Free-Solo­ing is Se­ri­ous Busi­ness

Gripped - - EDITORIAL - Bran­don Pul­lan

Free-solo­ing is al­ways full com­mit­ment. While Alex Hon­nold’s first free-solo of El Cap­i­tan has been called the most dan­ger­ous free-solo ever, it wasn’t. It might be, as Adam On­dra said, “Def­i­nitely the big­gest thing that ever hap­pened in the world of free-solo climb­ing, it’s sim­ply un­be­liev­able.” But ev­ery freesolo is dan­ger­ous be­cause any mis­take will likely re­sult in death.

The great free-soloist John Bachar (who died in a free-solo fall in 2009 in Cal­i­for­nia) once said, “Solo­ing is se­ri­ous busi­ness, be­cause you can be se­ri­ously dead.” In 1981, he of­fered a $ 10,000 re­ward for any­one who could follow him for one full day. No one took the of­fer. Since the dawn of tech­ni­cal climb­ing, there have been free-soloists, many who’ve died fall­ing off a climb. In 1913, Paul Preuss fell 300 me­tres at­tempt­ing the first as­cent of Man­dlko­gel in Aus­tria. In 1987, Jimmy Jewell fell from Poor Man’s Peuterey at Tre­madog in North Wales. He was on his way from a lo­cal pub to his climb­ing club hut.

The his­tory of free-solo­ing has many sad days, but climbers will al­ways push the sport. In 1983, Peter Croft free-soloed four long routes in the Bu­ga­boos in a day. He pushed free-solo­ing in Squamish, with laps of Sen­try Box 5.12 be­fore go­ing to Yosemite to free-solo Astro­man 5.11c and The Rostrum 5.11c in a day. He paved the way for fu­ture Cana­dian free-soloists like Will Stan­hope, who made the first free-solo of Zom­bie Roof 5.12d in Squamish. In­ter­na­tion­ally, Han­sjorg Auer free-soloed an 850- me­tre 5.12c in Italy called The Fish in 2007. A few years later, Alex Hu­ber made the f irst free-solo of a 5.14 with his lap of Kom­mu­nist in Aus­tria. And Colin Ha­ley has pushed the sport on alpine routes in Alaska and Patag­o­nia.

Hon­nold’s free-so­los of big walls in Yosemite and around the world have made even the boldest climbers light-headed. At the same time as Hon­nold’s Freerider solo on El Cap (see p.6), Cana­dian Marc-An­dre Le­clerc was busy ap­ply­ing a sim­i­lar style to walls in Canada. Le­clerc is one of the world’s most ac­com­plished free-soloists with as­cents up Cerro Torre, Mount Slesse and Mount Rob­son. In spring, he walked to the base of big lime­stone walls in the Ghost River Val­ley in Al­berta and made ground-up free-solo first-as­cents. He had no knowl­edge of the rock con­di­tion or dif­fi­culty and went for it. He then on­sight-free-soloed South­ern Ex­po­sure, a 300- me­tre 5.11a and down-climbed a sim­i­lar line. Imag­ine ex­posed lime­stone-crimp climb­ing 250 me­tres off the deck with­out a rope.

Free-soloists al­most never hang their chalk bags up. Croft, who still heads to the hills with­out a rope, said that Hon­nold’s El Cap free-solo was the fi­nal step. But that won’t stop climbers from look­ing for the next one, whether it’s in Yosemite, the Cana­dian Rock­ies or the Great Ranges. One thing is cer­tain: free-solo­ing is se­ri­ous busi­ness with sad days and good days. Here’s hop­ing for more of the lat­ter.

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