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Soloing (all types) on ice


Original Post
Jonathan Croom · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2015 · Points: 305

Hello all,

I'd like to start a discussion about techniques for soloing, roped or unroped, lead and TR, on ice. I really really enjoy soloing of all types on rock, and I anticipate that most of not all of my ice climbing this winter will be solo. Here are a few questions and ideas I've had, in no particular order.

Lead solo--are there any reasonable devices to use (I mean device as opposed to clove hitch, death loop, etc.)? On rock I use a grigri, but I don't have experience with iced up ropes. Would you trust a grigri for soloing on ice as much as you would trust it soloing on rock? I've heard the Silent Partner can freeze up; what's the likelihood that the WC Revo would do the same? 

All that said, is a clove hitch probably the way to go?

Death loop--what do you think of soloing on a death loop threaded through a naked thread? Seems like this would be a good way to protect a short section of a long route that you would be mostly unroped on. Specifically, any idea as to how the rope might fare over the edges of ice in the thread? I've seen several studies proving the strength of threads, but all of them have tested slow pulls, not a fast impact, as in a factor 2 death loop fall. I realize this is all likely to be speculation, but go ahead, speculate.

Is it worth roping up to lead solo on ice? People sometimes say they only lead what they can solo on ice. On rock, I find the question to ask is "do I want a rope or not for a given pitch". On ice, is the question more "do I want a TR for this pitch"? Perhaps the focus should just be on climbing perfectly rather than using rope tricks that don't really increase safety?

Yup, I'm definitely going to die. Better get in a lot of climbing before I do!

Benjamin Mitchell · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 0
Jonathan Croom wrote:

Would you trust a grigri for soloing on ice as much as you would trust it soloing on rock?

When I was new to winter climbing I tried to ascend an icy fixed rope using an ascender and a gri gri and the rope was just slipping through it... I think the consensus is that Gri Gris aren't ideal for winter usage. 

Kevin Mcbride · · Nelson · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 160
Jonathan Croom wrote:

Hello all,

I'd like to start a discussion about techniques for soloing, roped or unroped, lead and TR, on ice. I really really enjoy soloing of all types on rock, and I anticipate that most of not all of my ice climbing this winter will be solo. Here are a few questions and ideas I've had, in no particular order.

Lead solo--are there any reasonable devices to use (I mean device as opposed to clove hitch, death loop, etc.)? On rock I use a grigri, but I don't have experience with iced up ropes. Would you trust a grigri for soloing on ice as much as you would trust it soloing on rock? I've heard the Silent Partner can freeze up; what's the likelihood that the WC Revo would do the same? 

All that said, is a clove hitch probably the way to go?

Death loop--what do you think of soloing on a death loop threaded through a naked thread? Seems like this would be a good way to protect a short section of a long route that you would be mostly unroped on. Specifically, any idea as to how the rope might fare over the edges of ice in the thread? I've seen several studies proving the strength of threads, but all of them have tested slow pulls, not a fast impact, as in a factor 2 death loop fall. I realize this is all likely to be speculation, but go ahead, speculate.

Is it worth roping up to lead solo on ice? People sometimes say they only lead what they can solo on ice. On rock, I find the question to ask is "do I want a rope or not for a given pitch". On ice, is the question more "do I want a TR for this pitch"? Perhaps the focus should just be on climbing perfectly rather than using rope tricks that don't really increase safety?

Yup, I'm definitely going to die. Better get in a lot of climbing before I do!

Im assuming you are new to ice, so DON'T LEAD UNTIL YOU ARE SUPER SOLID, THIS OFTEN MEANS TOP ROPING FOR YOUR ENTIRE FIRST SEASON, THE LEADER MUST NOT FALL!!. Lead soloing on ice is stupid because if you fall you WILL be extremely fucked up and no one will be with you to drag your ass home. If you are going to solo do it without a rope, your death will be a lot quicker if you fall.

kendallt · · Tahoe · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 66
Kevin Mcbride wrote:

Im assuming you are new to ice, so DON'T LEAD UNTIL YOU ARE SUPER SOLID, THIS OFTEN MEANS TOP ROPING FOR YOUR ENTIRE FIRST SEASON, THE LEADER MUST NOT FALL!!. Lead soloing on ice is stupid because if you fall you WILL be extremely fucked up and no one will be with you to drag your ass home. If you are going to solo do it without a rope, your death will be a lot quicker if you fall.

I (mostly) second this. Lead rope soloing ice doesn't make sense. If you're not comfortable enough to go without a rope don't do it.

A solo TR could make sense, but you would want to make sure that there is never slack in your system or you're going to get messed up when you fall. My experience rock TR soloing (micro-traxion) leads me to believe that there is likely to be slack in the system. Icy ropes are likely to be a (dangerous) problem. I wouldn't do it.

Also, given the greater objective hazard (big chunk of ice hitting you, rock melting out, your axe or a screw stabbing you) of ice climbing, I would look for partners.

 Perhaps the focus should just be on climbing perfectly rather than using rope tricks that don't really increase safety?

I think this is the right idea. Aim for perfection, if you are going to solo I would only free-solo or (maybe) TR solo.

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20

No to the lead solo, just a bad idea. I think the only way to top rope solo safely is to pre-tie knots every 5-6 feet. Clip into alternate locked carabiners as you ascend. This is only a good idea if your TR anchor is bolts or something sturdy. I don't think it would be a good idea to take falls on an ice screw anchor, where the rope is tied to the anchor and not going back down to a belayer. You'll want to have the other half of your rope knot free so that you can rap back down after a lap, but even then you gotta be careful. I've seen ropes get pretty ice and dicey. Maybe just don't...

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,745
Ryan Hamilton wrote:

No to the lead solo, just a bad idea. I think the only way to top rope solo safely is to pre-tie knots every 5-6 feet. Clip into alternate locked carabiners as you ascend. 

So, pretty much guaranteeing that most situations would involve a fall of a few feet at least.  With attendant crampon snaggage and leg bone damage.  So, bad advice.

Get a device or two with a good track record for rock TR solo, eliminate slack, and only do it when the rope is absolutely slush-free.

Kevin Mcbride · · Nelson · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 160
Gunkiemike wrote:

So, pretty much guaranteeing that most situations would involve a fall of a few feet at least.  With attendant crampon snaggage and leg bone damage.  So, bad advice.

Get a device or two with a good track record for rock TR solo, eliminate slack, and only do it when the rope is absolutely slush-free.

Agreed, that is a pretty shit idea on a lot of levels

jleining · · CO · Joined Apr 2007 · Points: 33

Either rope solo via top rope i.e. fixed line, or free solo. 

I have roped soloed on ice with just one ascender, safest way? most definitely not! but the conditions allowed for it. 

Jonathan Croom · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2015 · Points: 305
Benjamin Mitchell wrote:

When I was new to winter climbing I tried to ascend an icy fixed rope using an ascender and a gri gri and the rope was just slipping through it... I think the consensus is that Gri Gris aren't ideal for winter usage. 

Ok, thanks for sharing your experience, that was actually super helpful.

Thanks for the replies everyone! MP never disappoints haha. Nearly all of my ice experience so far has been free solo, and it sounds like messing with the rope probably isn't worth it, except for maybe TRing harder grades. There are elements of ice that make me feel much more secure and less committed than free soloing on rock. (Such as: every hold is a jug, throw in a screw to rest nearly anywhere, easy and cheap retreat from nearly anywhere.) Biggest benefit is no belaying time to get cold!

Skibo · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 5
Jonathan Croom wrote:

Ok, thanks for sharing your experience, that was actually super helpful.

 There are elements of ice that make me feel much more secure and less committed than free soloing on rock. (Such as: every hold is a jug, throw in a screw to rest nearly anywhere, easy and cheap retreat from nearly anywhere.) 

This is a reasonable statement only if you've done a shitload of ice, and it sounds like you haven't (or you wouldn't be asking). I've been climbing ice for almost 40 years, and I certainly don't have that perspective--but then I'm old and feeble.  Don't let naivety get you hurt.

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,745
Skibo wrote:

This is a reasonable statement only if you've done a shitload of ice, and it sounds like you haven't (or you wouldn't be asking). I've been climbing ice for almost 40 years, and I certainly don't have that perspective--but then I'm old and feeble.  Don't let naivety get you hurt.

Agreed. "Throwing in a screw" if you need a rest implies that you're seriously tired/pumped. In which case getting that screw in can precipitate a disaster. I wouldn't count on it as any sort of Plan B.  (In the event a crampon pops off, then sure.)

Jordon · · Rochester · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 55

I don't understand why free soloing is better than lead roped soloing for ice. I'm new to ice climbing as well, but isn't some protection better than none? Even if its crap protection?

Kevin Mcbride · · Nelson · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 160
Jordon wrote:

I don't understand why free soloing is better than lead roped soloing for ice. I'm new to ice climbing as well, but isn't some protection better than none? Even if its crap protection?

Because if you fall while rope soloing chances are you will be severely fucked or dead with no one to help you, you'll simply hang from your rope until someone finds you and helps you or you will sit there until the sweet embrace of death finally envelopes you. If you fall while free soloing you'll die much faster, which is a big plus. The idea behind safely climbing ice is never lead something if you aren't 100% comfortable with soloing it, but if you do fuck up its best to do it with someone on the other end of the rope. 

Jordon · · Rochester · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 55

That's seriously the advantage you would die faster? 

Kevin Mcbride · · Nelson · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 160
Jordon wrote:

That's seriously the advantage you would die faster? 

I'm not saying that if your falling on lead you deserve what you get, but if you fall on lead and die it's your own fault. Don't fall, don't lead until your competent, and don't solo shit you could fall on. 

And yes dying faster is a big advantage, ice climbing has enough pain and suffering to begin with, why add more?

Kyle Tarry · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 162
Jordon wrote:

I don't understand why free soloing is better than lead roped soloing for ice.

There is definitely not any kind of consensus that this is true, and many people would agree with you that some protection is still far better than none.

The important thing to understand is that a lead fall on ice is likely to result in non-trivial injuries, very possibly to the extent that you can't get yourself out.  Depending on where you are, this can make leading alone (lead soloing) a bad choice.  Soloing is a different thing entirely, in the sense that oif you fall you probably die, and it requires a completely different headspace and risk acceptance.

Jeremy Cote · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0

You would probably be better off at this stage finding a nice ice bouldering wall to screw around on. Practice lateral moves, swapping, monkey hang, placing screws, footwork, etc. However, even a fall of a couple feet can fuck up your ankles, so best if you have a nice snow drift to land into.

JohnnyG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 10

dude--your gunna die!

JohnnyG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 10

seriously, though,. I TR rope solo ice, following Petzl's recommendations to a T.  I fix the rope in the middle an have one device on each strand (m traxion and microcender. It's fun, but you have to be super super wary of iced up ropes. Rapping down the rope helps keep the ice from building up.  TRIPLE check everything. It would be a most unfortunate way to die.

read this and related links

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Appendix-2--Detail-of-installation-on-two-ropes-with-two-ascenders

Jeremy Cote · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 0
JohnnyG wrote:

seriously, though,. I TR rope solo ice, following Petzl's recommendations to a T.  I fix the rope in the middle an have one device on each strand (m traxion and microcender. It's fun, but you have to be super super wary of iced up ropes. Rapping down the rope helps keep the ice from building up.  TRIPLE check everything. It would be a most unfortunate way to die.

read this and related links

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/Appendix-2--Detail-of-installation-on-two-ropes-with-two-ascenders

I will second this and have done this many times on ice and for dry tooling. I have used the Petzl ascender and microtraxion combination as shown on the page above. I now use the Croll and Microtraxion combination with the Croll held in place by the Petzyl Torse shoulder webbing. I will likely go with a dual Microtraxion setup in the future. Always weight the rope with something heavy. On ice I will only top rope if conditions are favorable. Icy ropes have never been an issue for me, but be mindful. Make sure you can escape the system. I carry two prussics, one for the waist and one for rappel backup, along with a double length sling to stand on via a kleimheist. Those three items plus a couple lockers and belay device is all you need to escape and rap down safely if neccessary. Practice all this in your garage or from a tree first. Work out everything and practice before you get on ice as well. Pick a very easy and short rock route first to dial everything in. You pickup some very useful skills working out these systems for yourself, just be smart and don't die. Double and triple check every part of the system!

**MOST IMPORTANTLY**

Please make sure to dremel/file off the small locking tab on the Microtraxion. There have been rare instances where the device can become accidentally locked open thereby by opening the system... 

Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480

 I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone that doesn’t have lots of experience. Ive used a Grigri TR soloing on ice. I make sure the route is dry and the ice is vertical. I feel these things prevent ice from getting on the rope. It kinda sucks since you have to pull the slack up about every three moves and there’s no redundancy.

 So if I’m without a partner for the day I plan to climb something I can easily solo. I carry a screw and something to clip into for emergencies. It’s also not a bad idea to trail a rope on certain routes just in case.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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