Toprope solo climbing or (TR soloing) is a form of toproping that doesn’t require a belayer, making it ideal for quick sessions, cold days, or following a pitch and then hauling up a backpack

Warning! These are advanced climbing techniques!
Setting up a TR solo system is complex and requires a solid background in roped climbing. TR Soloing has a higher risk of serious injury (or death) and is best done with proper guidance. Consult a guide or other authorized instructor before attempting.

Overview

Normally, when following a pitch, the climber’s connection to the rope (their tie-in knot) stays at the end of the rope, so the slack in the rope is pulled up and managed by a separate belayer and belay device as the follower moves. In TR soloing, this is all reversed. It is the climber’s connection to the rope which moves with the climber, and the rope itself remains fixed in place. The devices connecting the climber to the rope manage the combined jobs of a tie-in knot and a belayer with a belay device. This is incredibly convenient. It can also be a giant clusterf&%k or downright deadly if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Also, there is no standard test for climbing manufacturers to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of devices for the purpose of TR soling. So if you’re going to do it, you should be smart about how.

The Best Setup for Toprope (TR) Soloing 1
The author TR Soloing on a 10-pitch Route in Washington State.

Backup System

Climbers always depend on a few non-redundant elements of our climbing setups to keep us safe, and these elements include belay carabiners, knots, ropes, belay loops, partners, and rappel devices. If one of these fails, there’s typically no backup. While TR soloing, I believe climbers should use 2 independent ascender mechanisms for connecting to the rope. When attached to the rope, these should slide with you up the rope but not back down. This desired redundancy is in respect to the possibility for any one device becoming accidentally held open and temporarily disabled.

Even with the redundancy, it’s especially important to double check that both carabiners are locked.

The Best Setup for Toprope (TR) Soloing 2
2 Separate Devices for Redundancy

My Preferred Two-Device Gear Setup

 

Petzl Micro Traxion
Bottom Ascender – Petzl Micro Traxion
CAMP Lift
Top Ascender – CAMP Lift

 

Bottom Ascender

My preferred two-device setup is to use the Petzl Micro Traxion connected to the belay loop with a small auto-locker such as the Edelrid Pure Slider, which can’t unscrew itself. The Petzl Micro Traxion device slides easily and is compact, but it does have teeth on its locking cam mechanism which can add unnecessary wear to the rope when it catches a fall or while hanging and is why I use this as my backup ascender.

Other auto-locking carabiner options include the BD Vaporlock Magnetron, or any of the more traditional 2-stage/3-stage lockers — see WeighMyRack for a list of all the options.

Top Ascender

Also on the belay loop, above the Petzl Micro Traxion, I clip a redundant ascending device. I like the CAMP Lift, which has no rope-grabbing teeth, and clamps down on the rope between two plates. The non-teeth traction device should help prolong the life of your rope when it’s used to hold most of your falls and hangs. Partnering it with an ultralight locker (~40g) is important because as you climb, this lightweight locker and upper ascender will be held taut up against your chest.

I attach the CAMP Lift with an ultralight locker such as the Grivel Plume Nut K3N (which is the lightest locker currently available) or CAMP Photon (a keynose and one of the lightest readily available lockers).

Screwgate Tip: If the locker is brand new, and it’s not auto-locking, it’s not a bad idea to gunk up the screwgate with a bit of sap or dirt, or just always rotate this carabiner upside-down, so that the gate won’t unscrew itself. The gate unscrewing is one of the biggest threats in this system – a much larger threat than cross-loading.

 

The Best Setup for Toprope (TR) Soloing 3
CAMP Lift on top, Micro Traxion on bottom. Note the elastic “necklace” holding the upper ‘biner up.

 

My setup versus other 2-ascender setups

Other climbers use a similar setup but simply employ two Petzl Micro Traxion’s, or a heavier (cheaper and older style) Mini Traxion on the bottom and a Micro Traxion above. Those iterations of this system are tried-and-true as well. They just require more expensive gear, heavier gear, and use only toothed ascenders.

Keeping the Upper Device Taut

During use, you’ll want to keep the upper device away from the lower device. The easiest method to hold up the top device is by wearing a loose fitting “necklace” of stretchy elastic cord (sold by the foot at outdoor stores) or elastic webbing such as an old headlamp strap. Tie a loop/”necklace” (just a large overhand on a bight) that can easily fit over your helmet or hood, and with the two loose ends of the cord, tie small overhand loops. You can use these two small loops, clipped to the locker either side of your CAMP Lift, to hold up the locker and Lift. A time-saving tip is to get two tiny accessory clips, such as these from Goal Zero, and use them for quickly connecting and disconnecting your elastic necklace to your top device.

The Best Setup for Toprope (TR) Soloing 4
Make 2 Small Loops In The Elastic’s Tails
The Best Setup for Toprope (TR) Soloing 5
Save Time With Clips On The Tails

The Process

  1. Fix your 9.2-10.4mm rope off a solid top anchor. Using a static rope is most convenient, but a dynamic will work as well.
  2. Rappel the pitch on a single strand, placing a few pieces of directional gear if needed.
  3. Connect both devices onto the rope and into your belay loop as shown above.
  4. Make sure that they each independently lock if you pull down on them. If a short/sharp tug on the device does not lock them, something is awry.
  5. Ensure your upper device will be held taut against your sternum while climbing using the “necklace” technique. This will prevent the two devices from touching and interfering, and will reduce slack in the system, shortening any falls.
  6. Before leaving the ground it’s ideal to add some weight at the bottom of the rope, whether that’s shoes, water, or a bag. This will make the rope taught and your ascending experience more pleasant as the rope will more easily run through the devices.
  7. Climb as normal. The ascenders will slide up on their own and then grab the rope in case of a fall

Climbing

The biggest difference is mental. You simply don’t have a belayer/partner. To reduce the stress it can help to think that what you are doing is athletic and just less-boring “jumaring” — where the jumar-like devices slide up with your body. In this context, TR solo climbing can seem fairly benign and unremarkable.

Pro Tips

  • The ideal TR solo cliff will have several closely-spaced pitches accessible from one anchor, few overhangs or roofs, minimal traversing, and easily-reached anchors without debris that can fall on other climbers.
  • As always, be courteous and supportive of folks leading pitches and share the crag. Do not tie up multiple routes and be particularly cognisant if you are on a popular route.
  • TR solo climbing should not be done with long dangling hair, as even a loose ponytail can easily get caught in the ascending device. Wear a hat or take care to pin your hair back completely.
  • Wear a tight-ish shirt — any loose fitting shirt material can pose a threat by jamming into your ascenders.
  • For whatever reason you are carrying gear, don’t carry it around your neck. For example, do not to rack gear on slings over your shoulders, as these can tangle or obscure your view of the devices.
  • After you leave the ground, or pass any ledges, it’s always a good idea to stop and tie a solid overhand stopper knot in the rope below you. If all else fails, even if both ascenders accidentally locked in the “open” position, you won’t fall past the stopper knot.

 

Questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments!
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Blake Herrington

Blake Herrington

Blake Herrington is an outdoors writer, father, husband and amateur baker who lives in Washington state. He has dabbled in most forms of climbing, and flashed 5.13 and V8, and sent the Sunday NYT crossword free-solo. He likes being efficient, or lazy, and his climbing trips focus on long granite routes in remote locations.

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