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ARTICLE: Glamourising Soloing in the Media: Risk and Reward

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 UKC Articles 21 Mar 2017
Developing solo climbing skills on a Scrambling Course in Snowdonia, 3 kbMountaineering Instructor Stu McInnes discusses the delicate issue of presenting extreme soloing to new climbers.Why do we choose to solo routes, and how can we assess the risks and rewards and educate beginners away from mainstream media hype?

When someone asks me if I solo, it's hard to give a totally honest response, as I feel the need to give them sound, safe advice, compared to the media's representation of the activity.Read more

7
 Michael Gordon 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I don't see a problem personally. The glamourisation of soloing in videos seems to me more like a 'dark tourism' thing ("look at him, soon he'll be dead"), and while this sort of voyeurism is to be detested, it's too extreme to make those new to climbing want to do it. People for the most part aren't stupid and if they do get into soloing in their formative years, it's going to be relatively easy routes, not Extremes.

"When people are in the formative experiences of their climbing lives, soloing shouldn't even be on their radar."

I'm glad the article referenced scrambling, as I can't see a problem with an experienced scrambler deciding to try a diff. The main thing, as always, is to be well aware of one's capabilities, and prepared to downclimb if necessary..
1
 colesy 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I'm hoping that Croft is still alive and well? Maybe it was bacher that you meant Stu? Nice article, raises interesting questions. Soloing as a relitive novice got me into some horrible situations that could have easily ended differently but as a very keen young climber I found the allure of soling to hard to resist. Maybe with more media attention now focused on soloing this allure could well be greater for young new climbers but for some I think the attraction will remain media or no media. I think it's important to stress to people who haven't soloed but want to: be extremely cautious, don't overestimate your abilities and don't underestimate how difficult climbing can feel if you're terrified, high up and without a rope!
 Michael Gordon 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Stu, has there been "a rise in people wanting to solo"? You state it as a fact.

I liked the article btw.
1
 stuartpicken 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
I kinda find pointing fingers at Croft, Osman and Potter a bit strange. Not least because none of them passed away soloing, and more over the article kinda suggests that peter croft has passed away at all!
In fact, I think peter croft is a Great example for aspiring climbers: keep a good head on your shoulders and you can have a long happy life doing awesome stuff! We often say 'the rock isn't going anywhere', what people like Croft tell us is that if we play it right, neither are we!


edit to try and make it legible... i feel like i still failed.
second edit: this comment kinda comes of like i don't like the article. Actually i think its interesting and addressing something worth talking about... i'm just a Croft fan boy...
Post edited at 18:42
 Offwidth 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
I wish you had got this edited first. What, started out really well descended into idiocy here:

"but I can't help but feel the media are at least in part responsible for the rise in people wanting to solo. They've glamourised something that should possibly not be. For many of us, soloing may be necessary in the bigger mountains to enable fast movement, or perhaps a fun way to spend a day covering lots of ground on easy terrain. But sometimes, just every so often, it turns into a terrifying experience that we only just scrape through and that cannot last forever."

This is complete nonsense. Firstly, where is the evidence soloing is increasing. I'd say from my 30 year experience on grit trad (excluding bouldering) the opposite might be true but I just don't have any data. As for the rest of it you could apply it to most of the more serious forms of the climbing game. Alpine climbing and the higher ranges probably have as much glamour and a much higher casualty rate. Like many, I started in climbing solo (some of my fairly early scrambles turned out to be rated climbs and my normal solos now are safer than the trees I climbed as a kid). I always knew climbing is never safe. I'd, say if you want to avoid risk, don't climb (or ride a horse, or swim, or play team sports.....). If you talked about soloing at one's limits words of caution might be appropriate (even then a good proportion of those who died solo were on terrain that was easy for them, through things like bad luck or lapses in concentration as per the YOSAR accident stats).

The solo stars are foolish and the Himalayan mountaineers heros? No way.... they are all climbers driven to push the envelope of the possible and solo probably the safer of the two games. In the punter spectrum I've a lot more time for old codgers still soloing Stanage VS than those buying a trip to ' the top of the world'.
Post edited at 18:55
5
In reply to UKC Articles:

I don't see a problem. I don't see soloing being glamourised. The potential dangers of soloing are so obvious that you would need to be incredibly stupid not to take soloing seriously (in fact I think risk can be less obvious and therefore more likely to be overlooked in other forms of climbing). And I disagree about soloing only being for the very experienced; it is just a matter of staying well within your limit, whether that means Mod or E5.
 Michael Gordon 21 Mar 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

Good point. In terms of numbers, Alpine mountaineering is a much bigger draw for those starting out rock climbing than soloing.
In reply to UKC Articles

Peter Croft is alive and well I believe or have I missed something? Video of Peter on UKC from November 2016:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item/70792/fri_night_vid_croft_and_rands_on_the_hulk
 Stu McInnes 21 Mar 2017
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Hi Michael,
Obviously no scientific evidence to back up my thoughts! But yes I would say far more people are talking about it and it's something that total beginners are aware of due to the media...
Could of course just be that more people are climbing full stop...
Cheers,
Stu.
10
 Stu McInnes 21 Mar 2017
In reply to stuartpicken:

Hi stuart,

No worries these opinion pieces are meant to raise talk on stuff! It's a great response from yourself.
My apologies for implying Crofy was gone, I do my best at writing but am not a natural and have to try really hard to get it right, and sometimes I accidentally don't!
Yes i know he's still alive and well (sorry Peter!), I heard about him still climbing hard without a rope last year I believe?
But that could equally be wrong in my old muddled mind!

Cheers,

Stu
6
In reply to Stu McInnes:

> Obviously no scientific evidence to back up my thoughts! But yes I would say far more people are talking about it.

And my observation is that fewer people are actually doing it (no scientific evidence though). I suspect that the media have, if anything, made climbing more sanitised and more risk averse: "that sort of stuff is just for pro climbers" Aaaargh!
1
 CragRat11 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Whillance, Botteril and many of the older generation of climbers I've met and chatted to started out soloing routes. With the gear that was available/rope round your waist etc it was often safer and less faff to solo things. Climb light and clever, don't faff about with a load of tat round your hips placing gear you can't trust.

Equipment has changed a lot, got lighter, safer, easier to carry and place so I would say more people are inclined to use it.

I don't think climbers in my generation and younger solo more. Some people do, some don't, but I certainly didn't across many soloists when I was climbing a lot. I did solo a bit but never saw anyone else doing it.

Maybe more people are questioning soloing rather than partaking in it?
It is good to back these things up with some kind of evidence generally.
1
 Tom Knowles 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

First of all, this article needs to be altered so that Peter Croft's name isn't tied to the word "demise".

As was pointed out in a comment above, Peter Croft and Dean Potter are excellent role models, and novice climbers would do well to emulate them. Climbing had nothing to do with Dean's death. Fatal and near-fatal accidents occur regularly in climbing, and soloing is so often singled out in narrow-minded articles like this one as being chiefly responsible. It's utter nonsense.

With regards to media coverage (in all forms), I'd suggest that the extra publicity and the greater amount of information that exists means it's more likely to put people off soloing. Whether it's through studying photos of a route on the internet, reading an article in a magazine or watching a famous climber in a video, they get to see how frightening it is, or could be (read the comments that follow an Alex Honnold soloing video, about how it made people feel uncomfortable or made their palms sweat).

If you want to write an article on wilful risk-taking, take a look at the Bonington era or, as was mentioned above, the clowns tripping over themselves on 8000ers.

As an instructor, rather than advising people not to do things, perhaps you could focus more on equipping them with the skills to keep themselves safe, whether soloing or not.
7
In reply to UKC Articles:

> Perhaps deep water soloing is a good bridge on the step up to true soloing?

I would very much argue otherwise.

The DWS idiom is solo until you pump out and then drop off into deep water. (And yes, I know, not all DWS is like this. I've done scary moves high above a foot of water.) For DWS to be interesting, you're probably looking at a 50% failure rate.

The conventional soloing idiom is never to make a mistake which will result in a fall. You're looking for a 0% failure rate. Over decades, that's quite hard to attain.

DWS and conventional soloing are two very different things. Imho DWS to conventional soloing is a highly dangerous bridge indeed. To survive at conventional soloing you have to accept that if you f*ck up you'll probably die.

Mick
In reply to UKC Articles:

> But at the end of the day, I should say 'Don't do it, it's dangerous!'

You could equally well say this about all forms of climbing. Or about crossing he road. Hardly what you want to hear from a climbing instructor. Or a lollipop man........

What you want to hear is: Here are the risks. Here is how to manage them. Now make your own decisions.
 johncook 21 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Only two kinds of solo climbers.
Good ones and dead ones. There is no middle ground.
I solo. I know my limits. I also know that I can make a mistake, find loose rock, a slippery foothold etc. A big risk and I tell people they shouldn't do it. If friends say they want to, that is their choice and I will advise against it.
I only solo when the mood takes me. I never solo when angry or depressed. I never solo when conditions are not right. I only solo when I 'feel it'. Everything has to feel right.
If you are not sure, don't solo. Don't let others persuade you. Don't let ego or competition or keeping up with mates sway you. It is your life you are messing with.
In reply to Robert Durran:

> I don't see a problem. I don't see soloing being glamourised.

Really? It's the only reason the normal public have heard of honnold. Only via glorification.

In reply to ashtond6:

> Really? It's the only reason the normal public have heard of honnold. Only via glorification.

The normal public can make of it what they want. I don't think climbers see it as glorification, and I think that anyone who takes up climbing to emulate Honnold will soon see it for what it actually is.

 Ramblin dave 21 Mar 2017
In reply to johncook:

> Only two kinds of solo climbers.
> Good ones and dead ones. There is no middle ground.

There's a great Tom Patey quote on this (isn't there always...)
"By tradition the climber who habitually climbs alone is regarded as reckless. Nothing is further from the truth, because if he were other than safe, he would be dead."
 Michael Gordon 21 Mar 2017
In reply to Stu McInnes:

> Hi Michael, Obviously no scientific evidence to back up my thoughts! But yes I would say far more people are talking about it and it's something that total beginners are aware of due to the media.

To be fair, it's something (soloing, even if they don't get the name right) that the general public is very much aware of, with or without media.

 Michael Gordon 21 Mar 2017
In reply to Mick Ward:

Many good soloists also excel at DWS but maybe this is more just about inclination (the attraction of climbing without ropes and other paraphernalia). But yes, very different mentalities required. Turning it the other way round, if you do DWS with a soloing mentality you probably won't be very good at it or enjoy it much!
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> Many good soloists also excel at DWS but maybe this is more just about inclination (the attraction of climbing without ropes and other paraphernalia). But yes, very different mentalities required. Turning it the other way round, if you do DWS with a soloing mentality you probably won't be very good at it or enjoy it much!

Yes, I would say that a good DWS mentality is probably much closer to a sport climbing one than a soloing one.
 john arran 21 Mar 2017
In reply to Mick Ward:

> Imho DWS to conventional soloing is a highly dangerous bridge indeed. To survive at conventional soloing you have to accept that if you f*ck up you'll probably die. Mick

Couldn't agree more. After a long history of enjoyable soloing I tried DWS and scared myself half to death. I got up exactly the same grade routes as I would have been happy soloing above ground, and no harder. My head couldn't adapt to the idea that falling could have anything but a disastrous outcome. I dread to think how it could mess with the heads of people trying it the other way around, for whom falling while soloing has often been a relatively casual affair.
In reply to johncook:

> Only two kinds of solo climbers.Good ones and dead ones. There is no middle ground.

Apart from the good ones who made a mistake or got unlucky.

Bachar, Williams, Jewel, Hersey.



 Timmd 21 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:
> You could equally well say this about all forms of climbing. Or about crossing he road. Hardly what you want to hear from a climbing instructor. Or a lollipop man........What you want to hear is: Here are the risks. Here is how to manage them. Now make your own decisions.

I got the impression, given the tone of the rest of the article, that the intention behind 'Don't do it, it's dangerous', as advice on soloing to beginner climbers, is that they'd be put off it for long enough for their climbing skill and experience to develop enough for them to be able to make their own (adequately equipped) judgement on the risks?

That is, given their ability and the route that they're on, and how they're feeling on the day, which perhaps aren't things which can be taught, but need to learnt through experience while being relatively careful, until one becomes more in tune with going climbing (hopefully!).

I can see how somebody could have a different perspective on this as advice...
Post edited at 22:53
1
In reply to Mick Ward:

> I would very much argue otherwise. The DWS idiom is solo until you pump out and then drop off into deep water. (And yes, I know, not all DWS is like this. I've done scary moves high above a foot of water.) For DWS to be interesting, you're probably looking at a 50% failure rate.

Each to their own, but that's quite different to the dws i do. My approach is more like my approach to trad climbing. I really don't want to fall off, i would rather retreat, the water is just my safety net of last resort. Last year i fell off more trad climbing than i did when dwsing. But then I'm a bit of a coward and i don't climb very hard.

In reply to john arran:

> I dread to think how it could mess with the heads of people trying it the other way around, for whom falling while soloing has often been a relatively casual affair.

Completely agree. I used to solo a bit and letting go just isn't part of my psychology in any circumstances, even over a pile of pads!
 Offwidth 22 Mar 2017
In reply to mountain.martin:

All four of those likely got unlucky. Two certainly: Jewel was on what for him was a scramble descent and Williams a hold broke on the VS terrain at the top of BE (Hersey unknown results of an unpredicted weather change and Bachar we dont know but the route was well below his limits). I'd be interested to know if anyone knows of any solo specialist who sadly died from a fall on moves at their limit. Even to climbers it seems amazing that the human mind can retain that level of focus (which is partly why I don't buy the glamour argument... sweaty hands is more my experience watching Honnolds films). In comparison there is a huge list of top names who sadly perished on serious routes in the greater ranges.

In the end we cant sensibly draw a line at a point where risk of a skilled practitioner becomes acceptable in climbing. If you dont accept the drive and sheer enjoyment of those who climb you shouldnt be encouraging anyone to have any part of climbing. As others have said above, instructors exist to instil the skills to avoid unnecessary risk in those who desire to climb knowing it's risky.
In reply to mountain.martin:

> Each to their own, but that's quite different to the dws i do. My approach is more like my approach to trad climbing. I really don't want to fall off, i would rather retreat, the water is just my safety net of last resort.

Which is how many people sports climb; the bolts are a safety net. To Sport climb or DWS solo "properly" you need to be prepared to fall off routinely. I think you are confirming what I said earlier that DWS is closer mentally to sport than it is to soloing. Soloing is much closer mentally to trad climbing, except that it is sometimes ok to fall off trad but is regularly as unthinkable as when soloing.
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Michael Gordon:

One of my biggest annoyances Michael is the miss-use of the term "free-climbing"! The "Do you free-climb?!" question!
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Ramblin dave:

Nice quote!
1
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

Definitely true Robert, guess it's hard to tell if people that are new to it take it as what they see in the press as being normal or out of the normal ability?
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Timmd:

Yes Timmd, meant as speculation about true beginners (even school kids asking questions on their first ever time climbing)
You're right, i waffle on to talk about building it up on easier stuff and learning the rock, your mind, limits etc..
When people are experienced and can justify it then crack on!
It's the normalisation to beginners that I guess I was questioning. Sure soloing is normal, but by experienced climbers!

Cheers for your reply!

Stu.
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to john arran:

I absolutely ageee John (and Mick), it was a question meant to bring discussion. DWS has heaps of dangers that you need to be aware of, and definitely scary at times! Why on earth is S3 even a thing?!!

But then again, at the right venue, in the right conditions, it does give you that safety net to give you opportunities to try stuff in a more forgiving environment than above the hard ground...
Absolutely wouldn't want to take the DWS approach to true soloing for sure though!

Cheers,

Stu.
 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Anyone who thinks the media - and I suppose climbers in general - don't glamourise soloing, must be in denial! It's so often held as the pinnacle of achievement, the purest form of ascent. If that's not glamourising, what is?
 CragRat11 22 Mar 2017
In reply to jon:

Agreed. But does that glamour cause people to think 'I want to do that'?

Any more than it used to 20 years ago?

I don't have that answer, just posing the question!
 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to CragRat11:

> But does that glamour cause people to think 'I want to do that'?

Some folk, maybe younger climbers, are certainly more impressionable than others, so I think yes possibly in those cases. But apart from that, seeing it set out in print, to me, while not trivialising it, gives almost a sort of seal of approval from the establishment.

1
In reply to Stu McInnes:

People aren't aware of soloing due to the media. They're aware of 'soloing' because it's the most obvious way to climb; all that stuff with ropes, harnesses, bits of metal you jam into cracks is unnatural, and must be pushed by the media.

Soloing is what I did as a kid. Having a good, if rather catastrophic, imagination and being of a very cautious nature, I knew full well that it could kill me. So I didn't do anything silly. I'm sure anyone who solos is perfectly aware of the potential consequences.

I'm not sure I see much evidence of an increase in soloing, either in the mainstream media, or on rock. I do see an increasing number of 'darwin award' videos of people doing crazy things on YouTube. I'm sure young people have always done crazy things*, just now they can video them and publish them to the world.

* I recall there are studies that show that teenagers' brains aren't good at risk/reward assessment, tending towards the reward side. I was the opposite, and could very clearly see the risk, and not the reward.
1
In reply to jon:

> It's so often held as the pinnacle of achievement, the purest form of ascent.

It is, isn't it?

1
 Blake 22 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I'm glad you posted this, I was just about to go and free solo the classic north west on half dome. Now I think I'll go and have some fun with friends and a rope instead. Phew.
In reply to jon:

> Anyone who thinks the media - and I suppose climbers in general - don't glamourise soloing, must be in denial! It's so often held as the pinnacle of achievement, the purest form of ascent. If that's not glamourising, what is?

I completely disagree and I don't think I'm in denial. It is possible to film or write about climbing's pinnacles of achievement without glamourising them, and it is possible to glamourise climbing which is far from the cutting edge. I don't think I've seen a film of Honnold soloing which I would consider glamourised.
1
In reply to Dave Garnett:

> It is, isn't it?

That's because for any given route, it is.
In reply to UKC Articles:

I would speculate that there is enough data locked up in the logbook on this very site to enable us to ascertain whether or not soloing is on the rise. Unfortunately us users haven't been given the keys to the kingdom, but if anyone of those who have would like to tell us, it would add to the discussion. Makes me wonder what a comparison with the timeline of Honnold's greatest achievements would show.
In reply to UKC Articles:

I seem to recall an interview with Honnold (maybe Tim Ferris' podcast) where he said words to the effect of: if anyone thinks this looks cool and wants to give it a go, they'll usually discover after about 4 meters when they look down that actually it's not for them. The instinctive fear of falling to your death will very easily and quickly trump any newbie enthusiasm that watching a 'rad' video might have inspired.

Something like that, anyway. Sounds about right to me.
 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Dave Garnett:

Maybe I should have added '... with the implication that it is something to aspire to.'
 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

> That's because for any given route, it is.

Why's that? Are you really disappointed that when you pull off your hardest ever lead, you immediately regret not having soloed it? Does that mean you're never really satisfied with your climbing?
 supersteve 22 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article Stu, which seems to have raised some productive debate with a wide range of opinions. I am sure there have been times when I belayed you, when you might as well have been soloing (Beeston Tor.....!). Keep up the good work.
1
 Wendy Watthews 22 Mar 2017
In reply to jon:

To a cirtain extent this is true, in the uni club we had to stop the more experienced climbers soloing vdiff or things well within their bounds when around the newer climbers. Whilst the majority are terrified by the prospect there is always the one (sorry for stereotyping) macho man who without the experience is cirtain they want to solo without paying the mileage first.
1
 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Wendy Watthews:

> there is always the one (sorry for stereotyping) macho man ...

No sorry needed!
 C Witter 22 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
My attitude to soloing has been shaped by a number of forces - but, not glossy doublespreads of Alex Honnold or videos of Dean Potter.

One of the reasons I solo is the difficulty of getting partners. I'm employed on a precarious, part-time basis. Consequently, I'm often free to climb on week days; when there's a sunny spell, but rain forecast for the weekend, I ache to get out. Soloing has become a partial and unsatisfactory solution to this problem, for me.

Next, when I started lead climbing I sometimes found myself suddenly terrifed by climbing. I'd set out, full of enthusiasm, and halfway up a multipitch severe I'd be freaked out by a lack of gear, fear of being off route, exposure, a lack of self-assurance. Soloing became a way of trying to deal with this and break the spell. One sunny week day I went out to Warton, where there are limestone outcrops of 6-10m, and soloed a bunch of routes. Wow - the boost that gave my spirits!

Reflecting on this, part of the reason I climb is dealing with the political and employment situation I find myself in: feeling inadequate, a bit depressed, lacking agency - going out climbing helps me cut through that. If my climbing is partly about a sense of personal achievement, soloing routes can really amp this up. Last year I was trying to get comfortable leading VS routes; even though this was the hardest grade I was leading with gear and ropes, I found myself soloing short VS and even HVS routes. That feeling of achievement was fantastic, even as I recognised the gap between leading multipitch VS and soloing 6m VS routes.

Sometime back, I was climbing with a hard climber friend; he soloed Middlefell Buttress whilst a couple of us climbed it roped. He said something along the lines of, as you climb you build up a buffer. Below that, you might solo. Someone leading E5 might well be comfortable soloing many Diffs, VDiffs, Severes - maybe higher, depending on the situation. But, for someone leading severe, the bar is low. Maybe you will go for a nice walk without fear. Well, it seemed quite a common sense view to me, even as it was a little patronising. As a VS leader, I'm content to solo many scrambles, but I've never soloed even a Diff route above 10m.

I see that view reflected in this article. But, the problems with this common sense view are many. Firstly, how do we decide where that line lies for us? 3 grades below our onsight roped lead grade? 1 grade below? With what 'feels comfortable' (until it suddenly doesn't)? With the moves we "know" we can make, or the moves we know we can reverse? Second, it doesn't really relate to actual practices. People do solo above their 'buffer'. Third, it doesn't account for those dynamics that make us solo: i.e. it is not entirely a rational decision. It might be a bruised ego or a desperate desire that sends us out soloing. Fourth, objective dangers are not addressed by the 'go down a few grades and you'll be alright' school.

Recently, I was climbing with a ML from Norway at Trowbarrow. It was a Friday in January, wet in the morning, but gloriously sunny in the afternoon. We had the quarry to ourselves to start with, but as the afternoon opened up three other climbers appeared. One guy was alone, nipped up Barnacle (S 4a) and set a top rope up on Coral Sea. The other two people simultaneously soloed Very Ordinary Route (M), with about 2m between them. Having extensively soloed at all the small crags in the Silverdale and Arnside AONB, I'd kind of been chiding myself on not having the guts to solo anything at Trowbarrow. But, my partner, who has climbed hard and done big routes, ski mountaineering, alpine stuff, etc, was absolutely astounded by the way these three people were climbing. I looked again at the routes and noted the fact that they're complete choss: tumbled blocks and creaking flakes, in an old Tarmac quarry where local climbers constantly joke about the Main Wall falling down. My Norwegian friend shook his head and commented that British climbers have a different sense of acceptable risk to Norwegian climbers.

A little while later, we were gearing up in the bay formed between Jomo and the Main Wall, when a goddawful boom resounded around the quarry. We looked at each other, then walked around the corner. A sense of dread started to seep through me. But... no-one appeared to be hurt - just a rock being launched down the face, on purpose or by accident...

What do we conclude from all this? There's only one thing I'd try to emphasise: as much as we constantly make decisions and judgments about what we're willing to solo, what we're not, when it's safe, when it's unsafe, how we move as we climb, and so on - there's an irrational kernel underneath that rational shell: the desire, the need, that is driving us out there. Whether it's the barbarous political atmosphere of the times, a personal wound or a sense of frustration, I think it's important that people reflect in a deep way not only on what, and how and when they solo, but also on why they solo.
Post edited at 13:50
 Offwidth 22 Mar 2017
In reply to jon:

Most of my hardest onsight leads were solo and I'm not untypical in that. Headpoints tend to be bolder still. UK trad adjectival grades reward boldness in control.

I'm sure there are as many films out there 'glamorising' alpine ascents (especially on the continent) as those glamorising serious solos (both in the case of say Ueli). so, all climbing games get that establishment seal of approval despite the obvious and clearly stated risks. Following your line of argument to its logical conclusion we should maybe be looking at criminal action for those 'glamorising' alpine ascents in the greater ranges (in some cases where the odds of fatality may be approaching those of Russian roulette)
 Offwidth 22 Mar 2017
In reply to C Witter:

Lovely mini essay. Thank you.
 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

> Most of my hardest onsight leads were solo

Not really sure I follow that. You mean poorly protected?

> Following your line of argument to its logical conclusion we should maybe be looking at criminal action for those 'glamorising' alpine ascents in the greater ranges (in some cases where the odds of fatality may be approaching those of Russian roulette)

I'm sorry, you've lost me.

 Offwidth 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Wendy Watthews:

We taught those new to our Uni club who would be going outdoors why the ability to solo was important for many climbers and why they will often see people doing it, especially on shorter crags. The start of our Uni wall session was an experienced climber soloing up our wall to place the bottom ropes on a fixed bar.

The macho idiot example is real (a terrible example and often a genuine safety pain) but for every one of those there are plenty of others doing it for sensible reasons. Most very bold UK trad is de-facto solo. Most scrambling is solo. Most ungraded winter mountaineering is solo. Solo is a valid climbing game with its own risk sets and as valid as any other form of climbing all of which has significant risk. I see more bad belaying indoors that could lead to an accident than bad solo practice outdoors.
In reply to jon:
> Why's that? Are you really disappointed that when you pull off your hardest ever lead, you immediately regret not having soloed it? Does that mean you're never really satisfied with your climbing?

No I don't mean that at all; I wouldn't contemplate soloing my hardest leads (though some of my best achievements have, I think, been solos).

I was simply meaning that another climber soloing a route I have led would be a greater achievement than mine (other factors, onsight, free etc being equal). So, for any given route, the pinnacle of achievement is a solo.
Post edited at 14:14
 Offwidth 22 Mar 2017
In reply to jon:

I mean onsight on trad routes with no protection sometimes solo out of choice, sometimes trailing a rope for a second.

I think you have lost yourself as you don't seem to be thinking straight about risk; very unusual for an alpinist.
In reply to UKC Articles:

I actually did a huge amount of soloing (outcrops, mountains, summer, winter) when I was relatively inexperienced (mad keen, lack of partners etc.). Although I was often soloing stuff I wouldn't do now, I was almost always well within my comfort zone even though it was sometimes within a grade of my hardest leads - my protection skills and my rack were not what they are now. I think that the breadth of experience all that soloing gave me made me into the all round competent climber and mountaineer I'd like to think I am.

I suspect that the sense of false security that many inexperienced climbers get from their dodgy protection skills means that there will often be a greater potential for disaster than when soloing where the dangers are completely obvious.
In reply to C Witter: Another important point to make to those who might be contemplating starting to solo is to pick and chose: the time, the crag, the weather, how you feel and especially the route.

I've done loads of soloing on gritstone and very rarely had a scary experience. But that's because I'm familiar with it and I very much only solo routes that I'm happy with or know (with a high degree of surety) that I will be happy with. Because I've been doing it for years, some of the harder routes I've soloed when going much better now seem like impossibly scary prospects. But at the time they were ok (maybe some were only okayish).

On bigger multi-pitch routes I've done much less soloing, stuck to lower grades and had more scary times.

So I'd always advise people to start on gritstone (or similar outcrops) because there are loads of routes and you can assess them from the ground. Even within that I'd say for an introduction to soloing, go to Windgather, the angle allows you to stop/rest almost anywhere and the strata slopes the right way so plenty of positive holds/topouts.

Another bit of advice for a newbie soloer would be to go with a more experienced partner - follow my leader soloing games are ok as long as you don't get macho about it.

 jon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:
Funny, my reply above to you was almost exactly word for word what you said in your first paragraph (at 14h13) but I deleted it. I remember soloing binges at Tremadog day after day. What was I thinking... I'd like to think I've grown up a bit since then! I remember you soloing too, but I reckon you weren't as inexperienced as you claim, at the time!
Post edited at 14:42
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Blake:
Nah if you're experienced enough, go for it! Guess you've ready Honnoldd book, his ascent of it makes for fun reading!
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Mark Collins:

That's a great idea Mark, would be interesting to see. But obviously a lot of climbing goes on that doesn't get logged on ukc...

I guess what I'm getting at though is the total novices think it's normal - i.e. People that wouldn't post on ukc as they have literally just started...
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to ChrisBrooke:

Sound advice there Chris! Nice quote! Alex trying to downplay a question on people soloing to copy him I guess?
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to captain paranoia:
Definitely right with the Darwin Award there Captain! My data is non scientific - just speculation from what I see working! And it's more the total novices, that have never been before (generally kids!) so you could be right with the risk/benefit analysis!
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

I couldn't agree more Robert, the amount of people you see placing poor gear, and have no idea. It's a worry for sure, and obviously they're in more danger than a controlled experienced solo climber!
 John Gresty 22 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
Looking at the picture used to illustrate this article, presumably Crib Goch, I have long wondered about the practice of moving together, roped, on relatively straightforward horizontal Alpine ridges. Is it better to be roped, or for the indivuals to be soloing.

I've done both, know what to do, had discussions with my climbing partner on route about which was preferable, but also been involved in both scenario's when things have gone wrong, I recognise that it is very dependent on the circumstances, but still do not know which can be regarded as best practice.

John Gresty
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Offwidth:
Poor indoor belaying is definitely a worry, I think it falls in to 2 categories. New climbers who just haven't been taught properly, or older climbers who've developed bad habits. Either way I've no doubt it leads to many more accidents than solo climbing!
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to supersteve:
Your "slack belay" belay that day Steve, was probably my fault for plying you with alcohol the night before! Long time ago, fun day eh?!
 Stu McInnes 22 Mar 2017
In reply to John Gresty:

Either John - depends on the people and the situation! No hard and fast answer im afraid... We have a sport with so many grey areas, and many different rights and wrongs. The question is; is it appropriate for where you are, is it appropriate for who you're with, are you as safe as you need/want to be! You'll see many people doing different things, whether they are climbing peer to peer or acting asa guide etc...
The key is your own judgement...
 eggburt1952 22 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

We do it because it is the purest form of the sport that provides the ultimate experience in freedom of movement..... Once both feet are off the ground at the same time roped or unroped danger is always there ....people have died slipping in the bath or from mis clipping or bad placement it's all a matter of degree
 Michael Gordon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Stu McInnes:

> One of my biggest annoyances Michael is the miss-use of the term "free-climbing"! The "Do you free-climb?!" question!

If they don't explain what they mean, my stock response is "yes, I try not to use aid"
 C Witter 22 Mar 2017
In reply to eggburt1952:

On the idea that soloing is the purest form of climbing, this is a kind of nonsense to me. What does 'pure' mean here? Unmediated? But, the climb is mediated by your training, your knowledge, your ability to move around and assess the climb beforehand, your sticky shoes, beta, the grading system, guidebooks and the traces of other climbers on the rock before you; as well as by an aesthetic, culture and tradition. My point might become more meaningful if you ask: who has climbed a route in the most 'pure' manner: the pioneer who did the first ascent, using slings on the crux and gardening with their piton hammer, or the young buck who solos it? In one sense, we might judge the unaided climb as "better style"; perhaps the solo as even more so. But, if something is gained, something is also lost: perhaps the sense of entering the unknown, of climbing at the limits of the day, and the understanding of climbing as more than a specialised recreational activity. All of which leads me to think that 'purity' is just an inadequate concept, and one used to crap on others rather than to indicate anything particularly useful or meaningful - even as it unfortunately continues to retain currency, particularly in the context of competitive top-level climbing.
1
In reply to Robert Durran:

"To Sport climb or DWS solo "properly" you need to be prepared to fall off routinely."

Oh dear, i must have been doing it wrong.

If by doing it properly you mean climbing as hard as it is physically possible to then i agree. But in 8 or 9 days of dwsing in Pembrokeshire last year i didn't see many people falling off including one day when Crispin waddy was there, and didn't fall off. Was he not doing it properly?



2
 Michael Gordon 22 Mar 2017
In reply to C Witter:

> Firstly, how do we decide where that line lies for us? 3 grades below our onsight roped lead grade? 1 grade below? With what 'feels comfortable' (until it suddenly doesn't)? With the moves we "know" we can make, or the moves we know we can reverse?

Out of those I guess I would say the latter is nearest. The grade is a guide but (unless it's something very easy) many other factors come into play. Generally a fair bit of subconscious judgement goes into picking routes to solo, for me anyway. You get a feel of what to go for according to rock type, type of route, and how the routes and grades feel on that crag and/or the local area.

 C Witter 22 Mar 2017
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Aye - and how awful the landing looks!

Plus, I definitely identify with those talking about getting a sense of how you feel on the day. Sometimes I've gone and found myself feeling completely in tune with myself and the rock, focused on the moves, knowing all's well and enjoying every moment; other times, I feel fine, then get on the rock and find myself easily spooked, awkward, and disorientated. Usually when I'm tired and preoccupied, I guess, or when I'm frustrated and putting pressure on myself ("I'll get up that one today, for sure").

All in all, I find it really puts me in a reflective and introspective mood... Sometimes I find myself so focused on the climbing that I realise I've knocked off 20 odd routes and have to snap myself out of my thoughts and remind myself to look around and enjoy the place and savour a sandwich and a cup of tea, whilst inspecting the dirt under my nails and the peculiar nicks and grazes that have appeared without me noticing...
 John Gresty 23 Mar 2017
In reply to Stu McInnes:

It appears to me that more and more climbers are wanting hard and fast rules, qualifications, badges to wear, whilst in reality good decision making is always your best friend in the mountains, on the crag, etc. People are getting more and more governed by 'rules' that they cannot comprehend an activity where there arn't any.

I always remember an article by Pete Livsey when he put forward the notion that the only place for 'rules' in climbing was regarding abseiling where getting it wrong generally meant death, and I believe that still holds true today.

Soloing has its place, always has and always will do, but some of the media exposure does not seem to understand the complexity around the issue.

John Gresty
 Andy Say 23 Mar 2017
In reply to John Gresty:

> I have long wondered about the practice of moving together, roped, on relatively straightforward horizontal Alpine ridges. Is it better to be roped, or for the indivuals to be soloing.

I am minded of the tale of an instructor on a scots winter ridge asking one of the party what they would do if he fell off. There was a rapid response that the correct thing would be to hurl yourself off in the opposite direction.

'Aye'.

'Well'.

'You might want to wait 'till we're tied to a rope........?'
 Offwidth 23 Mar 2017
In reply to John Gresty:
I've noticed newer climbers can easily and often muddle themselves focussing on small rules and can miss much more important risks. In contrast some old climbers who should know better are more at risk from stupid ruts, like assuming kit lasts forever (I'd happily burn some old webbing and slings I see). Not all rules are bad.. all climbers can make mistakes when distracted and we should have routine systems that help avoid this with tieing in (some big names have been lucky to live after failing to do this). Too many rules can really get in the way of our semi-automatic, in-situ risk management and problem solving as the things climbing can throw at us can get highly complex. I'd like to see more thinking about 'what if' scenarios. As an example an awful lot of climbers have no idea what to do if they arrive at a belay on a multipitch route and can't make it safe.
Post edited at 10:42
In reply to Offwidth:

> As an example an awful lot of climbers have no idea what to do if they arrive at a belay on a multipitch route and can't make it safe.

Try harder? Climb on up? Climb back down? Failing that, tell your partner not to fall off. Get a good stance and belay off the belay loop on your harness, not the rope loop.

1
 Offwidth 23 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

Sure.. yet in reality in such circumstances I've seen tunnel vision with frantic searching, long delays and dangerous practice. Its not compulsory to belay at the belay when a safer alternative exists but how many climbers think about or practice the alternatives.

In contrast I've been told off more times than I can remember by strangers locked in rule based mindsets for not using locking crabs on my pro I place for perfectly solid belays.
 Timmd 23 Mar 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

> I suspect that the sense of false security that many inexperienced climbers get from their dodgy protection skills means that there will often be a greater potential for disaster than when soloing where the dangers are completely obvious.

Which is where instructors come in? ;-)
1
In reply to Stu McInnes:

> Sound advice there Chris! Nice quote! Alex trying to downplay a question on people soloing to copy him I guess?

Agreed. It was also made clear to me during the BMC Honnold lecture I attended last year, that Alex feels at least in part responsible for what is portrayed of him in the media and was clear to point out how little soloing he does compared to the rest of his climbing. It could be seen by the audience demographic that at least some youngsters are inspired by him. I also think back to the lovely story about the young lad in Northern Ireland who made a book about Alex for a school project and then presented him with it. Alas, I'm not sure how much control Honnold has on what is portrayed of him in the media (we've all gotta make a living), as often I see him soloing and nothing more. I suspect that the responsibility of representing soloing in the mainstream falls more sharply on those who are greater figures within media. People who may not necessarily have experience of extreme soloing, yet portray it anyway.
 Stu McInnes 23 Mar 2017
In reply to Andy Say:
Awesome Andy!
 Stu McInnes 23 Mar 2017
In reply to Offwidth:

Very true John and Offwidth. I know many of us Mountaineering Instructors frequently get told off in walls by centre staff for stuff like not belaying "v to knee, 123..." or for finishing off a figure 8 tie in with something other than a well dressed stopper knot..
Probably our fault for training them in the ways of "Best Practise" in the first place! We always strive to make it clear that personal judgement is important but that doesn't mean people will do it....
Autonomous thought can be a scary thing though!
 bensilvestre 24 Mar 2017
In reply to John Gresty:
>> I always remember an article by Pete Livsey when he put forward the notion that the only place for 'rules' in climbing was regarding abseiling where getting it wrong generally meant death, and I believe that still holds true today.


Same goes for soloing, and thus for me the key is a set of rules which I set early on in my soloing career. I've only had one close call and it was because I broke one of them. They are:
-Don't solo for the tick (basically don't solo for ego. My most memorable solos were routes that I led first, and then romantiscised the solo, usually for a few years until the time was right. The relationship with the route and the longing to do the moves totally alone and unencumbered by anything but my own ability were the motivation, not the tick)
-Don't solo something challenging if anyone is watching (for the sake of purity of intent/ not soloing for ego. I find the mind games much harder if someone is watching)
-Don't onsight solo routes of E3 and harder (as a general rule)
-Don't onsight solo moves I can't reverse (and practice downclimbing! When i first got into soloing frequently I down soloed a lot of routes, using the logic that if I got to a move I couldn't down climb, I'd definitely be able to climb up again. Pretty good skill for trad too)
-Avoid balancey/insecure routes (this is the rule I broke which almost killed me. Never again!)
-Never solo when sad or angry (obvious really)

Soloing has provided me with some of my best climbing experiences, and in my eyes is absolutely the best use of gritstone. I think most people are smart enough to appreciate the obvious dangers


Edit: and I totally agree with Robert Durran that the false security some people believe they have from their poorly placed gear is far more scary than the average soloist. Stanage popular far right is a terrifying place to be on most busy Sundays!

Ben
Post edited at 19:03
 AlanLittle 24 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

If we assume that climbers Back In The Day tended to be drawn from a less risk averse than average section of the population - which I would argue is a reasonable assumption, backed up by things like the death rate of the 70s alpinist/himalayan generation - then by definition the growth of the climbing population must increase the risk averseness of the average climber. Which is certainly the impression I get, although admittedly that might be because I'm older and more cautious now and so are the people I'm climbing with.

Where I see a far bigger problem is in skiing and snowboarding. People see glamorous videos of people flying down pristine powder slopes, want some of that, and go off with only the most rudimentary equipment and knowledge. After all, what looks more harmless than a lovely white slope of fluffy powder snow? Whereas with solo climbing the level of risk is immediately obvious and acts as a brake, people are going out and getting themselves avalanched in droves these days. I can see the appeal myself, but have decided to stick to climbing because it's safer.

(My first ever climbing experience was soloing in Markfield quarry, in plimmies, having got the bus out from Leicester without telling my mum. After reading Everest The Hard Way. It's all Bonners' fault.)
 john arran 24 Mar 2017
In reply to bensilvestre:

Some great personal rules there, Ben. The only one I would object to is the arbitrary #3, on the grounds that grade is very much relative to ability, so Honnold on an E4 would rarely be a problem.
 RussB 24 Mar 2017
In reply to Michael Hood:
Tell that to the guy I had to help at Windgather who open fractured his lower leg, driving grit into the end of the bone! Put me off leading for a year (I'd be very cautious about recommending a soloing venue; if you have the judgement needed to solo then you shouldn't need to be told where to do it. I'd worry I'd be leading those not ready towards a bad day out). That said I'd never soloed at that point but started soon after getting back to my previous leading grade.
Post edited at 23:15
In reply to AlanLittle:

> If we assume that climbers Back In The Day tended to be drawn from a less risk averse than average section of the population - which I would argue is a reasonable assumption, backed up by things like the death rate of the 70s alpinist/himalayan generation - then by definition the growth of the climbing population must increase the risk averseness of the average climber.

I suspect that 'the average climber' (obvious generalisation) is more risk adverse than in previous decades. And this is certainly bourne out by watching folk at crags. But it seems to me that many current climbers are less risk aware - simply because things feel safer most of the time. And risk unaware can cancel out risk adverse.

An example: many people are perfectly happy to chat with others while tying their knots. But fluff tying your knot correctly and it's pretty much game over! Conversely stick people at the bottom of Red Wall or Cloggy and there's far less conversation and much more sober knot tying.

Personally I've become horribly risk aware. The first nine lives were used up long ago and I'm probably well through the second. When the ole grim reaper sticks his head over the horizon (as he does, from time to time), there's some sharp evasive action. And that's what works if you value longevity.

Climbing's a dangerous old game. Impossible to get it right every time. And the one time you get it wrong may be the time you lose your life. All any of us can do is keep the odds in our favour - well at least most of the time.

Mick
 Offwidth 25 Mar 2017
In reply to RussB:

Two good friends of mine have died climbing, both in the alps, one from an abseil accident one from exposure sheltering from an unpredicted storm. My partner and I have saved two lives in the mountains one where someone slipped and fell on a descent, the other where a belay failed on a lower retreat from a Mod. I've seen many accidents outdoors and assisted in quite a few, none from soloing. I've seen many near misses (including some rare ones involving solos). I've seen more roped accidents and near misses indoors where things should be as safe as climbing can be. At my main bouldeing wall, when the weather forces me indoors a lot, an ambulance seems to be called out monthly. Such incidents are often horrible but that's what consequencies of risk are in climbing. The appropriate response to risk, calm focus, is what keeps us safe. The Yosemite accident stas even shows this plays out on the bigger stage. Most accidents there were preventable and involving skilled leaders of 5.10a and above... common causes being bad decisions and lapses in concentration on 'easier' terrain.

Windgather IS a good solo crag and a recommendation isn't saying go there and be irresponsible. There have been several accidents there notably on Portfolio (including at least one fall solo that I'm aware of).

Mick Ward is right, climbing is a dangerous game and too many people are inadvertantly risk unaware (and my impression talking to climbers older than Mick that it was always so for some). Picking on the solo game as irresponsible is stupid as it's far from having the worst participation accident stats and regulars tend to be highly focussed and very aware. Bad practice is fairly uncommon so there is not much that can be done to reduce risk (maybe warn novices it is a highly honed skill... ie dont try this at home folks and find a way penalise the club macho prick soloing above his club novices). In contrast indoor climbing often makes me cringe... some belayers paying no attention, minimal buddy checks, boulderers blithely walking under others on the wall, minimal or incompetant spotting: bad practice is visible somewhere on almost every trip.
In reply to RussB:

> Tell that to the guy I had to help at Windgather who open fractured his lower leg, driving grit into the end of the bone! Put me off leading for a year (I'd be very cautious about recommending a soloing venue).

If your objection is to recommending soloing venues (rather than leading ones) why did you get put off leading by a soloing mishap?

 LeeWood 26 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
> ... they'd be horrified of the stories I'd tell. Snapping a hold 50ft up, falling off and hospitalising myself; pure luck on one occasion, stopping certain death. Other times: where I've gone past the point of no return

Glamorising risk ? Job done!. Compelling attraction in these words. We (as climbers) are deeply attracted to such scenarios - cheating death, staring it in the face fearlessly and getting away with it. Depending on character type and humour we may all push ourselves to the test at one time or another. Enshrined in the Pink Floyd lyrics

I'm not frightened of dying, why should I be ...

When I read about horrific but heroic escapes I often think 'I would like to have survived such an ordeal' because as we all know - its more enriching than sitting in an armchair. From where did Touchng the Void get its popularity ?

So Id say - let folk do what they will - and present their exploits. Part of us wants it and reveres it. Good article!

PS. in any case, shouldn't we have the right to take our own lives if we really wish to ??
Post edited at 08:02
2
 bensilvestre 26 Mar 2017
In reply to john arran:

Yep, I guess that rule is very much based around what I feel comfortable with, and its more of a guideline than a hard rule, given that E grades dont really give an indication of difficulty whilst soloing. A well protected e2 solo might feel no different from a poorly protected e4
 myrddinmuse 26 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:
Really interesting article, though like many others there's a couple of things I'd disagree with.

Myself, I'm a young climber (started climbing outdoors around 2 years ago after around 4 years of climbing indoors at reasonably grades), and I started soloing in Dartmoor as a keen fresher on diffs when my partner was sat having a long lunchbreak eating his cheese sandwich. I wasn't driven by the media and I don't think I honestly knew who Honnold was at that point, to be honest.

I started soloing on a university trip because the routes at Haytor and the like were short, bold, clean, and there were lots of them. Since starting out doing 12 vdiffs in an evening while I hang about or whatever, I've done some mountain routes at home in North Wales as well as some easier stuff in the peak and the South Wales Valleys, and I still don't think that the media's had an effect at all on my own pretenses and ambitions as a 'soloer'. Anybody with an ounce of common sense and self-awareness knows that it's an immensely personal experience that shouldn't be based on anything but your drive to do that climb and your self-belief that you can definitely do it.

The reaction I get when I tell non-climbers that I climb is 'But you don't freesolo, right? Those guys are crazy'. As if me running up a Vdiff after work in the summer is comparable to someone not quite there yet pushing themselves too far on a bold gritstone HVS. I sort of awkwardly either say 'Not really', or say 'Just the easy stuff', which for all intents and purposes is god's honest truth. I don't believe that people like that see free solo as anything but a fool's errand. They're wrong, of course, but that doesn't matter..
Post edited at 22:46
 rgold 27 Mar 2017
In reply to UKC Articles:

I think the first thing we have to admit, for trad climbing, is that risk is an essential ingredient, and when risk is confronted with skill and control, it is typically an occasion for satisfaction and praise. You really can't have trad climbing without risk, and although the trad climber can't be compared to the daredevil trying to jump his monster truck over an ever-increasing line of cars, you can't eliminate risk and still have trad climbing.

Moreover, on most trad climbs, there are moments when the leader is essentially soloing, typically on ground easier than the general standard of the route, but still soloing. The point is that yes, we have gear, but the combination of climbing and protecting skill, judgement, calmness under fire, and realistic self-knowledge is what makes trad climbing what it is. In other words, almost everything involved in competent soloing is already a feature of trad climbing, and it shouldn't be surprising that many climbers climb sometimes or a lot without a rope, but with all the other physical and mental skills at full pitch. It may not be a great idea to do a lot of soloing, but it is a natural part of the activity, and this with no input or influence from the media.

My impression in the US (which has always been more risk-averse) is that soloing in the general climbing population has decreased enormously. Fifty years ago, most of the people I knew went out at the beginning of the season and spent several days soloing routes in the 5.0 to 5.3 range as a way of warming up for the coming season. Many of these folks were ordinary climbers, not necessarily anywhere near elite for their day. Moreover, we'd climb hard climbs, unrope, and then climb back down easier ones. As far as I can tell, these practices have almost entirely vanished. There are rap stations all over the routes we used to downclimb, and I only occasionally see people soloing easy routes now, and this in spite of a tenfold increase in the climbing population.

So from my perspective, the soloist has become more of an outlier than ever, and if the media's promotion of Honnold's astonishing feats is encouraging young climbers to try things unroped beyond their abilities, I'm not seeing the results. Sure, every now and then we encounter someone doing something terrifying stupid, seemingly enveloped in a fog of ignorance of the danger they are in, but honestly I don't think there is anything new about that. I think what is new is that Honnold has been marketed as a daredevil to the non-climbing population, a modern gladiator for the Romans of a new era. But almost all climbers recognize that trying to imitate his remarkable feats is an express ticket to the tomb.

Whether in some ideal world we as climbers should be serving up near-death titillation to a general audience is a question of some interest, but we ought not to deny the obvious human fascination with rubbernecking such situations, and the power that fascination has to sell magazines, videos, and movies. But I don't think most of today's climbers, schooled if not indoctrinated in a litany of safety procedures that would have astonished their forefathers, and equipped with gadgets and devices that take more and more of the safety procedures away from individual action and initiative in favor of engineered solutions we don't fully understand but trust to be effective, I don't think that as a group those climbers are being driven to give up all those layers up for the great joys and deep sorrows of an unfettered ascent.

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