I have been trying to find the "canonical" post on this topic without success - each post has its own take on the issue. And I understand that opinions and preferences abound - but I'm looking for sensible principles to apply (and resultant recommendations). Perhaps the most reputable discussion I found is on Mountain Project.

But if I were to summarize what I have learned I'd say that:

  1. You need two devices for redundancy, separate from each other as in this video:

enter image description here

and the Gri-Gri is not a valid alternative, despite some online presentations.

  1. Petzl Microcender seems to be a crowd pleaser, among other things, because it is toothless, and doesn't fray or peel on the rope. However, it has been discontinued. Same goes for the Silent Partner and the Soloist.

enter image description here

Are the Petzl Rescucender and the Trango Vergo the preferred alternatives for the primary device? For instance, on the Mountain Project forum, here, here and here.

enter image description here

  1. What is the (or some of the) preferred secondary device? On the first image above, the secondary device (Handled Ascender) looks quite bulky... Should a toothed device like the Petzl Micro Traxion be a favorite option? By using it as a secondary device, you get all the benefits of a toothed device, but protect the rope since it will only get engaged if the primary device fails.

enter image description here

Of note, I have also come across the recommendation of the Petzl Micro Traxion as the sole device as in this:

enter image description here

The Yates Rocker and the Wild Country Ropeman mentioned by Climbing Magazine.

  1. Is it best to use a static rope (less elastic excursion; less problems with toothed devices) with two strands equalized via, for example, a figure 8 knot at the top - one strand for climbing; the second strand as an escape belay or lowering (gri-gri) rope? This is probably shortsighted, giving priority to the rope over avoiding potential spine injuries with falls on static ropes - although possibly not all that likely...

You seem to have worked out many of the important principles that are needed for a system like this.

The most authoritative source that I know of is Petzl's articles on top-rope soloing. The downside is that they naturally only recommend Petzl devices. While some of their ascenders are recommended for top-rope soloing in the articles, they also mention others that are unsafe to use. In my opinion, the main takeaways from these articles are the following:

  • Top-rope soloing is more dangerous compared to climbing with a belayer. Because you are alone, you have only yourself to rely on to catch mistakes so there is less room for error.
  • Do not rely on a single ascender. While it may be unlikely, ascenders can fail (for instance if a foreign object gets inside) and this is likely to result in serious injury or death.
  • Use ascenders of different types. That way if one fails, the other is more likely to still hold since it is using a different mechanism.
  • If you use a toothed ascender, make sure that there will be as little force on it as possible in the case of a fall by minimizing the fall distance. Hard falls on toothed ascenders can strip the sheath off the rope.
  • The safest system for top-rope soloing uses two ropes with one ascender on each one. While more inconvenient, it allows for the possibility that a rope could be servered when it saws over a sharp edge while under tension. This is possible as has been shown in tests and is more likely to happen when top rope soloing because the same part of the rope can come in contact with the same area on the rock multiple times (particularly if you are working on a hard move).
  • Petzl recommends a dynamic or semi-dynamic rope of 10mm or greater.

Petzl doesn't recommend against using a toothed ascender for the primary device. However, I personally have observed minor damage to the sheath of the rope during some test falls that I did, so I would only use a toothed ascender for backup. The damage wasn't enough to cause safety concerns, but I didn't really want it chewing up my rope over time.

I would not recommend using an assisted braking device such as the GriGri or Vergo for top-rope soloing. Unlike with an ascender, you would have to manually feed rope through it while climbing. Moreover, assisted breaking devices are not meant for catching a fall without the brake end of the rope bring held. Finally, unlike some of the ascenders in the linked article, the manufacturers do not recommend using them for top-rope soloing.

Be careful about information you read online as I have come across a lot of bad information while researching this topic. It is important to verify anything you read (including this answer) and make sure that the system is sound by thinking about it carefully and testing it.

A good way to test the system is to attach your rope to a tree and do many test falls a few feet off the ground under the different conditions that you think you might encounter on a climb. That way you don't have to find out if the system works correctly when you fall halfway up a cliff :-)

Do not use the system unless it works perfectly in your tests and there are no potential problems with it.

  • +1 Any thoughts on static v. dynamic ropes for this? – Antoni Parellada May 27 '19 at 22:50
  • 1
    @Enjoynature Petzl recommends dynamic or semi-dynamic rope that is more than 10mm in diameter. Static ropes have the advantage of being more durable and having less stretch which means you don't fall as far when you weight the rope. Dynamic ropes have the advantage of softer falls but the rope stretch will be more significant. Semi-dynamic seems ideal if you don't mind buying a rope just for top-rope soloing. – Qudit May 27 '19 at 23:07
  • +1 I like your link and interpretation of Petzl's appendix about the strengths, weaknesses and concerns of their various devices as used for self-belaying -- petzl.com/US/en/Sport/… . – Dave X Jul 28 '19 at 14:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.