Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First experience with the Silent Partner

I read this somewhere…
“Roped soloing is twice as dangerous, three times the work, and four times as scary...”
This Sunday I was planning to head out to Buzzard Rocks for a day of slab climbing.  I was supposed to meet people at 6am, which meant waking up at 4:30 since I was almost an hour drive away.  In hindsight, it’s not a good idea to stay up until 1am watching Star Trek: TNG when you have to wake up early.  I missed the alarm and in a moment of spontaneity I went out to Annapolis Rocks and played around with some roped soloing systems. 
Snapshot 1 (3-22-2011 9-54 PM)
I bought a Rock Exotica Silent Partner a few weeks ago and never got an opportunity to try it out.  I bought it because I am planning to move to somewhere with some close climbing, and I want to be able to get out on the rock anytime without looking for a partner.
Snapshot 2 (3-22-2011 9-55 PM)
I ended up leading 3 pitches with Silent Partner.  I also top-rope-soloed 4 pitches with a Trango Cinch.
Note: Although the Silent Partner is designed for roped soloing, the Cinch is in no way shape or form recommended for roped soloing by Trango.
My thoughts:
  • It works.  It feeds great, it will catch you if you fall, it does everything that it’s advertised to do.  Generally you can’t feel the difference (vs. a belayer) while climbing.
  • It’s peaceful.  There is nobody to talk to, no sounds but the ones you make.  You go at your own pace whether fast or slow.  You climb when you want for as long as you want.
  • Properly backing yourself up is a royal pain in the a**.  If you do it by the manual, you spend close to half the time messing around with backups.  Pretty soon I realized that I’d rather not be climbing than climbing with these annoying backups.  I guess it depends on your personal sphere of risk.
  • It is very difficult to clip the rope to pro above your waist.  This is probably something I shouldn’t be doing too much anyway.  But getting extra slack is difficult.
  • It’s slow.  Everything takes longer.  Just making sure it’s all rigged up correctly eats up time.  In addition you have to make a bombproof anchor at the bottom as well as the top.  You have to do everything yourself without a partner to help out – including carrying the gear in yourself.  You have to climb every pitch twice, and rap every pitch twice.  However – much like everything – practice will get you faster and better.
  • You definitely can’t climb as hard as normal.  It takes extra time to clip the rope when leading.  Also the confidence wasn't there to "go for it".  This may improve with practice.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you f*** up you’re on your own.
The Silent Partner is a great tool, but is one of many.  It is not to replace climbing with partners.  I plan to continue exploring the many different realms of solo climbing.


  1. Cool, thanks so much for sharing!
    I'd love to know if you tried to top rope with the SP as well. Although I read that it is not working as well as in leading, it can serve that purpose as well. I'd love to know your opinion about it if you ever tried. Thanks!

  2. Hi Farro,

    Since this post I have gained much experience with the Silent Partner. I have a system which I believe is fairly efficient and has an acceptable safety margin. Still, I have never fallen on it. I don't think this works well for top-roping. When it is activated to hold your fall, it takes some effort to get it to release and loosen up. In a situation where you might fall repeatedly, this would be annoying. I think a regular ascender with some sort of backup would be better.

  3. Hello, thank you very much for your reply! I would love to read a new post about your acquired experience with the unit... so to learn from yours. ;)