to climb seriously requires training, and of that an amount needs to be on-wall. a gym and weekend sessions are fine, but real progress is made with enough specific sessions and the problem here is finding a partner. if youre lucky you will have an accomplice who will belay for the long hours required to get the volume in, but if you dont – or dont want one – then a system of soloing is needed. bouldering? it will only get you so far. when reality comes in +/-50m pitches you need long enough sequences to function.
despite a bad reputation, roped soloing need not be the game of russian roulette its made out to be. both solo leading and solo top roping – if done right like anything – can be safe. theres even a train of thought that removing as many people from the equation reduces human error.
for the moment this is about top rope (TR) soloing for training. it differs from recreational TR soloing in that its meant to be hard, which means falling, which means having a system both bombproof and easy to use. yes, it will work for recreational TR soloing too, but the same cant be said for the reverse scenario – a lightweight recreational system is the wrong idea for training.
this system uses 2 independant ropes, both ideally around 10mm for safety and ease of use. it is assumed the ropes have bombproof, independant anchors at the top of the route, and are weighted but not secured at the bottom. wandering or overhanging routes may have the rope redirected via regular quickdraws.
the basic process has the climber climbing from the bottom along a static rope which feeds fluidly thru the safety devices. falls are arrested with minimal impact shock loading to the ropes and safety system. escape from the arresting system is both safe and fast.
it is recommended the route is rappelled before climbing to check for risks like loose rock, ropes running over edges, direction of pull on anchors, direction of fall etc.
the nuts & bolts
2 x 10mm ropes or doubled single rope
chest harness (rigged or manufactured)
capture or oval locking karabiners
Petzl Micro Traxion rigged with an extender cord to the toothed cam
additional gear includes a safety tail and prussick loops/ascenders
all up its not a cheap set up, tho all devices also fulfil many other functions. other versions like Gri Gris and lead solo devices can also work, but have been found to be both not as smooth, as easy to manipulate or as low-bulk/low weight.
how & why
this set up uses a Trango Cinch as the primary arrest device because of its smooth rope action due to having a less acute curve that the rope passes thru to arrest. it also sits better when suspended with a chest harness and is clipped between the harnesses loading loops. as a secondary arrest device a Petzl Micro Traxion is used because of its ease for disengaging when rigged below the Cinch. both devices are attached via capture or oval biners so to minimize cross loading.
in use, the Cinch takes the primary loading as it moves up the rope above the Micro Traxion, which, unsuspended, trails below by gravity. when loaded by a fall the Cinch grabs the rope, taking the majority of the load, whilst the Micro Traxion usually grabs a minor part of the load that is engaged from rope stretch. the Cinch arrests by a camming angle that locks the rope when loaded. it doesnt use sharp teeth, so is considered less potentially damaging to your rope. the Micro Traxion does have teeth so grabs aggressively, but is considered fine for a back up if the Cinch were to fail. under load the Micro Traxion requires another device (the Cinch) to assist in disengaging. the Cinch itself requires no disengaging, being the device also used to rappel off the route.
at no time is the climber completely disengaged from the rope
the ease of flow of the Cinch is the key to this set up. as the climber ascends there should be no need to pull rope thru the device, even if the device has been weighted, assuming there is adequate weight at the bottom of the rope. minimal play in the movement of the Cinch means little shock loading can occur, and gravity has the Micro Traxion trailing far enough below the Cinch to avoid entanglement.
rigged for TR solo: note the coiled rope used to weight the bottom, the directional quickdraw at the base of the overhang and the bomber tree for an anchor
CLICK TO ENLARGE
occasional upward yanks can be applied for ‘watch me’ moves, to further reduce slack in the system and minimize loss of height gain if rests are taken. likewise paying small amounts of slack into the system for overhanging or wandering routes is easy to do one-handed by tilting the orientation of the Cinch and disengaging the Micro Traxions teeth with the pull cord.
training means falling. and falling on this TR solo system is little different to falling on a belayed top rope. the use of a Cinch suspended from a chest harness entails very little impact, and the high center of gravity hugely reduces the chance of inverted falls or inversion from a swing.
disengaging the system under load
lets say you peel off a hard move on an overhang and are left suspended in space. you dont need purchase against the wall to disengage the system and rappel to the ground. begin by checking and arranging the loaded pieces to confirm everything is fully engaged and locked (ie no nasty surprises once you disengage something). if the system feels dubious, tie an alpine butterfly backup knot 1m below on the same rope the Cinch is on.
once confirmed, grab the rope running downwards thru the Micro Traxion and pull it upwards using the action of the pulley for leverage, simultaneously disengage the Micro Traxions teeth by yanking on the extender cord attached to the biting cam and lock it open. note it only takes a second of applied strength to do this. remove the Micro Traxion from the rope.
this will leave you suspended from the engaged Cinch, which is then used to rappel the rope. note: at this point confirm the correct rope (the one going thru the Cinch) is used to brake the rappel.
TOP ROPE SOLOING FOR TRAINING
a system like this makes it as easy as it ever will be to get realistic training time beyond the limitations of bouldering. applied structurally within a smart training program TR soloing is good for 4X4 and endurance sessions that few belayers are enthusiastic about, along with projecting hard sequences and testing things like aid placements, new gear and speed. in the end the set up here with a 60m rope is a smaller load to carry than a mat and opens up far more options. the more fluent you are with the system the more fluid the training session can be. expect to spend one or two sessions working it out and a few more getting comfortable, after which the gains in vertical-time are big.
the system here works just as well for drytooling as it does for aid and free. ice? thats not impossible; the angle of function of the Cinch and the grab of the Micro Traxion makes this as good a set up as can be for the medium. as with any pursuit on ice, its the effect of cold on ropes and hardware that adds the extra element of risk, and tho this system has been used on ice its a scenario needing extensive specifics before recommending.
note: all the usual stuff applies. copy this at your own risk. iceclimbingjapan and the people who represent it are not responsible for the outcomes of using these or similar methods. top rope soloing carries risks associated with height, impact forces, entanglement, equipment failure, friction, rock fall and a multitude of other factors, of which the outcome can include death or serious injury. anyone using these or similar techniques accepts this, and acknowledges that the use of equipment in this way may contravene the expressed recommendations of the manufacturers.