Being enthusiastic about climbing can have it’s disadvantages in that you’ll end up wanting to do more than is possible with your current climbing partners. For this reason, i’ve been considering some alternatives, mainly concentrating around self-belaying. I’m not trying to list the safest ways, just the simplest ways which could be used on some really simple climbs.
1. Free solo
This is fine on easy routes where it’s little more than a scramble. Although these routes may seem a bit of a waste of time, doing it on your own can create a greater feeling of danger, adrenalin and reward than doing it with a partner, roped or not.
2. Top-rope self-belay
For a day at the crags on your own this is probably the safest way to climb. Set up an anchor and top-rope as normal above the route, but instead of tying into one end of the rope, coil up all the remaining rope, and use it to weight the rope creating some tension. It may be a good idea to hang your rucksack/ approach boots onto this as well. Clip a Shunt onto the rope and attach yourself to it. A prussik knot tied above the Shunt might be a good idea as well. As you climb, the Shunt should be pushed up the rope, and if you fall the Shunt should catch you.
3. Self-belay on Lead
This is when it begins to get a little hairy, however I’m not going to be needing this for any serious climbs, but more for protecting myself on difficult scrambles, I won’t need the best (and most expensive) method. Create a bomber anchor at the base of the climb and attached one end of the rope to it, with the rest coiled up in your rucksack able to be fed out automatically as you climb. (a) Clip on a Shunt and prussik as mentioned for top rope self-belaying, and begin ascending. Place gear and clip in as normal. If you fall, the Shunt should catch you, eventually. (b) An alternative on easier although potentially fatal routes would be to use an abseil technique by combining the Shunt with a Figure-Eight, although this would likely require one hand to be free often enough to keep pushing the shunt up the rope. Once you reach the top of the climb and have set up another bomber anchor, you’ll need to attach a Figure-Eight and abseil down using both ropes, still feeding the second rope out your bag as you go, cleaning the route on the way. Now you can retrieve the anchor at the base of the climb, and use the top-rope self belay technique to ascend again. (c) Another alternative, is using a succession of knots along the rope which you clip in and out of as you climb. It works kind of like a via-ferrati, in that you’re always connected to the rope in at least 1 way. Although more fiddly and time consuming, you and the ‘belay’ are always knotted in.
4. Join a club
Joining a club on your own can be kind of intimidating but I guess I’ve just got to take the plunge. I think clubs must have a huge potential for developing climbing skills, and should really open the doors to a whole bunch of new possibilities.
So I think i’ll practice some top-rope self-belay techniques on vertical crags, use the self-belay lead technique (either with just the shunt or with the figure eight too) on potentially fatal sections of scrambles where being roped up is recommended, and join a club not only to find partners to climb with, but more importantly to be able to develop my experience by hopefully seconding more experienced climbers on some much harder routes.
There are way more other methods, above are just the simple methods which i’ve thought of and have the gear to do so. Andy Kirkpatrick is a world-reknowned soloist and has lots of info on his site. You could also purchase either the Soloist or the Silent Partner, however these are both quite expensive, and at that cost you’d have to wonder if there isn’t cheaper alternatives to the original problem - lack of a partner.