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Roped Solo Free Climbing - The essence of self-reliance, one path among many

Submitted by healyje on 2007-06-08 | Last Modified on 2010-02-25

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 18 | Comments: 22 | Views: 63571

by Healyje


Also check out this forum post

I've been roped-solo free climbing since the mid-'70s using lots of different systems with and without any devices. Back when I just used knots I had a special harness with lots of full-strength loops made for doing it. But for the last quite awhile I've just used a grigri with the triangular tab by the biner hole removed. Last year I switched from that grigri and a Mammut Supersafe 10.2 rope to the Edelrid Eddy and a Metolius Monster 9.8 rope.

The thing I really love about roped-solo free climbing is that everyone has to come to it on their own terms and accept total responsibility for themselves in the process. As part of that, you need to figure out what works for you, and then get it dialed in so you can just climb. What works for me isn't necessarily going to work for you or anyone else and vice-versa.


So here is a shot of my grigri setup - that's a heavy, 10mm, INOX SS, CE-stamped Mallion Rapide rated at 25kN.

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I have a half circle one which withstands crossloading better on order. You can also see the triangular aluminum tab by the biner is cut-out - some folks just cut back on the size of it by notching it for the rope as opposed to removing it all together.


And here are two of the Edelrid Eddy rig I've switched to. The design of the Eddy precludes the use of a mallion rapide, so I back it up with a Mammut dyneema sling to one of Trango's great Superfly lockers. The Eddy is better for soloing because it doesn't use a spring and so long as both sides of the rope (to the anchor and the climbing slack in my backpack) hang downward it just runs. The second either side of the rope moves to an orientation above the device it locks. It also has a safety feature where the release handle will drop off the cam locking up the rope if you pull it back all the way, unlike a grigri which just screams rope.

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Watchful Eye

Also I should say, I monitor the belay device, the rope path, the rope, and the orientation of everything like a hawk all the time. Not in a 'big deal' sort of way, more like in an unconscious, second-nature way as a continuous background task.

Other Devices

There are lots of devices you can rope solo with. Here are my opinion on free climbing with them:

Soloist: Just don't - it won't hold upside down falls and won't even hold falls with your body in a horizontal orientation. Some folks say a backup knot will then stop you, but I've known folks who've decked on pitches with low cruxs. I also despise climbing with a chest harness connection to my waist harness so it's out on that count alone.

SoloAid: I have mixed feelings about these older devices, mainly due to the business of having something on your chest/stomach while climbing just way doesn't appeal to me.

Silent Partner: These work best, but for me I keep coming back to their size, needing a second device to rap, and what I keep perceiving as the 'hassle' of it relative to fast turnarounds at the tops of pitches. Mark Blanchard, the inventor and a fine guitar maker, and I were at a recent gathering where he demo'd it for folks and I promised I'd give it another whirl. I'll post up a review if I change my mind about it. It's a marvelous device, works the best of the lot, but I may need to circle it a few more times.

Cinch: Don't do it - Malcolm expressly doesn't want folks using it this way and I also don't think it's a good idea - for TR soloing, maybe, but definitely not for leading.

Unmodded Grigri: A bit of a hassle but I used mine for a couple of years before modding mine.

Grigri modded for chest harness: People do it, I don't - see comments above...

Clove hitch: Works fine - and you get good at planning ahead.

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Rope Setup

So here are three shots of me on one of my favorite routes to rope solo. The first shot you can see the GoLite 'Race' backpack I use to carry the rope. I use it without the top flap compartment and it's modified by adding two gear slings ala Metolius' 'Big Wall Gear Sling'. I also got a size small so it rides high off my harness. I rack gear on my right side and trad draws on my left. I keep the rope in an old A5 rope bucket inside the pack and have a biner on the right shoulder strap to direct the rope over my shoulder cleanly.

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A Fave Climb

The second shot is just of the pitch, lovely every inch of it, and a full 60m up to the tree. Sometimes I break it up into to pitches lately I haven't been.

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Anchor Setup

In the last shot you can see my anchor right off the ground. The yellow thing is an old-school Screamer called an 'Air Voyager' once made by Wild Things. What you should note is the Screamer is rigged in a [slack] loop of the rope formed with an Alpine Butterfly. The amount of slack should accomadate the extended blown length of the screamer.

Backup Knots

One thing you should also note is there's no big loop of slack rope or extra biner on my harness for a backup knot. Now Majid and many others will scream bloody murder about how 'you have to use a backup knot', but I don't. I've been doing this for thirty years, I move fast, and f#cking around with a backup knot free climbing is just not worth it to me as I feel it breaks my rythmn and that rythmn is keeping me safer than I'd be after the trade-off of using them. But - that's not a absolute statement. I do keep a locker on the back right loop of my harness and if I'm onsighting something or on a route with something really peculiar or awkward I will throw it on and whip in a clove backup for just those moves and then it's gone again. Also, I do use them religiously when solo aiding.

Bottom line - if I were starting out I'd probably use a backup knot until I had everything relentlessly dialed for quite awhile before I made this sort of judgment call...


You have to build bomb anchors. On multipitch routes you either have to build omnidirectional anchors at the top of each pitch or you have to build one for rapping and cleaning and then reset it up for the next pitch so it holds an upward pull.


Sometimes you need to keep some tension in the rope at your first piece in order to keep the anchor oriented right; don't clove or clip for this purpose - use either a rubber band, a slipknot that sits above the biner, or a long sling with a klemheist to rebelay the rope. A rebelay is used both to keep tension on an anchor when necessary and to hold the weight of the rope once you have enough out that it wants to just run through your device under its own weight.

Pace and Rythmn

So that's my system. I've been doing it for so long I don't have to think about it all too much and move quite a bit faster over multiple pitches than I would with a partner - I probably cover the same ground in about 2/3 - 3/4's of the time. I don't mess around when I get to the top of a pitch, I set up an anchor, hang the pack, and rap. When I get back up to the anchor after seconding I quickly re-stack the rope in the pack - which should take only a minute or three max - put the pack back on, re-rack the gear, re-check / reset the anchor, and hit the next pitch. Sounds like a lot, but it goes very fast in practice once you have it down.


I also always second my pitches. I occasionally will clean a piece on the rap, but usually not as I like seconding my own pitches as it keeps me in touch with the quality of my placements when I have to clean them. It's a 'reap what you sew' sort of deal that over the years has led me to a very light touch when 'setting' pro - I basically don't, and when I do it's only the slightest touch until I can feel some grit.

Getting a Groove

So something on the order of fifty percent of my climbing is free roped soloing and I just love it. The typcial deal for me has been that when I haven't done it in awhile it's semi-horrifying for about 15-20 minutes or a pitch and then it suddenly mellows out and gets utterly sublime. When I'm doing it all the time I'm mainly just hyper-attentive to everything for a bit and then it gets right into a groove.

Note: All of what's describe above works for me and while it has worked for me wherever I've climbed - that does not mean it will or even should necessarily work for you. The essence of roped soloing is self-reliance - read everything you can, talk with folks like me who do it, but in the end you need to come up with what works for you. That may take some time and experimentation and just plain getting used to the whole idea. But, as you progress and hone in on a system you need to be consistent and get it down so you can stay focused on enjoying the climbing. Good luck and play safe.

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22 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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Thanks for the wealth of info!


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5 out of 5 stars Totally awesome. Thanks for the info. I wish you can have more pics, but beggars can't be chooser. Great job. I'm a noob, and I still don't understand how you solo after rope is clipped in? Do you essentially climb the pitch twice? First time leading, set up top rope anchor, rappel back down to clean and top rope back up?
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4 out of 5 stars Great job, but the Mammut dyneema sling with Trango's Superfly lockers at the tie in loop seems easy to cross load. Instead a DMM Belay Master is a better choice.
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Thanks for the info.
In which specific aspect you do not recommend Cinch for roped solo?
I have utilized it for roped solo and it have worked great.
I think Cinch is much more reliable than Grigri - I mean Grigri's cam often is not engaged if the belayer's end of the rope is not held.
I use oval locker binar and prevent cross-gate and accidental opening with a Velcro tape - for the same purpose as DMM Belay Master.
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2 out of 5 stars I did not understand what all he was talking about at the beginning, and understand almost nothing more after reading. He is Trad climbing? This from the photos only. Rope in a bag? Huh? None of it makes any sense to me. Presumptuous and presumptive lingo and unknown brand names of unknown items, mostly. Summary: "I do what I do and it's great because it's what I do." But, what does he do? As 'diynamite' says "I still don't understand...."
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5 out of 5 stars Thanks for the review. I have been using a silent partner and dislike it. Having a giant piece of metal hanging in front of my genitals gives me grief, not pleasure, although it does work well. I am looking for better alternatives and your article helped.
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Thanks, Joseph! After 22 years, I'm finally thinking about climbing this way and this article is a big help.
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IŽd like to know any other options to the anchor? and some other options to the backpack full of rope...what are the options if you tied it up to the harness? does any one have a clue of a proper and tidy way to do it with the harness?thanks
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5 out of 5 stars See my post: "EDDY as a solo belay and its camming action DANGERS (?)"
and think again before you start solo climbing with the Eddy.
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Dorians post here: [url];sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;forum_view=forum_view_collapsed;;page=unread#unread[/url]

Here's the thing, please - no one be offended. His artical is real clear. If YOU find it less than so, then I'd highly suggest not doing this until you someone shows you how it's done. Frankly, for myself only, I generally dislike solo lead climbing, but learned it over a few years that it wasn't for me. Good on those who do, but it's not for everyone. More than a lot of things we do, this is one you want to be and stay dialed in and attentive 100% of the time.

Regards all

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Rope soloing is an essential skill for climbing self rescue.
Nice article, more photos would be nice.
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1 out of 5 stars Great article with some fine insights. Thanks.
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Really helpful mate! Many thanks, will be heading out tommorow!
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I looked at this article today and only see two photos: Your harness and rig and a picture of the anchor set-up that seems to replace every other picture in the essay. Are others seeing it this way?
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only the anchor set up is shown
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The images should be fixed now.
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just ordered the eddy. hope it works. i tried a gri gri and it failed to engage on a fall 15 feet off the ground . hit the ground and my luck was good. only broke a few ribs and cut up my elbow. the gri gri did catch me but too late. i believe it did not engage until too late. i was having trouble paying out rope,it was not allowing me to climb, hence i got nonplussed and took a break. the piece i chose to hang off of came out, and down i came. a comedy of errors both human and mechanical. in any case you endorse the eddy so clearly over the gri gri, i will give it a try. i just don't trust the gri gri to not get cross loaded or some how hung up and catch me and fear of falling 150 feet to my death gives me a little concern. a 15 foot fall flat onto my back onto hard rock was bad enough. it will be a while before i can climb again. i do have a question. is the yates screamer necessary??. another question. can i hang a couple of loops off my harness silent partner style? thanks for the help
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I should note that I've settled on the Maxim Glider 9.9mm rope as optimal for use with the Eddy. In fact, need to order another one.
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The Cinch works absolutely well, look at:

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You could do without the screamer I suppose, I personal like having it in the system.

You could hang loops off your harness, but in my case I started using a backpack so I wouldn't have to.

Can the Cinch be made to work, sure, but Malcolm has been pretty clear he would prefer folks not use it in that manner.

In the matter of all these questions and opinions it's definitely a case of 'to each his own' as you have to work out what's best for you.
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Any thoughts on the upcoming Revo?

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