Mountain climbing has been introduced as a sports activity recently, but in history, it was one of the survival skills of mankind. Mountaineering is a challenging activity and dangerous for inexperienced people. There are various types of mountain climbing, including free soloing, free climbing, aid climbing, deep water soloing, and bouldering.
Free soloing is the most dangerous kind of mountaineering in which there is no harness or rope to protect you from falling and no water or foam to cushion your fall. This type of climbing was originally reserved for the elite climbers, and “free solo” was just a slang used by mountaineers. After the documentary movie Free Solo starting with Alex Honnold, free solo rock climbing gained popularity and encouraged new climbers.
When going on a trip to any location with boulders and rocks, you will see children attempting to or successfully climbing random rocks. Rock climbing has been in our genes, whether it’s for gathering more food or just the curiosity to see what exists on the summit. Otzi, the iceman, was found at the summit of Riffelhorn in Switzerland who died about 5,300 years ago at the height of 3,210 meters.
Rock climbing was incorporated as a sport and recreational activity at the end of the 19th century. Before that, it was just done to climb mountains and hills to collect scientific data, observe nature, or just see the summit.
The first mountaineering club was formed in 1857, known as the Alpine Club. It helped bring advancements in the sport, and soon around the 1950s, this activity moved from being a recreational pastime to an actual sport.
The first organized climbing competition was held in USSR in the 1940s. The revolution in this game was brought by an Italian journalist who gathered the best-known climbers for an event called SportRoccia. Modern sport climbing picked up pace from the first Word Championship in 1991 in Frankfurt, Germany.
Free Solo – The Documentary
A documentary about the greatest free solo feat achieved by a man won an academic award for best documentary film in 2019. This sports documentary features Alex Honnold, who climbs El Capitan, a mountain with a 3,000 feet high wall in Yosemite National Park. It has been rated as the most difficult mountain to climb in that area.
Alex climbed that mountain in 3 hours and 56 minutes, while the documentary is only 100 minutes long. It usually takes four to six days for climbers to climb that mountain but those who have done it while free soloing finished it in less than a day. This was an outstanding achievement that attracted the crowds toward this sport.
This movie was a game-changer for this sport, people took notice of mountain climbing, and we may say that this event led to the addition of rock climbing in the Olympics. When we look at other sports, we might be able to relate with the strength of the sportsman, but when we see a man without any safety hanging by a 2.3-kilometer-tall wall with the help of cracks is simply amazing and a superhuman feat.
Elements of Free Solo
The word free solo existed as slang by mountaineers until recently it was added to the dictionary. It is defined by Merriam Webster as:
“A climb in which climber uses no artificial aids for support and has no rope or other safety equipment for protection in case of a fall”
When you climbed your first tree in your childhood, you were technically free soloing. With the desire to grab something on the top branch or just see the world as the top branch of the tree sees, you climbed without any safety or care in the world. This is the essence of this sport which makes it challenging and adventurous.
What You Need For Free Solo Rock Climbing
The most important part of this activity is that it requires no equipment; you just need a strong, flexible body that can move when you want it to move. Doing free solo on your first attempt as a climber will not help you at all. Even the famous climber Alex Honnold uses ropes in most of his climbs. Having a flexible body and muscles that will not shut down by constant push and pull are the basic requirements of free solo rock climbing.
You may have seen rock climbers pull their whole body with just their fingers. In short, if one cannot lift their body with just the tip of fingers, they are not ready for mountain climbing. Usually, when one climbs something, the hands get sweaty and slippery; using climbing chalk is a good way to avoid slipping.
The Dangers of Free Solo Rock Climbing
Unlike free climbing, which uses ropes, cams, bolts, and quickdraws to ensure the climber’s safety, free soloing offers no such safety. It does make it easier and scarier this way, or as some might call it, thrilling. In the end, lack of safety just raises the fatality rate of this sport.
There have been many deaths while free soloing of expert climbers, including Derek Hersey, Robert Steele, Dwight Bishop, Jimmy Ray Forester, John Bachar, Vik Hendrickson, Tony Wilmott, and John Taylor. You can see a fluctuating pattern of deaths related to climbing, but on average, about 150 people die per year due to climbing-related deaths.
Free Solo Rock Climbing As a Sport
In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, sport climbing made its debut. It included lead climbing, bouldering and, speed climbing, but no mention of free soloing was made. It is an extreme sport, after all, and meant only for climbing enthusiasts. It is meant for those who are bothered by the safety of rope which prevents them from reaching their full potential of climbing.
By climbers, free soloing is known as the most natural type of climbing. There are many international and national tournaments for climbers, but the same cannot be said for free soloing. The high fatality rate of this sport has limited it to a few adventurous enthusiasts.
Future of Free Solo Rock Climbing
It simply seems that accepting free soloing as an official sport would not be possible soon because the companies that handle these competitions don’t like risky sports, nor will the governments allow it. On the other hand, people like Alex will keep emerging who will amaze us with their superhuman efforts on achieving what seemed impossible to most of us.
Whether it be climbing a mountain wall or skyscraper, free soloing is about achieving the impossible. Most people who participate in these extreme sports are attracted to the danger and adrenaline rush they radiate. Mankind would never know that whether rock climbing of tall mountains begun for search for food or just curiosity of humans, but we will know that those who have achieved such miracles will remain as symbols for achieving the impossible.
Sport climbing being introduced in the 2020 Summer Olympics shows that the world has noticed this sport, and it will continue to spread everywhere, teaching all of us to reach for the summit without the fear of falling.