Free solo climbing

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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 or her 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.


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, Slavko Svetičič, Tobin Sorenson, Will Stanhope, Ueli Steck, Akihira Tawara, John "Yabo" Yablonski, and Maurizio "Manolo" Zanolla.

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

Difficult free solo ascents

There are few climbers who have free solo climbed in the 5.14 range. This list does not include "highball" boulder ascents because the climbers here did not use any padding or spotters. There is some debate on the blurred line between some "highball" bouldering and short free solo climbs.[7]

  • 5.14b (8c) - Darwin Dixit (50 ft) - Margalef, Spain - Dave MacLeod, MARCH 2008.[8]
  • 5.14a (8b+) - Kommunist (22m)- Tyrol, Austria - Alexander Huber, 2004. The first 5.14 free solo.[9]
  • 5.14a (8b+) - Lateralus (45 ft) - Malibu Creek State Park, CA, USA - Michael Reardon, date unknown (some speculation?).[citation needed]

Notable accidents

  • Paul Preuss, October 3, 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, October 5, 1980. Died from a fatal fall during a solo attempt of the Mount Alberta's North Face.
  • Vik Henderson, July 10, 1981. Died soloing Uncle Fanny (5.7) in Yosemite, CA after falling 100 ft.[citation needed]
  • Robert Steele died free soloing the Royal Arches in Yosemite, CA after falling 200 ft. May 16, 1985.[citation needed]
  • Jimmy Jewell, October 31, 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, May 28, 1993. Died in an accident while soloing the Steck-Salathé Route free solo, on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite National Park.
  • Dwight Bishop (age 49), July 19, 2004. Fell climbing alone and unroped, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, The Grand Traverse.
  • Jimmy Ray Forester (age 43), November 24, 2006. 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.[10]
  • George Gardner (age 58), July 25, 2008. Fell to his death while free soloing in Grand Teton National Park.[11]
  • John Bachar, July 5, 2009. Died in a free solo accident at Dike Wall near Mammoth Lakes, California.
  • Akihira Tawara, September 13, 2011. Died while free solo climbing the Directissima 5.8 route on Yamnuska.
  • Michael Ybarra, July 2012. Died climbing solo on The Matterhorn Peak in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.[12]
  • Brad Parker, August 2014. Fell about 300 feet to his death while attempting to climb Matthes Crest Traverse in Yosemite, CA.[13]
  • Andrew Barnes (age 46), June 12, 2015. Fell 50 ft free solo climbing in New York’s Shawangunk Mountains.[14]
  • Angus Moloney (age 22), September 27, 2015. Reportedly fell 100 ft free-solo climbing from the Fifth Pinnacle above the Gregory Canyon Trail, Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks.[15]


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. [1] Archived 29 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Perrin, John (2006). The Climbing Essays. Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd. p. 320. ISBN 9781903238479.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Pearsons, Neil. "Abandon all rope part 2". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Jimmy Ray Forester Killed in Solo Fall". Rock and Ice. 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ghiglieri, Michael Patrick (2004). Off The Wall: Death in Yosemite. Puma Press. p. 608. ISBN 9780970097361.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Staff (25 July 2004). "Dwight Bishop, 48". The Montana Standard. Retrieved 18 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Jimmy Ray Forester Killed in Solo Fall". 2010-11-30. Retrieved 2015-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Scott C. Johnson. "Michael Ybarra's Death Underscores the Allure and Dangers of Solo Climbing". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2015-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links