March 15, 2022

What is Free Solo Climbing and Who are the Brave Free Soloers?

by Jullie

Free solo climbing is a technical form of rock climbing where the climber ascends alone without harnesses, rope, or other protective gear, leaving them to rely on their strength and skills entirely.

Free solo climbing is becoming more popular, and with good reason. Most climbers love a challenge, and nothing presents a more significant challenge than free solo climbing. 


Table of Contents

What Do People Think of Free Soloing?

Most climbers respect the free solo climbs, while others are concerned about the risks associated and what other climbers think of these risks.

Many firms that work with free solo climbers have considered these views.

For instance, the nutrition bar firm, Clif Bar, has been working with climbers for a long time, but in 2014 they canceled sponsorships with five climbers due to the gambles they make, thus rousing a debate about these extreme risks. 

All the same, Red Bull and The North Face have sponsored numerous free solo climbers.

One of the best free solo climbers, Alex Honnold, was let go by Clif Bar and was part of the Free Solo documentary.

Many climbers criticized this sponsorship cancellation, but Alex Honnold won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the Academy Awards

Note that there is a difference between free solo climbing and free climbing, as well as french free climbing. Learn what is free climbing in depth. Free solo climbing is one of the most popular types of climbing these days.

What is Free Soloers Motivation?

Some of the best climbers have said that the speed and ease at which one can ascend solo is one of the reasons for free solo climbing and the extreme focus needed, which achieves a unique state of appreciating the moment. 

These climbers have become the best in this rock climbing discipline and famous among climbers and, in a few instances, gained fame among non-climbers.

However, free solo climbing is reserved for terrain that the climber is familiar with and within the climber’s ascending abilities. 

This climbing discipline poses risks like weather changes and loose rocks.

Unfortunately, some free solo climbers have passed away while free solo climbing, including John Taylor, John Bachar, Tony Wilmott, Derek Hersey, Jimmy Ray Forester, Vik Hendrickson, Jimmy Jewell, Dwight Bishop, and Robert Steele. 

Who are the Practitioners of Free Solo?

Free solo climbing has yielded several recognized practitioners, famed for pictures of them entirely alone with no protective gear on utter cliffs.

Alex Honnold made news in June 2017 when he became the first free solo climber to ascend the Yosemite El Capitan. This terrain is graded a 5.13a. 

Other climbers known for their frequent free solo climbing practice are Maurizio Zanolla, Hansjorg Auer, John Yablonski, John Bachar, Smid Miroslav Akihira Tawara, Patrick Berhault, Slavko Sveticic, Thomas Bubendorfer, Ueli Steck, Matt Bush, Will Stanhope, Sya Cao, Tobin Sorenson, Renaldo Clarke, Alain Robert, Peter Croft, Jim Reynolds, Steph Davis, Michael Reardon, Bill Denz, Herbert Ranggetiner, Tim Deroehn, Andreas Proft, Catherine Destivelle, Paul Preuss, Patrick Edlinger, Dean Potter, Jim Erickson, Dan Osman, Eric Escoffier, Dave MacLeod, Ron Fawcett, Matt Lloyd, John Gill, Marc-Andre Leclerc, Brad Gobright, Eric Jones, Dan Goodwin, Jimmy Jewell, Mike Graham, Alexander Huber, Wolfgang Gullich, Derek Hersey, and Colin Haley. 

Some rare free solo climbers who’ve been instrumental in the sport include Reinhold Messner, Pierre Allain, John Long, Henry Barber, Jean-Christophe Lafaille, Ron Kauk, and Lynn Hill

What Climbing Gear Do You Need for Free Solo Climbing?

For free solo climbing, you will need climbing gear that includes climbing shoes, a climbing chalk bag, and climbing chalk.

Last update on 2022-10-05 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

What are the Hardest Free Solo Climbs?

Only a few free solo climbers have ascended the 5.14 rate. We haven’t included boulder climbs since the climbers in this list did not utilize spotters and padding.

There’s still debate on the difference between short solo ascends and “highball” bouldering. 

Alfredo Webber was the first free solo climber to ascend a 5.14b grade when he ascended the Panem et Circenses, that’s 49ft, located at Muro di Pizzara, in 2019. When he climbed this route, he was 52 years. 

Other remarkable free solo climbs include Alex Honnold’s ascend in 2004 on the Kommunist and Darwin Dixit ascent in 2008 by Dave Macleod. These two climbs are graded 5.14s or 8b+. 

Is It Possible to Free Solo Buildings?

Yes. There are some notable ascents in this department. For instance, Dan Goodwin and Alain Robert ascend, also known as Skyscraper man and French Spiderman, respectively.

They climbed multiple skyscrapers globally without protective gear, also known as buildering

Who Has Died Free Soloing?

Unfortunately, several high-profile free solo climbers have passed during free solo climbing including John Taylor, John Bachar, Tony Wilmott, Derek Hersey, Jimmy Jewell, Vik Hendrickson, Jimmy Ray Forester, Dwight Bishop, and Robert Steele. 

10 Unreal Free Solo Climbs

#1 Cerro Fitz Roy

  • Climber: Jim Reynolds
  • Location: Argentina, El Chalten, Patagonia
  • Year: 2019

Jim Reynolds free soloed the Cerro Fitz Roy; that’s almost as tricky a route as the El Capitan. Previously, Dean potter ascended it in 2002, though he utilized ropes to descend, which is not seen as a genuine solo to most people. Jim Reynolds is the only one who did it without any gear or rope and the first to ascend and descend without any assistance. 

#2 Freerider, El Capitan

  • Climber: Alex Honnold
  • Location: Yosemite, USA
  • Year: 2017

With just a bag of chalk, bare hands, and climbing shoes, Alex Honnold ascended close to 915m of this granite wall in 2017. This terrain is graded 5.13a, though Alex Honnold said that it was the most difficult route he’d ascended by far. All the same, he was happy about it.

#3 Widow’s Tears

  • Climber: Vitaliy Musiyenko
  • Location: USA, Yosemite 
  • Year: 2016

The infamous Widow’s tears is an intense 305m ice ascend that seldom forms, though when it did in 2016, Vitaliy Musiyenko, a Ukrainian-born climber, climbed it with a mere pair of ice picks. Later on, he said he enjoyed the whole experience. 

#4 Cnoc na Mara

  • Climber: Iain Miller
  • Location: Donegal, Ireland
  • Year: 2016

The Cnoc na mara towers are 100M above the Irish Sea, and it takes quite the skills and guts to ascend, and you have to paddle through the sea to arrive. Initially, it was ascended in 2008 and completed by less than 30 climbers. After free soloing it, he said that it took him a decade to attain the right mental approach to even think about doing it. 

#5 Chiaro di Luna

Brette Harrington, at 23 years, free solo climbed the 5.11a terrain in Argentina. The Fitzroy is among the most iconic routes, and Brette Harrington was the first to solo this 762M terrain, graded a 5.11a. After descending, she said that it was a tricky and challenging experience, though she loved it at the end of the day. 

#6 Cayan Tower

  • Climber: Alain Robert 
  • Location: UAE, Dubai
  • Year: 2015 

The Cayan Tower is not a typical climb, a 75-story erection, and was the highest urban solo ascend globally. It was completed by Alain Robert, also known as Spiderman, in 1.5 hours. More than two decades ago, this free solo climber started ascending on a rock when he climbed his original 8b solo and among the craziest ascends ever, the La Nuit du Lezard. Again, he climbed the Sears Tower, the Burj Khalifa and Petronas towers with a harness, and London’s Shard. 

#7 Eiger North Face

  • Climbers: Dean Potter and Ueli Steck
  • Location: Switzerland 
  • Date: 2008 

The Eiger route is among the most well-known terrain in Europe. It is an ice and limestone wall that’s only been free soloed by two climbers, who are now dead. Ueli Steck, a speed climber, ascended the Heckmair terrain, typically a 3-day climb, in less than 3 hours. On the other hand, Dean Potter completed the world’s first free solo using a parachute on the Deep Blue Sea, a 5.12 graded route. After completion, Potter said it was much better since it’s over once you let go of the rock when free soloing. 

#8 Via Attraverso il Pesce

  • Climber: Hansjorg Auer
  • Location Marmolada Italy
  • Year: 2007

This route is 850M long and has a fish shape, thus its name, and was among the most challenging solo ascends in 2007. Harnsjorg took not more than 3 hours to complete it, after which he said that he needed time to embrace this achievement. 

#9 Kommunist

  • Climber: Alexander Huber 
  • Location: Schleierwasserfall, Australia
  • Year: 2004 

Alexander Huber, a Bavarian-born climber, ascended this 5.14a graded terrain. He climbed this route without protective gear. He said he wasn’t certain he wouldn’t fall off but kept going anyway.

#10 Separate Reality

  • Climber: Wolfgang Gullich
  • Location: USA, Yosemite 
  • Year: 1986

Yosemite is well-known for its prominent overhang; it is 200M above Mercede river. The first climber to ascend this route was Wolfgang Gullich though it has been ascended by Heinz Zak, Alex Honnold, and Dean potter. Gullich said that it was relatively dangerous and fun upon reaching its peak. 

Is Alex Honnold Done Free Soloing?

It’s not certain, though, Alex Honnold hinted that being a father could present a reorientation at a recent interview.

Who is the Best Free Solo Climber?

The best free solo climber globally is Alex Honnold, though he specializes in trad climbing.

Free soling simply means ascending a given route without a harness or rope.

He has a detailed list of impressive solo ascends, the most well-known being the El Capitan climbs in Yosemite National Park. 

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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