Soloing is one of the oldest styles of climbing,
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.”