Free-Soloing is Serious Business
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.