Rope soloing: climbing a route by yourself rather than with a climbing partner (rope and protection is used for safety)
What was the appeal of rope soloing Zodiac?
I’ve been interested in soloing and big wall soloing for a while. Within the first year of climbing I became interested and started buying the gear and learning the techniques I would need with the dream of someday soloing a route on El Cap. The idea of soloing has always appealed to me because you have to be completely self-sufficient and figure out problems on your own. Unlike climbing with a partner, you always have something to do and you always know everything that’s going on in the system – that the rope is fixed, what the anchor is like, how much rope you have left. I find the extra complexity of figuring out systems that will work efficiently, fun and rewarding. Every time I climb I think of ways to improve the systems I’m currently using. With soloing there is so much more going on, which means there are so many different ways to do things. It’s a constantly evolving system, which gives you something to look forward to each time you climb.
The history of Zodiac played a role in why I chose this route over others. The first ascent (by Charlie Porter) was done solo, so I thought it would be pretty cool to climb it solo as well my first time up the route. It also worked out that there are decent ledges (primarily Pearly Gates and Peanut Ledge) spaced out well for sleeping, which would mean I wouldn’t need a portaledge.
Tell us a bit about what the route (Zodiac) is like.
Steep! Not so much that you really notice while climbing, but every free hanging rappel and/or jug (except the last pitch) leaves you hanging way out in space. The route had very little fixed gear, however, I was still able to climb it cleanly. It is pretty consistently C2-C3 with lots of pin scars, thin cracks, and hook moves.
What systems did you use to solo the route?
I hadn’t done a multi-day solo with hauling before, so I figured out what worked best through trial and error on the climb. I had many tools/techniques in my head that I could potentially use. I ended up using a system very close to the “continuous loop system”, but without tagging up gear. The main advantage of this system for me was that I had less rope weight hanging off my harness, since you don’t need the haul line with you. When climbing, you lead and place gear, clipping the rope that goes from the anchor to your Silent Partner (the device I used for self-belaying). When you get to the end of the pitch you clip into the anchor and fix both the lead and haul line. You then rap down to the anchor and release or lower out the haul bag before ascending the lead line to clean the pitch. When you get to the top of the pitch, haul the bag, dock it, and set up the anchor, Silent Partner, and backup knots to prepare for leading the next pitch. All the anchors are bolted, which made it easy to set up good, quick multi-directional anchors.
What food did you bring/eat for the climb?
I brought about 3,100 calories and one gallon of water per day. Bagels, peanut butter, canned soup, canned fruit, canned beans, pouches of pre-made Indian food, pre-cooked brown rice, trail mix, and plantain chips.
Can you describe the rack you brought?
1 x 000 C3
3 x up to #1 (three were Totem Cams, which are awesome – I want more!)
2 x #2-#5 (2 #5s are essential for the offwidth pitch)
2-3 x offset cams
1 set DMM Brass Offsets
1 set DMM Alloy Offsets
1 set Metolius Astro nuts
lots of rivet hangers (I used BD nuts)
2x narrow camhooks, grappling hooks, tomahawks (medium & large)
#1-4 sawed off angles (for hand placing)
lots of quickdraws/slings (I never had enough)
I brought but didn’t use a hammer, heads, lost arrows, ballnuts, talon hooks, a cliffhanger hook, a logan hook, and small peckers/tomahawks.
Can you tell us a bit about how the climb went and any challenges you faced or had to overcome?
It went great! As with most big walls, there were lots of mini challenges along the way, like carrying/dealing with a ton of gear, figuring out systems, stuck/tangled ropes, cold nights, and tricky gear placements. I took my only two falls on the route at a particularly tricky spot trying to do the route clean. I never considered hammering, even though it would have been easy climbing if I tapped in a piton. Another challenge was sharing anchors and passing a party of three climbing above me. It messed with some of my systems and got me out of my groove.
What was the most rewarding part of soling Zodiac?
The most rewarding part was not just finishing the climb, but feeling confident that I knew what I was doing the whole time. Also, figuring out my systems and keeping track of the gear I needed (for next time!) was fun. Even though the climb was very challenging for me, I pretty much treated it as another practice run/learning experience. Rather than just doing whatever I could to get to the top or whatever was easier at that particular moment, I tried to do what would make me a better climber in the long run and how I would do the climb the next time.