The world of fitness and sports has something for just about everyone. If running isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps you would like spinning or Zumba. If those don’t make you feel ready to seize the day, then maybe you’d like something more exciting like boxing or rock climbing. While the thrill of rock climbing in itself is nearly indescribable, there’s a way to take it up a notch and push it just a bit further. Free solo climbing is extreme rock climbing, and it’s incredibly dangerous, but for certain thrill-seekers, it is their way of not only staying fit but also how they relax. While that may seem counterintuitive, just bear with me as I talk about the ins and outs of free solo climbing.
What is Free Solo Climbing?
Free solo climbing is just like rock climbing in every way, shape and form except for the fact that the climber uses no equipment. That means the climber does not use ropes, hooks, or anchors. Each climber relies on their finger and toe holds to keep them on the face of the cliff they are climbing. With that being said, it’s easy to see how dangerous this sport is when you’re hundreds of feet in the air with nothing to catch you if you slip. However, there are many successful free solo climbers, and some of them have climbed to incredible heights during their careers.
Who Are Free Solo Climbers?
In the world of free solo climbing, one of the best climbers is Alex Honnold. He spent years preparing for his El Capitan ascent. His climb is one of the most impressive ever performed and documented in the 2019 Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo. Described as more like watching a horror movie, Free Solo takes you on a nail-biting climb as Alex Hannold ascends El Cap. Alex worked his way up to climbing El Cap; like other free solo climbers he does start off climbing with ropes and anchors. He works by memorizing every finger and toe hold, so he knows where the more difficult areas are. This is a common technique among climbers. Learning the path you’re going to take means the difference between a successful climb and falling to your death. Other noteworthy climbers are Alexander Huber, Ueli Steck and Dean Potter, Alain Robert, and Brette Harrington.
How Dangerous Is It?
Whilst it goes without saying, any climbing without gear is dangerous. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or how well you know the path you’re going to climb. Any small variance or unexpected change can cost you your life. In 2019 experienced climber and free soloist Brad Gobright fell to his death while climbing in El Potrero Chico in Mexico. Austin Howell, another well-known free solo climber, fell to his death in a North Carolina gorge. Around 40 climbers in totall died in 2019; however, not all of them were free-solo climbers. If you’re thinking about a free solo climb, assess the risk before you take your first finger and foothold. No life is worth the risk, even if you know what you’re doing. However, no one will stop you except yourself.
Places That Have Been Free Solo-ed
Alex Honnold takes the top of the list with his climb of El Cap taking just a few hours. El Capitan can be found in California’s Yosemite National Park. Widow’s Tears is another climb in Yosemite that was performed by Vitaliy Musiyenko in 2016. Cnoc na Mara in Donegal, Ireland, was conquered by Lain Miller, and Brette Harrington ascended Chiaro di Luna in Fitzroy Massif, Patagonia, Argentina. The 5th best climb goes to Alain Robert, who climbed the Cayan Tower in Dubai, UAE. While these locations top the list, you can free solo just about anywhere you can climb a rock. But among American climbers, Yosemite has some of the best climbs in the US.
Free solo climbing is fascinating, and the risk might be hard to understand. Alex Honnold has said that climbing makes him feel free. He can stare death right in the face and win every time. He’s at peace with what could happen when he climbs and has mentioned that his feelings are shared among the free solo climbing community. It’s a sport that isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s impressive to see what we can do as humans and how our abilities can transcend the fear of death itself.