Top Roper


Yellow tape indicates that a member has obtained the first possible competency, the ability to belay and climb on a top rope climb unsupervised. Out of all our possible competencies, this is the only one that is absolutely necessary if you will be climbing with us regularly. It is the basic skill set that all other competencies build upon (also attainment of this level relieves a bit of pressure on our supervisors early in the year). Until this competency is obtained, members must be supervised when belaying by a member who has already obtained the yellow level. Figure-8 knots tied by a unskilled member (member that has no levels on their Skill Development Card) must be checked by an executive.


  •  Be a member

Instruction and Progression

You can seek instruction for the skills in the yellow competency from members who have already obtained it. To obtain the yellow competency you must be assessed by an executive or approved instructor.

Practical Requirements

Member must have read through and understand the required theoretical material below.

Member must wear harness and helmet correctly.

Member must be able to tie into a rope. They must be able to tie a well dressed figure-8 knot and stopper knot unassisted through the correct loop in their harness.

Member must be able to place the rope into belay device in the correct orientation.

Member must be able to correctly demonstrate the 5-step belay technique.

Member must be able to lower a climber with the correct technique.

Member must be able to supervise unskilled members and to hold the brake rope as a fall catching insurance.

Theoretical Material

This section will not tell you how to perform the skills required for this competency, but the reasons why we use them.

Your harness and helmet

The harness is what is going to keep you from falling just as much as your knot or rope. It is important to understand how to wear one (though we expect you already know). When using our club harnesses: Wear the harness with your legs through the leg loops and have the leg loop and waist straps tight. If you are using your own harness, please check with an executive to see if you are wearing it correctly (some harnesses have strap clips that must be threaded correctly for the harness to be safe).
Most harnesses will have additional gear loops on the sides of harness. These loops are not able to hold your weight, and they are not safe to tie into.

You must always wear a helmet when climbing or belaying with the club. The reason for this is to protect you from rockfall. It is important for the belayer in particular, as they will not only put themselves but the climber at risk if a helmet is not worn.

Your figure-8 knot

Figure-8 knot correctly tied and dressed

New members will become very well acquainted with this knot over their first couple of weeks with the club. This knot is used to link your harness to your rope. It must be able to keep that link even under the stress of a fall and be easily untied after.

Beyond knowing the figure-8, it is important to be able to identify an incorrectly tied figure-8. A correctly tied and dressed figure-8 knot is shown. Note that at any point in the knot you can see two strands of rope and the two parallels strands do not overlap or twist around each other.

A second knot(a double overhand) is used to secure the tail of the rope, left over from your figure-8. You should be aware that this knot is not essential and if it comes undone your life is not at risk. That being said, you should always have at least 200mm of tail from your figure-8, as having two little tail could cause your figure-8 to slip .

The importance of having a “well-dressed” knot is not strength or security, as a badly dressed knot will still be reliable. What it does improve is how easily the knot is two untie after it has taken a load.

You should be tying your figure-8 knot into the climbing loops of your harness. The belay loop and climbing loop is the same loop on the club harnesses but this is not the case for most other harnesses; consult an executive for advice on where to tie in to a new harness.

Your belay device

Belay device correctly set-up

A correctly set-up tubular belay device will have the rope running through the device and a carabiner clipped to the belay loop of your harness (and clipped to an anchor point if necessary). This makes the device act as a pulley, albeit one that you can lock off, and allows you to use your body weight to catch your climber’s falls. Depending on the situation you may want to attach an anchored sling or rope in the carabiner to prevent yourself being pulled into the wall when catching a fall. We always have an anchor point attached during our Kangaroo Point nights, so that new members are not caught out.

The carabiner should be orientated such that the long side is between the harness and the belay device (see illustration). This is to avoid “cross loading” which is when the carabiner is loaded along the short side, cross loading greatly reduces the strength of a carabiner.

The rope should enter the device on the side closest to you and exit on the side away from you. This is to make it easier for you to lock off the belay device. If using a belay device with some “teeth” on one side of the belay device exit, this is the side that should be orientated downward and should hold the rope. The rope exiting the device is known as the brake rope and should always be held.

Lastly, always screw close the gate of your locking carabiner to prevent the gate from accidentally opening and the harness loop or belay device slipping out while belaying.


Communication is important, but many climbers have different systems organised with their partners. Since you may only be meeting your climbing partner for the first time, and probably only climbing with them for one route on top rope, we will outline a few useful phrases that we recommend you use while climbing with us:

  • “On belay” – This is said by the belayer before the climber starts to climb when they know they can catch a fall.
  • “Climbing” – This is said by the climber after the belayer informs them that they are on belay. The climber can then begin climbing.
  • “Take” – This is said by the climber to request that the belayer take in the slack in the rope.
  • “Slack” – This is said by the climber to request that the belayer provide more slack to the system.
  • “Partner’s name” – Both the climber and belayer must know each others name before climbing, this makes communication easy once on the wall, especially on crowded Kangaroo Point Climbing nights. You should always learn your partners name before climbing!

The significance of having set commands and phrases to use is that the belayer and climber can cooperate to overcome any problems that arise. When in a stressful situation it is good to be able to yell a short phrase that you know will get the response you want. These phrases are easy to understand when high up on a noisy cliff. In particular, knowing your partners name is important. With the noise at kangaroo point, a climber may not know that a belayer is trying to communicate with them. Using their name is the best command, because we all recognise our own names better than any phrase.

The 5-step belay method

Rope in locked position ready to catch a fall

The five step method is the safest way for a belayer to belay on top-rope. The most important part of the five step method is the locking off of the brake rope. While the brake rope is not locked, the rope can slide through the belay device and the climber can fall (the rope will also burn your hands, we have seen it happen). If you follow the 5 step method correctly and minimize the time that the brake rope is spent in the unlocked position, your climber’s falls will be caught.

Lowering off

When lowering off, the belayer should try to give an even descent at a speed the climber is comfortable with. The climber should lean back with their legs extended out towards the cliff, being careful to not knock themselves against the wall. Climbers should push out from the wall with their feet regularly as they descend to avoid ledges.

Supervising unskilled members

Some mistakes that unskilled belayers commonly make:

  • Too slow to put the brake rope into the locked position
  • Holding the brake rope out of the locked position
  • Not watching the climber
  • Fumbling when switching hands on the brake rope

Because some of these common errors are quite dangerous, we will need you to hold the brake rope when supervising.

Hold the brake rope at about a meter of rope out from the belay device to allow just enough slack for the unskilled belayer to belay comfortably. Let the rope run through your hand as the belayer belays, but always keep a hold of the rope. Ensure that you hold the brake rope lower than the belay device, so that when the slack leaves the system the brake rope is locked off. If the climber falls and the belayer fails to hold on the brake end of the rope, you will catch the fall.

Reiteration of some of the important safety considerations

  • Ensure your belay device is anchored, particularly if you are a significantly lighter belayer than your climber.
  • Always introduce yourself when belaying a new partner, ensuring you know each others names.
  • DO NOT grab or put your fingers through the bolt rings in the cliffs.
  • DO NOT hold your brake rope upward when belaying.
  • DO NOT wear rings or finger jewellery when climbing.

Test Questions

During the practical assessment for this level, your assessor will ask you a minimum of two questions from the following to test your understanding of the theoretical material:

Q1: Why is it important that the belayer wears a helmet?

Q2: Why is it important that the top-rope climber wears a helmet?

Q3: Which part of your harness do you tie your figure-8 knot into?

Q4: What is a “well-dressed” knot and why do we like them?

Q5: How should the belay carabiner be orientated? Why must it sit in this orientation?

Q6: Why should you know your climbers name when belaying?

Q7: What step in the five step belay method should you spend the least time in? Why?

Q8: When supervising an unleveled member, what can you do to ensure that the climber’s fall will be caught in the event that the belayer you are supervising makes a mistake?

If you do not understand any of the questions or you are unsure of an answer, discuss it with one of the executives before you do your test for the competency!