Religion is a mental disease, often confused with spirituality. --pjs-1965
After finishing up filming The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges headed out here and onsighted several routes that had just been put up. Impressed and flattered, the FAists invited him to name the routes, and he gave some of them titles referencing the movie.
No, not really. That was just to get your attention.
Take the main trail down and then bear right, crossing the stream, at the junction shown above. Gypsy Wall is about a 10-minute walk from parking.
The daily entry fee is currently $10. Annual passes are $100 and well worth it if you climb here a lot. I bought an annual pass in August and by October had come out more than 10 times. Plus, the annual pass is good for all Travis County parks. Unfortunately, the pass is a windshield decal, not a card. If you want a duplicate pass for a second vehicle, you get to pay $50 for it. Nice racket they have going there.
Climbers in Central Texas are well acquainted with the biting ants all over the place. Watch where you stand and where you step.
This part of Texas is also home to all four types of venomous North American snakes-- copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, and coral snakes. Again, watch out, especially for the coral snakes. They are shy and bites are very rare, but their venom is highly potent and can be fatal. Also, it is my understanding that antivenin for coral snakes is in very short supply and highly expensive due to the fact that bites are so rare.
All year. Most of the walls face northwest and get good shade for much or all of the day. Since it is usually 90-100+ F out here May through September, it obviously makes sense to climb in the morning during summer. It's rarely too cold to climb here, but in winter, waiting until afternoon is a good bet. This wall gets just about no sun in winter.
If you have the flexibility, climb on weekdays. This place, and even most of Reimers proper, is virtually deserted then except during spring and winter breaks.
There is a $7 daily entrance fee.
Climbers and rappelers are required to sign in. You are not required to pay a fee, get a permit, or list where you will be climbing; but you have to name the members of your party, note your climbing dates, and sign a waiver.
Periodically, the park closes for permitted hunts. Check the park website (final section below) for these and other possible closure periods.
On weekends and holidays and during school breaks, the parking lots often fill by as early as 10 or even 9 A.M. When that happens, the park closes for up to three hours at a time. Signs on major access roads will announce these closures, but that doesn't help if you're not local, so you might want to call before leaving. From the park's website: "Flashing signs on approaching roads will also alert you if the park is closed. One sign is north of Fredericksburg on R.R. 965; the other is on Hwy. 16 near the R.R. 965 intersection."
I saw this situation myself on Thanksgiving Day 2016 (fortunately, I had come in two days before and was camping), so it is no joke.
When To Climb
Early spring and late fall are best, but winter has a lot of good climbing days. Unless you're out here really early or really late, you pretty much don't want to touch this place May through September, though there are climbs in the park are good in the summer.
The park has a campground and also allows primitive camping (backpacking) in designated zones. Reservations are strongly recommended. See the park website.
It's a frequent topic on a lot of climbing sites, but SP does not seem to have an article or major forum thread on the subject, so here is my offering.
- Rope solo is more dangerous than climbing with a partner is. If you get hurt or if the route is too hard, you are on your own.
- Because of the extra effort involved, rope solo usually feels half or a full grade harder than the route's rating. Going at your limit, or pushing it, is unwise.
- You must have a clear understanding (which includes building know-how) of top anchors, ground anchors, and multidirectional anchors.
- My methods are safe and proven but are not the only ones out there; you must decide what works best for you considering your skill level and your budget.
I'm going to cover solo toproping, solo leading, and solo multi-pitch.
Climbing solo can be a pain, but once you have the gear and the know-how, you will never again have to stay home because your partner is unavailable, take your chances with a stranger, or settle for bouldering instead of actually getting a few yards off the ground.
Plus, you will become a minor celebrity as curious climbers gawk and ask questions and assume you are some kind of climbing god, or at least a demigod, even though you're not. This might also make you irresistible to model-quality members of the opposite sex. Or even the same sex; hey, it's 2017.
To date, it hasn't helped me score with chicks, and my wife approves of that, but if it helps you get a chance to bump uglies, yay!
This is the one about which people most often ask.
If you can do this, you can go out whenever you want and climb for sheer fun or work on something hard, as long as you can extract yourself from something too hard by climbing the rope or getting back down. Anyone not knowing safe self-extraction techniques should either stop reading right now and go learn some or commit to staying well below his/her limit; dangling in space several feet below an overhanging crux is not the time to figure out self-extraction, which can be quite tedious.
This begins with the assumption that you know how to build a redundant, equalized top anchor. If you don't, stop reading right now and go take a course on building anchors.
Now that we've weeded out some of the readers, ask yourself the following:
- Does the crag have fixed anchors? Do I have the cord/biners/draws for a TR setup?
- If the crag has boulders and/or trees up top, do I have enough webbing and/or cord to make an anchor?
- If there are no fixed anchors and boulders/trees are sketchy or nonexistent, do I have the gear necessary to build an anchor using trad pieces?
Again, this article is not about how to make anchors. If you can answer "Yes" to one of the above and it applies to your crag, then read on.
Otherwise, go away! Yer gonna die!
My TR-solo system is not based on whims and experiments but rather on Petzl's website. See here.
Petzl covers several options. None is perfect, but some are better than others.
The best: a single dynamic rope, tied so as to make two independent strands, with two self-belay devices.
Grab your rope at the middle. Pull it for three or four feet and then fold it over on itself. Now tie a Figure 8. You should have two loops, and they create two independent strands off the one rope. If possible, clip each loop to both carabiners at the master point. If not possible, as can be the case with sport anchors, clip a loop to each anchor. Redundant.
At the bottom, take a Petzl Micro Traxion (some use a Mini, but it has been discontinued) and attach the rope to it. (The Petzl page recommends an Ascender, but that can be really hard to remove from the system when topping out or getting ready to rappel. However, it does work.) Clip the device to your belay loop. With a carabiner and a clove hitch or an overhand on a bight, weight the rope a few feet off the ground with a shoe, pack, water bottle, or whatever; this will ensure smooth rope feeding from the very start. For extra efficiency, use a chest harness or a loop of webbing improvised as a chest harness, plus a carabiner and a thin cord, to hold the Micro Traxion high. This not only helps the feeding but also keeps it out of the way of your backup device.
Your backup device is the Petzl Microcender. (I swear I do not work for Petzl or own stock in it.) Attach it to a locking carabiner that goes through your tie-in points. I use a dogbone to extend it so that it will be out of the way of the primary device. Now attach it to the other strand. Weight it. Note: the Microcender has been discontinued. If you can't find one, consider Petzl's Rescucender, which is larger and heavier but works much the same way, via a toothless cam. There are other toothless camming devices out there as well.
In every aspect, your system is redundant. I would say there is zero chance the system can fail, but anything can fail given the right combination of crazy, so I will just say this system is about as bomb-proof as it can get. Personally, I think it is safer than climbing with a partner because a partner can drop you and that single rope can fail.
At the anchor, you face another decision: top out or descend. If you top out, you need to know and accept that if you fall, you will shock-load the anchor. This can cause anchor failure and/or serious injury. If you descend, you need gear for anchoring yourself, releasing the rope, keeping the rope from falling, rigging a rappel, and then descending. You must know how to do this before you set out, and this article is not going to cover that.
Solo Leading-- One Pitch
Are you sure you want to do this? There is so much that can go wrong, and you will be on your own.
There are several ways to lead trad/sport solo. Probably the most common is with a Grigri orientated "upside-down." That does work, but it does not self-feed, and thus the process is really tedious. Example: after you clip a bolt on a sport route, you might have to self-feed enough rope to get you to the next bolt. Thus, if you fall, you fall that whole length X2; if it's on the way to Bolt 2, you might crater.
There is a way to modify a Grigri to address the feeding issue, but it is a hassle. And the Grigri can come open, meaning disaster; I remember watching a video of a guy solo-leading with a Grigri and being completely unaware that the cam had opened, meaning death if he fell.
Another way is via a clove hitch on two lockers attached to your harness. This process is slow and tedious, as you always have to loosen the clove to free rope to climb with, and it introduces the same fall issues that the Grigri does. I've heard that it's not too bad if you're aiding, but for trad or sport, it's awful.
A respected member of other climbing sites uses an Edelrid Eddy and swears by it. I tried his system but didn't like it; getting the right setup for smooth feeding is not easy, and if you don't get it, the device doesn't feed at all.
To date, there have been only two devices specifically made for solo leading on trad or sport lines: the Soloist and the Silent Partner, originally by Wren and later by Rock Exotica.
Bad news: Rock Exotica has discontinued both devices. If you want one, prepare to pay more for a used one than you would have for a new one. And not too many people are selling them. Not too many own either in the first place. Already, I have seen a Soloist (new price about $125) go for 180 on ebay, and I have seen a Silent Partner (new price about $225) go for 300.
Because I own both, I can comment about their advantages and disadvantages.
- Small (in comparison)
- Easy to set up
- Locks up right away when loaded. This means you can rest on bolts or gear.
- Can be used to rappel
- Higher clip-in point
- Requires a chest harness
- Will not hold an upside-down fall and may not hold a fall on low-angle terrain
- Unless you rappel with it, which is a little complicated, it can be a hassle to switch to lower or rappel. (I have figured out an easier way to rappel without taking the device off the rope, but it is dangerous and I will not describe it.)
- Because of how it attaches to your harness (see below), the Soloist pretty much has to stay attached to your harness all the time, so you probably need a separate harness just for your Soloist.
The Soloist attaches to the tie-in points via a loop of cord (7 or 8mm) and to the chest harness (or sling) via a locking carabiner.
Make sure the anchored end of the rope comes out of the bottom. To help with feeding, some climbers coil the free end of the rope into a backpack, with the free end running over a shoulder and kept orientated by a carabiner. If the route is longer than half the length of your rope, tie the unanchored end to your harness as you normally would; this will prevent the rope from self-feeding all the way through the device and rendering you a free soloist for the remainder of the pitch. The user's manual covers other ways of avoiding this problem.
To back up the system, pre-tie knots into the free end, using intervals of your choosing. Usually, an overhand on a bight is sufficient; it is big enough to jam in the device should the device fail to lock up. This method is simple, but it does require untying the knots as they reach the device. Alternatively, you can make clove hitches and attach them to lockers on your harness; this allows a quick, easy release, but it also means that big loops of rope will be hanging from your harness.
- Will hold an upside-down fall
- Does not require a chest harness
- Feeds better, in my opinion
- Bulky and heavy
- Harder than the Soloist to set up
- Harder than the Soloist to back up
- Locks up after speed, making a fall longer and scarier, and no resting on gear or bolts.
- Hangs low, requiring clips below where desired or stopping to pull lots of line to make a high clip when protecting a scary move.
- Can be a hassle when switching to lower or rappel.
The climber attaches the Silent Partner to his/her tie-in points via two large locking carabiners. Before that, one must tie a large clove hitch and place it over the drum of the device. Careful reading of the user's manual is essential, as the slightest mistake in set-up will block the device from feeding (a good thing, though, when you think of it).
For the Silent Partner, the backup system is the above-mentioned one of cloves on lockers, with big loops hanging. It is a hassle and it creates clutter, and many people skip the backup, though I will not formally recommend that.
Unlike the Soloist, which has one end of the rope running though the top and the other running through the bottom, the Silent Partner has both the free and anchored ends running from its sides, so it is just a little important to know for sure which side is which. My recommendation is to set things up so that the clipping strand is on the side of the hand with which you usually clip.
To help with feeding, some climbers coil the free end of the rope into a backpack, with the free end running over a shoulder and kept orientated by a carabiner. If the route is longer than half the length of your rope, tie the unanchored end into your harness as you normally would; this will prevent the rope from self-feeding all the way through the device and rendering you a free soloist for the remainder of the pitch. The user's manual covers other ways of avoiding this problem.
Build a bomber ground anchor as close to the wall as you can. Although a belayer and his/her belay loop represent single points of failure, you are on your own here, so make your anchor redundant in every way if possible. If you can't get your anchor really close to the wall, then set a directional as close to the bottom of the route as you can; this will help prevent the dreaded "zipper" effect in which the tension on the rope pops pieces out one by one. Obviously, this is less of a worry on a sport route, but you still want the rope to run as straight up as possible; that makes feeding and management easier.
Whether you've climbed a sport or a trad route, you are going to have to descend the route and perhaps reclimb it in order to clean your anchor and your gear.
At the top of the climb, anchor in. If (Situation A) there is a fixed anchor, set up to rappel. You MUST have the gear and the know-how for this. If you have a GriGri or other assisted-braking device, you can probably just rap down the free strand, clean your gear, and be done. If you have an ATC or something like it, you can still rap and clean if you back it up; there are many ways to do this, and I'm not going to cover them. If you can't back up the rappel, then you're better off rappelling down the free end, re-ascending it via a Solo-TR method, cleaning gear during the re-climb, and then rappelling back down.
But maybe you have to build an anchor up top using gear or natural features. In that event, you will have to do a second climb of the route unless you can clean the route on rappel, hike back to the top, and then clean the anchor.
This leads to the question of what to do if climbing a single-pitch route without fixed anchors and a walk-off. DON'T.
Solo Leading-- Multi-Pitch