Solo­ing

Solo­ing is one of the old­est styles of climb­ing,

Gripped - - EDITORIAL - Bran­don Pul­lan

as old as moun­taineer­ing. De­spite its his­tor y, there’s mys­ter y about it. Why do it? How do the best han­dle it? Is it luck or skill? There have been great so­los by those who don’t solo of­ten and there have been tragedies in­volv­ing known soloists. The death of the ex­pe­ri­enced climber Paul Preuss in 1913 af­ter he fell tr ying to solo the f irst as­cent of the north ridge of Man­dlko­gel, rocked the climb­ing world.

Fast for ward to 1980, when Yosemite climber Tobin Soren­son died from a fal l at­tempt­ing Mount Al­berta’s North Face. Two years later, John Lauch­lan died tr ying to make the f irst solo as­cent of Po­lar Cir­cus. In 1987, Jimmy Jewel l fel l of f Poor Man’s Peuterey in North Wales. He was us­ing the route as a short­cut from a pub to a hut. In 1993, Derek Hersey died while solo­ing the Steck-Salathé in Yosemite. Michael Rear­don went miss­ing while solo­ing sea clif fs in the U.K. In July 2009, John Bachar died fal ling of f Dike Wall in Cal­i­for nia. Five months later, famed ice soloist Guy La­cel le died solo­ing an easy ice climb af­ter an avalanche swept him of f. In 2011, Ak­i­hira Tawara fel l of f Direc­tis­sima on Yam­nuska. All of th­ese climbers could be con­sid­ered ex­perts.

In Canada, peo­ple have been solo­ing for a cen­tur y. In 1929, Roger Neve soloed the Kain Route on Mount Louis and down­climbed it. Then there was Royal Rob­bins’s 1967 solo of Edith Cavell’s North Face, Alex Lowe’s solo f irst-as­cent of As­ter­oid Al­ley, Greg Cameron’s 1979 f irst free as­cent of Squamish’s Pipe­line, Ge­off Powter’s solo of cmc Wall on Yam­nuska, Peter Croft’s Bu­ga­boo so­los, Tim Pochay’s 1989 solo of the Green­wood/Locke on Mount Tem­ple, Chris Brazeau’s fast so­los of the Grand Cen­tral Couloir and Mount Tem­ple’s Green­wood/Jones, Ian Wel­sted’s solo of Rob­son’s Em­peror Ridge, Cian Brinker’s solo of Mount Tem­ple’s Sphinx Face, Will Stan­hope’s so­los of Zom­bie Roof and Sentr y Box, Alex Hon­nold’s solo of Uni­ver­sit y Wall in 2014 and Marc-An­dre Le­clerc’s nu­mer­ous so­los. The list goes on and on.

I knew Tawara, the man who fell off Direc­tis­sima on Yam­nuska. I spoke with him the night be­fore he left, we had a beer. He was con­vinced he could do it. The route was only 5.8 and he climbed 5.12. The day af­ter he didn’t re­turn, Sharon Wood and her part­ner dis­cov­ered his body at the base of the climb. What hap­pened? Chances are a hold broke and he fel l of f. When I lived in Squamish, I would go to the Smoke Bluf fs ever y night and do my solo cir­cuit. Once, on my fourth climb, I al­most slipped of f. I down-climbed and went to the pub. The next day, I re­turned and climbed the route with a rope.

Ever yone needs to f ind his or her own lim­its for r isk. Make smart de­ci­sions this year and be safe. In the words of Bil l Allen, “It’s bet­ter to be a live cow­ard than a dead hero.”

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