Rocking climbing alone is not ideal for beginners. That is unless you are indoors at a gym, then, by all means, go alone! There are guides there to help you learn the ropes, quite literally. If you are ready to take on the challenge of climbing alone, there are a few things you must do to prepare for the venture. Rock climbing alone is something anyone can prepare for if they have the right mindset and will power to back it up. Below is a complete guide to prepare you for climbing alone.
How to go rock climbing alone? Before your climb, you will need to know how to belay by yourself. This includes building your own rappel anchor. However, there are countless things to consider before climbing alone, that even an essential guide such as this one can’t prepare you for everything. This is because some things are simply out of our control.
Rock climbing is more or a logical-based endurance driven sport. Aside from the proper equipment, there are many things to consider before climbing alone. One of the main things is repetition. Practice, practice, practice! This will instill the confidence it takes to take on lofty goals, such as rock climbing by yourself.
Planning plays a significant role from beginning to end, as well. Before and throughout the climb, there are several different things to plan for.
What Does It Take to Go Rock Climbing Alone?
There is a lot of planning and preparation that must be done before venturing out on your own as a rock climber. Rock climbing alone makes you a more substantial risk to others climbing on the mountain. If you are truly alone, with no other climbers nearby, then you are still a significant risk, but all of the risk factors fall on you.
All of the life-changing goals we set for ourselves in life come with risks, obstacles, and fears. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth going after, though. In fact, if you set goals for yourself and they don’t make you nervous, then they will never change your present circumstance. The same goes for rock climbing alone.
There are many factors in rock climbing alone. Some that you can control, while others you simply cannot.
First things first, though, picking out the location you would like to climb alone is a top priority. Picking the location is more than just deciding what mountain is most appealing. Some things to consider about the location of your choosing are:
Time of year that is best for climbing in that location
The height of the climb
The route and length of the route you plan to take
Learn about past climbers at the location
The pros and cons of climbing at the location
Figure out the levels of climbs that are at the location
You will also need to figure out what type of climbing you will be doing and if this climbing is suited for the location of your choosing.
Types of Solo Outdoor Climbing:
This type of climbing is most useful in areas where adequate leader protection is not allowed by the quality of the rock. Not only this, but also in areas where bolting is not part of the ethic or an area where your top-rope can be set off of a tree.
When you top-rope climb, you are using a rope for safety that runs from a belayer at the foot of a route connected to an anchor system by carabiners. You are strapped into a harness, and with the assistance of a belayer, the risk of falling more than a short distance is significantly reduced. However, if you are climbing alone, this is what will increase your risk of harm to yourself and others climbing on the mountain.
It is imperative to be experienced in this type of climbing before trying to do it alone. If you do not build the rappel anchor properly or you aren’t strapped in correctly, things could go wrong quickly.
Building a rappel anchor alone:
Before you begin setting up your rig, you will need to warn all surrounding climbers that you are climbing alone and will require a wide berth. They will understand at this point that you are a hazard and to give you extra room.
This is by far the most dangerous part of your climb because it is the only time that your life will depend on single systems. You will be attached by the one rappel device and one carabiner. Because of this, you need to make sure you invest in the top-quality gear.
The most common way to rappel is to thread the rope through a rappel device attached to your harness with a locking carabiner. However, you do not want to try this until your top anchor is secure. You also want to make sure the backup line is secure and will keep you from hitting the ground or any ledges.
Do this by tying knots in the backup rope at regular intervals, but if you don’t have a second rope, you can do this to your main rope below the solo device.
Then you will back yourself up and tie off the summit line to the anchor. Now you can rappel your mainline to the ground and attach your solo device to the rope. Make sure to weight the rope end with extra gear and two locking carabiners through the belay loop. After this, you should be ready to climb!
This style of climbing is usually limiting to short climbs over a bouldering mat. That is because when you are bouldering, you are climbing without the use of ropes. Typically, climbers will choose a location where large natural boulders are, but some climbers will practice at the base of larger rock faces.
If you choose to boulder climb alone, you want to make sure you have a nice crash pad because this is your primary source for protection if you fall.
Traditional climbing is when the climber will place all protective gear while climbing, and then remove the gear once the passage is complete. This style is a little harder to do alone, but it is one of the safest ways to climb.
This style is when the climber will attach devices to pieces of protection to stand on them in order to make upward progress. When climbing using this technique, climbers will typically go for routes that aren’t as steep or long.
When you are solo-aid climbing, you will need a device that works with a backup knot as means of a self-belay. The rope is manually fed in increments while the climber makes his advances.
Alpine climbing and free-soloing:
Both of these climbing techniques are extremely dangerous. Neither technique should be done by anyone other than a climbing expert. You must be not only good at climbing rock but also snow and ice. Alpine climbing can be done alone or with a group, but free-soloing is inherently done alone.
Alpine climbing is done with the help of ropes and other forms of protection for assistance, but these climbs are often with an end goal of reaching the summit of a mountain. This takes time, patience, and knowledge of many different things.
Free-soloing, on the other hand, is a style of climbing where the climber brings nothing with him aside from his chalk most of the time. Typically, the climber will stay confined to familiar routes. This style of climbing isn’t as long as alpine climbing but is just as dangerous. Mainly because of the possibility of loose rock or a sudden change of weather and having nothing for protection.
Aside from being an elite rock climber, there are other factors the climber must have a good knowledge of before making his ascent.
Some of these factors include:
Being aware of natural hazards like an avalanche or storms
must know how to take care of yourself in extreme situations
you may also need to be knowledgeable in other cultures if you are trying to climb a certain location.
What Kind of Gear Is Necessary for Climbing Alone?
Before you decide to make your first solo ascent, is it crucial that you are prepared with the proper gear. When you are climbing alone, you obviously don’t have a team of climbers to fall back on if something in your bag is faulty or simply missing. You are responsible for yourself entirely.
Checking your gear is something you will want to do almost every day before your climb to ensure that everything still works properly. Not only this, but it is also important to invest in high-quality gear. You don’t want to necessarily bargain shop for climbing equipment right before you are about to climb alone.
Below is a list of gear you will need if you aren’t free-soloing:
The pair of shoes you buy is going to be one of the most important purchases before your climb. Your shoes will not only provide protection for your feet, but they also help you with traction and connecting to the rock. Not only this, but you want to make sure they are comfortable because you are going to be wearing them after all.
Climbing takes a lot more physical work from your feet than just walking, so you want to make sure your feet are comfortable as well as protected.
Ropes are constructed of two main parts, the core and the sheath. The core is what provides the strength, and the sheath protects the core while also making the rope easier to maneuver.
They are also divided into two categories, which are dynamic and static. Dynamic ropes are designed to absorb the energy of a falling climber, and they have an elastic feeling, while static ropes are used for anchoring systems.
Single ropes are the most common and are designed to be used by themselves as individual strands.
Your rope is also for your protection, which is why it is important to invest in the best of the best of ropes.
The harness is essential because it is what keeps the rope attached to the climber. If you are top-rope climbing, a harness is very important because you will be belaying and anchoring yourself. A lot of your trust will fall on a proper rope and harness set up.
When looking for a proper belay device, you want to choose an active belay. The active belays are more expensive, but they will provide more assisted braking if you fall during your climb. This is key for your ultimate protection in an emergency.
Carabiners are essential, and lots of them! It is important to buy the locking carabiners as these are the safest option for climbing.
A quick-draw is what you use to connect an added piece of protection to your rope while climbing. You will need two extra locking carabiners to connect to a piece of short, pre-sewn webbing.
Protection devices are just precisely what they say they are. You need all the protection you can get as a solo climber, so adding protection devices to your list is highly encouraged. These devices will allow you to anchor points on the rock during a climb temporarily.
There are two types of protection as well:
Passive protection acts as a choke by using the shaping of the rock to prevent the device from falling out. Nuts are the simplest form of passive protection. Active protection, on the other hand, converts a pull into pressure against the rock. This locks it tighter in place. Cams are the most popular form of active protection.
A helmet is highly recommended while climbing, especially when you are climbing alone. The reasoning is pretty apparent. In the event of a fall or other emergency, you want to make sure your head is protected first and foremost.
Gloves and chalk:
Gloves and chalk are both for added absorption and protection for your hands. The gloves help against rope burn, but if you aren’t using a rope, then chalk will be your best friend. You will want chalk and plenty of it. You will also need a decent chalk bag to strap from your waist to easily access your chalk.
How to Mentally Prepare?
Aside from the proper gear and skills to effectively rock climb alone, there is also a lot of mental prep work that goes into this. As I mentioned above, only the biggest goals in life cause us fear and anxiety, but these are great goals to have because they push us outside of our comfort zone and force us to grow.
That said, you will have to do just as much mental endurance prep as physical to ensure you are safe from beginning to end. There are many different things you can do to exercise your mind, like reading, writing, building something or even playing brain games. When it comes to a goal though, there are a few techniques to help you keep it in perspective.
Some basic mental prep techniques include:
Deconstruct and simplify your goal
Focus on things that you have control over
Be okay with the unexpected
Learning how to balance control with the uncontrollable
Take mishaps or downfalls in stride
Learn from the experience, adjust and keep moving
Visualizing is another excellent thing to learn how to do. It is beneficial for your mental fortitude to be able to visualize the potential climbing situation from many different perspectives. This will encourage more effective time and risk management on your part.
When the day comes for you to make your solo ascent, there will most certainly be things that will not go as planned. This is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how many different scenarios you imagine; there is bound to be something that you haven’t thought of. However, if you spend time mentally preparing yourself for any situation, then it will be easier for you to handle the unknown with a level head.
Keeping a level head is extremely important while climbing, whether you are alone or not. Not only will it help you more effectively problem solve, but it will also keep your breathing and body temperature under control. This helps you with your endurance as well because you can’t last as long if you are running out of breath from overthinking or panicking.
How to Practice Strengthening Your Endurance?
There are many different things you can do to strengthen your endurance levels. The main thing that will also relate to your solo climbing expedition would be to climb at an indoor rock climbing facility regularly. This will help you become more and more in-tune with your body and feeling one with altitude on a smaller scale.
Climbing outside with a team is also recommended. You want to be climbing as much as possible before you decide to make a solo ascent. This is not the only thing you want to do to build your endurance, though.
It is important to do things that are outside of your body’s comfort zone because, just like our mental comfort zones, physical comfort zones do not help us succeed in growth or strengthening. Do things that your body isn’t normally used to. This will cause your body to be sore for a while, though, so it is not something you want to start doing right before your climb. You will want to start doing this months in advance.
Common endurance strength exercises:
Holding strength positions for more extended amounts of time
Biking long distances
Playing other sports
Whether you plan on climbing a long-distance or not, endurance exercising will help your mental health as well. This will strengthen your brain to be okay with exulting itself for longer periods of time; in return, you will be able to think with a clearer head in times of panic or emergency.
What Are Some Key Things to Remember Before Climbing Alone?
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are many factors that go into climbing alone that don’t directly relate to the act of climbing. There are many other things that must be considered, including the location you pick.
Aside from the location, though, here are a few more factors to consider:
Know the terrain
Anticipate risks you can’t control
Control what you can
Turn around when it’s not right
Master your craft before your ascent
Practice breeds confidence
There are no shortcuts
Knowing the terrain:
This means more than knowing where you are going to climb. You must know the different climbing routes as well as how long they are and the altitude you will be climbing. It is important to know the weather conditions for the time of year you plan to climb, as well as past experiences from other climbers at the same location.
Hearing past experiences is the best way to learn the terrain. Past climbers will provide information that you can’t possibly find online.
As I mentioned above, visualizing your climb will help you anticipate those risks that you can’t control. Practicing in multiple different locations as a team is another great way to experience situations that are out of your control.
It is important to remain calm and level headed no matter what. Whether something happens that you can control or not, you must maintain a calm mindset. This is the only way you will be able to quickly problem-solve in a way that rock climbing asks of you.
Know your limits:
Listening to your gut is very important, especially when climbing alone. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t push yourself to keep going. Listen to yourself and your gear. It is more important to make sure you are safe than actually reaching the end of your climbing route.
Master your craft:
Mastering your craft goes hand in hand with practicing and confidence. There is no reason you should be climbing along if you haven’t put in the hours and gained enough confidence. Climbing should feel second nature to you before you decide to climb alone.
It is also important to learn different techniques, as well. This will not only make you a more versatile climber, but it will also help your confidence and endurance levels. Remember that safety is the most important aspect of climbing, and knowing your craft is the first step to a safe climb.
How to Properly Use My Feet While Climbing?
This may not seem apparent at first, but your feet placement plays a big part in how hard you are working while you climb. You do not want to be working harder than you must. Climbing is a logical sport that requires you to be on your toes in more ways than one.
There are two basic foot techniques to remember while climbing alone:
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You use the side rubber of your shoe to press against the rock or hold. Using the inside edge and strength and balance from your big toe will provide the most effective placement. You will feel more stable if you have a good grip with your big toe because this is where most of our balance lies in our feet.
You can also use the outside of your foot on smaller holds. This is all personal preference, but at the same time, remember that you don’t want to strain yourself to reach for a hold or rock. If it is not easily within your reach, it is probably not the direction you should be moving in.
Smearing is what you do when you don’t actually have a good foot placement. If you look around for a good hold, but nothing is sticking out to you, then you can result in the smearing technique. This is when good shoes come in handy the most.
This is a technique you don’t want to have to use often because it will tire you out more quickly than if you are placing your balance on a sturdy hold or rock. However, it is a technique that can be used if you find yourself in a position where there is nothing but flat surfaces and no holds.
All you must do is use the friction from the rubber of your shoe to press firmly into the rock and using your balance and muscle to press against the rock and propel you upward.
No matter what, climbing alone is one of the most dangerous ways to climb. There are many unforeseen events that could happen while you are climbing. Keep your gear updated and make sure it is stable before each climb. As long as you remain calm and remember that your safety is more important than finishing, it will help you maintain a safe climb and future climbs.