Rope solo climbing

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Rope-solo climbing or rope-soloing is a form of solo climbing (i.e. performed alone without a climbing partner), but unlike with free solo climbing, which is also performed alone and with no climbing protection whatsoever, the rope-solo climber uses a complex self-belay device and rope system to protect themselves in the event of a fall.


Rope-soling can be performed as free climbing in a traditional climbing or a sport climbing format. It can also be performed as aid climbing, and a modified version can be performed as top rope soloing. Due to the complexity of the self-belay system, and the significantly increased workloads, it is still considered a hazardous technique.

Versions of rope-solo climbing have been used by solo alpine climbers, including by French alpinist Catherine Destivelle, and Italian alpinist Walter Bonatti. Rope-solo climbing techniques have also been used on big wall climbing routes by climbers such as Austrian Alexander Huber and British climber Pete Whittaker.


In rope-soloing, the climber acts as if they are lead climbing, but instead of having a partner (or belayer) who can arrest the rope in the event of a fall, the climber instead uses a self-belay device and rope system that automatically stops the rope in the event of a fall. In a normal lead climbing system, the lead climber ties into one end of the rope while their second clips-into the rope via their belay device. In rope-solo climbing, this is reversed. Instead, the rope-solo climber ties one end of the rope into a secure anchor at the base of the climb (that can withstand upward forces), and they clip-into the rope via their self-belay device. [1] [2]

As the rope-solo climber ascends, the rope pays through the self-belay device. The rope-solo climber will then clip-into either traditional, sport, or aid climbing protection as they ascend — like a normal lead climber. When the rope-solo climber reaches the top of the route, they then have to fix another anchor, abseil back down to the base of the climb and release the original anchor, and then re-ascend the fixed abseil rope — using ascenders — unclipping/taking out whatever climbing protection equipment they inserted on their earlier ascent. Thus the rope-solo climber has to do significantly more work than a normal lead climber with a climbing partner. [1] [2]


Self-belay device

The most important piece of equipment is the self-belay device, which the climber wears near their chest/harness, which will allow the rope to pass through it as the climber is ascending, but will grip the rope tightly if it suddenly changes direction in the event of a fall. [1] [2] Rope-solo climbers have used various types of self-belay devices, some modified from their original purpose, including Grigris, Revos, and Silent Partners. [1] [2]

Rope-solo system

The self-belay device is only one part of a complex system designed to ensure that the rope feeds through the self-belay device properly (in both directions) and that the base anchor can handle a wide range of forces. [1] [2] Some of the self-belay devices also require that the climber does not invert while falling, [3] requiring additional systems. [1] [2] Rope-solo climbers use a range of backup systems in case the self-belay device fails to grip and arrest the fall, which can range from making knots in the rope to employing other braking devices. [1] [2]


Notable ascents and practitioners

Many notable solo ascents by alpinists involved modified/customized versions of rope-solo climbing, including Walter Bonatti's "Z system" self-belay that he employed in making his first solo ascent of the south-east pillar of the Aiguille du Dru, known as the Bonatti Route. [6]

Other notable rope-solo ascents by rope-solo practitioners include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Climbing protection are mechanical man-made devices employed to reduce the risk and effect of a fall to climbers while on rock or ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Traditional climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Traditional climbing is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber places the protection equipment while ascending the climbing route; when the lead climber has completed the route, the second climber then removes the protection equipment as they climb the route. Traditional climbing differs from sport climbing where the protection equipment is already pre-drilled into the rock in the form of bolts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of climbing terms</span> For rock climbing and mountaineering

Glossary of climbing terms relates to rock climbing, mountaineering, and to ice climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First ascent</span> Mountaineering and climbing term

In mountaineering and climbing, a first ascent, is the first successful documented climb to the top of a mountain or the top of a particular climbing route. Early 20th-century mountaineers and climbers were focused on reaching the tops of iconic mountains and climbing routes by whatever means possible, often using considerable amounts of aid climbing, or with large expedition style support teams that laid "siege" to the climb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abseiling</span> Rope-controlled descent

Abseiling, also known as rappelling, is the controlled descent of a steep slope, such as a rock face, by moving down a rope. When abseiling, the person descending controls their own movement down the rope, in contrast to lowering off, in which the rope attached to the person descending is paid out by their belayer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">El Capitan</span> Vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park

El Capitan is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet (914 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and is a popular objective for rock climbers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Huber</span> German rock climber

Alexander Huber, is a German rock climber and mountaineer. He became a professional climber in 1997, and was widely regarded as the world's strongest climber in the late-1990s, and is an important figure in rock climbing history. Huber has set records in several different rock climbing disciplines, including extreme free solos, new hardest sport climbing routes, and bold first free ascents in big wall climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Solo climbing</span> Style of climbing performed alone

Solo climbing, or soloing, is a style of climbing in which the climber climbs alone, without the assistance of a belayer. By its very nature, it presents a higher degree of risk to the climber, and in some cases, is considered extremely high risk. Note that the use of the term "solo climbing" is generally separate from the action of bouldering, which is itself a form of solo climbing, but with less serious consequences in the case of a fall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aid climbing</span> Style of climbing

Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sport climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Sport climbing is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber clips into pre-drilled permanent bolts for their protection while ascending the route. Sport climbing differs from the riskier traditional climbing where the lead climber has to insert temporary protection equipment while they are ascending.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lead climbing</span> Technique of rock climbing

Lead climbing is a technique in rock climbing where the lead climber clips their rope to the climbing protection as they ascend the climbing route, while their second remains at the base of the route belaying the rope to protect the lead climber in the event that they fall. The term is used to distinguish between the two roles, and the greater effort and increased risk, of the role of the lead climber.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Top rope climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Top rope climbing is a type of rock climbing where the climber is securely attached to a rope that runs through a fixed anchor at the top of the climbing route, and back down to the belayer at the base of the climb. Should the climber fall they will just hang from the rope at the point of the fall. They can then either resume their climb or have the belayer lower them down in a controlled manner to the base of the climb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pitch (climbing)</span> Steep section of a climbing route requiring a rope

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock climbing</span> Type of sport

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, across, or down natural rock formations. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ascender (climbing)</span> Devices used for ascending, braking, or protection in climbing

An ascender is a device used for directly ascending a rope, or for facilitating protection with a fixed rope when climbing on very steep mountain terrain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free solo climbing</span> Form of climbing without protection

Free solo climbing, or free soloing, is a form of technical rock climbing where the climbers climb alone without ropes, or other protective equipment, only using their climbing shoes and their climbing chalk. Free soloing is the most dangerous form of climbing, and unlike bouldering, free soloists climb above safe heights, where a fall can be fatal. Though many climbers have free soloed climbing grades they are very comfortable on, only a tiny group free solo regularly, and at grades closer to the limit of their abilities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of rock climbing</span> Key chronological milestones

In the history of rock climbing, the three main sub-disciplines—bouldering, single-pitch climbing, and big wall climbing—can trace their origins to late 19th-century Europe. Bouldering started in Fontainebleau, and was advanced by Pierre Allain in the 1930s, and John Gill in the 1950s. Big wall climbing started in the Dolomites, and was spread across the Alps in the 1930s by climbers such as Emilio Comici and Riccardo Cassin, and in the 1950s by Walter Bonatti, before reaching Yosemite where it was led in the 1950s to 1970s by climbers such as Royal Robbins. Single-pitch climbing started pre-1900 in both the Lake District and in Saxony, and by the 1970s had spread widely with climbers such as Ron Fawcett (Britain), Bernd Arnold (Germany), Patrick Berhault (France), Ron Kauk and John Bachar (USA).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grigri (climbing)</span> Assisted braking belay device

A Grigri is an assisted braking belay device manufactured by Petzl designed to help secure rock-climbing, rappelling, and rope-acrobatic activities. Its main characteristic is a clutch that assists in braking under a shock load. The success of this device has led to grigri becoming a common name for devices of this type. In 2011 a new version, the Grigri 2, was released to replace the original 1991 model. Petzl released the Grigri+ in 2017, adding safety features to the original design, and 2019 saw the release of an updated version of the device, simply called the Grigri. It is named for the African amulet gris-gris, believed to protect the wearer from evil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine climbing</span> Type of mountaineering

Alpine climbing is a branch of climbing in which the primary aim is very often to reach the summit of a mountain. In order to do this high rock faces or pinnacles requiring several lengths of climbing rope must be ascended. Often mobile, intermediate climbing protection has to be used in addition to the pitons usually in place on the climbing routes.

Pete Whittaker is a British professional rock climber. He is one half of the duo known as the Wide Boyz, along with his climbing partner Tom Randall. Whittaker came to notability from crack climbing, including the first ascent of the world's hardest off-width climb, the Century Crack.


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