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Rope-solo climbing or rope-soloing (or self-belaying) is a form of solo climbing (i.e. performed alone without a climbing partner), but unlike with free solo climbing, which is also performed alone and with no climbing protection whatsoever, the rope-solo climber uses a mechanical self-belay device and rope system, which enables them to use the standard climbing protection to protect themselves in the event of a fall.
Rope-soloing can be performed as free climbing in a traditional climbing or a sport climbing format. It can also be performed as aid climbing, and a modified version can be performed as top rope soloing. Due to the complexity of the self-belay system, and the significantly increased workloads, it is still considered a hazardous technique.
Versions of rope-solo climbing have been used by solo alpine climbers, including by French alpinist Catherine Destivelle, and Italian alpinist Walter Bonatti. Rope-solo climbing techniques have also been used on big wall climbing routes by climbers such as German Alexander Huber and British climber Pete Whittaker.
In rope-soloing, the climber acts as if they are lead climbing, but instead of having a partner (or belayer) who can arrest the rope in the event of a fall, the climber instead uses a self-belay device and rope system that automatically stops the rope in the event of a fall. In a normal lead climbing system, the lead climber ties into one end of the rope while their second clips-into the rope via their belay device. In rope-solo climbing, this is reversed. Instead, the rope-solo climber ties one end of the rope into a secure anchor at the base of the climb (that can withstand upward forces), and they clip-into the rope via their self-belay device.
As the rope-solo climber ascends, the rope pays through the self-belay device. The rope-solo climber will then clip-into either traditional, sport, or aid climbing protection as they ascend — like a normal lead climber. When the rope-solo climber reaches the top of the route, they then have to fix another anchor, abseil back down to the base of the climb and release the original anchor, and then re-ascend the fixed abseil rope — using ascenders — unclipping/taking out whatever climbing protection equipment they inserted on their earlier ascent. Thus the rope-solo climber has to do significantly more work than a normal lead climber with a climbing partner.
See also: Rock-climbing equipment
The most important piece of equipment is the self-belay device, which the climber wears near their chest/harness, which will allow the rope to pass through it as the climber is ascending, but will grip the rope tightly if it suddenly changes direction in the event of a fall. Rope-solo climbers have used various types of self-belay devices, some modified from their original purpose, including Grigris, Revos, and Silent Partners.
The self-belay device is only one part of a complex system designed to ensure that the rope feeds through the self-belay device properly (in both directions) and that the base anchor can handle a wide range of forces. Some of the self-belay devices also require that the climber does not invert while falling, requiring additional systems. Rope-solo climbers use a range of backup systems in case the self-belay device fails to grip and arrest the fall, which can range from making knots in the rope to employing other braking devices.
Many notable solo ascents by alpinists involved modified/customized versions of rope-solo climbing, including Walter Bonatti's "Z system" self-belay that he employed in making his first solo ascent of the south-east pillar of the Aiguille du Dru, known as the Bonatti Route.
Other notable rope-solo ascents by rope-solo practitioners include:
One of the most rad free-solos caught on film in the 1990s