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#65418 - 06/11/12 09:16 PM Advice for first time rope solo?
Leemouse2 Offline

Registered: 05/08/00
Posts: 459
Loc: Rosendale, NY
Since I often have trouble finding mid week partners, I am thinking that I'd like to try rope soloing an EASY climb or two to see how I like it. I have a Gri Gri and I understand that you CAN use them unmodified but that a Silent Partner is a better and safer option, so I am thinking I may just go buy one tomorrow morning. Alternatively I could use a clove hitch and just climb with several feet of slack in between gear placements and totally sew it up, at least the first few times.

I was thinking about Bunny, since it's almost dead vertical, and I can clean it on descent. Also because it's easy.

Other than avoiding the obvious dumb mistakes (set a bomber anchor at the bottom, etc.) any advice folks would offer for a first-timer? Trial and error seems like a bad way to learn. . .

:-) Thanks!
It's hard to be brave when you're a chicken.

#65424 - 06/11/12 11:46 PM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: Leemouse2]
schwortz Offline

Registered: 09/10/03
Posts: 308
1 - go slow, with the systems, and double check things, twice

2 - before you go buying a bunch of gear, try a few systems out with the gear you already have. that means try the grigri system (tie back up knots). try the clove hitch on a locker (you can also tie back up knots). you can rig the rope pre-tied in loops and clipped to 1 or 3 lockers on your belay loop and pop them as you climb. then borrow a silent partner and try it out first. i didn't really like it. i prefer using a modified grigri for free climbing and a standard grigri for aid soloing.

3 - when in doubt tie a back up knot. think of it like aid climbing. back tie often enough to keep yourself off the ground if your main belay (e.g. grigri) fails

4 - use a fat rope with the grigri

5 - consider using a steel biner or one of those anti cross load biners (belay master, gridlock) on your power point if you plan on doing routes near/at your limit where you might actually fall. some people use quicklinks (hard to fit through grigri) or webbing/sling to tie the gri gri on (harder to remove quickly)

6 - test your system while you're near the ground. set your anchor, put in a couple pieces one or three moves off the deck and make sure you've got it all sorted out.

7 - bunny would be good...but for your first few you might try to pick something out of the way and quiet so no one bothers you and you dont feel like you're hogging a popular route.....get on something during the week...late in the day....obscure...whatever...

8 - you can simplify your first couple by picking routes with trees or other simple anchors at the base

9 - look ahead and anticipate...feed yourself enough rope that you wont get short-roped most cases i'd rather err on the side of too much slack...

10 - i go back and forth on whether i find it easier to have the rope in a bag/ might be easier to loop it and/or let in hang on your first couple routes....then try the bag

11 - don't forget that you can't always clean everything on rappel very may have to reclimb the pitch if it traverses a lot

#65429 - 06/12/12 01:08 AM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: schwortz]
rg@ofmc Offline

Registered: 12/25/99
Posts: 2472
Loc: Poughkeepsie, NY
I rope-soloed for a while in the Gunks for similar reasons. I used a Silent Partner, which is the only device that will feed out rope while you are climbing and will also hold an upside-down fall. I never used a rope bag or pack in the Gunks; I just climbed with a bunch of long loops hanging down. If I was going to use the system in, say, Red Rocks, I'd probably use a pack to store the extra rope.

The clove hitch and gri-gri methods oblige you to guess how much slack you need until the next no-hands stance or aid point and then make you start out climbing with that loop. These methods work for aid climbing, but are substantially inferior to the SP for free climbing.

There are some tricks to using a Silent Partner, the main one being that somewhere around a third to a half a rope-length, the rope weight will start pulling rope down through the SP, which creates slack in the belay rope---very bad! There are various strategies for anchoring the rope in mid-pitch so there isn't too much rope weight pulling down.

The methods you read about mostly involve installing a prusik knot on the rope and clipping it to a protection biner; the cord used for the prusik knot is very thin and it is assumed that it would break during a fall and so allow the full length of the rope to participate in shock absorbtion. But if it doesn't break and is just pulled upwards by rope stretch, then it might lift out your pro...

I never cared for this and instead tied a slip knot in the rope, pulled very tight so rope weight won't undo it, and positioned the knot so that it rests on top of a protection biner. During a fall, the slip knot pulls out and the rope functions as it should.

The process of setting up one of these rope-holding points with the slip knot requires two hands, so you either need to have a no-hands stance or have to hang from the pro you are using. The bootlace-prusik method can be done one-handed, which is an advantage.

One of the drawbacks of the SP is that it isn't good for seconding, i.e. for top-roping. It works, but doesn't grab right away if you fall while seconding. I didn't care for that feeling at all and seconded with an ascender bolstered by periodic back-up knots.

Another drawback of the SP is its questionable behavior in wet and/or cold conditions. If I remember correctly, the instructions caution against using it in the wet and in temps below 40 degree, which make it dicey for even moderate-temperature soloing in the winter.

I found it useful to have a small amount of extra gear in a small seconding pack (along with the ascender). Depending on the protection situation, you want an anchor that will be really good for a downward load (when you are rapping and then seconding the pitch and if you factor-2 onto the anchor while leading the next pitch) and also for an upward load (which will be the direction of loading if you take a leader fall on gear). A beefy tree solves all problems, but for gear anchors I usually ended up with four, sometimes five pieces in the anchor, which is why the extra gear in the pack.

Speaking of beefy trees, it is tempting to use them on the ground, but they are rarely close enough to the cliff, so you have to install a bombproof directional anchor on the cliff to make sure your tree connection doesn't zipper out all your gear.

I heartily second Schwortz's comment about getting at least a bit off the beaten path. You need to pay a lot of attention to your systems as well as your climbing, and having other people around watching you, commenting about what you are doing, and possibly shouting advice and/or questions at you is a distraction that your really don't need.

After a few years, I found my motivation for rope soloing was just not enough to get me out there. Too much geeking around with gear and not enough climbing. It is as far from free-soloing, which is what it was supposed to replace, as it is possible to be.

I haven't replaced SP rope-soloing with anything yet, but if I did, I would definitely go for solo top-roping rather than lead rope-soloing. Much more climbing involved, and you can try harder stuff. Peterskill and Millbrook are ideal. For top-rope soloing, the rig of choice seems to be two Petzl mini-tractions; there's a bunch of stuff on Supertopo about that.

#65432 - 06/12/12 01:39 AM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: rg@ofmc]
Mike Rawdon Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 11/29/99
Posts: 4276
Loc: Poughkeepsie
Unless you're really into it (have the best hardware i.e. Silent Partner, and get the system totally dialed), IMO solo leading is otherwise a poor excuse for real climbing. If it's a mid-week workout you're after, it is SO MUCH easier in all respects to head over to Peterskill and drop a TR down any of the dozens of straight, steep, pumpy lines over there and - with an ascender of your choice (google it) - lap yourself silly.

#65436 - 06/12/12 02:26 AM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: rg@ofmc]
schwortz Offline

Registered: 09/10/03
Posts: 308
of course rg is spot on in all of his comments

i'd also agree that usually the tree anchor doesnt work and you do need either a beefy directional or you wind up rigging a gear anchor despite a handy nearby tree

beefy anchors are the name of the game in rope soloing

i also mostly gave up lead soloing for TR soloing a while ago...for exactly the same reasons....less wankering with gear...more climbing

#65438 - 06/12/12 03:43 AM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: schwortz]
rg@ofmc Offline

Registered: 12/25/99
Posts: 2472
Loc: Poughkeepsie, NY
I'd like to edit my previous post but the system isn't offering me that option. Rather than the two minitraxion method, which is used quite a bit but has some problems, see the discussion at, I think I'd follow Petzl's recommendations at

#65442 - 06/12/12 02:05 PM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: rg@ofmc]
Julie Offline

Registered: 01/16/00
Posts: 2090
Loc: SoCal
I think I have a Silent Partner or something similar in a box of random stuff. Please let me know if you want it ....

#65444 - 06/12/12 09:16 PM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: Julie]
PAF Offline

Registered: 02/20/04
Posts: 33
I would strongly second Mike Rawdon's comments. Roped soloing, unless on a big wall gets old really fast and is more rope management madness than it is climbing, IMHO. It all depends on the experience you are looking for, lots of movement or lots of futzing with ropes/gear. I have been getting an incredible climbing work out with the rope from above trick, even putting in discovering new routes that way.

Sounds like Julie has a Silent Partner she wants to get rid of so you might be able to try it out for not a huge entry fee.

Good luck and be safe.


#65445 - 06/12/12 09:28 PM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: rg@ofmc]
schwortz Offline

Registered: 09/10/03
Posts: 308
petzl essentially suggests using two different devices...and gives several combinations using their gear....the key is to use two devices and two different devices therby making it difficult to find a failure mode that would cause both to fail (the rope cutting or anchor failure notwithstanding)....the chest harness keeps the top device out of the way of the second and running tight/smooth on the rope

i use a mini-trax and an ushba basic ti....with the mini trax on top and slung high with bungee cord (instead of a chest harness) to keep it running smooth...ushba on the belay loop....

i'll probably replace one of those with the new micro trax....the microcender works great too

#65464 - 06/14/12 02:19 AM Re: Advice for first time rope solo? [Re: schwortz]
kenr Offline

Registered: 10/05/10
Posts: 36
Something unique about the Silent Partner compared with other self-belay devices is that it permits a self-belay while down-climbing.

I'm pretty new to serious climbing, so I feel I need to get lots of practice down-climbing to prepare for (a) trad leading; (b) long high-mountain routes; (c) free-soloing.

To practice down-climbing in Top-Rope soloing, using a second device with a different failure mode doesn't work, so I instead I just use a second strand of rope off the top anchor, with butterfly knots tied in it as back-ups which I clip into in case the Silent Partner might ever fail (as described in various web pages and magazine articles).
Since most Gunks top-ropes are much less than half of the length of my rope, the only extra gear needed for this is half-length nylon runner girth-hitched to my harness and a couple of carabiners to make alternating clips and unclips of the butterfly knots.

For rope-solo Leading with the Silent Partner, instead of being required to switch to rappeling in order to clean the pitch, I can choose to clean while down-climbing. This is usually slower than on rappel - (but it removes the risk factors of somehow screwing up the transition in re-configuring for rappel, or of somehow messing up with my rappel backup knot while stopping my descent at a piece of pro). Also the belayed down-climbing capability might be very helpful or even necessary to clean a section which traverses horizontally (? Gunks ?), which reminds me ...

I've been very glad for the Silent Partner at times when I've gotten way off-route while leading in the Gunks and had to down-climb like 20 feet while removing pieces of pro. It was straightforward (every time I could get a hand free) to manually feed rope the "wrong way" thru my self-belay device and so greatly reduce the length of a fall while getting back down to the correct route - (Try that with any other self-belay device).

After climbing up the route slowly with the full weight of gear, then climbing down the route, then up the route a second time lighter and quicker -- in addition to lots of good climbing practice, I've also gotten a reasonable sense of whether I'd ever want to add this pitch to my Gunks free-solo "circuit".

So for me the down-climbing capability of the Silent Partner is a key factor in making the extra time of rope-solo Leading worthwhile.

Partners? - With Net resources nowadays, I don't think it's that difficult to find a partner on the majority of mid-week days. My reason for rope-solo Leading is that my Trad leading is so slow (because I'm still at the stage where I'm enjoying fiddling with placing pro, and overprotecting just for practice), and my Trad leading difficulty ratings so far below what I or most partners find interesting to follow ... so I usually don't feel right about inflicting all that Trad waiting-time on a good experienced partner (or I don't feel it's an efficient use of my time to inflict all that Trad waiting-time on myself for allowing them their turn to lead).

Aid-climbing practice is where rope-solo capability is even more valuable, since Aid climbing by the inexperienced is so stupifyingly slow that it's nearly immoral to inflict it on a belay partner - (Perhaps even dangerous: what if your belayer fell asleep?).


Edited by kenr (06/14/12 03:12 AM)

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