Petzel Mini Traxion changed my life. I have a very limited amount of time to climb and my few trusted climbing partners are also busy with their careers and families. In order for me to get in enough cragging time to be comfortable in the backcountry, I started top-rope soloing with the Petzel Mini Traxion or “mini-T” as it’s better known. The top rope soloing “movement” has really gained traction in the past few years and it’s not uncommon to see two or three climbers top rope soloing at Snowshed Wall (one of my local Donner Summit crags) on any given day. In the instructions for use that came with the device, Petzel calls it a “Swing sided self-jamming pulley” and list three modes of operations; hauling, self-belay and horizontal progression or Tyrolian traverse. I really liked the graphic of a climber getting her hair stuck in the cam. Yikes!
When I decided to checkout TR soloing for myself I went to talk to local climbing ace Max at the Sports Exchange in Truckee. Max spends a lot of time in the Yosemite racing up big walls and is always up on the latest techniques. As he ran me threw the various systems being used, I couldn’t help but notice how often he said “bomber” but ultimately, I would be the judge of the systems safety. While some people use a Tibloc as a back up, I decided to go with a system utilizing two mini-Ts in locking karabiners that limit side loading and a chest harness. So on a cool April day in ‘09 I headed up to Donner to try it out. I choose a short 5.9 crack, clipped in and climbed up about five feet and hung to check it out. I dropped about six inches before the top cam engaged (more on this later). I then climbed the pitch and felt completely comfortable with the system. I rappelled back down and moved the top mini-T from the chest harness to my sit harness. Then I connected a sling from the chest harness to the top mini-T to keep it under tension and take any slack out of the system. I made some other slight adjustment and did another lap. I was hooked.
Since I’ve been climbing at Donner Summit for thirty years I quickly developed several circuits that allowed me to climb as many pitches as possible in the shortest amount of time. But in the end I realized that once you take the partner(s) and belaying out of the equation, you have plenty of time. It really made me realize how much time is wasted talking shit, trying to figure out what to climb next and avoiding annoying locals and dogs. Lately I’ve fine tuned my system by using a 130’ 10mm static line and my old FISH zebra-stripped gear sling instead of the chest harness to hold the top mini-T up and avoid the sagging I talked about earlier. Since I have a lot of weights around my house I double slung a 5# plate to attach to the bottom of the rope. Other climbers use some gear on a sling or a water bottle to keep the rope taunt and allow the Mini-T to slide freely.
It’s beyond the scope of this blog to give too many details on systems for top rope soloing. What is described above is my system being applied to routes I have wired. It may not work for you. I would encourage you to Google top rope soloing or search the supertopo forum for more information. A better idea is to ask some one you trust and then experiment with few different techniques. I’ve seen other climbers using different devices such as a Trango Cinch or a Grigri like Leo Houlding and Jason Pickles in the movie P2yche to “top-rope” their route The Prophet on El Cap! Top rope soloing is a lot like ascending a fixed line without aiders or tying in short. The whole process is a little more engaging than going out for a TR session with your buddies. YOU ARE SOLOING! IF YOU FUCK UP, YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELF TO BLAME.