Help grow the archive! drop a knowledge bomb here.

The Crushers Guide To…

Free Soloing

Free solo climbing is not everyone’s cup of tea, or more aptly, not everyone’s type of adrenaline shot. It’s a world where ropes and harnesses become mere spectators, and the climber is left to tackle the behemoth on their own. In this realm, the margin for error is zero, and the stakes are as high as the cliffs they ascend.

climbing grades icon




Must See Guides

Want to find out more about free solo climbing? Take a look at some of our guides below!

Hardest free solos

The Hardest Free Solo Climbs

Did you know that the hardest route to be free soloed is an 8c (5.14b)? Alfredo Webber even won a Guinness World Record for it! Read on for more info.

Best free solo climbers

Who Are The Best Free Solo Climbers?

There is only an elite few that dare to climb without ropes, but who exactly are they?

why people free solo

Why Do People Free Solo?

With zero margin for error, you need a good enough reason to even think about free solo. The reasons may surprise you!

History of Free Solo

Although humans have been climbing since the dawn of time, the heartland of free solo climbing is undoubtedly Yosemite National Park, a mecca for climbers worldwide. Here, the legends of free soloing have carved their names into history. 

John Bachar, an iconic figure whose name is synonymous with the golden era of Yosemite climbing was known for his obsessive training regimen and unparalleled strength. John was a huge advocate for traditional climbing ethics, with anything but a ground-up approach and gear being left behind being blasphemy to the rock and the sport itself. 

His obsession with pure climbing led him to do some daring free solos, like “Enterprise” (5.12b) and “The Gift” (5.12c). John Bachar stayed true to his beliefs and free soloed until the day he died

Then there’s Peter Croft, another luminary in the world of free solo climbing. Croft, hailing from the rugged landscapes of British Columbia, brought a new dimension to the sport. His legendary free solos of “The Rostrum” and “Astroman” in Yosemite was about finding a deep, almost spiritual connection with the rock.

John Bachar climber
John Bachar free soloing

What Exactly is Free Solo Climbing?

Now, when we talk about free solo climbing, we’re not just discussing another climbing style; we’re venturing into a realm where only a handful of daredevils tread. 

Free solo climbing is, in its simplest form, rock climbing stripped down to its raw essentials: just the climber, their climbing shoes, chalk and the rock. In this purest and most minimalist style of climbing where ropes, harnesses, and protective gear are deliberately left behind.

Wolfgang Gullich free soloing Separate Reality
Wolfgang free soloing Separate Reality, 1986 ©Heinz Zak

This discipline is as much about mental strength as it is about physical ability. Free soloists must possess an extraordinary level of focus and control, as they navigate routes where any mistake could be unforgiving. It’s a high-stakes game where climbers are acutely aware that they are flirting with the fine line between triumph and tragedy.

The essence of free solo climbing lies in its simplicity and the profound connection it fosters between the climber and the rock. It’s a test of human limits, a pursuit where climbers not only scale walls but also conquer inner fears and doubts. In free solo climbing, the journey up the rock face becomes a deeply personal experience and often spiritual-like.

Why Do People Free Solo?

While many people shy away from facing their fears, Dean Potter once said ‘Go towards your fears’. That has always been his philosophy. As someone who was scared of falling, and of dying (because believe it or not, free solo climbers don’t want to die!), Dean Potter faced these fears straight on by free solo climbing. That’s one of many reasons why people free solo, to face their fears head-on.

Dean Potter Free Solo

Another compelling reason for free soloing is the unparalleled sense of freedom it offers. Climbers experience a unique form of liberation, moving fluidly and naturally on the rock, unencumbered by gear. 

This freedom is not just physical but also mental, as free soloing demands a level of focus and mental fortitude that is unmatched in other forms of climbing. This level of focus makes you climb better than if you were restricted by gear. As Alex Honnold put it:

’’I like the simplicity of soloing. You’ve got no gear, no partner. You never climb better than when you free-solo.’’

The mental challenge of free soloing is another significant draw. The ability to maintain composure and clarity when the stakes are life and death is a test that some climbers find irresistibly alluring. It’s a discipline where every move is deliberate, every breath calculated, and the margin for error is zero.

Alex Honnold on Thank God Ledge, Yosemite
Alex Honnold looking down as he stands 1,700 feet above the ground on a tiny ledge on Half Dome ©Jimmy Chin

For many, free soloing is also a deeply spiritual experience. The combination of intense focus, the beauty of nature, and the heightened sense of being alive can lead to profound moments of introspection and clarity. 

While the reasons for free soloing are deeply personal and subjective, these are some of the key motivations that drive climbers to pursue this purest form of rock climbing. For a more detailed exploration of why climbers choose to free solo, you can read my full article here.

Most Notable Free Solo Climbers

The world of free solo climbing has been graced by some remarkable individuals, each leaving an indelible mark on the sport. Among them, a few stand out for their extraordinary achievements and contributions.

Alex Honnold

Alex Honnold is perhaps the most recognizable name in free solo climbing today and needs no introduction. His groundbreaking ascent of “Freerider” on El Capitan, a feat captured in the Academy Award-winning film “Free Solo,” has become a defining moment in climbing history. Honnold’s calm demeanor and meticulous approach to climbing have set new standards in the sport.

Alex Honnold free soloing Freerider

Marc-Andre Leclerc

This unassuming goofy guy from British Colombia became one of the most daring free soloist to have ever lived. Featured in the film ‘The Alpinist’, Marc-Andre made some of the hardest free solos on not just rock but also on ice and alpine.

If you haven’t watched ‘The Alpinist’ make sure you do. Marc-Andre’s story is truly inspirational. 

climber Marc Andre free soloing on ice with ice axe and crampons

Steph Davis

On the female front, Steph Davis stands out as a leading figure. With a career spanning over two decades, Davis has made significant contributions to free solo climbing. Her ascents in the desert towers of Utah and the alpine routes of Colorado showcase her skill, determination, and fearless spirit.

Steph Davis free soloing

These climbers, among many other free solo climbers, have not only demonstrated incredible physical and mental strength but have also embodied the spirit of free solo climbing. Their achievements continue to inspire and challenge climbers worldwide, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in this daring and exhilarating discipline. 

The Hardest Free Solos

In the realm of free solo climbing, certain ascents stand out for their sheer audacity and technical difficulty. These climbs represent the pinnacle of what is possible in free soloing, pushing the limits of human capability and courage.


Freerider on El Capitan by Alex Honnold is perhaps the most famous and daunting free solo ascent in history. Climbing the 3,000-foot granite monolith in Yosemite without ropes or safety gear, Honnold’s feat on this 5.13a route is nothing short of legendary.

The Phoenix

The Phoenix, another Yosemite classic, was free soloed by Honnold in 2011. This 5.13a route is a slippery crack running next to Cascade Falls and was a groundbreaking achievement in the climbing community.

Alex Honnold Free Solo The Phoenix in Yosemite
©Peter Mortimer

Darwin Dixit

Darwin Dixit in Margalef, Spain, was free soloed by Dave MacLeod. This 8b+ route was one of the hardest free solos at the time and served as a mental preparation for MacLeod’s challenging trad ascent, Echo Wall.

Dave MacLeod on Darwins Dixit
Dave on the hardest free solo ever done at the time ©ClaireMacLeod

Chiaro di Luna

Chiaro di Luna in the Fitzroy Massif, Patagonia, was free soloed by Brette Harrington. This 5.11a route is a classic Alexander Huber line, and Harrington became the first climber to free solo a tower in the Fitz Roy Massif.

For more details on these and other remarkable free solo ascents, you can explore the full article here.

Free Solo Is Not For Everyone

Before you decide to hit the crag with nothing but your shoes and chalk bag, think again. There is a reason why only a handful of people have mastered the art of free solo. As Alex Honnold once put it, it takes years of scrambling around in the mountains and becoming so confident in your ability before you can free solo.

It’s also important to mention that the majority of free solo climbers don’t turn up at an unknown route and attempt to onsight it. They go through months, and sometimes years of preparation, studying the route and climbing it on a rope before they go on to free solo.

Free Solo FAQs

Scroll to Top