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 greater 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.


Steve Bate rope soloing while aid climbing on the big wall route, Zodiac (VI 5.8 C3), on El Capitan

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.[1][2]

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.[1][2]


See also: Rock-climbing equipment

Self-belay device

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.[1][2] Rope-solo climbers have used various types of self-belay devices, some modified from their original purpose, including Grigris, Revos, and Silent Partners.[1][2]

Rope-solo system

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.[1][2] Some of the self-belay devices also require that the climber does not invert while falling,[3] requiring additional systems.[1][2] 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.[1][2]


Notable ascents and practitioners

Keita Kurakami rope soloing while free climbing The Nose on El Capitan

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.[6]

Other notable rope-solo ascents by rope-solo practitioners include:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Whittaker, Pete (14 August 2018). "How to Rope Solo". UKClimbing. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Black, Christian (3 February 2022). "Rope Solo Rock Climbing: Understanding How It's Done". GearJunkie. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  3. ^ Medina, Eddie (2015). "Fall on rock, rope solo climbing". American Alpine Journal. p. 79. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  4. ^ "Fall on rock, bolt failure, rope soloing". American Alpine Journal. 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  5. ^ Wharton, Josh (22 August 2022). "How to top rope solo". Climbing. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  6. ^ Bonatti, Walter (2001). The Mountains of My Life. Modern Library. ISBN 9780375756405.
  7. ^ McDonald, Dougald (6 June 2007). "All free rope-solo of El Capitan". Climbing. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  8. ^ "Jorg Verhoeven: Freerider rope solo up El Capitan in Yosemite". PlanetMountain. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  9. ^ "Pete Whittaker / Climbing interview after all-free rope-solo up El Capitan in a day". PlanetMountain. 8 December 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  10. ^ Stirling, Sarah (15 November 2016). "First-ever El Cap all-free rope-solo in a day by Pete Whittaker". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  11. ^ "Watch Pete Whittaker's One-Day El Cap Free Rope-Solo". Grippped Magazine. 2 April 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  12. ^ Levy, Michael (19 November 2018). "Keita Kurakami Makes First All-Free Rope-Solo (and Fifth Free Overall) Ascent of the Nose". Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  13. ^ "Fabian Buhl rope-solo 8c first ascent / Ganesha at Loferer Alm in Austria". PlanetMountain. 16 March 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  14. ^ "Alexander Huber rope-solo first ascent of Mauerläufer 8b+ up Waidringer Steinplatte in Austria". PlanetMountain. 9 January 2019. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  15. ^ "This Legend is 54 and Just Climbed a New 5.14 Multi-Pitch Rope-solo". Gripped Magazine. 9 September 2022. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  16. ^ "Watch Catherine Destivelle Free-Solo Devils Tower". Gripped. 16 March 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2022. One of the most rad free-solos caught on film in the 1990s
  17. ^ Stefanello, Vinicio (24 July 2017). "Catherine Destivelle, climbing and alpinism there where it is dangerous to lean out". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 11 December 2022.

Further reading