solo mountain

solo mountainWhether you’re climb­ing moun­tains or just going for a hike, explor­ing nature with oth­ers is a won­drous chal­lenge. If you’re look­ing for even more of a chal­lenge, try doing it alone.

It’s a safe bet that if you adven­ture alone in the wilder­ness, you have cer­tain skills. You are most like­ly aware of the basic sur­vival gear you should bring incase of an emer­gency, no doubt you under­stand weath­er pat­terns and how they can shift dras­ti­cal­ly the high­er you climb in ele­va­tion, and you cer­tain­ly under­stand that adven­tur­ing alone requires, in most cas­es, more pre­cau­tion than adven­tur­ing with friends. That said, here’s what all pro­fi­cient peak-bag­gers should known or be remind­ed of before the head off into the great unknown alone.

Leave Your Con­tact Information
You know this, but it’s worth repeat­ing. It’s easy to get com­fort­able and to take our knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence for grant­ed. Per­haps you’re plan­ning to bag a peak in an area you’ve hiked dozens of time and there’s a minus­cule chance of you get­ting lost. Leave a note. Per­haps the peak you’re eye­ing for the day isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing or tech­ni­cal.  Per­haps you have the climb­ing skills of Alex Hon­nold (doubt­ful) and the route find­ing skills of Saca­jawea (dou­ble doubtful).

Remem­ber to include the following: 

  • Your des­ti­na­tion
  • When you are leav­ing and when you plan to return
  • What you are wear­ing and car­ry­ing i.e. a knife, bivvy, first aid kit, etc.
  • The make and mod­el of your vehi­cle, along with the col­or and license plate number
  • The num­ber of the near­est ranger sta­tion or search and res­cue oper­a­tion should you go missing

Have a Plan If Things Go South
For those who solo adven­ture reg­u­lar­ly, hav­ing a plan and run­ning through plans for a vari­ety of sce­nar­ios can be ben­e­fi­cial. Just as ser­vice­men in the army train for dif­fer­ent com­bat sit­u­a­tions, it’s impor­tant to think about the var­i­ous dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions that can arise when sub­mit­ting alone. For example:

  • What will you do if you encounter aggres­sive wildlife? Do you have bear spray or a weapon? How and when should you use a weapon on wildlife?
  • What will you do if you encounter an aggres­sive human who intends to do you harm?
  • Are you ade­quate­ly pre­pared for chang­ing and severe weather?
  • If you become strand­ed due to weath­er or injury, what are your options?
  • Are you pre­pared to respond to an avalanche or rock­slide situation?

Hav­ing a plan empow­ers you and can allow you to think more quick­ly and clear­ly should any of these sce­nar­ios become a reality.

solo mountainKnow the Near­est Place to Get Help 
Even in remote areas, there are usu­al­ly places to access assis­tance. Per­haps there’s a ranger sta­tion near­by, or a back­coun­try camp­ground where peo­ple who are sum­mit­ing the same moun­tain as you typ­i­cal­ly start their trek.

Know­ing the area in which you are adven­tur­ing well means that, should a bad sit­u­a­tion arise, you’ll be more like­ly to find assis­tance. Here are some things to look for on your next peak-bag­ging adventure:

  • Parks and Wildlife Trucks or vehicles
  • Ranger Sta­tions
  • Back­coun­try Campgrounds
  • Areas along the trail where you could seek shel­ter if the weath­er is severe

Speak­ing of Weather
Weath­er is the “X” fac­tor when it comes to hik­ing and sum­mit­ing moun­tains at high alti­tudes, because the weath­er sys­tems up high are often unpre­dictable and fast mov­ing. Check the weath­er before you set out. Check it twice. Then, as you’re gain­ing, check in with your nat­ur­al sur­round­ings, keep an eye on the sky, and notice when tem­per­a­tures start to change rapid­ly. Also, don’t be afraid to turn around if the weath­er gets to hairy. Nature will still be there tomorrow.

Remain Calm and Confident 
Adven­tur­ers have been going on solo treks for hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of years. John Muir was known for his solo wan­der­ing and often wrote about the peace­ful soli­tude that comes with being in nature alone. Based on his writ­ings, it can be assumed that Muir felt con­fi­dent and adept in his sur­round­ings, even when sum­mit­ing Mt. Whit­ney, the high­est moun­tain in the con­tigu­ous Unit­ed States.

The anti­dote to fear, for peak-bag­gers, is prac­tic­ing your skills, stay­ing calm, and being con­fi­dent that you are capa­ble of respond­ing to a vari­ety of sit­u­a­tions on the mountain.

Until just a few weeks ago, Alex Hon­nold was arguably the best free soloist in the world. Hav­ing soloed mas­sive­ly com­plex projects such as Squamish’s Uni­ver­si­ty Wall and the North­west Face of Yosemite’s Half Dome. Now, hav­ing free soloed El Cap­i­tan, one of the most icon­ic rock faces in the entire world, the argu­ment has been laid to rest; Alex Hon­nold is the best free soloist in the world. Full stop. But this isn’t the first time that Hon­nold or oth­ers climbers have per­formed amaz­ing, bound­ary-push­ing feats, so why is this one bound­ary break­ing not only for the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty but also for human beings as athletes?

The Climb Breakdown
To under­stand why this climb is unfath­omable, let’s break down what Hon­nold actu­al­ly did in both climb­ing and non-climb­ing terminology.

El Cap­i­tan is a big wall that is over 3,000ft high. Yes, 3,000 feet. That’s over a half mile of sus­tained, un-roped, climb­ing. The route he took is called Freerid­er and is rat­ed a 5.12d or 5.13 which, for the non-climbers out there, imag­ine a ver­ti­cal wall with vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing for the aver­age per­son to hold on to, wicked over­hangs, mas­sive cracks, and areas that appear to be com­plete­ly smooth to the touch.

Even more impres­sive­ly, he accom­plished this endeav­or in under 4 hours. For many elite climbers, El Cap takes a full day or two to climb due to the fact that climbers are typ­i­cal­ly haul­ing ropes, trad pieces, food, water, and oth­er gear.

They call him “Spi­der­man” for a rea­son. The skill and speed with which he climbed this icon­ic wall is both inspir­ing and insane.

This May Change the Way Climb­ing Big Walls is Perceived
Typ­i­cal­ly, climb­ing records are bro­ken into two cat­e­gories: first ascents and speed records. A first ascent, as the name implies, is award­ed to the per­son who first climbs the route. His­tor­i­cal­ly, first ascents are done with ropes for big wall climbs; how­ev­er, this could change with Hon­nold on the scene. Speed records are award­ed to those who climb the route in the least amount of time. For exam­ple, Hon­nold holds the speed record for climb­ing The Nose on El Cap.

Honnold’s free solo of El Cap isn’t a first ascent and it isn’t a speed record. It’s in a class entire­ly of its own. He climbed an unimag­in­ably dif­fi­cult rock face—without a rope. Often Ever­est ascents are bro­ken into two cat­e­gories: Those who climbed the moun­tain with sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen and those who climbed the moun­tain with­out oxy­gen. The num­ber of peo­ple who elect to climb the tallest moun­tain in the world with­out oxy­gen is a mere hand­ful. It is gen­er­al­ly accept­ed in the moun­taineer­ing com­mu­ni­ty that con­quer­ing big moun­tains with­out oxy­gen is more dif­fi­cult and more risky.

Hon­nold’s free solo ups the ante in big wall climb­ing. You can either climb it with a rope or with­out. There doesn’t seem to be much ques­tion con­cern­ing which one is more chal­leng­ing or dan­ger­ous. As such, this climb may rev­o­lu­tion­ize how the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty views first ascents and record set­ting all togeth­er. If peo­ple who climb Ever­est are seen by some as sec­ond-rate moun­taineers, then is it pos­si­ble that Honnold’s feat will cause some in the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty, as well as spec­ta­tors, to see big wall rope climbers as sec­ond rate? It remains to be seen.

This Isn’t Just About Climbing
Ath­letes do amaz­ing things for their sport every day. Things that nor­mal, untrained, human beings can’t begin to attempt or achieve. But, unless you’re a huge base­ball fan, climb­ing buff, ski­ing afi­ciona­do, or foot­ball junkie, you might not hear about it when records are bro­ken or the sport it pushed to the next level.

Here’s why Honnold’s lat­est work of climb­ing art is dif­fer­ent: He was inch­es from death. And yet, he did some­thing grace­ful, skill­ful, and masterful.

Foot­ball play­ers get hurt and, yes, rarely they die from head injuries. Big moun­tain skiers assess avalanche risk before ski­ing a line. But, oth­er than BASE Jump­ing, there are rel­a­tive­ly no sports in which the ath­lete must per­form with per­fec­tion or death is imminent.

That’s what makes this spe­cial: It was per­fect, it was mas­ter­ful, and breaks through the lim­its of what ath­letes and human beings as a species are capa­ble of doing, not only with their bod­ies, but also with their minds.

Watch a short clip from the climb in a video shot by Jim­my Chin for an upcom­ing doc­u­men­tary by Nation­al Geographic.


The inspired big wall climber Alex Hon­nold suc­cess­ful­ly free-soloed El Sendero Lumi­noso, a sus­tained 5.12 route on a 1,500-foot big wall in El Potrero Chico, Mex­i­co. In his cus­tom­ary style, with­out a rope and mov­ing quick­ly, Hon­nold com­plet­ed the route, which often takes climb­ing par­ties two days, in just three hours.

Camp 4 Col­lec­tive cap­tured this amaz­ing footage by installing a cam­era on the route. The effect of the lone cam­era, the blus­ters of wind, and the deep breathes of Hon­nold as he tra­vers­es with a crossover move from a gas­ton, where he reach­es across his body with his left hand while putting counter-pres­sure on his right, is deeply unnerv­ing. Notice too how his feet pre­car­i­ous­ly bal­ance on the micro-edges of this routes’ noto­ri­ous­ly brit­tle lime­stone while thou­sands of feet above the deck.

This glimpse into the full-length film com­ing out by the North Face lat­er this year is enough to con­vince that this route is cer­tain­ly one of Honnold’s great­est achieve­ments of his already illus­tri­ous young career. 

The first par­ty to climb The Nose in a day


In Yosemite Val­ley, No route is more icon­ic than The Nose. The first route to scale El Cap­i­tan, The Nose was first climbed in 1958 and took 47 days to com­plete.  Near­ly two decades after the first ascent was made, The Nose was climbed in just 24 hours.  At 2,900 ft. in height, The Nose still takes most par­ties sev­er­al days to reach it’s pinnacle.

Over the last decade, a hand­ful of elite climber’s have been rac­ing the clock, prac­ti­cal­ly run­ning up the steep faces of Yosemite Val­ley’s El Cap­i­tan. When the con­di­tions are per­fect, these elite few set off at a furi­ous pace, employ­ing speed climb­ing tac­tics in order to reach the top as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. The most cov­et­ed speed climb­ing accom­plish­ment in the val­ley is an ascent of The Nose, and these climber’s are reach­ing the top in mere hours.

The Great Roof; an icon­ic sec­tion of The Nose route

As of yes­ter­day, big wall speed climbers Alex Hon­nold and Hans Florine shat­tered the pre­vi­ous Nose In a Day (NIAD) record of 2:36:45, shav­ing almost 13 min­utes off of the pre­vi­ous time, in a mind-blow­ing 2:23:46. Who knows how much more quick­ly the NIAD can be climbed, but rest assured that a deter­mined few will con­tin­ue to try to push their lim­its in the ulti­mate test of rock climb­ing endurance. Click through to see a detailed pho­to­graph­ic report of the climb­ing teams amaz­ing accomplishment.