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Gear Guy

Should I Rope Solo?

What's the deal with roped soloing? Everybody says it's unsafe, but I have no friends. Is there a "safe" way to do it?

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What’s the deal with roped soloing? Everybody says it’s unsafe, but I have no friends. Is there a “safe” way to do it?

To be frank, anyone who puts the word safe in quotation marks, as if it has another meaning, scares me. Plus, if you don’t have any friends, who is telling you that rope soloing is unsafe? Your enemies? I am reluctant to tell you how to solo because I sense you have self-destructive tendencies. Besides, the details of how to safely rope solo are beyond the scope of the written word. Learning to rope solo is a trial-and-error process that you may not survive, but that doesn’t mean Gear Guy can’t help.

While roped soloing done by an expert (me) is certainly safer than climbing with a bonehead who keeps loading the Grigri backwards, the simple fact that you had to ask about soloing tells me you have no business practicing the Dark Art. When you are up there on the high lonesome, you have to do everything. Do you know how to self-rescue? Can you haul? Are you practiced in Do It Yourself Surgery (DIYS)? Have you made peace with God?

Or maybe you meant toprope soloing? This is simpler and requires much less knowledge than big-wall soloing, but is still risky and requires vast knowledge plus an arsenal of widgets. The most popular self-belay toprope device is the Petzl Mini Traxion [see Field Tested, No. 165], which I have used (we all get lonely) and have figured out, but which Petzl stringently advises against using for soloing. Get one and follow the Bible of instructions that come with it, then write your own Bible for how you will use it to toprope solo. You’ll also need a set of ascenders and a rappel device so when you fall you won’t be stranded on the rope. Practice in a short tree in your backyard until you have it figured out. On El Cap, people go up and toprope solo with a Traxion to suss cruxes such as the ones on the Salathe, but note that these people use two Traxions, one acting as a backup. I also advise to tie a knot in the rope below you from time to time—if your device fails, that knot should jam in it and keep you off the deck.

Critical to the set-up is using a proper rope. Get a nice fat static line. A static rope won’t abrade or cut as easily as a dynamic rope, an important trait when the rope is running over edges and around roofs above you, as it will almost always be doing. When you hang the toprope, clip it through numerous directional pieces. These will help keep you in the line of the route when you fall, give you anchors to wimp out on, and can direct the rope away from sharp edges. In case you haven’t gathered by now, sharp edges are the enemy of the toproper. Beware!