In the spirit of free soloists »Explorersweb


Climbing without ropes or harness is not madness. Using only climbing shoes and magnesium, free soloing is the purest and most dangerous way to climb. Only a few can.

Free solos by Matt Bush in Rocklands, South Africa. Photo: Matt Bush


Pure climbing

Freeing yourself solo means feeling close to nature, attached to the rock, and feeling a breath of absolute freedom. It’s art. But it’s a long learning process, involving both physical and mental training. The price to pay for the slightest failure is life itself.

Steph Davis’ free solos “Outer Limits” in Yosemite National Park. Photo: Dean Fidelman


What goes on in the mind of a free soloist? How are they preparing? How do they deal with fear? How can they stand on a vertical wall, where any slip results in death?

After the unforgettable movie Free Solo, where Alex Honnold faced El Capitan, the free solo gained international attention. Here we take a look at the experiences of three other excellent solo climbers: Matt Bush, Steph Davis and Alexander Huber.

Longing for freedom

“For me, solo climbing is the most intense way to face the rock,” Alexander Huber wrote in his book Free Solo: Climbing without protection and without limits. “To move around the rock so freely is an incredible feeling. It is entering into another reality, into a space between being and non-being, where consciousness is so deep that we believe, through pure tension, to hear the crackling of the air. This is why free solo climbing has a lot more introspection than climbing.

Alexander Huber on “Kommunist” in Schleier, Austria. Photo: Heinz Zak


Free solo is a way of life. Climbing walls is beyond reason, but for many it is a form of self-improvement and the ultimate liberation. Does not depend on any protection, it is the next level.

“My freedom means everything to me,” writes Steph Davis, American climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot. “For me, it was all the interest to be a climber and to disappear into the itinerant lifestyle. I wanted to mind my own business and climb rocks. Eat soup in the back of my truck at night with my dog ​​and wake up when the sun rises again. Davis considers free solo to be the pinnacle of personal freedom.

Steph Davis climbs the “Pervertical Sanctuary” on the Longs Peak Diamond. Photo: Brian Kimball


Personal choice

Within the climbing community, free soloing fascinates some and is taboo for others. They think it is better not to talk about free sole for fear of inciting others to take unnecessary risks. For this reason, many free soloists avoid discussing it. Their free solo climbs are deeply personal acts.

Some admire solo free climbing and dream of being able to feel the same feeling of absolute control over body and mind. The perfect harmony of purity and silence. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to jump in and do it too.

Matt Bush, the South African rock climber who practices free solos 80% of the time, doesn’t want to offer free solo advice. He prefers not to encourage others. He doesn’t want to be responsible for what other people do.

“I wonder, what would I do if I lived my life without limits? The answer is, free solo, ”Bush said of his decision to start free solo.

Matt Bush makes the human flag in Cederberg, South Africa. Photo: Matt Bush


Steph Davis also sees danger as a personal choice, something she is happy to accept. She describes commitment and responsibility in her book High enthusiasm:

“For me, the idea of ​​being hit by an icefall or falling off a rock face are perfectly acceptable possibilities. The idea of ​​being hurt by someone is not. It always surprises me to hear people say rock climbing is dangerous. I have always felt the safest alone on the side of a hard-to-reach wall or mountain. Although I understand that I could die in the mountains, I trust nature and I know it won’t hurt me.

The point of no return

The point of no return is the stage in a route from which it is no longer possible to descend. From there there is only one option: climb to the top. Free soloists often test their routes with ropes. But sometimes they increase the level of engagement and climb on sight, meaning they solo free on the first try. The height of the point of no return varies, it can be 10 m from the ground or 80 m.

At the point of no return, if the climber decides to continue, he must be in a strong psychological state, without fear and with self-confidence to complete the route. Dealing with fear is vital. If fear seizes you after the point of no return, you can only save yourself if you solve the problem in the moment.

Alexander Huber performs the Hasse Brandler Direttisima solo on Cima Grande in the Dolomites. Photo: Alexander Huber Collection


In an interview with MojagearMatt Bush described managing pressure: “I listen to my feelings. If there is pressure then I’m not in the right frame of mind for free solo. I tell myself that there is no point in doing free solo when it is not free.

Alexander Huber emphasizes the importance of a calm mind when evaluating an ascension: “The most important amulet is my brain, I always have this amulet with me, it was given to me by my parents. and I’ll try to keep it for the rest of my life. “

Two different types of fear

In his book, Fear: your best friend, Huber suggests facing your fears and making them your allies. Fear can also help us quit and can ensure survival.

Matt Bush defines two different types of free solo fear. First, there is the fear that can appear as a result of a sudden strong wind, rockfall, rain, or a surprise encounter with wildlife. This fear reaction helps you react quickly and can be used to control a dangerous situation.

The second, and the worst fear, is when you get stuck on the road: “[This is] The most dangerous [fear] because it only exists in the mind, ”Bush wrote. “Once I was solo free and thought the boulder was loose and could come back down at any time. It triggered the emotion of fear in my body and I got stuck on the wall. For a moment, fear immobilized me… but then I realized that it was all in my mind. I took a breath and ordered myself to relax and climb.

Matt Bush in Cape Town. Photo: Micky Wiswedel


In free solo on Castleton Tower in Utah, Steph Davis almost lost his balance. Before starting to climb, she forgot to roll up her pants. Later, already at a considerable height, it came back to haunt her.

“I crossed my left foot over my right leg, stepping my body to the right, and my right foot stepped on my loose pants leg.”

She struggled to control her body but kept moving to get out of the position before it was too late. In his book Learn to fly, she wrote:

“I sat down [on a ledge] and rolled up my pants. I felt drained. Two more difficult sections awaited me, one of each length above. I couldn’t afford to make more mistakes like this. I sat for a long time with my back to the wall, looking at the towers and desert walls in the distance. The sky seemed to brighten slightly. I got up and put my hands in the crack, let my feet off the ledge and drove off.

Castleton Tower, a 120m pillar in the Utah desert. Davis performed solo on the North Face in 2008. Photo: Krystle Wright


Alexander Huber had been preparing for some time to unleash the “Kommunist” route solo (8b + in Wilder Kaiser, Tirol, Austria). His first attempts failed and he decided to come back down. He waited two weeks for the perfect time to try again. But, when the perfect day arrived, a hiker appeared. Huber did not want a witness but approached the hiker and asked him to record the ascent. The hiker enthusiastically accepts. Strangely, the bond with the unknown hiker relaxed Huber. “I was convinced that I would not fall. But you never know 100%. This pinch of potential danger is the essence of mountaineering and rock climbing.

The art and experience of flow

Free solo is an art. Steph Davis says he combines dancing with power. When a climber begins to ascend, the outside world moves away and he only lives in the present moment, reaching a state of maximum concentration. Steph wrote about this flow experience before starting a free solo climb:

“I am sitting below the crack. Red desert. I put a barrette of flowers in my hair, like an offering, and stand at the base. Without a rope, I feel naked but free, as pure as the crack. I breathe deeply. I fix my eyes, my hands and my feet in the stone and let my breaths lead me upwards. Everything becomes a perfect line, we all move together. Fear is an unknown concept. I am not alone here. I’m not even me. I’m a bit more, sneaking into the rhythm.

Matt Bush describes his preparation and unfolding:

“Each course is for me a choreography, a creation, an art form, it is my creative expression. I consider myself an artist and I paint in motion on the canvas of nature. It can become very easy to get set on a goal and forget to take advantage of the process to get there. Sometimes I stop and admire the world around me… it’s breathtaking. During my trip, I am confronted with difficult passages on the rock and sometimes I feel it impossible… Slowly but surely, everything comes together like the pieces of a puzzle.

There’s an amazing photo of Matt Bush on a free solo. He is perched on a narrow ledge with his back to the wall. We asked him how he got into this position.

Matt Bush after doing the fifth ballet position on the wall. Photo: Matt Bush


Bush says he first visualized the maneuver in his mind. Then, with careful balance and maximum concentration, while facing the boulder, he did the fifth ballet position, turning one foot 180 ° to face the outside, then switched to both heels.


“And those who were seen dancing were considered crazy by those who couldn’t hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

About the Author

Kris annapurna

Kris annapurna

@KrisAnnapurna reports on outdoor activities, ongoing expeditions and stories related to the history of mountaineering in Karakorum, Himalayas, Tien Shan and other ranges.

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