rope soloing is SAFER than toproping with belayer or lead climbing!

7:49 p.m. on September 5, 2009 (EDT)
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If done properly, did you know that self-belay rope soloing is actually much safer than lead climbing, and safer even than toprope belay with a partner?

 

For all the 'WARNING!'s on the internet by alarmists and people who love to scare others off the rock, there are vew few (any?) confirmed cases of death by rope soloing .. contrast that with the number of trad/lead climbing fatalities.

You can rope solo with absolute confidence using a very simple system of double-redundancy:

 

1. make sure the top of the route has two solid bolts or set up two natural anchors

2. clove-hitch the halfway point of the rope through the first anchor point. Then clove-hitch the rope through the second anchor point. Now throw BOTH parts of the rope to the bottom

3. rappel down the route on both lines

4. grab two USHBAs (simple Petzl microscenders work too .. but can damage the rope)

5. attach both USHBAs to the rope (one on each rope line), then attach them to your belay loop

6. Climb

7. For added redundancy , if you're really scared, knot the rope about 10 feet above the ground .. I rarely do this with the system described here, because the setup is already so redundant

 

Let's see what happens if you fall ...

1. if one anchor point breaks, you're fine, because you're on two lines

2. if one line breaks, you're fine

3. if one USHBA blows, you're fine, because the other USHBA will hold you

4. if both USHBAs blow, you're in trouble .. but that would be a hellishly unlikely event

 

If you're on belay with a partner, many bad things can go wrong to kill you such as

1. partner passes out

2. partner gets knocked out by rockfall

3. partner is incompetant or distracted and fails to catch your fall

4. rope breaks (you're only on one line in a typical toproping situation)

Therefore I conclude the solo toproping on self-belay, using this system, is one of the safest ways to climb.

Jesse Johnson (solojourneys@gmail.com)

10:24 p.m. on September 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Your title says "rope soloing". But you describe solo top rope.

As someone with over 6 decades of climbing, including a lot of solo climbing, I will state that you understate the risk of top rope solo and you overstate the risk of climbing with a partner. You state that there are few if any confirmed cases of death while rope soloing. You should search back through a few years of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. You will find a number of such accidents (though in recent years, ANAM has typically included only one in that category, as they do for other categories, since the errors are so similar). There are, in absolute numbers, more accidents involving multiperson parties than solo climbers simply because there are far more multiperson climbing parties than solo climbers. Another factor is that most (but not all) climbers going solo tend to be much more conservative about risks. The usual advice, even for top rope solo, is to climb 2 or 3 grades below your normal grade.

Several of the risks you ascribe only to partnered climbing can and do happen in rope soloing, including top rope soloing. A solo individual can also pass out, get hit by rockfall, or have a rope break due to carelessness in watching where the ropes go (if both go over the same sharp edge or into a narrow, sharp-edged crack, both ropes can get severed). For the solo climber, it is possible (and has happened) that both anchors fail, one through poor placement and the other due to shock-loading. Sometimes it is hard to tell (especially for less experienced climbers) that a bolt is bad. And less experienced climbers frequently place natural anchors, chocks, or cams incorrectly. Most of the top rope solo accidents over the years have in fact been due to incorrectly placed anchors and at least one due to a bad bolt (just because the bolt is there does not mean it is good).

There are far better devices to use than the USHBA for top rope solo, and other techniques than mechanical ascenders and descenders that are better as well.

One other thing about having a climbing partner is that you and your partner have responsibility for each other. This means, if you are doing things correctly, you are continually checking on each other - tie-in, anchors, pro, physical and mental condition, both checking the conditions of the rope and other gear and objective dangers. This compensates in large measure for the momentary inattentiveness of one person, since almost always, at least one is paying attention. If you are solo, you do not have that backup (actually, this is part of the pleasure of solo - you have a very heightened awareness of what's going on).

I would strongly caution anyone reading this thread to have extensive experience climbing with experienced mentors or professional guides who specialize in teaching climbing who will be brutally honest in evaluating your skills before trying any solo climbing. If you have developed your skills, climbing with a partner or solo is probably safer than driving down the freeway (but that ain't saying much, is it?)

11:10 p.m. on September 5, 2009 (EDT)
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A rather odd first post.

10:30 p.m. on September 6, 2009 (EDT)
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I TR solo with a somewhat similar rig to the one described by the OP. I use a single Ushba basic on one strand, and tie a series of figure eights ona bight on the other. As I climb, the Ushba slides up its strand in normal ascender fashion. Meanwhile, each time I pass one of the eights-on-a-bight on the other strand, I clip it to an additional locking biner prepositioned on my belay loop. When I reach the next eight-on-a-bight, I unclip the previous one from this biner and clip the new one in its place. This gives me the convenience of the Ushba, but also a feeling of comfort from the "solid state" back up.

As for more desirable devices, the Petzl Mini Traxion seems to be the device of choice among most knowledgeable users these days. Grubbing around on the Internet doesn't convince me that the Mini Traxion is clearly better than the Ushba, but it's a contender.

With all of that said, however, I agree with Bill S. I TR solo well under my limit; and don't consider it anything but a sometimes-necessary second choice to climbing with a reliable partner.

[Edited for typos.]

July 24, 2014
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