RAD System for Top-Rope Soloing


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Social climber
New Jack City, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 5, 2014 - 10:58pm PT

Petzl has not approved this system's components for the techniques described below. In fact, Petzl states that "self-belaying with a Grigri is prohibited." The company does, however, market a RAD system for industrial rope ascending and descending, using a Petzl Rig descender and Petzl Ascension ascender, illustrated in this link.

My interest in the "off-label" system for top-rope soloing that I will describe stems from my desire to make repeated climbs for exercise on routes that are comfortably below the limit of my climbing ability. Going solo allows me to do as many laps as I want, and hang-dog for as long as I want, without trying the patience of a climbing partner.

I am willing to assume the inherent risks of not having someone who can check my anchor, harness and rigging, and assist me in an emergency. I endeavor to reduce these risks by taking my time when setting things up, and I double-check everything, using a written checklist, before I leave the ground. I also carry a cell phone and knife, and of course, wear a helmet.

Sterling SuperStatic2 3/8" low-stretch nylon rope, 200'
Petzl Grigri 2 belay device (post-recall model)
Petzl Freino auto-locking aluminum carabiner with friction spur
Petzl Basic ascender (2013 model)
Petzl Go oval steel quick-link (2)
C.A.M.P. small mobile pulley
BlueWater 9/16" climb-spec tubular nylon webbing, ~48" (2)
Sterling 6mm nylon, 42" Purcell Prusik, as a personal tether
Belay gloves (optional)

My rope is fixed to a bomb-proof top-anchor built following the SERENE principles. I make sure that my Grigri is attached to the rope correctly. The free end of the rope exits where the hand diagram is located on the device. I clip the Grigri to my belay loop with the Freino, which has less tendency to cross-load than an HMS carabiner.

I clamp the Basic to the rope above the Grigri. The two quick-links are fastened to the Basic's lower hole. The free end of the rope runs up from the Grigri and back down through the pulley that's connected to one of the Basic's quick-links.

The Basic's other quick-link is attached to an approximately 30-36" sling of tubular webbing, tied into a loop with a water knot, and girth-hitched to my harness tie-in points. I want the sling to be taut when I slide the Basic up the rope almost as far as my arm can reach. My personal tether is girth-hitched to my harness tie-in points on the other side of the belay loop.

The rope is weighted about five feet above the ground with a couple of pounds of anything, clipped into a loop knot. This knot will serve as my last line of defense against ground-falls. Weighting the free end of the rope helps the Grigri self-feed while climbing.

Redirecting the Grigri's brake strand upward via the Basic's pulley accomplishes three things:
1. It creates a mechanical advantage for self-feeding and ascending.
2. It helps the Grigri lock-off more reliably in the event of a fall.
3. It holds the Grigri in a higher position, reducing a fall's impact.

Attaching myself to a single rope using two progress capture devices provides a degree of redundancy. If the Grigri (my primary device) should fail to catch my fall, the Basic serves as a backup. Because the Basic is not designed to arrest a fall, it is necessary to reduce its potential for being "shock-loaded" by limiting the slack in its sling when working a difficult section of the route.

As I climb, I keep shoving the Basic up higher, and prevent slack from developing anywhere in the rope. When I reach the top-anchor, I can clip-in with my personal tether. However, regardless of where I am on the route, I can make a quick change-over to rappel without needing to unweight the rope. Whenever I want to descend, all I have to do is hang on the Grigri and remove the Basic from the rope with one hand. I can clip the Basic to my harness, or let it dangle by its sling. Then, I'll put on my gloves and descend with the Grigri.

The Freino's spur makes it easy (with practice) to smoothly control my descent by using friction, rather than trying to find the sweet-spot for the Grigri's cam-release lever. My brake hand is always on the free end of the rope, unless I do a leg-wrap or tie-off the Grigri. It can release unexpectedly if accidentally pressed against a surface. The Grigri can also get very hot on long rappels, with the possibility of scorching the rope. It is best to descend slowly and smoothly.

I have found this to be a relatively simple and safe way to self-belay on a fixed top-rope, with the added benefit of being able to quickly and easily change over to rappelling or ascending whenever I want. By clipping a foot-loop (~48" nylon sling) to the Basic, I can convert this self-belay system to a sit-stand ascending system; pull on the free end of the rope with one hand, pull on the Basic with the other hand, and stand-up on the foot-loop, all at the same time. As a single-rope technique (SRT) for rapid ascending and descending (RAD), it is similar to what is used by some professional arborists and military special forces. As an experiment, I have adapted the RAD system to top-rope soloing in service of a particular purpose.

As always, when in doubt, back it up! You can tie safety knots at intervals in the rope below you, or you can use your personal tether to clip into loop-knots tied on a separate dynamic fixed rope. Endeavor to climb directly below your anchor, as traversing routes will require additional rigging and precautions beyond the scope of this article.

Climbing is dangerous. Do not blindly accept advice or follow suggestions from strangers on the Internet. Even climbers with lots of experience can give you bad advice. Please obtain expert instruction from certified climbing professionals (which I am not) before trying this method, or any new technique, on your own.

RAD System for Recreational Tree Climbing (Video by Cornell University's Tree Climbing Institute).
Solo Top-Rope Self-Belay Advice (Article by Chris McNamara).
Double Mini Traxion Setup (Article by Matt Samet)
Self-Belay Techniques (Web Site by Petzl)
Grigri 2 for Ascending and Descending (Web Site by Petzl)
Rope Soloing in "Climbing Self-Rescue" by Tyson & Loomis (2006) - pages 120-123.
Vertical Rope Access Techniques in "Rappelling" by Bob Gaines (2013) - pages 141-145.

Big Wall climber
san jose and south lake tahoe, ca
Feb 5, 2014 - 11:37pm PT
I guess I'm a visual learner because you lost me half way through. Sounds cool though.

Trad climber
Feb 5, 2014 - 11:39pm PT
Pictures needed

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Feb 5, 2014 - 11:41pm PT
A mini-trax works just fine.

Feb 5, 2014 - 11:53pm PT

Good grief!

At the crag today everyone was top rope soling.

Nobody was using such an overly technical system.

Everyone was cruising along just fine .....

Oakland, CA
Feb 6, 2014 - 12:03am PT
Mini or GTFO.

The Guy

Trad climber
Portland, OR
Feb 6, 2014 - 01:00am PT
What does RAD stand for?
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Feb 6, 2014 - 01:09am PT
wtf is top rope soloing? If you're on a toprope you aint soloing.

Social climber
New Jack City, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 6, 2014 - 07:52pm PT
Thank you, everyone, for your comments and suggestions. I'll keep striving for greater clarity. My post has been updated, and now has links to a diagram and a short video:



Top-rope soloing means using a fixed (anchored at the top) rope and belaying yourself on it as you climb. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear enough. Check out this article by Chris McNamara covering the "conventional wisdom" on the subject:


I'm all for following the KISS principle, but don't want to compromise anyone's safety by leaving something out. If you think there's too much detail in my post, you don't have to read it. If you think this is an overly technical or complicated system, you don't have to use it.

What I've presented is a RADically different perspective on self-belaying, using a system that has the added advantage of being able to quickly and easily convert to rappelling or ascending. There's no need to take offense if that's not the way you're used to doing things. Keep Traxioning, or Shunting, or whatever, and disregard the post.


Trad climber
Feb 6, 2014 - 08:01pm PT
sounds more like weight training.

Feb 6, 2014 - 09:16pm PT


Social climber
New Jack City, CA

So, you are the guy living at New Jack City?

I didn't even think he climbed - LOL...

Social climber
New Jack City, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 6, 2014 - 10:02pm PT
My motto: "If I can't open someone's mind, at least I can piss them off."


Oakland, CA
Feb 6, 2014 - 10:08pm PT
No anger from me, Mickster - my post was tongue-in-cheek, though I do prefer the mini. Cool that you found a system you like.

Happy climbing out there!

Trad climber
Feb 6, 2014 - 10:23pm PT

you might be too sensitive for this venue.

Feb 6, 2014 - 10:28pm PT
Right on. Re:
"I clip the Grigri to my belay loop with the Freino, which has less tendency to cross-load than an HMS carabiner."

I don't get how the Freino is less likely to cross load. ???

These are locking carabiners I'm familiar with that are designed to reduce crossloading:

In case anyone missed seeing it, in my mind the Mammut Element kicks ass in this category. X2. Upper right biner.

Social climber
New Jack City, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 6, 2014 - 10:53pm PT
The Freino is less likely to cross-load because the movement of the Grigri is quite restricted by the gate lock on one side, and the friction spur on the other side. See this photo:


I have used both the EDELRID HMS STRIKE FG and the DMM BELAY MASTER 2 anti-cross-loading biners, and prefer the Freino/Grigri 2 combo for both standard belaying and self-belaying. I prefer the Edelrid FG for belaying and double-rope rappelling with an ATC-XP. YMMV….


Social climber
Greensboro, North Carolina
Feb 6, 2014 - 11:42pm PT
Hey I'm all for people sharing their systems. With that said, top-rope soloing is relatively straight-forward with today's equipment and doesn't require more than a photo of the set-up to explain how it works. Now if someone can come up with a better technique for rope soloing on lead that isn't a pain in the butt, then I'm all ears. Still though, TFPU.

Feb 7, 2014 - 09:49am PT
I see it now Mickster. Thanks.

I might buy one of those for my kid, the ability to wrap the rope around it quickly (say while rapping on thin lines) is a nice safety feature.

Feb 7, 2014 - 10:08am PT
What does RAD stand for?

Rapid Ascent and Descent

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
Feb 7, 2014 - 10:14am PT
sometimes i use the monkey-fist hitch
(blake's hitch)
and i don't need any damn gadgets,
except for the anchor hardware.

each link in the system
compromises the continuity of
the critical load path.

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