Talking About Rope Soloing

Hello Steph,
You’ve aquired many beautiful pictures, on your many climbs. I enjoy looking at them. Ordering a copy of your book is on the things to do list, after seeing your site.I am in comparision to your epic climbs; a mere rookie. A rookie with great ambitions. I am an Arborist by trade. From Pennsylvania. I enjoy being off the ground daily. 140 ft. on a good day. Even on the windy days, I seem to find satisfaction in this occupation.I have been rock climbing for quite some time. Sport, Trad, Multi-pitches. I am however, looking for some good feedback about solo roped ascents.

If you have any feedback for me, I would love to hear. A good book to read, or maybe a self belay rig. I have tried two different length prusiks. A long prusik to back-up the shorter prusik. Works all right, and is lightweight. Though wondering if anyone knows of a better way. As the owner of a busy Tree Care business, my schedule can be a little unpredictable. Just looking to get out and do more climbing, partner, or without a partner.
Thanks for any feedback,
Climb On.
Eric Mackow 

Dear Eric,
Your job sounds so nice, climbing trees and tending them!   It is great to be able to climb alone, because it really frees you up to climb more.  I like to use a system with two Petzl mini-traxions.  (My friend insists I remind everyone “The domain and any and all information associated therewith, is not warranted expressly or impliedly to be correct or accurate–information found here and relied upon shall be done so at one’s own risk. Climbing is dangerous and should only be attempted by those with the proper skills and experience.” Well, we know he’s right 🙂 ! So, if you decide to read any further, or to experiment with this system, be really careful, use good judgment, and remember that you are responsible for your own decisions, safety, and rigging. Okay!……)

Many, and probably most, of the El Cap free ascents have been made by first working out the routes on mini-traxion, or in earlier days with a similar system using a jumar. If you can put a fixed line on the route from above, you are all set.  You will need to spend some time experimenting with your set-up to make sure you get it right.   But essentially, you need two minitraxions, and two oval locking biners (it’s very important to use an oval locker with a mini traxion, rather than a D). You also want to make sure you have a back-up of some type on your belay loop, so that you are not putting your life on one piece of bartacked webbing. I always climb with at least one daisy chain girthed through both parts of my harness and then clipped off to the back of my gear loop with a locker, so I always have a back-up for my belay loop and an easy-to-access clip-in point. To back up the belay loop, I clip through the lowest daisy loop above the girth. You can also just tie on an additional piece of webbing, mirroring the sewn belay loop.

Rig one mini-traxion on the rope and clip it to your belay loop/back-up belay loop with an oval locker.  That is your back-up mini traxion, and stays on the bottom.  Rig the second one on the rope, and clip it on your belay loop above the other one.  Put a shoulder length sling around each shoulder, and use a piece of tie-off webbing to tie through the front  x-point, and then through the hole on the mini traxion, where the biner is clipped.  I tie the little tie-off piece with a very short overhand knot–now the mini traxion will stay up, towards your chest.

From here, you just climb, and as you get higher on the rope, it will feed better through the mini traxions.  At first, just off the ground you will have to pull the rope through with your hands as you climb.  Make sure you have directionals on the rope, if the route is steep or wandering.  When you want to get down, use your daisy to either clip into the anchors, or to a piece on the route, and disengage the minitraxions one at a time, after you have put a Grigri on the rope below them (so you are backed up by the Grigri as you disassemble the ascenders).

I know this all sounds a little complicated, and it is, at first.  It is less efficient than TRing with a partner, in some ways, because it is a bit of a procedure to go down before reaching the anchors, and until you have a good system, you will probably go from bottom to top every time, old school style. But there’s something nice about that too! And eventually climbing like this is as second-nature as regular toproping or any other sort of climbing rope management that you regularly do. Since there will always be some degree of futzing involved, it’s actually better training for an eventual lead, because it is definitely a little more involved to mini-traxion than to have someone else belaying you. A description like this is more than a little hard to read and then put into practice…..this system is just one way to rig such a set-up, and hopefully this can give you a comparison for whatever you decide to use yourself.

If you’re like me, you probably won’t mind spending a little extra time and energy for the luxury of spending time alone, climbing quietly in a beautiful place with nothing to distract your attention from the little world you have put yourself into….
All the best!
xx Steph 

  • JS

    Lotsa ways to rig traxions.

    I skip the slings on the chest and just tie up a loop of medium gauge shock cord (about the length of a shoulder length runner), girth it through the upper trax clip-in and wear it over one shoulder, bandolier style. Accomplishes the same thing as the double slings+tie-off, holding the upper trax upright and making it engage quicker and without slack.

    I also hang some weight onto the bottom of the rope to make it feed better. It’s occasionally a pain, especially if the route starts very steep or traversing, but usually works great and eliminates any need to hand feed.

  • Erin

    Does this system work well for leading? Or just top rope? Thanks 🙂

  • Marshall magnus

    ya I would also like to know if this system works on a lead climb. I can’t see why it wouldnt, unles the device eats your rope on a fall?

  • Steph Davis

    Hi Erin and Marshall! Since mini traxions have fairly sharp teeth, like jumar teeth, I prefer not to weight them with impact force. They seem perfect for top roping, because there is never a hard impact, as they are moving up with you. I have fallen with a little slack in my system, using the mini traxion on a sturdy static line, and didn’t feel it cut the rope. But I would be very reluctant to use it in a lead situation on a dynamic rope. For that sort of climbing, I would use a Rope Soloist or a Grigri, because they do not have teeth.

  • Steve

    In cases when a pitch is less than 1/2 a rope length tall, do you run two strands from the anchor and put a traxion on each strand or are you always running a single strand?

    I am using a similar setup as yourself with a couple of small differences.

    1.) I use a microcender as my primary ascender, backed up by a traxion. I feel that they feed pretty much the same but the micro uses a camming mechanism instead of teeth.

    2.) If a pitch is less than half a rope length I will tie a figure eight on a bight and clip this into the anchor. Then I run the microcender on one strand and the traxion on the other (with the microcender being positioned higher than the traxion). Just in case you somehow take a fall and manage to cut one strand, you have a backup…

    3.) If you only have one ascender you can also use the two strand system but tie knots in one strand, clipping these as you move up the other strand. This is kind of a crap solution thought as the rope weight starts to become quite annoying.

  • hey thanks Steph for the advice on the mini traxion. any advice on how to just use one mini traxion for TR rope soloing? Hey i saw someone use a little bungee when rope soloing Tr style with the mini….they just looped it over their neck? i took a big 90 footer with the grigri and was siked that i had it on a little chect harness!!!!

  • Brian

    Hi Steph,

    I wonder if much has changed on this since 2008 in terms of technique and gear for top rope soloing?


  • Steph Davis

    Hi Brian!
    I first saw this method used in 1998, with a jumar instead of a mini-traxion. People had been already doing it for years. When the mini-traxions came out, it became essentially perfect, and I’ve been doing it this way ever since.

  • Jonathan

    “You also want to make sure you have a back-up of some type on your belay loop, so that you are not putting your life on one piece of bartacked webbing.”

    Steph, do you also backup up the belay loop when rappelling and belaying?

  • Steph Davis

    If you keep a daisy chain permanently girthed through your harness, you can always have a backup for your belay loop. You just clip the locking biner through a nearby loop on the daisy, as well as the belay loop. It’s also nice to have a permanent daisy leash handy, for clipping in when you reach an anchor. I just don’t like putting all my eggs in one belay loop 🙂

  • Pingback: Ups and Downs of Solo Top-Roping « Cremnomaniac()

  • Austin

    Hey Steph-

    I would marry you, but theres too many fuckin rocks to climb. Have a great day, gorgeous.

  • cedric

    Hi Steph,
    What is the minimum size of the rope you use with this technic…
    By the way, your site rules!

  • Anonymous

    🙂 my favorite rope for mini traxioning is 11 mm static! 10 mm static is also nice, 9 mm okay. I have used dynamic, which is not as nice, and the thicker the better.

  • Coreyboux

    is there any pictures for this set up ? supposedly its the most popular top rope solo set up among the yosemite crews and i cant find one picture showing this set up .

  • Anonymous

    There are a couple of pictures of using this setup in this post:
    maybe that will help!


    Happy Healthy Heart Day Steph! My name is Raquel alias “ROCKY”. I have been climbing consistently for a year. I am 42 yrs old and I love climbing. I have been wondering on TR soloing for 6 months now. I found your site when I Google it. Like you I enjoy climbing, being outdoors and there are times I prefer to be with myself and practice on breathing, flowing and being in moment on the rocks. I really would love to learn your setup of TR Soloing. I am in the process of purchasing 2 mini traxion and I have a 60M 10.1 sterling rope. I am a visual person. Is there a possibility you can take a picture of your gear set up on you and the gear up on the anchor. I would really appreciate. Thank you for your time. Have a happy healthy thriving life!!! ~~~ROCKY 🙂


These are my sponsors. THEY ARE FABULOUS!