There are few more daring and death-defying feats in the world than free soloing - climbing treacherous cliff faces with nothing but hands and feet to prevent a potentially fatal fall.
Alex Honnold's free solo of the El Capitan face in Yosemite NP in 2017 took it to another level. Jim Reynolds’ jaw-dropping ascent of the mighty Cerro Fitz Roy in Patagonia two years on has added another benchmark.
We ran the rule over some of the most amazing and significant free solos in history, with the help of free soloist and avid climbing historian Austin Howell. Check them out below.
Cerro Fitz Roy
- Location: El Chalten, Patagonia, Argentina
- Climber: Jim Reynolds
- Year: 2019
Just when we thought Honnold’s El Capitan ascent was impossible to match, his fellow American Jim Reynolds came out of the blue and free soloed up AND down the mighty Cerro Fitz Roy in Patagonia.
The late Dean Potter free soloed it back in 2002, but he used ropes to get down – which some claim makes it not a genuine free solo. Reynolds is the only other climber to do it, and the first to go both up AND down unaided.
“I never felt like I was on the edge of insecurity but I was screaming to put my full focus and concentration into making that down climb as solid as possible,” Reynolds said after the climb. “When I got to the base, I literally said to myself, aloud: ‘Good job, Jim. Good job.’"
It was truly an amazing feat. This may very well be the single most difficult down solo in history because of size and lack of rehearsal. He’d only inspected much of it on a pre-run the week before and that is arguably be the most impressive part of the whole thing.
Freerider on El Capitan
- Location: Yosemite, USA
- Climber: Alex Honnold
- Year: 2017
This jaw-dropping feat saw 31-year-old soloing superstar Alex Honnold ascend nearly 915m (3,000ft) of granite wall on this iconic American mountain using just his bare hands, shoes and a bag of chalk. Afterwards, Honnold said the 5:13a graded route was his "hardest by far" and that "it felt f*****g awesome”. How did he manage the feat? "I just did what I normally do, just without a rope this time," he said.
Freerider was seen as the obvious ’next step‘ in soloing, but everyone still wondered if it would ever happen. What‘s astounding is it took so long for it to happen
- Location: Yosemite, USA
- Climber: Vitaliy Musiyenko
- Year: 2016
This immense 305m (1,000ft) high ice climb rarely forms, but when it did on New Year's Day in 2016, Ukranian-born Californian climber Vitaliy Musiyenko scampered up it with just a pair of ice picks. He later admitted, "All I wanted was to climb the route. If there was a party at the base willing to climb roped with me, I'd probably have roped up with them." There wasn't, so he did it alone.
Cnoc na Mara
- Location: Donegal, Republic of Ireland
- Climber: Iain Miller
- Date: 2016
Towering 100m above of the Irish sea, the Cnoc na Mara stack takes some climbing, not least because you have to paddle out to sea just to get to it. It was first climbed in 2008, and has been topped out by fewer than 30 people in total. Iain Miller said after soloing it, "It took me 10 years to gain the correct mental approach to even contemplate doing it as a solo free."
As a solo, it's not that notable, but I loved the message of freedom in the video as the whole ascent mixed scrambling, soloing, and kayaking in a really cool way. The guy's got good mojo, and I dig that all day long
Chiaro di Luna
- Location: Fitzroy Massif, Patagonia, Argentina
- Climber: Brette Harrington
- Year: 2016
Fitzroy is one of Patagonia's most iconic massifs and 23-year-old Californian Brette Harrington was the first to free solo it on this 762m (2,500ft) route, classified 5.11a. "I wouldn't want that experience every day," she said. "That would be too much, but it's a pretty cool challenge once in a while to figure out where your mental level is."
This is hands down one of the coolest free solos done by a woman, and notable for anyone as one of the few free solos that have been done on big mountains in Patagonia. 10/10.
- Location: Dubai, UAE
- Climber: Alain Robert
- Year: 2015
No ordinary climb, this 75-storey building climb was the world's highest urban free solo, and was achived by Alain 'Spiderman' Robert in an 1.5 hours. The free solo legend began climbing rock walls over 25 years ago, when he did the first ever 8b solo free and one of the "craziest solos ever" on La nuit du Lézard in Buoux. He's also climbed the Sears Tower, London's Shard, the Petronas Towers and the Burj Khalifa (harnessed) among others.
It's quite an interesting art Alain has going on, but it's worth noting that he was one of the strongest free-soloists on rock in the 1990s. If someone argued for Alain being the best of all time, you'd have a hard time proving them wrong
Eiger North Face
- Location: Switzerland
- Climbers: Ueli Steck and Dean Potter
- Date: 2008
One of Europe's most infamous climbs, this mighty limestone and ice wall has been free soloed by two legends who have both now passed away. Speed climber Ueli Steck scaled the Heckmair Route – normally a three-day climb – in 2h 47m, while American Dean Potter did the world's first freeBASE (free solo with a parachute) on the 5:12-rated route Deep Blue Sea. Potter said having a parachute was, "much better because with free-solo, you know it's over if you disconnect with the rock."
These were two very different styles. Steck soloed in winter with ice axes and crampons, and Potter did it on dry rock in summer. That highlights how personal soloing can be
Via Attraverso il Pesce
- Location: Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy
- Climber: Hansjörg Auer
- Year: 2007
This 850m climb includes a fish-shaped niche that gives the route its name and was one of the most difficult free solosat the time it was scaled. It took Hansjörg Auer less than three hours and he said, "I needed a number of days to completely come to terms with what I had accomplished. On the summit I felt total emptiness, combined with an unimaginable sense of fortune."
Many hold this up as counterpoint to Honnold's El Capitan ascent. Freerider is 'only' two grades harder, but it is more sustained and less secure, which makes it a more difficult solo. This was arguably the hardest multipitch free-solo at the time, though
- Location: Schleierwasserfall, Wilder Kaiser, Tyrol, Austria
- Climber: Alexander Huber
- Year: 2004
This 5:14a-rated climb by Bavarian-born Alexander Huber raised the bar for free soloing, even though the crux of it is 10m above the ground. He did it without any fall protection and worked on the route until he knew he was perfectly in control. "I was convinced I wouldn't fall," he said. "But you never know 100 percent. That sliver of potential danger is the essence of alpinism and climbing."
The hardest graded solo ever completed, and no list is complete without it, but it's an interesting peculiarity of soloing that the grade doesn't say it all. Huber himself said that Alain Robert's solo of La Nuit Du Lezard was more impressive at only 5.13c
- Location: Yosemite, California, USA
- Climber: Wolfgang Gullich
- Year: 1986
Famous for its exposed overhang, this crack sits a perilous 200m above the Merced river. Wolfgang Gullich was the first to free solo it, but it's a true 'trophy climb' that's also been done by Heinz Zak, Dean Potter and Alex Honnold. On reaching the top, Gullich noted, "I suddenly had an impression that it was not a game of gambling with my life; it was not subjectively dangerous. It is the thought of death that teaches us to value life."
In a way, this is the perfect solo. Only five people have ever done it. It requires commitment from the very first move and finishes with a foot-over-head inversion. Any single part of it could rate it as the most exposed single pitch on Earth