Free solo climbing

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Free solo climbing, also known as free soloing, is a form of free climbing where the climber (the free soloist) goes alone and does not use ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending, relying only on his or her climbing ability. Unlike in bouldering, climbers go beyond safe heights and a fall always means serious injury or death. Free solo climbing should not be confused with normal free climbing, in which gear is used for safety in case of a fall, but not to assist the climb.


Reasons for free soloing given by high-profile climbers include the simplicity and speed with which one can climb, for example Alex Honnold's two hour and fifty minute ascent of the 2,224-foot (678 m) Regular Northwest Face route on Yosemite's Half Dome, a route normally demanding multiple days.[1] Other reasons given are the intense concentration required and, for some, the adrenaline rush.[citation needed] The practice is mostly confined to routes familiar to the climber, whose difficulty lies well within the climber's abilities. However, inherent risks such as loose rocks or sudden change in weather are always present. Some high-profile climbers have died while free soloing, including John Bachar, Derek Hersey, Vik Hendrickson, Robert Steele, Dwight Bishop, Jimmy Ray Forrester, Jimmy Jewell, Tony Wilmott, and John Taylor.[2][3][4][5][6]


The sport has produced a number of well-known practitioners, made famous by remarkable photos of a climber totally alone and unprotected on sheer cliffs. Two of the most famous free soloists, Alain Robert ("The French Spider-Man"), and Dan Goodwin ("Skyscraperman"), have also scaled dozens of skyscrapers around the world — a sport known as buildering (not to be confused with bouldering) —, without using any safety equipment.

Some climbers who are known for their regular practice of free solo climbing include: Hansjörg Auer, John Bachar, Patrick Berhault, Thomas Bubendorfer, Renaldo Clarke, Peter Croft, Steph Davis, Bill Denz, Tim Deroehn, Catherine Destivelle, Patrick Edlinger, Eric Escoffier, Dan Goodwin, Mike Graham, Wolfgang Güllich, Colin Haley, Derek Hersey, Alex Honnold, Alexander Huber, Jimmy Jewell, Eric Jones, Kevin Jorgeson, Matt Lloyd, Dan Osman, Dean Potter, Paul Preuss, Andreas Proft, Herbert Ranggetiner, Michael Reardon, Alain Robert, Tobin Sorenson, Will Stanhope, Ueli Steck, Akihira Tawara, John "Yabo" Yablonski, and Maurizio "Manolo" Zanolla.

Some climbers who only occasionally or rarely free solo climbed, but have been influential to the practice, include: Pierre Allain, Henry Barber, Lynn Hill, Ron Kauk, John Long, Dave MacLeod, Reinhold Messner.

Notable accidents[edit]

  • Paul Preuss, 3 October 1913, on an attempt to make the first ascent of the North Ridge of the Mandlkogel free solo, fell a thousand feet to his death.
  • Tobin Sorenson died from a fatal fall during a solo attempt of the Mount Alberta's North Face on 5 October 1980.
  • Jimmy Jewell, 31 October 1987, fell to his death from Poor Man's Peuterey (Severe) at Tremadog, North Wales. Ironically he was using the route as a shortcut from a local pub to his climbing club hut. The route was well below his usual grade and capability.
  • Derek Hersey died on 28 May 1993 in an accident while soloing the Steck-Salathé Route free solo, on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite National Park.
  • Michael Reardon was reported missing at 5pm IST on 13 July 2007, after being hit by a wave and swept out to sea; from climbing down 180 metres (590 ft) (Fogher Cliff, 51°55′25″N 10°21′20″W / 51.9236°N 10.3556°W / 51.9236; -10.3556)
  • John Bachar died 5 July 2009, in a free solo accident at Dike Wall near Mammoth Lakes, California.
  • Akihira Tawara died 13 September 2011 while free solo climbing the Directissima 5.8 route on Yamnuska


Alternatives to free soloing include:

  • Free climbing with the use of ropes to prevent a fall.
  • Bouldering: climbing at heights low enough that a fall would normally be safe, typically making use of a bouldering mat to cushion a potential fall.
  • Deep water soloing: climbing over a body of water.
  • Free BASE: a combination of free solo climbing to ascend a structure, and BASE jumping with a parachute to descend.


  1. ^ Honnold Free-Solos Half Dome's NW Face
  2. ^ Perrin, John (2006). The Climbing Essays. Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd. p. 320. ISBN 9781903238479. 
  3. ^ Pearsons, Neil. "Abandon all rope part 2". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  4. ^ "Jimmy Ray Forester Killed in Solo Fall". Rock and Ice. 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Ghiglieri, Michael Patrick (2004). Off The Wall: Death in Yosemite. Puma Press. p. 608. ISBN 9780970097361. 
  6. ^ Staff (25 July 2004). "Dwight Bishop, 48". The Montana Standard. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

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