Review by: rcaret, 2003-09-28
The learning curve is long and hard and alot of work to master, The hardest part is learning not to grab the rope when you fall , Let the Slient Partner do its work.
Set the anchor, lead the pitch, fix the ropes. Rappel down, clean the pitch, haul, re-rack and trudge on. Anyone for roped soloing? Letís face it, climbing alone is damn hard work. You go without encouragement, congratulations, camaraderie, and, worst of all, an easy-feeding, secure belay. That is, until the Silent Partner. This long-awaited tool from Wren Industries answers the call for a smooth-feeding self-belay device capable of catching falls in any situation.
Although first manufactured in 1989 and used by Steve Schneider during his first one-day solo of El Capitanís Nose, the Silent Partner didnít hit the market until March of this year. Thatís a long wait, especially when you consider Schneiderís high praise for the device in the book Climbing Big Walls, published in 1990. So why the holdup?
Mark Blanchard, the Silent Partnerís inventor and original manufacturer, delayed production after facing the ogre of product liability and in 1996 licensed the patent to Rock Thompson of Rock Exotica. Rock Exotica already produced the Soloist and Solo-Aid, two popular solo-belay devices, and the Silent Partner would have rounded out the lineup. In 1997, however, Petzl absorbed Rock Exotica and wanted nothing to do with solo-belay gizmos. Thompson organized another company, Wren Industries, which now produces all three solo devices.
The Silent Partner differs greatly from the Soloist and the Solo-Aid. The latter two consist of a cam mounted inside a metal housing and operate like ascenders. The lead line feeds automatically through the Soloist, making it acceptable for free climbing, but the device requires a chest harness and may not hold a low-angle or inverted fall (any fall where the climbersí body, and thus the Soloist, are not aligned parallel to the rock). The Solo-Aid holds these falls but requires one hand to feed out slack - an improvement over the old clove-hitch method, but cumbersome for free climbing and speedy aid ascents.
The Silent Partner improves upon these designs by employing a centrifugal clutch mechanism hidden in the axle drum of the device. Attach the lead line by opening the device and clove hitching the rope around the drum. The unit clips directly to the harness without need for a chest harness, and the clip-in hole accommodates two locking Ďbiners, an improvement over the cord or webbing needed to attach the other devices. While climbing, the drum rotates freely, allowing the clove hitch to slip. In a fall, (or at roughly 4 mph, according to Wren Industries), the increased speed of the slipping rope locks the clutch (think of your carís seat belt) and the clove hitch tightens around the locked drum.
During my short test falls on vertical rock, the clutch locked immediately, cinching the clove hitch securely. Just remember your ascenders so you can unweight and unlock the clutch after a fall, and get back to your high point.
Overall, the Silent Partner performed wonderfully. While free climbing, the rope fed smoothly, the clutch never cinched inadvertently, and I could feed out slack to clip overhead placements (although it is still easier to clip gear at waist level). I moved quickly and confidently on aid pitches and felt much more comfortable stepping out of my aiders to pull free moves because I didnít have to pay out gobs of slack before casting off into the unknown.
The Silent Partner retails for $225 - pretty spendy compared to the $100 Soloist or the $80 Solo-Aid. But if youíre looking to speed up your wall times on routes with free stretches like Yosemiteís Prow or Zionís Touchstone, and you want a belay that catches falls in any situation, then consider saving up for what Steve Schneider dubbed "the coup-de-grace of solo devices".