Imagine being 25,000 feet above ground clinging to a cliff face made of sheer granite with no rope or harness to catch you if you fell. This was the experience of Alex Hammond who free climbed the El Capitan cliff face in 2018. He put his life on the line and succeeded in scaling the cliff earning him the title of the worlds greatest free solo climber as well as one of the worlds greatest athletes.
I’ve always found free climbing captivating. The sheer danger of it is staggering as it requires immense mental and physical discipline. It makes my mind whirl thinking of how close to death they come and how alive they must feel when confronted with the edge of existence.
To clarify, traditional outdoor rock climbing is called free climbing. It’s climbing a cliff face with ropes and a harness to catch you if you fall. It’s not without its dangers but it’s a reasonably popular outdoor activity and can be attempted by most people with a strong background in climbing. Free Solo Climbing on the other hand is a whole different kettle of fish. When free-soloing a mounting you have no harness, no ropes, nothing. You are exposed completely to the elements and if you fall… that’s it.
Before free soloing it’s generally practised that the climbers practice by simply free climbing the mountain. A popular mountain will have multiple well known and named routes which makes it easier for the climber to strategise their route. When they do free solo the mountain they do it by relying on their individual preparation however that may not be enough. The sport takes place outdoors after all and so the climber is exposed to the danger of the elements. Wind, rain, snow, birds, bugs, you name it.
Due to these changing circumstances, it’s a test of the athlete’s skill and physicality to deal with the unknown. It’s this thrill that they live for. Generally in the climbing community, Free Soloing is reserved for the sport’s elite and is considered “a niche of a niche”.
The thing about Alex Hammond’s climb is that El Capitan is known as one of the hardest cliff faces in the world to climb. It is entirely made out of granite and has few secure holds so it requires elite level precision when climbing. People who realise that the climb is heavily rehearsed may have a notion that Alex was safe but those who really understand climbing knew just how dangerous, even with his thorough preparation the free solo climb was’. You can watch the climb well documented in the film ‘Free Solo’, where a camera team follow him for the over 4-hour climb.
Alex was asked by National Geographic about the climb as to whether he had any moments of doubt. He responded by saying “Not any real moments of doubt. The Freeblast was still engaging for sure. And the first roof (at the start of the third pitch), I’m always a little bit tense there because you’re just starting up the route. And the Boulder Problem was the crux. That was the main thing probably.” This, to me, shows just how analytical and fearless a free soloist has to be. Their mindset is honed to the point where fear doesn’t even come into the equation. It’s just tactical move after tactical move.
Now I’m not saying that you should go and start free climbing but if you’re interested in pushing your comfort zone why not check out the events we have on our app. The Sense Social app has loads of great events for you to check out that can push your limits a little more gently than having you dangle from a cliff. Come check it out and add something adventurous to your lifestyle.