Solo climbing: Hanging from a rock by yourself

Climbing, as a passion sport, is inherently dangerous. And solo climbing, also known as soloing, is a level above the danger that climbing poses. Expert climbers, with over a decade of experience, can get the creeps when it comes to soloing. But after overcoming all the fears in the world and accepting soloing as it is, it certainly has some thrill to it.

The very thought of being at the top of a mountain all alone, with perhaps just a rock beside, you captivates people’s minds and imagination. This is also one of the main reasons of it being a very popular sport.

Alone on a rock wall

This is exactly why I call soloing the truest self-expression for a climber. After all, it must have been a blue-blooded mountaineer who, when asked what was the reason to scale Mount Everest replied nonchalantly, “Because it’s there!”

All happy scenarios aside, without proper and high quality measures, this sport can break a few bones, create permanent physical constraints or even result in a funeral. While soloing, you need to be at the top of your game, or your life is at serious risk. And at the epicentre of that game is balance. You master the art of balancing, you win half the battle right there.

With the balance box checked, you have to have the right equipment to help you scale heights and even save your day sometimes. Because one major setback in soloing is that if at any point of time do you find yourself in some trouble, there is nobody in a three-kilometre radius to help you out. And most of that distance is – you guessed it – straight down.

Solo climbing equipment

Talking of equipments, let’s make a list of all the gear you need to perform this sport and at the same time, still stay alive.

You’ll need:

A rope – A robust and strong rope that will not give way in case of a fall.

Clove Hitch – Possibly the best belay break for climbing high walls with a greater percentage of a fall.

Figure 8 – This equipment can be used when on easier surfaces. It tends to have slacks, and thus increases your ability to make a few moves.

Grigri – The grigri is perhaps the most used roped soloing device, not because of the safety it has to offer, but rather because of its cheap price and the general experience of people using it.

Rock Exotica Soloaid – The soloaid can be best described as a mechanical clove hitch which gives the climber better slack and a greater level of security.

Rock Exotica Soloist – The soloist allows a greater degree of free movement, unlike the soloaid, and is tied to a harness.

Rope Bags – Rope Bags are essential because they increase the live of your rope. Dirty and soiled ropes wear faster, which is why most hikers and climbers prefer to have a rope bag.

Bungee Prussic Loops – These are essentially small prussic loops made up of bungee cords so as to get some extra stretch and slack, and also a little extra security in case of a fall.

Harnesses – A harness provides access and safety to the climber while climbing high mountains, and also better stretch as harnesses too are made of bungee- like stretchable material. It can be tied to the waist, or even the entire body.

Why do people climb alone?

Now that we are through with equipments and gears required for roped solo climbing, one obvious question that can pop in one’s mind is – “Why risk your life and do roped solo climbing?”

Adrenaline

The answer to this question is pretty simple, and very complicated in its own right, too. Hikers and climbers get their kick by scaling mountains and reaching certain heights, from where the entire world would seem peculiarly and unusually small.

Very few people, except those who climb and hike, understand this emotion and even fewer appreciate it. No matter how much sane these climbers may be, the people around them often refer to them as lunatics.

The amount of joy one can get at the height of 2000 metres (or more) is unmatchable and an experience to savour. This is perhaps one of the centric reasons why climbing is such a popular and thrilling sport. And dangerous, too. But the thought of the achievement dwarfs all other considerations.

There is invariably the talented maverick in any group, who chafes all the time at the group pace, wanting to break free of the average. This is the core thought behind many a solo attempt. Either the companion does not have the skills or the heart to go along. Then, as poets in many a language, have advised, “It is better, o bold spirit, to go alone.”

So then, the solo climb remains the default option.

Person climbing a route at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Different schedules

Another very obvious reason is that not everyone’s schedules would match. I mean, these days it’s hardly what it was in the times of the Three Musketeers, who hardly ever wrote a formal leave application. So if your friends cannot make it, and your heart is set on it, then you better know how to go it alone.

If one were to lay down a set of rules that climbers should follow in order to increase their lifespan, the thrill to climbing would be gone. But still, there are certain rules climbers need to follow because in this sport, one miss and it’s your life that is on the line.

Rules, tips and safety

Carry only what you need

The first and foremost rule, which I would personally want each climber to inculcate in himself or herself is that carry only what you need, and not what you think you would need at some point of time in the climb. Just like any aeroplane carries exactly the amount of fuel it would need to reach its destination, and sometimes only a touch extra, the thumb rule for solo climbing is that carry only what you need and keep very little amounts of buffer, or else the weight of the baggage will tire you, which will in turn impact your performance.

Respect weather conditions

Second, be less of a daredevil when the weather isn’t on your side. Weather plays a very important role and judging the weather conditions well before embarking on a climb or trek is mandatory because if that judgement goes wrong, you may as well consider yourself in trouble. Make it very clear to yourself that going for a climb in rainy and stormy conditions or even cold temperatures can make the trip difficult, and even life-threatening.

Bring reliable equipment

Third, don’t wait till your equipment gives way. Climbers have a strong gut feel, and their intuitions are right most of the times. So if ever do you feel that your equipment might break in the middle of the climb, dispose it immediately and get yourself a new one, or if you can’t afford it right now, wait for a few days, get yourself some money and then buy a new one. Always remember, the urge to climb is definitely not worth your life.

Know your limits

Fourth and the last rule would always be that DO NOT ever compare yourself with others. If a co-climber of yours can climb a steeper or higher peak than you, don’t go running behind him and think – “If he can, why can’t I?” A very integral part of any sport, leave alone solo climbing, is to know your limits and potential. No hard feelings, but if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. There is no point risking your life to show someone that you are an incarnation of Superman.

Don’t go climbing alone when you’re (even slightly) injured. Climbing with an injury is extremely risky, especially when nobody is around to aid you. If you’re experiencing an injury, or would like to know how to prevent them while climbing, be sure to read this article about common climbing injuries.

Climber up the wall with chalk

Locations

With most boxes checked, where would you want to go for a climb for soloing? There is, of course, Yosemite in the USA, Donegal in The Republic of Ireland, Fitzroy Massif in Argentina, Eiger North Face in Switzerland and many other locations in Austria, Italy and France. These places are just about as difficult, thrilling and amazing as they get. Therefore they should be graced only by experienced climbers. A newbie can try his skills out on some tall tree.

I sincerely hope this piece gives perspective to the thousands of mountaineers who want to attempt roped solo climbing. It’s by all means a noble endeavour but there are consequences for our choices and those must be considered.