/ Soloing; Literary Sources
Does anybody here have any books to recommend on the subject of soloing? Alpine soloing, North Wales link ups, solo circuits at Stanage, whatever it is, I'm interested in the reasons people rock up without a rope and the events that follow and precede that choice.
Tom Patey, Eric Jones, Honnold, Bachar are already a few I have in mind/have read, but I'm sure there's a hundred interesting stories and characters whom I've never heard of or forgotten about. Evening in Rishikesh is one that I'm keen to get my peepers into, particularly interested in great characters like Derek Hersey, Jimmy Jewell, Mike Reardon and Tom Croft. If there are articles/movies or stories of any kind you can remember, I'd be really interested to see or hear them! Big names, little names, it's a fascinating part of it all for me.
I've always been interested in it, the risk, the reward, the therapy and the mastery, and I'm trying to collate some of the stuff I've read together somehow, that's the reason I'm posting.
The High Lonesome is also on the list!
Great brief summary chapter in Will Mclewin's "In Monte Viso's Horizon". He soloed quite a few of the Alpine 4000s so knows what he's talking about.
The Only Blasphemy obviously.
Have a look at Christophe Moulin's Solos (see https://www.editionspaulsen.com/les-livres/les-livres-guerin/les-livres-guerin-tous-les-livres/solos-1920.html )
Good call. Also Ron Fawcett's Trapdoor Fandango (good luck finding it, was in Crags iirc)
It's not a book, but the Factor Two episode with Dave Thomas gets into what you're after. https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/features/podcast_factor_two_-_s2_episode_1_more_than_a_dream-11419
The Only Blasphemy by John Long is a must read, it's also read in an episode of Grimer's Jam Crack podcast.
Perhaps this one?
Smart, David. "Paul Preuss: Life and Death at the Birth of Free-Climbing", Rocky Mountain Books 2019
Haven't read it yet, but since it concerns a very interesting character and climber and era, birth of free climbing in Alpinism ("The Piton Dispute") and with most of the books about him written only in German, I am pretty much looking forward to it.
Lines's book is hard to come by at present...looking for a copy myself
Walter Bonatti on the Dru, classic
Jim Perrin's Street Illegal comes to mind.
The Devil's Thumb by Jon Krakauer. It's in Tales From The Steep, a collection of short stories, magazine extracts etc compiled by John Long; it also contains the aforementioned The Only Blasphemy.
I thought this was an excellent read - its a history of soloing in the UK
Trapdoor Fandango is in one of those Wilson-published anthologies - Games Climbers Play or Mirrors in the Cliffs.
An excellent extract by Phil Thornhill from the Alpine Journal: https://www.alpinejournal.org.uk/Contents/Contents_1987_files/AJ%201987%20165-174%20Thornhill%20Nordwands.pdf
If it's of any interest, here's the first article I ever wrote for a climbing magazine, following an onsight solo of a route that people seemed to think was notable at the time. It may give some idea of the mental processes involved.
Apologies for the layout; it's on a legacy site that I haven't edited in decades.
There's so much ground to cover! Thanks, all, some absolute crackers here.
In reply to john arran:
Very very cool, John, looks to be an excellent read! El Dorado is such an incredible place to climb (and solo in particular).
Not a book, but for some insight into Jimmy Jewel you should look up the Al Hughes film: 80s Birth of Extreme. You can download it for a fee, but I've forgotten from where. There is a short snippet available on Youtube.
Some other good stuff in that film too, including some kayaking.
An inextortionately priced Lines's book is hard to come by at present...looking for a copy myself
> Ftfy ;-)
> An inextortionately priced Lines's book is hard to come by at present...looking for a copy myself
I have a signed copy. it could become the next Extreme Rock!
For a French rock (well, mostly buildings actually) perspective, With Bare Hands by Alain Robert. Some stuff on Verdon plus his 8a (if I remember rightly) solos on a local crag. And plenty of skyscrapers, arrests, porridge, etc. And, one of Bonatti's books (forget which - My Climbs?) is essential for Alpine solo epics...
> The Only Blasphemy obviously.
The lodestone against which all others should be measured.
Agree. And here is a link to it.
It pretty much stopped me soloing.
I'm going to go ahead and guess that quite a few of us on this thread have soloed in their lives.
Does anybody fancy sharing their favourite solo mission, and their least favourite (and briefly why so)?
My favourite was probably soloing Outside Edge Route on Cwm Silyn in Dyffryn Nantlle, even if it's nowhere near the hardest. I'd tried to climb it twice before with a friend, but found it busy, or too scary the previous two occasions. If you've done it you know that it's reasonably steep, exposed, and hangs high above the valley (where I was raised and went to school). It's a pretty rough place pocked with quarries and massive council estates, but there's beauty in it and I could see it all from up there as the sun went down, just me and the valley on a clear evening. There's something great about seeing a place from very high up.
My least favourite was when I had decided that I was going to o/s solo Brant Direct in the middle of the heatwave of 2018 as a sort of lame catharsis for some recent heartbreak. I sat there for an hour watching with my feet in the river of the pass as a pair of climbers climbed "out of my way" and the groove came into the blazing hot sun. Got about 4m up before I thought better of it as my palms pissed with sweat and I returned to the ground feeling even more bitter than before.
Enjoyed that article immensely! Bloody fair play on that.
Mark Twight wrote a piece about soloing about 10 years after he stopped doing it. It is on his website.
Well I never had a bad time soloing. Of course what I soloed was lowly indeed but sometimes a couple of grades below my lead grade. I never felt more alive, I never doubted a move.
Long is pretty explicit, he was no longer doing it for himself. That was the only blasphemy.
Edit: John Long is a superb writer on all things climbing, he's cool as fuck, there's an archive of his writing somewhere, on the Rock & Ice website maybe?
> Does anybody fancy sharing their favourite solo mission, and their least favourite (and briefly why so)?
The one that comes to mind first was about ten years ago, when I was doing some work in Amman, Jordan for a few months. I had a rent-a-wreck and would drive 3hrs+ down to Wadi Rum of a weekend when I had people to climb with.
One weekend, there was nobody around but I was quietly pleased, because I'd been harbouring a plan for a little while.
I got up on the Saturday morning and set off up the 15-pitch Inshallah Factor (Free) (ED1), which I'd been meaning to look at for a while but it was in that in-between grade where it was never quite challenging enough to prefer over things I might genuinely struggle to lead, so it had been grinning at me for some time.
The climb went fine - pretty thin on the crux but nothing really worrying - and then gloriously clean and sustained at a slightly lower standard. But because I was alone and moving quickly I was at the top in less than 2 hours, so I kept going up to the top of Jebel Rum, which I'd also never been up to before. And because it wasn't a popular time I remained in blissful solitude virtually the whole day
A finer day in the mountains I would be hard pressed to imagine.
> Does anybody fancy sharing their favourite solo mission, and their least favourite (and briefly why so)?
My most memorable solo outing was many years ago, living in Kendal and leaving soon to go back to college in London. I was aware that the carefree years of my 20's were drawing to a close; a proper job, a move and a new relationship beckoned. I had lacked direction.
I was also not going to be climbing as much so I took myself off on my bike and pedaled to the end of Longsleddale on a beautiful June day. I'd spotted a route called Sadgill Wall on Buckbarrow, a winding, long, mountain severe. I did it. It was like a dream, big holds, steep in places, a logical but meandering line. I tested every hold but was relaxed and in control. I never saw a soul all day and never told anyone about it. It was a swansong of sorts and I still feel emotional remembering it 25 years later.
the one I have of Bonatti's is 'Mountains of my Life'
I don't think anyone has mentioned Buhl's Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage, or the Messner book on his Everest solo.
Great piece of writing John. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Simon.
Colin Kirkus -
Slightly self indulgent but the recent video I made on Jackson Allen's The Lay Back Podcast covers my solo of Great Wall at Craig-Y-Forwyn if that offers anything.
Didn't Long also write a piece about soloing with a young lady who fell off and was killed? Or am I thinking of someone else possibly John Barry?
So many years ago I was quite into soloing. One memorable occasion was an on-sight solo of Line Up (Summer) (HVS 5a) on the Buachaille. I had gone up to Rannoch Wall on my own, soloed Agag's Groove (Summer) (VD), and spotted it on the way down. So I just went and did it like that. The top (crux) pitch was a bit rattly.
Anyhow, after doing it, I wondered about going round to solo Shibboleth (I had recently led it), and Mark McGowan had also recently soloed it. But I thought better of it, and wandered off down the hill.
I ended up at the Guinness Pools down in Glen Etive, and was messing around bouldering above the pools. I pulled a hold and went in. I felt a bit less clever after that...
My most memorable day of soloing undoubtedly came on a beautiful summer day in North Wales in the mid-80s. I hitched up the Pass early in the morning and walked up to a deserted Cyrn Las for Main Wall, which I'd somehow missed doing. That was marvellous. From the top I carried on over the ridge and then down and round to Cloggy for White Slab, which I'd also not done. Two thirds of the way up the big, main pitch I did a teetery fingertip mantle and realized, as soon as I'd stood up, that I was off-route and on the Redhead Direct (E4 6a). The mantle didn't feel reversible, not least as I was carrying quite a full sack (walking boots, spare clothing I'd taken off as the day warmed up, food, water, a guidebook [ironically], and a novel). I immediately became extremely focused, scanned the slab ahead briefly, and then climbed extremely decisively to the belay. The rest of the route went easily. Again, from the top and carried on over the ridge above and down to the lake under Llechog. After a couple of hours reading and sunbathing I amble up to take a look at the crag but on the way found a beautiful little rib of perfect rock, about 25'. That went at about E5 after some upping and downing. I walked back out via Cloggy and down to the village.
The novel I was carrying was "The Diceman" by Luke Rhinehart, about a man who decides to start living his life by the roll of the dice. But, despite what might be read into that choice, my soloing (and I did a lot) was never angst ridden or fuelled by some deep psychological need. I simply enjoyed it a great deal. I got much pleasure from it.
Kev Shields has some interesting insights into why he solos and his particular circumstances in his blog; http://kevshieldsclimbing.blogspot.com/
I couldn't think of any particular examples off the top of my head but, The Games Climber's Play is chock full of mental stories about soloing.
Thanks John, a great read.
Believe it or not I once spent a whole day at stanage, seeing only a distant jogger, and soloed every route I fancied up to VS from unpopular end all the way to Heather Wall. Did 40 routes. In perfect, cold, spring sunshine.
I haven't really had a bad experience soloing as I only do it way below my lead level
Probably been said, but Fawcett on Rock has an account of his 100 extremes in a day.
> Probably been said, but Fawcett on Rock has an account of his 100 extremes in a day.
Now that you mention it, there's a 100 Extremes piece on our old site too! ;-)
Ron comes out of it quite well, I recall
Bizarrely, my favourite newsletter that has absolutely nothing to do with climbing dropped this nugget into my inbox today; http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?p=2388&mc_cid=9d8e540f09&mc_eid=b6c9136ca6
I've been chatting with Jules recently on this, he's agreed to work with the Scottish Mountaineering Trust to reprint Tears of the Dawn in the new year . We're working through a few updates to the imagery at the moment. Keep an eye out for something early in 2020 I hope!
Excellent news. It's a beautifully written and highly evocative book and deserves a wider readership.
You on-sight soloed a slab E4 with a rucksack on?
That's one of the maddest things I've heard.
It was Ed Webster with Lauren Husted in the Black Canyon
> Didn't Long also write a piece about soloing with a young lady who fell off and was killed? Or am I thinking of someone else possibly John Barry?