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Free solo climbing

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Title: Free solo climbing  
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Subject: Bouldering, John Bachar, Buildering, Glossary of climbing terms, Abseiling
Collection: Types of Climbing
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Free solo climbing

Free solo climbing, also known as free soloing, is a form of free climbing and solo climbing where the climber (or free soloist) performs alone and without using any ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment, relying entirely on his ability instead. Unlike in bouldering, free soloists typically climb above safe heights, where a fall would always result in serious injury or death. In ordinary free climbing, instead, safety gear is used to protect from falls, although not to assist the ascent.


  • Motivations 1
  • Practitioners 2
  • Notable accidents 3
  • Alternatives 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


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. 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, Mustang Wanted, 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

  • 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.
  • Vik Henderson died soloing Uncle Fanny (5.7) in Yosemite, CA after falling 100ft. July 10, 1981.[7]
  • Robert Steele died free soloing the Royal Arches in Yosemite, CA after falling 200ft. May 16, 1985.[7]
  • 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.
  • Dwight Bishop, 49, fell climbing alone and unroped, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, The Grand Traverse. July 19, 2004.
  • Jimmy Ray Forester, 43, fell while free-soloing in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. Forester, an experienced, talented climber, failed to return to camp after setting out on The Scariest Ride in the Park, a 40-pitch 5.9 ridge route known for loose rock. He was found the next day at the base of the wall. November 24, 2006.[8]
  • 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, Ireland )
  • 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.
  • Michael Ybarra died climbing solo on The Matterhorn Peak in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. July 2012.[9]
  • Brad Parker fell about 300 feet to his death while attempting to climb Matthes Crest Traverse in Yosemite, CA. August 2014.[10]


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. ^ [2]
  2. ^ Perrin, John (2006). The Climbing Essays. Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd. p. 320.  
  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.  
  6. ^ Staff (25 July 2004). "Dwight Bishop, 48". The Montana Standard. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Free Soloing Deaths :: SuperTopo Rock Climbing Discussion Topic". Retrieved 2015-10-09. 
  8. ^ "Jimmy Ray Forester Killed in Solo Fall". 2010-11-30. Retrieved 2015-10-09. 
  9. ^ Scott C. Johnson. "Michael Ybarra’s Death Underscores the Allure and Dangers of Solo Climbing". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2015-10-09. 
  10. ^ Barmann, Jay (2014-08-20). "Experienced Rock Climber Falls To His Death In Yosemite Free Climb After Proposing To Girlfriend". SFist. Retrieved 2015-10-09. 

Further reading

  • The High Lonesome: Epic Solo Climbing Stories, John Long. ISBN 1-56044-858-X
  • Ament, Pat (2001). A History of Free Climbing in America

External links

  • Edge of Oblivion - Free-solo rock climbers feel spiritual lure, Sheila Mulrooney Eldred. Fresno Bee, 8 April 2004
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