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Lead rope soloing--does it get better?


Original Post
David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122

I have been top rope soloing for a while, but always felt a little limited to climbs I could easily set up a top rope on. So finally after spending a bunch of time learning everything I could about it and practicing on the ground, I went out and did a bunch of easy lead solos today.

The good: my belay system worked flawlessly. I didn't fall, but having taken practice falls on the SP with backup, I wasn't really worried about the system not catching. I was more worried that it wouldn't feed. There were a few times where I didn't leave enough slack before my backup knots and had to back down to adjust, but by the end of the day that wasn't happening.

The bad: I guess for me, leading a climb feels like the culmination of my work on that climb. I don't necessarily feel the need to lead a climb again if I've lead it. And I definitely don't want to rap down and climb the thing again on follow immediately. The leading was fun, but between setting everything up and following, I ended up spending more time doing stuff that felt tedious. And while there are definitely some efficiency gains I could make with practice, I don't see this ever getting to the point where I'm spending more time on the fun (leading) than the tedious (following and changeovers).

The surprise conclusion here is that I'm pretty sure I just don't like lead soloing.

I have gotten a lot out of TR soloing. I use it to project stuff which I intend to ultimately lead. But I'm struggling to find reasons to lead solo, or climbs I'd want to lead solo. I'm willing to push through a learning curve if there's something on the other side, but given what I know after today, I think I'd rather just solo boulder.

So my question is: does it get better, or is this just what lead soloing is? Are there reasons to lead solo I'm not thinking of? What kinds of climbs do you lead solo and why?

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

It does get better or did in my case and it does make a difference if you're talking multipitch. In multipitch, you gotta get all that crap back one way or the another in order to keep going. I personally rap the lead line, reclipping the gear as I go, and then second the pitch as normal (except of course you are TR soloing at that point). But even with seconding and cleaning all my pitches I still lead rope solo a 1/4 to a 1/3 faster than with a good partner who knows how to move. But it doesn't necessarily come easy or overnight and it is an acquired taste. I do find it completely sublime once I'm into the groove and - counting seconded pitches - I can get in 16-18 pitches in a day at our 4-6 pitch crag if I'm in shape.

As for what I rope solo it's generally 5.9-.10s and I rope solo most of what I'll do with a partner and especially love getting away to Eldo and Red Rock when I can.

Good on you for giving it a solid go either way no matter what you decide.

kevin deweese · · Oakland, Ca · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 405

The tedium of lead soloing is part of the allure. Takes all kinds.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Hmm, I don't find it anymore tedious than being with a partner once I leave the ground; setting up the pack and anchor can be a bit of busy work, but that's about it. If anything, it's climbing with other people that's tedious - all that hurry up and wait and belaying business.

Nate Tastic · · 88,4,108,50, 80 · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 10

So you just tie in, start climbing and place gear as you normally would? Then rap the lead line and run up it again cleaning as you go like a second? What am I missing? 

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Yeah, other throw a hank or two of rope out of the pack once in a while, there's not much else to do other than climb once I leave the anchor. But I don't tie-in per se, rather anchor and have the Eddy on my belay loop.

Link-up: Free for All/Dod's Jam/Dastardly Crack (I love this climb).

Nearing the end of the 60 meters (two overhand knots in end of rope in bag)


In the pic above I'm up just arriving at the hanging tree
55m up in the upper lefthand corner of this picture below


And the ground anchor I use for that.
Jim Titt · · Germany · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 490

It is indeed a bit of a problem! Multi-pitch it´s kinda more like big-walling and it´s the progression and technicality that becomes interesting, single pitch I find it just slow and laborious and would rather top-rope solo instead as I can work harder routes. The only reason I lead solo is basically to bolt routes it´s difficult to get a rope from the top.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456

Again, I guess I'm just past all that as I find it simple, straightforward, comfortable, and fast but I've been doing it on a fairly regular basis for a long, long time. And to be honest, I think it's just one of those things where a lot of folks try it, but you have to be some kind of strange enough to keep doing it long enough to break through. Once you do though, then you can just go about your business. I've even done a 2am  solo night rescue of a hypothermic threesome benighted three pitches up on Beulah's Book in Pine Creek Canyon on a very cold night when LV SAR was having their annual party and out of commission until morning. And really, when it gets down to it I'm a total lightweight compared to what some people have been doing with it in Europe and the Valley of late. But, it is odd.

Ģnöfudør Ðrænk · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2017 · Points: 2

I see lead soloing as more of a means to an end similar to back country skiing where you have to first trudge up a mountain to ski down it.  I rarely lead solo just for the sake of lead soloing with the exception of a couple routes that I have dialed and really enjoy.  But instead I will lead solo an easy route that gets me to the top of a hard route that I can then top-rope solo.

From my perspective lead soloing does require more time commitment so I look for routes that are straight up for simple cleaning and with a solid anchor at the base such as a tree to minimize the prep time.

ViperScale . · · McMurdo Station, AQ · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 240

Multi-pitch lead soloing on something that isn't straight up sucks btw, just encase you have not done that before. It is nice when you have a bolted anchor for the bottom everytime but still sucks going up and down at an angle.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 11,365
David Kerkeslager wrote: I have been top rope soloing for a while, but always felt a little limited to climbs I could easily set up a top rope on. So finally after spending a bunch of time learning everything I could about it and practicing on the ground, I went out and did a bunch of easy lead solos today.

The good: my belay system worked flawlessly. I didn't fall, but having taken practice falls on the SP with backup, I wasn't really worried about the system not catching. I was more worried that it wouldn't feed. There were a few times where I didn't leave enough slack before my backup knots and had to back down to adjust, but by the end of the day that wasn't happening.

The bad: I guess for me, leading a climb feels like the culmination of my work on that climb. I don't necessarily feel the need to lead a climb again if I've lead it. And I definitely don't want to rap down and climb the thing again on follow immediately. The leading was fun, but between setting everything up and following, I ended up spending more time doing stuff that felt tedious. And while there are definitely some efficiency gains I could make with practice, I don't see this ever getting to the point where I'm spending more time on the fun (leading) than the tedious (following and changeovers).

The surprise conclusion here is that I'm pretty sure I just don't like lead soloing.

I have gotten a lot out of TR soloing. I use it to project stuff which I intend to ultimately lead. But I'm struggling to find reasons to lead solo, or climbs I'd want to lead solo. I'm willing to push through a learning curve if there's something on the other side, but given what I know after today, I think I'd rather just solo boulder.

So my question is: does it get better, or is this just what lead soloing is? Are there reasons to lead solo I'm not thinking of? What kinds of climbs do you lead solo and why?

Ya. More funs just to straight up solo me thinks.

David Coley · · UK · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 70

I enjoy it on long (>10 pitch) multi pitch routes with bolted belays. Not sure why though. Something about being alone and owning the day. But then, I also mutliday aid solo, and that makes free soloing a day route seem simple faff-wise.

I would never lead rope solo a 1 to 3 pitch route, but rather rap in from the top tying the rope(s) to the anchors.

I normally clean almost all the protection on the rap. If it is a straight line, all of it. I then love re-climbing the pitch on TR-solo. 50m of moment with out a pause, 1000ft off the deck. Magical.

Stagg54 Taggart · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 10
Healyje wrote: Hmm, I don't find it anymore tedious than being with a partner once I leave the ground; setting up the pack and anchor can be a bit of busy work, but that's about it. If anything, it's climbing with other people that's tedious - all that hurry up and wait and belaying business.
With the little bit of lead soloing I've done, I find I'm always moving.  There is no downtime.
Kyle Elliott · · Everett, WA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 565
David Kerkeslager wrote: So my question is: does it get better, or is this just what lead soloing is? Are there reasons to lead solo I'm not thinking of? What kinds of climbs do you lead solo and why?

Lead soloing multi pitch on gear, for me, is about the intimacy with the route, and the self reliance. I prefer to climb less-frequented routes because of this so I have solitude. I also tend to pick climbs that are easier than I would normally lead with a solid partner, and much easier than anything I would toprope. 

Ryan Swanson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2018 · Points: 50

Joe, have you used a grigri instead of the eddy?  I am unfamiliar with the differences, although they seem very similar.

Jonathan Croom · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2015 · Points: 390

To the OP- yes! It does get better, at least for me. I have basically only been climbing solo for the past year. I've been rope soloing in some form or another for most of my climbing career, but finally decided to get it dialed for free climbing. (I still have never done an aid route with a partner; I just can't bring myself to make a belayer suffer through that boredom.) For free climbing, there was a steep learning curve for me. Now I do not feel at all limited by being solo. It's not idea for pushing your limits on single pitch routes, but I still can climb them, maybe by leading an adjacent route then solo tring others. I love solo road trips, and I never feel limited for lack of a partner.

I will absolutely second Joe's comment about going faster-- I absolutely climb multipitch routes faster solo than with a competent partner. Recently I joined a two person party on a short multipitch route that I was going to rope solo, then found occupied. Big thanks to them for including me, and things went fine, but i was just shocked by how freakin slow everything went. Hanging at a belay, leader out of sight, no idea when I'd get to start climbing, talk about tedious! Have you ever watched someone else coil up a cordelette? It makes you want to grab the pos and chuck it off the cliff!

I also feel safer, but I'm not making the claim that soloing is safer. (What does "safety" even mean? Quite the philosophical question I think. I sure don't know the answer.) To me, soloing reduces unknowns-- how much rope is left, what kind of anchor did the leader build, is a pitch adequately protected for the 2nd, how tired is my partner, etc. I have also come to love climbing everything twice (on multipitch at least). If I fall, pull on gear or rest on lead, I have an immediate chance to tr the pitch cleanly. It's great getting two chances to learn the movement, and from a training perspective you get twice the climbing. In some cases, I'll follow free pitches on jugs, perhaps to conserve energy or move faster over the course of a day. There are lots of options.

I too prefer long routes when rope soloing. As others have commented, I get in the flow of what I'm doing and feel more efficient once I get going. I primarily was/am drawn to rope soloing because it suits my personality. For me, the worst part of climbing (or anything really) are the social interactions of it. Then put myself many pitches up, tired, hungry and cold, and that does not make things any better. Rope soloing allows me to take full responsibility for myself. I complain endlessly in shitty situations with a partner. Solo in a shitty situation, there's no one to blame but myself, so complaining doesn't do too much. All my energy and focus is on the next move, the next thing I need to do with the rope, the next step ahead of me, getting home alive, rather than blaming my partner.

For me, the advantages of rope soloing 100% outweigh the disadvantages of climbing with a partner. If that's not the case for you, then that answers the question. I think everyone should learn the techniques of rope soloing from an emergency/rescue perspective, but many people seem to prosper by climbing with partners. And I will say, some of my most memorable climbing moments have been sharing long easy routes with one or two of my best friends; it's just that those are "friendship" experiences to me, not "climbing" experiences.

Jonathan

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122
David Coley wrote: I normally clean almost all the protection on the rap. If it is a straight line, all of it. I then love re-climbing the pitch on TR-solo. 50m of moment with out a pause, 1000ft off the deck. Magical.

Huh, maybe I'll try that. I do think that might be an improvement in the experience.

Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456
Ryan Swanson wrote: Joe, have you used a grigri instead of the eddy?  I am unfamiliar with the differences, although they seem very similar.
Yeah, for a decade before the Eddy came out. Workable, but still sucks comparatively for free, lead rope soloing. I find it's the way to go for aid soloing, however.

They appear to similar, but the locking mechanism is different and the fact the rope path through the device is the opposite from a grigri relative to the anchor/climber sides of the rope. It's this latter characteristic which makes it so good for rope soloing.

David Coley wrote: I normally clean almost all the protection on the rap. If it is a straight line, all of it. I then love re-climbing the pitch on TR-solo.
David Kerkeslager wrote:Huh, maybe I'll try that. I do think that might be an improvement in the experience.
I can see why folks do this, but I just like pretending I'm seconding the route normally I guess and I also learned so much by 'dog-fooding' my own pro having to clean it myself. I've developed a much, much lighter touch on setting pro as a result.
AndyPetersen · · Blacksburg, VA · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 175

I love multi-pitch rope soloing.  Depending on the shape of the route you can climb the normal route line on lead then the unnecessary gear on rappel (leave protection for swings or traverses) and then move a couple feet over on the rock and climb an entirely different - usually much harder route on top rope.  You don't have to repeat the same line - and hey your on top rope might as well try a harder line.  

rockklimber · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 0
Healyje wrote: .

Nearing the end of the 60 meters (two overhand knots in end of rope in bag)


What do you mean by 2 overhand knots?  Why do you use an overhand knot?  They untie so easily.  And why two?
Healyje · · PDX · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 456
rockklimber wrote:What do you mean by 2 overhand knots?  Why do you use an overhand knot?  They untie so easily.  And why two?
I mean literally that I put two [tight] overhand knots in the end of the rope - one at about 18 inches from the end, another at about 12 inches from the end.

They don't untie easily in the bottom of the rope bag and pretty much snag on everything on the way out - the rope bag, the pack, and the little guide biner on my shoulder strap - any of that snagging is more than enough to trip the Eddy into locking. I use two of them because if the first were to start rolling it would run into the second. It's a more than satisfactory arrangement for the purpose.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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