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What is Free Solo Climbing?

Diana Bocco
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Free solo climbing is the riskiest of all forms of climbing. There are inherent dangers to climbing solo, as a partner can help with belaying or even call for help in case of an accident. In free climbing, the person not only climbs alone, but he also climbs without any ropes or harnesses to protect him in case of a slip or fall. The most dangerous part is not the climbing itself, as most solo climbers choose routes they already know well. The major danger is the absence of help in case of emergency, plus the exposure to the environment, including the danger of falling rocks and slippery icy edges.

For it to be considered true free solo climbing, the climber must be at least 25 feet (7.62 meters) off the ground, a height from which it would be extremely unlikely that anyone would survive a fall. Even the most experienced climbers consider this "a sport for the crazy." A similar form, known as deep-water soloing, consists of climbing on sea cliffs. The presence of water down below may seem to lower the risks, but in fact increases them, as the rock tends to be slippery, and the tides and underwater boulders make a fall as deadly as one that happens away from water. Free solo climbing is considered an extreme sport and is illegal in many national parks, which is why is hard to know exactly how many people practice it.

One of the most famous climbers was Derek Hersey, who died when climbing Sentinel Rock in the Yosemite Valley in 1993. Dan Osman, sometimes called "the king of free solo climbing," died in 1998 during a "controlled free-falling," a form of bungee-jumping. Osman had spent most of his adult life climbing alone, and had even starred in several documentaries about the extreme sport. Other famous climbers include Dean Potter, who is also an expert at speed climbing, and Michael Reardon, who is famous for climbing towers and skyscrapers without ropes.

Sports&Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco , Former Writer
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.

Discussion Comments

By anon1000603 — On Oct 23, 2018

Looks scary but fun and also crazy, and in all fairness, I don't see why anyone does this.

By Ana1234 — On Jan 31, 2015

@irontoenail - People always image these climbs to be up a vertical cliff face, but that's not often the case. So having someone else there, or, at the very minimum, making sure people know where you've gone and how long your climb should take, can very easily make the difference between life and death for a climber.

Free solo rock climbing isn't really a smart choice in my opinion. I agree that people should be allowed to do what they want within reason, but they aren't the ones who have to go looking for missing hikers who go climbing and get lost or injured.

By irontoenail — On Jan 30, 2015

@clintflint - Well, those conditions do make it much more difficult psychologically, because you're having to face a real fear of falling. Climbing with ropes is not exactly easy in terms of physical stamina but you do have the knowledge that it doesn't matter if you slip, because you'll be perfectly safe.

If you don't have that kind of safety net, it would be much more crucial to choose every handhold with care and precision.

And climbing without a partner or group might just be a personal choice. Honestly, if you're already free climbing a difficult grade, having someone there isn't going to make much difference, as a serious fall is probably going to be lethal regardless.

By clintflint — On Jan 29, 2015

I'm not sure why anyone would do something like this. I mean, I understand doing something that poses a greater challenge, because then you will feel even more of a high after you manage to finish it. But as far as I can see, free solo climbing isn't actually any more difficult than climbing with proper equipment or with other people.

It's basically just a stunt to do it without those safeguards and it's a gamble that even the best climber can't guarantee will succeed.

I do think that people should be allowed to do whatever they want with their lives, but I can't understand the point of doing this at all.

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco

Former Writer

Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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