in direct," I would have hopefully yelled up "WTF?," but basically it would have sounded to me like they were asking to be taken off belay.
    – user2169
    Aug 19, 2014 at 22:51
  • "In direct" just means you (the climber) clipped in directly to the anchor. It's primarily used in sport climbing, anytime the climber clipped in directly to a bolt (resting) or anchor (cleaning). The correct action for the belayer is to do nothing. The command implies that the climber will start cleaning the anchor (lowering) and ask for slack. However, as you pointed out, some belayers may misconstrue this as a signal to take them off belay (which is incorrect).
    – Felix
    Aug 20, 2014 at 18:02
  • Some reference books that might explain the term better. Redpoint: The Self-Coached Climber's Guide to Redpoint and On-Sight Climbing (pg 61) Sport Climbing: From Top Rope to Redpoint, Techniques for Climbing Success (pg 97)
    – Felix
    Aug 20, 2014 at 18:03
  • From your description, it sounds like a cllimber calling down "in direct" is at best pointless and at worst dangerous...?
    – user2169
    Aug 21, 2014 at 5:02
  • For cleaning the route, I would agree (but some wouldn't!). I do use "in direct" often if I'm working a sport route and want to hang on a bolt to rest (clipped in direct to give my belayer a rest).
    – Felix
    Aug 21, 2014 at 13:21

This applies to most sport situations, but there will by some exceptions. This assumes you have draws or other proper gear at the anchors that are not part of the fixed anchors.

Just led the route: Lower

Following but not last: Lower

Following, cleaning all pro but anchors: Lower

Last and cleaning anchors or all pro: Rappel

The most common exception to lowering would be a sharp edge or other harsh features on the route where lowering (especially repeatedly) across it is going to abrade the rope and rappelling would alleviate some or all of this problem.

Rappelling is usually not necessary while draws are still at the anchors. Lowering is far more practical in this situation. However when cleaning, it is poor practice to lower through the fixed anchors. If everyone did this the bolts (or other fixed pro) would wear out incredibly quickly. Always rappel when cleaning the anchors of the route. Never belay/lower through bolts or fixed anchors. Never. Communicate with your belayer about this and also have them practice a fireman's belay on your double ropes as you descend. This will also help you clean if you are cleaning the entire route as you descend, as they can pull down to assist braking you while pausing at each piece of protection.

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