Soloing easy stuff

Last Tuesday, I soloed the Midi-plan traverse.

For those of you who hear the word “solo” and your heart begins to skip a few beats, slow your roll.  This wasn’t wild, M6 R mixed climbing on thin-ice.  This was a walk on a well-trodden ridge, close to civilization, well within my comfort zone.  So why solo it?  Well, there are a few reasons:

#1 Soloing provides for an experience that allows for self-introspection and self-reliance, enforcing self-dependence and decision making.  It is not inherently dangerous.  Think about doing a hike, a run, or a bike by yourself.  Within the discipline that you experience often, you are comfortable, and have the chance to be curious all on your own.

#2 Its been hard to find partners for the days when there are brief weather windows in the morning.  In particular, during this time of year (“slack” as it is often referred to in mountain towns), the locals are catching up on life because the lifts are closed for the most part, and the tourist climbers haven’t yet arrived for the busy season.

#3 Most importantly to me (as #1 is possible in variations within others activities, and #2 is really a product of shipping myself across the world without a well-defined set of partners), soloing provides the chance to dial your systems in.  Just as would an easy day of climbing with a friend, an easy day of solo climbing allows you to learn and practice, but in this way at your own pace.

So, on my easy day out, here are some things I was toying around with:

  • What pace can I move at before I begin breathing heavily, or before I start to feel a burn in my legs? How does this vary with slope angle, altitude? How much food and water do I need to feel sustained after various durations and levels of output.
  • How to use a thin diameter accessory cord for rappels?
  • More volume on various aspects with an ice axe and crampons (not something you get often in the NW).
  • What is the best way to layer things in my pack?
  • Trivial stuff that shouldn’t slow you down in “real” terrain:
    • How do I tie my boots so they don’t come un-tied? How does the tightness affect my muscle endurance (calves burning)? (I am often climbing in ski boots, so this seldom matters…)
    • Should my crampon strap go on above or below my the bottom of my pants?
    • How to avoid snow in my parents without gaiters?

You might argue that each of these things can be equally learned from days out with a partner.  I find this true to a degree.  Certainly, it is enjoyable to discuss the many aspects of climbing or <<insert your sport of choice here>> with partner, and to learn with someone during a shared experience.  I find, however, that with a partner, especially on bigger days out, I am often just a bit more hurried because I don’t want to be the slow one trying to find something in my pack, or the one fiddling with the boots all day.  Inevitably, these things make me the slow one out, because I have forgotten something important (like the right toe bails for my crampons).

When I went out Tuesday, like most days out in a relatively new environment, I took notes afterwards on the systems I learned.  I look forward to this process each time I climb, simply because it a chance to learn.

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