Free Soloing

Posted on 26. Oct, 2009 by in News

Recently a friend of mine from Boston, Max Zolotukhin, was injured after falling on a free solo attempt of a very hard sport route in Rumney, NH. We climbed with Max on our New England tour in 2007. He has been a strong route climber and boulderer, and a dedicated routesetter and comp climber for the last few years. Max is a thoughtful guy and he has a great write up about his injury, his thoughts and his experience. Lately it seems the media has latched on to Kevin Jorgeson’s free soloing in Bishop and Alex Honnold’s free solo of Moonlight Buttress in Zion and of Half Dome as well. Free soloing has very real and severe consequences and no matter how much one prepares, there are clearly factors over which the climber has no control. The commercialization of such dangerous ascents is a scary thing, I think. It’s only a matter of time before climbers we know and care about are seriously injured or killed (as they have been in the past), with the video camera rolling. I realize this falls beyond the normal scope of my blog, but it is a very interesting topic. Thanks Max to posting such a sincere article (and the kind the words). I would encourage you to read it!

A Steep Learning Curve by Max Zolotukhin

Also, check out this classic video of some free soloing in Russia.

And Dan Osman before he was killed in rope jumping attempt in Yosemite.

22 Responses to “Free Soloing”

  1. sam johnson

    26. Oct, 2009

    Thank you for posting this Jamie; I had noticed the trend in climbing media about a year ago myself and wonder why we obsess with the dangerous and extreme. I suppose it’s natural but shouldn’t there be more ethical consideration on the part of the media outlets, i.e. Climbing and Rock and Ice? If you saw that footage of Honnold on Half Dome, then you can see how even the mind cannot be controlled all the time, not to mention environmental factors.
    I’m not saying that people shouldn’t free-solo; just that it deserves, and requires very special consideration.

  2. WOW

    26. Oct, 2009

    Okay .. i probably shouldn’t but sometimes I do anyway. He states that he has avoided blogging because of writing he considers to be a “pool of self-masturbatory drivel; the writing has focused mainly on personal accomplishments and has failed to add anything constructive to the mix.”

    um .. then goes on to say how his “friend” has a four month project that he had cruised in just a couple days work, and then his friends epic struggle gave him the grand idea to chuff him off and solo his “friends” project.

    Outside of that it was decent piece. Maybe bloggers should hire editors to look for this kind of thing? Jaime I’m available. Let me know.

  3. peter b

    26. Oct, 2009

    Great post and absolutely yes, the commercialization of danger has got to be reined in. That includes “highballs” that are clearly potentially lethal.

    Many things in Max’s blog post point to a desire for publicity:

    “It was definitely intriguing to think that I could get such an ascent on film, after all, this would have been one of the hardest free solos to have ever been done! It was at this thought that my judgment began to get clouded.”

    Let’s see if the climbing community can start a real discussion of the ethics of monetizing danger.

  4. Maxim

    26. Oct, 2009

    Thank you for posting this, Jaime.

    some thoughts:

    @ WOW. I am not a blogger. I do not need an editor. I’m simply a climber who wanted to share his story with his friends. Please don’t assume anything about my relationship with my climbing partner and my reasons for the solo…i’ve spent countless weekends belaying dave on this route (WHICH HE FINALLY SENT ON FRIDAY!!! YES!!!!) and its been one of the craziest personal journey’s I’ve ever seen anyone go through.

    @Peter, One of the major points I was trying to convey was that my decision was at least a little bit influenced by A) the thought of having the ascent on video, and B) the recent exploits of Kevin and Alex. Obviously this does not paint me in a very favorable light. For the length of my climbing career I have stayed very much under the radar. This accident definitely reminded me of what having starry eyes can often lead to: bad decisions.

    Be careful out there!

  5. B3

    26. Oct, 2009

    Max thanks for posting.
    @Peter, Sam excellent thoughts and I agree whole heartedly. I don’t find anything funny about Alex Honnold freaked out 1500ft off the ground with no rope, although I heard the Boulder Theatre got a good laugh from it. They are the ones buying the tickets, right?

  6. […] should read the post, then read Max Zolotukhin post on his accident, then I would suggest reading Jamie Emerson’s post on the subject, as always with blogs, be sure to read the comments section. Knowing the […]

  7. Bob

    27. Oct, 2009

    @Max. Sorry about your accident and I hope that your recovery goes well….and I’m not being a cop-out for saying that.

    @ all…right being freaked out at 1500 feet is not funny and its slightly frightening that the boulder crowd found it fit to laugh. I heard similar reactions from people in Portland. I do however think it is wrong to get on the media for publishing the accomplishments of Jorgeson, et all. Their physical and mental skills should be highlighted because they have taken the time to develop those skills. They are living their life the way they see fit. If someone sees fit to try and repeat those actions without putting in the required work then they are setting themselves up for disaster.

  8. peter b

    27. Oct, 2009

    Max, I appreciate your stating your motivation directly what most would leave unsaid, however hypocritically. You are very lucky to be able to say it at all. I have tried Supernova and would say that the landing is not friendly in the least.

    Now of course the footage of your accident is on Vimeo linked through the Climbing Narc. So here we go again.

    Jamie, I agree that the “freak-out” moment on Half Dome was anything but funny. What is left out is whether that solo was a “recreation” of the original, done solely for video. When do we say enough is enough?

    More on my blog when I can.

  9. B3

    27. Oct, 2009

    Peter, I look forward to hearing your thoughts, although I imagine we will probably be in agreeance.

  10. Chuck Fryberger

    27. Oct, 2009

    I’ve been on both sides of the lens in situations like this, but I dont think it’s media that’s pushing the athletes to do dangerous stuff, I think it’s fame that’s pulling them. Big difference. As a climber I’ve hurt myself on camera several times and as a filmer I’ve seen my climbers hurt, sometimes even when repeating something for additional camera angles (that’s the worst).

    It comes down to the individual athlete, but certainly if the climber never does anything without full media coverage, then we can start to put a picture together of someone who may not be in it for the right reasons.

    Great post Jamie and something well worth discussing.


  11. B3

    27. Oct, 2009

    Thanks for the input, Chuck!

  12. OBdizzy

    27. Oct, 2009

    There is no way to say this without sounding like a sniveler, but in the spirit of informing a stranger that they have a piece of spinach caught in between their front teeth,”agreeance” is not a word. Likely, this was a deliberate joke, not intended for me, and I’m sorry to intrude. Apologies. I will now skulk back into bleachers, and continue to check in on this otherwise excellent blog.

  13. B3

    27. Oct, 2009

    Agreeance most certainly is a word OBdizzy, and I would argue that if it is in the dictionary, and its usage here is understood, then it is not obsolete.

    Agreement would probably have been better, but thanks, I always encourage people to question each other (and grades, ascents, beauty, etc.) I think it is a great way to learn.

  14. chuffer

    27. Oct, 2009

    If you haven’t seen the Siberian free soloing video before featuring Jonathan and Brittany, it is an amazing look at a fascinating culture. I’d seen it before, but thanks for the link above. I enjoyed watching it again.

    Not sure what else there is to say about this. I think there is certainly room for free soloing (30+ feet) in our climbing culture, but it is important to do it for the right reasons in good, if not perfect, conditions with full realization of what the impacts will be on our lives and those of our friends and family if things go horribly wrong.

  15. B3

    27. Oct, 2009

    @Chuck I don’t know that there are right or wrong reasons for climbing, or soloing. I don’t know that there is any morality associated with climbing. It’s hard to deny that someone who makes a living from sponsors and appearances in climbing movies doesn’t feel any pull to perform for the camera. I am sure any number of free soloists who felt “justified” or that they were climbing from a place of “purity” have fallen and died, and I am sure free soloists who did it purely for stunt or fame have escaped unharmed. I also think there is an issue that younger, inexperienced climbers wanting to emulate their heroes try soloing and get seriously hurt or killed. It is certainly a complex and heavy issue and there are no clear answers.

  16. ed keller

    29. Oct, 2009

    really appreciate you posting here and elsewhere online in a very levelheaded way. i saw the video, read your posts, and had a few things to say.

    _ you seem to have really learned from the experience, that takes real thinking, effort, etc. so congrats on that.

    _ there are a number of folks who solo. and a small handful who solo very hard. A. Huber comes to mind among others. The reasons for doing this are numerous, and separating ego from it is quite difficult.
    one of the other posts here questioned why we celebrate the free soloist. It is a macabre celebration because we all know how thin the line is when freesoloing. the hardest thing I ever onsight soloed was easy 5.10, with sinker locks. I was about 18 years old and thought nothing of it. in retrospect, well, I was very lucky. I met Derek Hersey once in Eldorado when I was 16, and watched him soloing something on the Bastille if I recall correctly. I was amazed, scared, and a part of me wanted to do something like it.
    in some ways it is unavoidable. it is the responsibility of climbers who are older, more experienced, who KNOW, to let the younger/less experienced know what the consequences are.
    _ on that note, max, *you* are lucky. count your blessings, a broken leg is getting off easy.

    _ the films that show people surviving these efforts are truly amazing, and I second the observation that they may amplify the tendency of folks who are susceptible to media, fame, desire, to go soloing. It is inevitable. in my opinion this makes it even more important for folks who do solo- whether Max who posts very honestly about it, or Honnold, or Huber, or Steph Davis- to continue discussing it publicly and making sure everyone knows the truth about how sketchy it can be, and what really happens when one blows it.

    _finally, @ max again: when i started climbing at the age of 15 i broke my leg in a groundfall almost straight away, zippering gear. so watching your video was like a bad case of dejavu, man! I totally empathize. but I survived and climbed again right away. In fact was on my bachar ladder that summer with the cast on. thru that experience i earned some much needed sensibility. so- you’ll climb again and most likely better.

  17. Dooped

    30. Oct, 2009

    This route has been soloed before, just thought that was an interesting piece of information that has been left out…

  18. Maxim

    31. Oct, 2009

    Respectfully, when and by whom?

    I would be EXTREMELY surprised if that was the case…

  19. Shawn D

    04. Nov, 2009

    I know it has been soloed before. If you don’t know by who, and they don’t want to make a big deal about it, I will not mention their name. Not everyone needs to self promote themselves.

  20. B3

    04. Nov, 2009

    Shawn, are you claiming to have free soloed Supernova? I am interested in honest and accurate information. Suggesting that you know who it is but that you are unwilling to share does little to advance the discussion.

  21. OBdizzy

    07. Nov, 2009

    I’m sure he’s talking about this, not sure why he’s being so cryptic.

  22. OBdizzy

    08. Nov, 2009

    Ignore that last post please, posted without reading good, and voila, an irrelevant turd, that I can’t make go away.

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