Climbing Solo on Rock
Soloing: the purest form of climbing. No ropes, no gear, no problem? Soloing gives the climber an experience which is completely different from normal free climbing (with ropes & protective equipment). Soloing is much more intense but not usually in the expected way.
Many climbers feel much more relaxed and feel they climb better (more naturally) when they're not inhibited by ropes or having to hang around trying to get that awkward nut in a tiny crack. There is an absense of many worries associated with roped climbing - no rope to tangle or drag to avoid, no gear to place (which adds greatly to the difficulty of many routes). Soloing is a time for calmness and fluid movement over the preferably warm, sun-basked rock.
But is it safe?
Free climbing has many risks and these are accepted by all climbers. Objective danger (while climbing) is something you can only avoid by giving up. Especially in the mountains, you can't avoid:
- Loose holds
- Rockfall - natural or otherwise
- Changeable weather
- Loose Holds
- With a rope
- The chances of a hold breaking are normally small on your local crag which has lots of traffic. In the mountains the chances are definitely higher and care must be taken to check holds. If a small hold breaks then you may or may not fall - but well placed protection and an attentive belayer should mean that you'll be fine.
- The chances of a hold breaking are no different, but are you as vigilant when you're soloing? Probably not. The warm fuzzy feeling of unencumbered fluid motion often means you don't get distracted by small things like checking holds are attached. Any hold breaking off means you're in serious trouble.
- With a rope
- Not really expected at your local crag, but definitely expected in the mountains. Natural rockfall is a pain, and can kill anyone even if they're wearing a helmet... if you're tied in, though or are near your gear it's usually possible to let go of the rock and pull your rucksac above your head. Rockfalls caused by inconsiderate or careless climbers is simply unacceptable but it isn't something you can avoid or predict.
- Is there really anything you can do if the rocks are falling and you're on your own? Yes: hope they don't hit you (as usual)!
- Local Crag
- Almost all climbers solo sometimes. It's a great feeling, diving up Little Chamonix in Borrowdale or whatever your favourite route happens to be. Yes, accidents can happen to anyone but on popular climbs that you know well they are simply much less likely to happen, even if the routes are quite long. Wearing a helmet is always recommended, but how many of us do when soloing? At the crag it's very much a personal choice...
- In the Mountains
- Most climbers don't solo in the mountains very often. The objective danger is much greater and there is a definite distinction between scrambling (even very hard scrambles) and soloing where the route is going to be graded Diff or harder. Rockfall is probable you wearing a helmet is common sense... I would argue that using a rope and protection on pitches graded higher than Diff is sensible, too. You don't need to climb in standard pitches, after all - you could try moving together.
Ultimately, though, it's up to individual climbers and their partners to decide how to climb. Climbing is about freedom and risk and about balancing those factors against you ability and the rock! So have fun, and stay as safe as you feel necessary.