A Soloist’s Perspective

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A Soloist’s Perspective

Postby Akleich » Wed Jun 13, 2018 6:00 pm

When a man paints a mural, he stands back and calls it “art.” It’s a creation that expresses the longings of his heart. Perhaps it will sit in his attic and collect dust, to be found by his grandchildren after his passing, and merely treated as “another thing to auction off.” Or perhaps it will be hung in an art museum to be criticized by the many, and appreciated by the few. Whether you see it or not, this creation had meaning, even if only for one man.

The creation we see around us is a glorious art form. Spoken into the void from the overflow of the Lord’s heart, it is a visible expression of the glory, power, and grace of the invisible God. The heavens declare His glory, the rocks cry out in silence, and when this dark world is redeemed, the lion will eat grass and lie down with the ox.

In this creation, man was spoken into being out of the overflow of God’s heart, reflecting His image. He was given a simple task, an easy burden: to tend the creation while walking alongside his Creator. But after the fall, we were darkened. When He came, He gave us His very own Spirit, recreating the creation, redeeming the dark. No longer are we designed to fall, but to rise.

The climb is the art of rising. It expresses the longings of the heart in one profound statement. The most profound of which, of course is going solo. No matter which approach is taken, to climb solo is an act of rebellion. What you are rebelling against...well that’s really up to the soloist. Truthfully, this is the reason many of us begin to climb- to break the cycle you are a slave to, whatever that may be. It’s unfortunately a vain attempt at freedom. Only Christ can free you.

The great soloists of our time have all had different enemies they were fighting. Dean Potter was warring against his childhood nightmare, and did some seriously hardcore stuff in the process. Solos of Heaven (5.12d), Separate Reality (5.12a), and the Rostrum’s Alien Finish (5.12b), which he did as a “freeBASE” ascent, come to mind. He certainly went to great lengths to redeem himself from fear...though it never fully left him. You can still watch plenty of videos of him sketching out on some of his climbs.

After perusing his memoir, Alone on the Wall, Mr. Honnold seems to have used soloing to break free from the grips of society, and at times, appeared to use soloing as an angst-driven pursuit to rebel against the oppressions of life, namely: the lack of a purpose, the death of a loved one, and the stress of an ailing relationship. Free soloing provides temporary freedom from those things. I for one, certainly am not concerned with thoughts about society, broken relationships, and the like while I’m pulling a 5.11+ cross through on crimps high off the deck. Clearly, these things were deep motivators, as they led to groundbreaking solos, the most obvious being the free solo of Freerider 5.13a on El Cap, likely the most significant athletic achievement in history (in my opinion at least).

The “dark art” is emotional suicide. It requires one to kill his emotions. You have no choice but to do so. They have no purpose on the wall, and lead only to death. Among these emotions is “worldly sorrow” which also leads to death. The soloist then momentarily dies to his sufferings. Mark Twight, a fellow climber and writer even called climbing “a tool to forestall suicide.” You must solely rely on truth, as Mr. Honnold also noted: “Discretion is the better part of valor.” But kill the worldly sorrow, and neglect to replace it with Godly sorrow, and you are still left empty. This is where the soloist must recognize that his soloing is not ultimately fulfilling, and rely on the Truth, the Truth of Christ freeing man from all forms of bondage.

Soloing provides an obvious opportunity to go where humans don’t belong. If you already feel that you don’t belong, well...you’ve temporarily given yourself a place. There is a great sense of satisfaction in pushing boundaries. The Lord himself instructed us to “fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28).” (Which, by the way, if you do not have the feeling that you subdued the route you just soloed, you did something stupid and should re-evaluate what you’re doing.) Nevertheless, there is something in us that desires to subdue the world. But do it apart from the Lord’s command, then it is for personal reasons, which are vanity. You have merely staved off suffering for a moment. But in following this command, one begins to realize that they cannot subdue the world. That was Christ’s doing. He has overcome the world. Remember that in the beginning, when man was told to “fill the earth and subdue it,” he was walking alongside the Lord himself as he went out to complete this task.

In all of this, I have come to recognize that soloing is an art. It is man’s attempt to express his heart towards brokenness, to subdue the world, and to subdue his suffering. In fact, one could argue that all of the world’s activities can be summed up into one principle: “Everything that is done, is done to escape suffering.” But as followers of Christ, we willingly drink the cup of suffering. We walk into the fire. We have already died, yet we continue on living. We have escaped suffering already, so the existential suffering of the world is nothing to us. You can’t kill me, I’m already dead.

Now most, if not all of the world’s most accomplished soloists were either staunch atheists or mystics. Through a lack of purpose, they reasoned they, “might as well go big,” and tried to make something of their lives. While certainly having lots of fun in the process, nothing in their inner being was changed. Some wisdom on discretion was gained, but in order to escape suffering, the soloing had to continue, either more frequently, or with more cutting edge ascents. It could not be stopped, lest the suffering commence. It became an idol, a stumbling block, the crutch of a lonely man.

All of these things used to be me. There are moments when I have even fallen back towards this attitude. Sick of the constant betrayal, sick of the sufferings of life, and fueled with angst, I vowed to be better than those who betrayed me. Climbing was the obvious way, as I thought to myself, “I will do something that none of you could even touch.” Clearly, this is not the forgiving, Christian attitude, but it was part of what got me started with climbing. Of course, that was not my entire motivation. I loved the playfulness, and childish fun that climbing provided. This is surely part of the motivation of every soloist as well, though it is overshadowed by the dark behind it. The “fun” we experience while climbing is mostly because of the freedom we feel...the temporary freedom from anxieties and sufferings. It is this way with most any hobby. They all seek to serve this purpose. Soloing, in particular, requires more of your being to fixate on something other than your everyday stresses, and thus, provides more freedom from the worries of life than most activities: “I don’t have time to worry about bills, I’m too busy making sure I don’t fall.” Regardless, I find that artists are generally broken people, and soloing is one of the darkest arts, though it is masked with “fun” and freedom on its outer shell.

Now, as one freed and redeemed by the Lord, I no longer live in the dark. I am the light of the world, along with other believers, because He put His very own light in me. I no longer am a slave to the need to escape suffering. I already have. The darkest parts of me were redeemed, and I have been recreated. I still climb, and still climb solo. But it is not something I NEED, just something I enjoy (a lot). It is not a requirement for my joy, but an enhancement to it.

I believe the Lord made it my heart’s desire to climb and seek adventure. He granted me the ability to do so mentally and physically, and set me in a time and place where I had the ability to climb new first ascents and solos as a means to minister to the populace. He placed the right people in my life, and provided me with the resources needed, including an incredible, supportive wife. I am no longer a fisherman, as I used to be, slaving over nets to obtain a living, and attempting to flee from my suffering as a human being. No. I am now a fisher of men, using my abilities to draw others in, and show them a light, trusting my provision to His hands, and not my own (though I still have my moments). We should always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have. If this is the case, as it was of Jesus, whom multitudes followed, then people should be asking us about our hope. We should be different enough to spark the curiosity of onlookers. What better way to spark the curiosity of climbers than by soloing? (That is not to say everyone should do this.) But now, I seek to no longer make my soloing an expression of rebellion against suffering as much as it is an expression of my appreciation for the Lord, who created me, gifted me with the ability, created the stone, the routes, and the surrounding countryside. That is what I want other climbers to see. It is an art of appreciation. My goal is for it to be a fragrant offering, an expression of my thriving freedom here on earth in Him. I am now made in His image, and I want my art to reflect that. I am redeemed, and the dark art with me.

Now the obvious question that always arises when it comes to soloing is risk. Is soloing an acceptable risk? More than that, is it an acceptable risk for a Christian? But I believe there is a better question: Is soloing a risk? If not, as a climber, I can say it’s definitely worth it.

Risk is leaving something to chance. If you have started up a solo and have left your success to chance, you are not wise. There should be no chance of you falling...otherwise you shouldn’t be soloing. The only “chance” of you falling should be by a completely unpredictable circumstance so outlandish that honestly, you had it coming anyways. For instance, lightning strikes you despite there being no clouds in the sky. Or say, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake decided to go off while you are mid-crux. But truthfully, these things could kill you anywhere. The more relevant risky things people generally like to note are a foot slipping or a hold breaking. But something that people should also consider, is that you control your foot, and you control where you put it. If you are soloing a route that requires you to trust your life to a foot that might blow...well, you probably shouldn’t be soloing it. Personally, when I’m soloing, I like to try to stay within a difficulty where if my foot were to blow by some crazy circumstance, I could still hold on. My fitness level has to be so superb and so high above the route that my feet help me take some of the weight off, but they are not relied upon for remaining on the wall. This is not to say you cannot rely on your feet, but you must be very picky about how you do it. As you may notice in my videos, I climb with a specific style when soloing. No dynos, no dead-points, no pump, only smooth, static, controlled climbing. On any of these routes, I could (and sometimes do) stop and shake out in the crux.

Additionally, I find the question of risk in soloing to be hypocritical in times. Like I mentioned before, one must not be motivated by emotions. Emotions lie. The truth is what is needed. Alpinists and mountaineers attempt dangerous routes at high elevation, accepting that it could very well kill them. Death is a normal part of the game for those seeking to summit 8,000 meter peaks, and other high altitude objectives. There’s literally a line of bodies on the way up Everest. Or take the Shark’s Fin of Meru for example. Each climber on the expedition acknowledged that they very well could die on the trip, but it was worth the risk. There were unknowns they were facing: storms, avalanches, rock fall, altitude sickness, heart attacks; all things out of their control. However, people do not seem as concerned about the risks of high altitude mountaineering and alpinism, but the risks of soloing typically are the topic of conversation. Why? Because soloing looks scary, and its easily understandable. The negative consequences of a mistake are far more obvious. This phenomenon is very similar to the fact that much of the populace is terrified of flying in planes. However, statistically, planes are a substantially safer method of transportation than cars. But because the thought of a plane crash and the obvious peril that accompanies such an event is so obvious and easy to understand, fear grips people. Their emotions overcome their reasoning. Soloing is just the opposite; your reasoning must overcome your emotions. Automobile accidents are so frequent that its become the norm, and it doesn’t frighten people the way it should, if one approached the debate completely logically. The truth is, the risk I take driving to the crag to go soloing is far greater than the risks taken soloing. I’m partially trusting my life to the driving competency of people I do not know. And statistically, I’m far more likely to die in a car crash....

For reference, here are a couple of solos I have done. Hopefully these demonstrate a little bit of my soloing philosophy in action.

Reverse the Curse 5.12a

Beyond Measure 5.13a
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Re: A Soloist’s Perspective

Postby Pete P » Wed Sep 05, 2018 6:04 pm

Greetings. Thanks for posting. The topic of free soloing has been discussed by Christian climbers for a long time. No doubt the achievement by Alex Honnold has put soloing into the limelight again. It is a dangerous version of our sport, because it demands perfection. Rarely are we perfect.

I will offer more thoughts. But right now I have two suggestions:

1. Pray for wisdom. The wisdom of God is much greater than man.

2. Never solo a route that you cannot downclimb confidently. Because you never know when you might need to back off.

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