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When Mini Becomes Mighty


Mark Shaffer, one of our local hard climbers, has added information to what John Plotz wrote about a year ago about the ‘why’ and the ‘how to’ of solo top-roping. Here’s Mark’s information followed by John’s original post: 

Solo top roping has helped me immensely both in regard to climbing strength and rope proficiency. Additionally, solo top roping is extremely efficient. Even with the most time conscious of climbing partners, it is difficult to maintain more than 2-3 pitches per climber per hour. With solo top roping, I have found that I can climb 12-15 pitches in just a few hours. With a full-time job and young daughter at home, time has become my most valuable resource.

I love the social aspect of rock climbing and all that comes along with sharing a rope (or a ledge) with other climbers. Nonetheless, solo top roping has afforded me the unique opportunity to be completely alone on the rock and totally immersed in the project at hand, an introverted ironman. If group climbing is fishing from a boat with friends, solo top roping is fly fishing alone in an isolated mountain creek.

Because of this isolation, having a strong working knowledge of anchors, rope management and escapes is a definite prerequisite. If one decides to pursue solo top roping, one should have the correct gear and practice safety and climbing etiquette. An invaluable resource that I have used extensively is the information on Petzl's website found here.

Coming from a manufacturer who can’t afford to shoot from the hip with the advice they dispense, I trust that this information has been carefully reviewed and tested.

Mark Shaffer uses a microcender and micro traxion as seen below.

When Mini Becomes Mighty
By John Plotz

A lot of my regular climbing partners have 'regular' lives beyond climbing. I have never quite understood this, but whatever. It does pose a problem when I can't rouse them to climb with me five days a week. In those partnerless times I am never denied by my Petzl Mini-Traxion.

I first saw this self-belaying wonder out in the wild while being used by my friend Dr. Tom Michael. I watched in fascination (and envy!) as he fired off pitch after pitch of roped solo climbing, easily doubling the pitch count that I was accomplishing with my partner.  Soon thereafter I bought my own and have been converted as a true believer ever since.

It does bear mentioning that Petzl DOES NOT SANCTION USE of the MINI TRAXION AS A SOLO TOP ROPE DEVICE (all caps for emphasis). It is a ratcheting device for use in hauling and rescue type scenarios. However, that being said, it is now widely used to solo top-rope.

It is also a risky endeavor to describe its use in the fringe application of solo top-roping. It has to be said that solo top-roping is a highly technical method of climbing that requires a mandatory skill set that is not suitable for most climbers. This activity is very unforgiving if done incorrectly. Solo top-roping implies that it's just you and the rock and your setup. Unlike when you're climbing with others who can perform frequent safety checks, it is up to you alone to ensure your own safety. If rigged incorrectly, there's little-to-no room for errors that could quite easily lead to injury and death.

That bit of rosy information aside, I can attest that the Mini Traxion has been a great boon to my climbing career, and that I wouldn't be nearly the climber I am today had I not learned its use as a solo top rope device. 

For example, there are seven distinct pitches on Jello Tower on Upper Castle Rock that I love to take laps on the longer days after work. With a partner in the traditional lead/follow scenario it normally takes about 45 to 50 minutes per pitch. Since we're starting at 5:45pm, at most we can nail just 3 out of the 7 pitches on the tower. Disappointing.

However, when alone and using my trusty Mini, I can easily fire off a pitch in three to four minutes, readjust the rope and rappel in another three or four minutes, and the fire off the next pitch. That means I can easily climb all seven routes before dusk, sometimes doing several pitches twice. 

It is no stretch to say that I have climbed twice to three times the amount of pitches over my climbing lifetime with the Mini versus having to rely on busy climbing partners to belay me. Along with increased strength and better footwork, I personally credit the Petzl Mini-Traxion as one of my most crucial pieces of gear that has advanced my climbing ability. I would even argue that the Mini has facilitated aforementioned strength and footwork.

Again, solo top-roping with the Mini-Traxion is NOT for most climbers, and should not be undertaken until full mastery of the device and rigging is achieved. And do not look to Petzl to describe it for you because they do not sanction its use as such.

Finally, I use one single Petzl mini for solo top roping, while my friends use two, one for a backup. The latter is the smarter choice.

Photo: John Plotz climbing past one of the cruxes of The Nose (5.10d) while making an evening circuit of Jello Tower. The Mini-Traxion is visible (barely) in this picture. Because the Mini is dragged up as the climber climbs past it, a slip will result in a fall of about one foot before rope is tensioned.