The Precarious Art of Free Soloing

National Geographic - Jimmy Chin et al


Creative Commons

Joel Pontalti, Getting out

Death. One slip up, a loss of focus or even just a glimpse of doubt could mean the end, suspended thousands of feet above ground by nothing but grip strength, mental stamina and a touch of perfection. The art of free soloing the purest most free form of rock climbing. Practiced for adrenaline, the rush of living on the edge, bragging rights and the strongest feeling of accomplishment climbing can grant. Climbing is a sport about pushing the line of human adventure and soloing does this to the extreme. Many have strained the line too far, and this resulted poorly for them. Free soloing has taken the lives of many accomplished climbers. It proves that rock can never truly be conquered.  

Alex Honnold, a professional rock climber from Sacramento, has redefined what it means to free solo. Free soloing has been driven by many great climbers before Alex. Alex has quite literally climbed to new heights.  Alex’s free solo ascents are the highest, and he completes them at superhuman speed. Alex has broken numerous records by climbing routes faster than anyone before. He has climbed pitches–that would take people days to complete–in just hours. How does he do it?

Without having to worry about equipment (ropes, draws, safety), he can speed through the climb, but at a cost. If he were to slip or a piece of rock break off, Alex would fall thousands of feet. So why would he do something so seemingly reckless and risky?

Is it reckless and risky?  Alex believes that, yes, it is dangerous, but so are so many things we do every single day. In an interview, Alex was asked about how he views risk. He replied by saying ordinary people take risks without analyzing and being accountable for the risks they take. Examples like eating unhealthily, drinking, and smoking weed are unmitigated risks he can’t comprehend.  

He said that when he free solos, each project takes him months, as he cleans the climbs and perfects them while on a rope.  Before the final climb without rope there is nothing reckless about what he does. He also is in fantastic shape physically and mentally; otherwise, he wouldn’t do what he does.

People often look at him and think what an absolute lunatic, when in fact Alex’s climbing is so methodical and meticulously orchestrated, one might just call him a genius. Everything he does is so well thought out.

But, let’s face it.  That doesn’t change the truth:  it is still SO scary to watch him climb.