I've never tried rope-soloing and don't have a very detailed idea of how it's done. But reading the 2015 edition of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, I was struck by how many accidents happened to people who were rope-soloing. My impression is that only a very small percentage of climbing is done using this technique, so the number of accidents would be disproportionate, suggesting that it's either an inherently dangerous activity or maybe one that a lot of people do incorrectly. On the other hand, it seems like a technique that could be useful for self-rescue, for example if your partner gets hurt.

Why does rope-soloing seem to be so dangerous?


Technique for lead solo climbing with rope

Most common avoidable reasons for climbing accidents?

  • I just found that those articles on NA accidents are online, can you provide a link or article names of the stuff you read that brought you to that impression? – imsodin Aug 23 '15 at 8:15
  • @imsodin: Sorry, I didn't write them down. There were a bunch of them. IIRC some of them were not very informative, because the person was found dead, but nobody could tell exactly what had gone wrong. – Ben Crowell Aug 23 '15 at 13:51
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    Wow, that is not consistent with my first reason (minor accidents). Strange that they could not be reconstructed, I would have guessed that should be absolutely possible with the material still on the route and on the climber. – imsodin Aug 23 '15 at 13:59

I do not have knowledge about the particular accidents stated in the question, so my answer is directed at rope soloing in general.

The fact that more reported accidents happen when rope soloing is moste due to the fact that it is soloing. While in a team many minor accidents can be handled by yourself, so there is a huge number of accidents that do not need rescue and therefore never get reported. When soloing you are almost certainly stuck when anything happens, so you will need assistance. Therefore the number of unreported accidents is much smaller.

The second factor is the higher complexity in the system. You have more and complicated gear to handle (just read the question linked, there may even be stuff like modified grigris involved). The amount of errors made always scales with the complexity of the system. Even in the less complex system of climbing in a team, it is highly recommended to do partner checks at all time to introduce redundancy and thus find errors. Because knowledge and experience does not prevent errors (some studies even state the contrary effect, i.e. habituation increases the chance of errors), the fact (true?) that only well trained people do rope soloing does not help either. Again in rope soloing you do not have a partner with a second set of hands, eyes and another brain to check what you are doing. And I am not ashamed to admit that this second brain potentially saved my ass several times in the mountains.

  • This seems like a possible plausible explanation. I also wonder whether it's because the technique involves relying on a friction device. – Ben Crowell Aug 23 '15 at 13:52
  • The lack of redundancy is a good point. – user2766 Aug 24 '15 at 10:04
  • Exactly what imsodin stated. The lack of a backup is not - SHOULD NOT BE, actually - an issue. The manual of the silent partner, for instance, clearly states to "use a backup knot and don't trust your life to a single device". I searched for plenty of accidents about the topic and devices failures and I couldn't find any related to the silent partner though, while plenty of other devices did fail (because they weren't designed for rope soloing, or because of design limitations - mostly with head-first falls). – Dakatine Aug 24 '15 at 17:19
  • @Dakatine It would be great if you could share your findings about the stuff your read on soloing accidents in an answer. What I wrote may be quite accurate but is very general, as I do not have soloing experience myself. Some technical information on what the dangers are would be very welcome. – imsodin Aug 24 '15 at 18:23
  • I am afraid I can't, since it was quite some time ago and I got to this conclusion by searching for hours in the whole Internet and specifically in the supertopo.com and mountainproject.com forums, but also on rockclimbing.com. The findings were sparse and scattered, that's why they aren't easy to share. Those lead to my choice of buying the silent partner instead that anything else. BTW I mistakenly replied as an answer rather than with this comment. Sorry. – Dakatine Aug 25 '15 at 6:19

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