Free solo climbing, or free soloing, is a form of technical ice or rock climbing where the climbers (or free soloists) climb alone without ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment, forcing them to rely entirely on their own individual preparation, strength, and skill. Free soloing is the most dangerous form of climbing, and unlike bouldering, free soloists climb above safe heights, where a fall can very likely be fatal. Though many climbers have attempted free soloing, it is considered "a niche of a niche" reserved for the sport's elite,[1] which has led many practitioners to stardom within both the media and the sport of rock climbing.[2][3] "Free solo" was originally a term of climber slang, but after the popularity of the Oscar-winning film Free Solo, Merriam-Webster officially added the word to their English dictionary in September 2019.[4]

Public view

Many climbing communities praise the ascents, while others have concerns regarding the danger involved and the message the ascents potentially send to other climbers.[5] Many companies have taken these views into account when working with free soloists. Clif Bar, the nutrition bar company with long ties to climbing, dropped the sponsorship of five climbers in 2014, citing the risks they take and stirring a debate about how much risk should be rewarded.[6]

However, The North Face and Red Bull have promoted free soloists and helped the free soloing community grow.[7][8] In addition, Alex Honnold, a free soloist who was previously dropped by Clif Bar,[9] was featured in the 2018 documentary Free Solo, which was met with critical acclaim and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.


High-profile climbers have cited the simplicity and speed with which one can climb as reasons for free soloing,[10] as well as the intense concentration required which brings a Zen-like state of being in the moment. The most successful free soloists also become well known in the climbing community and in rare cases attain notoriety outside the small circle of rock climbers.

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 Forester, Jimmy Jewell, Tony Wilmott, and John Taylor.[2][11][12][13][14][15]


Bryan Kennedy solos the "Kennedy variant" direct start to Battlements Organ Pipes Mount Wellington, Tasmania, 1977
Bryan Kennedy solos the "Kennedy variant" direct start to Battlements Organ Pipes Mount Wellington, Tasmania, 1977

The sport has produced a number of well-known practitioners, made famous by photos of them totally alone and unprotected on sheer cliffs. In June 2017, Alex Honnold made international news with the first free-solo ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite, on a route rated 5.13a in the Yosemite Decimal System.[16]

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

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

Hardest free solos

Main article: List of first ascents (sport climbing) § Free-solo

There are few climbers who have free solo climbed in the 5.14 grade 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 "highball" bouldering and short free solo climbs.[17] In December 2019, little known Italian non-professional climber Alfredo Webber, became the first person to free solo at grade 8c (5.14b), by ascending the 15 metres (49 ft), Panem et Circenses, at Muro di Pizarra near Arco in Italy; he was aged 52 at the time.[18] Other notable free solos which pushed the technical grade of what could be achieved were Alexander Huber's 2004 ascent of Kommunist, and Dave Macleod's 2008 ascent of Darwin Dixit, both of which were at a grade of 8b+ (5.14a).[18][19]

Free soloing buildings

Main article: Buildering

Some free soloists scale buildings: Alain Robert ("The French Spider-Man"), and Dan Goodwin ("Skyscraperman"), have scaled dozens of skyscrapers around the world—a sport known as buildering—without any safety equipment.

Notable fatalities

Michael Reardon free soloing Lower Right Ski Track (5.10b) on Intersection Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, 2007.
Michael Reardon free soloing Lower Right Ski Track (5.10b) on Intersection Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, 2007.


Different types of climbing include:


  1. ^ Taylor, Will. "Why We Won't See a Rise in Free Solo Climbing Deaths After Alex Honnold's Story Won an Oscar". The Inertia. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b Green, Stewart (20 July 2017). "Free Solo Climbing is Dangerous and Deadly". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Gale - User Identification Form". Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  4. ^ Berry, Natalie. "'Free Solo' enters Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Film Scoops 7 Emmys". UK Climbing.
  5. ^ Corrigan, Kevin. "Opinion: The Free Solo Documentary Addressed Some Uncomfortable Truths, But Ignored Others". Climbing Magazine. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  6. ^ Branch, John (14 November 2014). "A Sponsor Steps Away From the Edge". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Alex Honnold". TheNorthFace USA – English. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  8. ^ "The Most Mind-Bending Free Solo Climbs in History". Red Bull. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  9. ^ "Climber Alex Honnold wrote an op-ed after Clif Bar dropped him as a sponsor". Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  10. ^ Honnold Free-Solos Half Dome's NW Face Archived 29 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Perrin, John (2006). The Climbing Essays. Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd. p. 320. ISBN 9781903238479.
  12. ^ Pearsons, Neil. "Abandon all rope part 2". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  13. ^ "Jimmy Ray Forester Killed in Solo Fall". Rock and Ice. 2009. Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  14. ^ Ghiglieri, Michael Patrick (2004). Off The Wall: Death in Yosemite. Puma Press. p. 608. ISBN 9780970097361.
  15. ^ "Dwight Bishop, 48". The Montana Standard. 25 July 2004. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  16. ^ "Alex Honnold Completes First Free Solo of El Capitan". Climbing. 7 June 2017. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  17. ^ "Kevin Jorgeson Sends Ambrosia and Blurs Line Between Highball and Free Solo". 11 January 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  18. ^ a b Slavsky, Bennett (12 March 2021). "Alfredo Webber, Age 52, Free Solos 5.14b". Climbing. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  19. ^ McDonald, Dougald (7 May 2004). "Huber Solos 5.14". Climbing. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  20. ^ Johnson, Scott C. (15 July 2012). "Michael Ybarra's Death Underscores the Allure and Dangers of Solo Climbing". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 9 October 2015.

Further reading