Threading a Lower-Off

Posted by Matthew Woodfield on Friday, March 15, 2019 Under: Top Tips

One of the key skills you need to take your indoor leading outside is to be able to thread the lower-off at the top of your route. A lower-off is a pair of bolts, sometimes joined together, which allows you to pass your rope though them and clean out all of your own equipment ready to use on the next route.

The principle is simple – get to the top, untie, poke rope though the bolts, retie, be lowered off collecting your quickdraws on the way. The trick is to make sure neither you, nor the rope, fall to the floor, both of which can be fairly inconvenient and difficult to deal with!

You don’t need to thread the lower-off after every climb, if someone else is going to lead it or play on a top rope its best to just put your own quickdraws in the top and low off those. But if you’re the last one up then it’s a job that needs doing.

I thought that I’d share the simple and safe system that I teach my clients on a sport course, it works for almost every lower-off and is very hard to get wrong with a little practice. The key things to remember are to check the sequence and communicate with your belayer.

Step 1:

At the top of your route clip your rope into the top quickdraw/s. Now attach yourself to the lower-off with a cowstail, this can be a short (60cm) sling or better an adjustable rope landyard like the Petzl connect. These are both safer and more comfortable to use – invest on one!

Step 2:

Once connected to the lower-off (with the Karabiner screwed up) let your belayer know by saying “on the bolt”. This means they can pay out some slack for the next step, but does not mean they can disconnect and walk off for a cup of coffee, you still need them there.

Step 3:

 Whilst still tied on, poke a “bite” of rope through both bolts (or the main ring if joined by a chain).

Step 4:

Tie a double figure of 8 in the bite of rope and clip it to you using a karabiner, the one from your belay device will work just fine. This is now as messy and complex as this process gets, so bear with it.

Step 5: 

Untie your original knot from your harness and pull it out of the quickdraws and bolts. If its length is annoying then you can tie it in a knot or drape it over a shoulder.

Step 6:

Remove the quickdraws and double check you’ve done it right before you disconnect your cows-tail. The rope should come up from the belayer, pass though both bolts and be connected to you via a knot and closed karabiner.

Step 7

Once happy let your belay know you need them to take in and prepare to lower by saying “on you”. When the rope goes tight unclip your cows-tail, clip it out the way and lower slowly, stopping at each bolt to retrieve any quickdraws.


There are two times this system won’t work, firstly when the route length is exactly half that of your rope, so the 1m long tail means you can’t reach the floor. In this case follow steps 1-5, then retie onto the end of the rope, take out the double figure of 8 and continue with the next steps.

 The second time is when the bolts are too small to poke a bite of your rope through, you can get round this by being clever and remembering not to drop you or the rope to the floor, but if in doubt just leave a karabiner behind – you are far more valuable.

Happy climbing and as always if you need any help with these or other climbing skills then I’m always happy to help – just get in touch…


In : Top Tips 


Tags: "sport climbing" climbing "lower-off" 

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Matthew Woodfield An infrequent collection of tips, tricks and ramblings about climbing, walking and the great outdoors...