Oh Shit Award #4
April 10, 2021
Although I literally wrote the book on the subject, the dark art of rope soloing scares the shit out of me.
A while back I joined the rope soloing Facebook group, but after a few months, I had to leave, because although there were some solid people on there, it also attracted a lot of crazy dangerous people (a danger to themselves, and a danger to anyone who might listen to them).
The reason for writing Me, Myself & I, was to attempt to share what I’d learnt over five solo ascents of El Cap, as well as on other walls, to set down some safe working practises, as well as highlight what may seem safe (like using a GriGri to rope solo), but which wasn’t at all. I’m still not sure if writing the book was a good or bad idea, as you see a lot more people talking about rope soloing these days, but I hope it at least highlights some dangerous people might miss.
One of the real iron laws of Me, Myself & I, is the use of the back-up knot, which I believe I stress as being your primary belay, not your Silent Partner, Soloist, GriGri etc, which a more “fingers crossed” devices. I know myself and know many others, who have had total belay device failure and have only been saved from zipping off the end of their ropes due to their back-up knots.
This highlights the danger of replacing the back-up knot with a Petzl Micro Traxion. This is done in order to allow you to easily feed dead-rope into the loop that feeds your belay device (if the loop is too big or too small your device will begin to lock up as you climb), but has no ability to stop you if your device fails to lock, apart from the hope that the knot will jam in the device after you plummet all the way to the bottom (I suspect when taking a potential 120-metre fall, you’ll either be dead before you hit the end of the rope, the Microtraxion will break apart, or the knot will just shear off).
The bottom line is you MUST attach the rope to your harness at some point, with or without a Microtraxion, no matter how good your device. If not, you need to have a free-soloing approach to your rope solo, in that it gives you a 50/50 chance of working.
The story below, although short and sweet, is a very good demonstration of this point.
Reading your oh shit awards inspires me to share with you an event that happened to me on Friday 13th March 2020, just before the first lockdown in Belgium. I published the incident in the rope solo group from Yann Camus.
In the 2nd pitch of my solo climb that day, I have had a near accident. The first pitch was easy free LRS (lead rope solo) with my soloist. The 2nd was too difficult for me to free climb. So I took off my soloist and started aiding using the grigri. After 3 bolts I was standing in my aiders attached to a tricam, about 1m above the 3rd bolt. All of a sudden the tricam came out and I should have fallen 2 - 2,5m, but, oh shit, instead my fall continued and it ended in a horizontal position at the level of my anchor! The grigri had done nothing to stop the fall! It was the backup knot that stopped me. 1 meter further or just 30cm closer to the rock and my back would have been hit a ledge.
I had a little headache and my foot was hurt. I went back up to the 3rd bolt and continued using hooks. I didn’t use the grigri anymore, the running clove hitch.
So the conclusion: the GriGri definitely needs a backup ( I think I would have been dead without the backup knot.)
I will not solo with the grigri anymore. It was my first fall in 20 years, but maybe I shouldn’t have gone soloing on Friday the 13th.
The reason the grigri didn’t catch may have been that my foot in the aider pushed on the cam of the grigri, causing him not to engage. My biggest mistake probably was that I have clipped the rope to the tricam before hanging by the next piece.
Another mistake is learning new stuff (aid climbing) while rope soloing, but that’s just me.