This Is A Rope. Now Use It!

August 21, 2012

Free soloing is the dangerous act of free climbing a rock face alone, without a rope, gear, or any other protection from the dire effects of gravity. Despite its intimations of glory, free soloing is not recommended since the consequences of a fall are usually death or at least disfigurement

Some climbers have this romanticized and glorified image of free soloing - as if you are not actually rock climbing if you use protective equipment. I have never understood this ideology that has become so popularized recently by the publicity Alex Honnold has been receiving after his successful free solo climbs of major climbing formations.

You don't need a belayer unless you fall

I jokingly use this statement all the time. Only because I am an "onsite climber" (the preference of walking up to any route and climb it the first try without falling) not because I want to free solo. As a climber you spend hundreds of dollars on over-engineered equipment that is designed to be practically indestructible under the forces that a falling climber can inflict on the climbing system. Yet, somehow, people feel the need to leave this life-saving equipment in their closet at home and head out to climb thinking that the equipment only keeps them from "truly climbing" the route.

New Places, New Sites, New Sounds

Eldorado Springs State Park - I had never been there before. My climbing partner Mollie is in love with this canyon of impressive rock that surrounds you. Fair enough. So I headed up to Denver to meet her and then climb that evening. We arrive at Eldo and grabbed our gear, figured out what we wanted to climb and set off. I notice almost immediately that there are two guys down climbing a somewhat technical section of rock. I asked Mollie if the descent routes were down climbing and she said no. We get closer to the base of our route and the two free soloers had come down and were starting back up a route that was 50 feet to the right of the one we were going to climb. We hiked underneath them and I thought to myself, "Man, I sure hope they don't fall on us!" and kept on walking.

You don't need medical attention unless you fall

"Oh shit!"

Mollie and I both turned around to see one of the free soloers falling. No rope. No Harness. Just falling. He hit the face of the cliff once, bounced off and was in free fall towards the rocky ground below.

Then we heard the most gruesome and sickening sound that we had ever heard. A sound that will never leave my mind. The sound of a human body landing on the hard ground below. A deep, dense thud.

The climber had fallen about 30 feet away from where we were standing so I immediately dropped my backpack and hurried back down the trail. By the time I arrived, the climber had gotten up, moved, was talking and seemingly was "ok". I knew, though, there is no way this man is "ok". He is anything but "ok". He just fell 60 feet to the ground. "Why is he moving?" Stop moving. "Hey, sir, you need to stop moving, ok?" Seriously! Stop moving! I explained to him who I was and what I was going to do but he was confident he didn't need any assistance. He needed more help than I could provide.

A quick once over and the climber looked to be pretty "unscathed" but I knew this wasn't the case. He had a broken nose and dozens of lacerations across his face, arms and legs. "Ok, he isn't bleeding profusely. Good. No open fractures? Nope. He's conscious, alert and oriented. Good. Something is wrong but what is it?"

"My hip hurts. I can't use my right leg."

"Ok. Broken hip? Femur? Oh, I hope it's not the femur...."

By this time is free soloing partner had climbed off the rock and arrived "on scene". We went through everything we knew then he left to get their third member of the party who was fishing in the river below and tell him to get the truck ready. I began walking the climber down. Slowly and carefully yet as quickly as possible.

"What if he passes out? What if he loses consciousness. Oh, I really hope he doesn't lose consciousness...."

The State Park's ranger was alerted and showed up on scene. He asked the injured climber if he wanted them to call an ambulance and was met with a resounding "No" from the injured climber.

"Really? You make the decision to free solo and you are going to let him deny medical assistance?"

We finally get the injured climber down to their vehicle after about 45 minutes. We got him in the back seat and off they went. The end.

"Where's Mollie?"

She was still up the trail where we saw the climber fell - just sitting there. I sat down next to her on a rock and just gave her my "old man" sigh. "He's not doing so hot," I said. She was tense, nervous - as if she hadn't taken a breath since we heard that thud.

"It's going to be ok!" I jokingly said to her. She laughed, breathed and we talked about it. We couldn't believe that it really happened. We couldn't believe the sound that we heard. The ordeal was over. "Now what?" I didn't really feel like climbing anymore. We grabbed our stuff and hiked down to the river and relaxed.


a: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
b: the encountering of risks
2: an exciting or remarkable experience
3: an enterprise involving financial risk


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