A couple years ago I started using a toprope solo setup. It’s a great way to climb a lot of vertical feet quickly for training or when you don’t have a partner. Ever since then I’ve wanted to to solo toprope a multipitch route. This week I made a swing through Vegas on a business trip so this was my chance. Triassic Sands seemed like the perfect route for a solo adventure – the summit of Whiskey Peak is a pretty short hike, the route follows a straight line, and it has bolted belays. For obvious reasons climbing alone shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, I have climbed Triassic Sands several times and know the area very well. Also, for added safety I bought a DeLorme inReach Explorer. The Explorer is a satellite communicator that allows you to send and receive text messages and SOS signals from literally anywhere in the world using the Iridium satellite network. It has GPS to track your movement and publishes it to the web in real time so friends can follow your progress. Also, it connects to your phone via bluetooth which is great because you can just clip the Explorer to your pack and use the app (which has a much better user interface) to do everything.
When I set out this morning I knew that the biggest challenge would be finding the start of the route. The best pitches (the first four) end 200+ feet of “fourth and easy fifth class” (according to the guidebook) below the summit. On the hike into Black Velvet Canyon I spent some time scoping out the summit to identify features that I might be able to find from the top. However, things always look very different from the top. After scrambling around a bit I knew I was in the general vicinity of the route so I scrambled down until I reached 5th class terrain and built an anchor by slinging a large block with webbing. All said it took me a little over an hour to hike to the top of Whiskey Peak, scramble around to get the lay of the land, and set up a rappel.
I did a single rope rap (100 feet) and still couldn’t see the route, but it felt like I was headed in the right direction (I found one of the rock features I had scoped from below) so I pulled the rope (knowing that I could solo the 5.easy terrain above if I couldn’t find the route), slung another block with cord (and backed it up with a jammed knot), and set up a double rope rap. 125 feet down and slightly climber’s right I found the familiar bolted anchor at the top of P4 of Triassic Sands. Score!
Once I reached familiar terrain I moved really quickly, rappelling, climbing, and re-rappelling all 4 pitches (I actually climbed it in 3 pitches) in about 90 minutes. As many of you know, Triassic Sands is an incredible route – every pitch is 5 star!
After reaching the ground I realized I was out of water, so I pulled, the ropes, packed up, and hiked out. My total car-to-car time was a little under 5 hours – including quite a bit of time at the top determining where to start and at the bottom chatting with a couple of Kiwis climbing Ixtlan. If I did the route again and moved with purpose I’m pretty sure I could go car-to-car in under 4 hours.
I still prefer to climb with a partner (because I love lead climbing) but I have to say that this was a lot of fun. Climbing solo feels more serious but it was satisfying to utilize all of the skills I’ve picked up over many years of climbing.
For folks that want to solo TR Triassic Sands, here’s some additional beta that might be useful:
1) In my opinion the pitches above the standard finish (P4) aren’t worth climbing so just do the two raps to get to the P4 anchor.
2) The location I chose for the first rap turned out to be directly above the route. Here are the GPS coordinates: N 36°2.0845′ W 115°27.7991′. Below is a pic taken from the rap anchor I built (a block slung with a new piece of red webbing and a locking biner). For reference you can see the summit of Whiskey Peak (and the finish of Frogland) on the left side of the pic. I rapped 100 feet with a single rope from here and built another rap anchor.
3) As you hike in to the canyon, spot Triassic Sands and follow it to the top of the formation. I found it useful to identify the distinctive “scoop” feature circled in the photo below. As luck would have it, this feature ended up being where the first rappel ends and the second rappel begins!