Can you climb roped routes alone without having to free solo? by Daniel Bates
Since joining the world of climbing I have always struggled to find the perfect climbing partner, yes I have many friends who I love to climb with, but are they always available when you are and wanting to climb the same things as you? Of course not! This is why I used to lean more towards bouldering as I can go when I want and have no compromises. That was until I moved to Morocco in an area where it is predominantly sport climbing and has a sever lack of regular climbers..... just tourists. So I found myself again asking the same questions: should I turn my back on my human instincts of safety first and start free soloing? or accept that I will only get to climb when others are available? My acceptance of these options didn’t sit quite right so I decided to do some digging. I’ve heard of people belaying themselves, but no one is willing to really advertise this thus making it a bit of a dark art. Well this was until I stumbled across the Facebook groups called Top Rope Solo climbing and Lead Rope Solo climbing who are groups of individuals that practice these techniques and share their experiences and setups with the world.
Whilst researching the first decision was, which process do I want to learn: Lead Rope Solo (LRS) or Top Rope Solo (TRS). So LRS is the process of lead climbing where you place your protection as you climb, best suited for when you are unable to setup a top rope before you climb. Then TRS is where you setup a rope at an anchor first and then climb the route with the rope already in place. For me my only option was to learn the LRS method, so this is where I began.
After some serious research I believe I found the best way for me to climb roped routes and belay myself without feeing totally unsafe. Yes I acknowledged that there is a higher element of risk involved of fully understanding and trusting your system and also patience of having to pull through my slack when climbing, but all of this is negligible in my opinion as I can actually climb alone and safely!
First I gathered my chosen equipment to allow me to LRS and trialled the setup at home making anchors and make-shift bolts to practice the technique and fully understand the whole process. Once I felt confident with this and chose the best positions for my equipment on my harness to allow the rope to feed as smoothly as possible, I decided to take it to the rocks!
At the rocks, I geared up, ran through the process from the floor and devised a backup plan in case the method I was using didn’t work so I could bail easily enough. Then it was time, I climbed my first LRS route as if I had done it a million times, reached the top and belayed myself down. When I reached the floor safe and sound I felt like it was Christmas morning! I had cracked my biggest downfall to wanting to climb roped routes alone without the need for a partner.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that the art itself can be dangerous and you need patience to climb smoothly, which prevents the rope from locking in the system (as if your belayer keeps short roping you), But you are still on your own and able to do something that many believe is just not possible! This method takes time to perfect as when you first learn to climb. The correct technique and methods aren’t acquired on your first attempt, you have to work at it. This is the same, but the more you climb using the chosen technique and the different scenarios you experience, the more you become familiar and more efficient with the whole experience.
As a natural progression on this, it is then possible to learn how to TRS, which will eventually give you the knowledge and knowhow to climb multipitch routes solo. The basic idea is to LRS each pitch and then abseil down the pitch to release your ground anchor and then reclimb the route using the TRS method, thus collecting all the remaining gear as you go. Time consuming and climbing each pitch twice will certainly get you fit, but once again you are doing something that before you couldn’t do alone. If TRS or reclimbing the pitch again isn’t appealing, it is also possible to use a shunt device and climb the rope as an aid to the anchor.
If you are interested to LRS or TRS I recommend you really do your research and analyse all the different methods to find the best and safest way for you. Don’t think one process fits all and as I did, make a safety plan of what to do if something goes wrong and how you will escape the system so there are “no surprises”. Above all don’t take any risks, we climb today so we can climb tomorrow, no climb is worth your life!
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