It’s freeing not being accountable to anyone. I experience this in so many different parts of my life, and because of it I am able to drift in and out of situations when I want. There are hardly situations where I feel completely trapped. When it comes to work, I’ve made a career of being an independent contractor. When it comes to life, I’m single because I am able to dedicate all of my time to my selfish aspirations. And sometimes, when I’m climbing I go solo to the drum of my own beat.
I started my adventures into the outdoors the same way many do–with a group. Being much younger and strangely ambitious I soon found myself walking alone much further along the trail than my companions. It was more of an exercise circuit than an actual hike. I enjoyed the solace, but was spending more time waiting for people at the top than hiking. I started trailing running and incorporating another peak into those mornings, and would keep running until I found the group, and then I’d hike back up and then down with them.
I liked peak bagging, and because my schedule allowed for me to spend time blazing trails on weekdays it was hard to find people to hike with. In all that time solo hiking I was able to cultivate my own trail sense, and push my pace and fitness level in a way that I could only do alone.
When I started climbing I never had any goals in mind, I just wanted to be self-sustaining and efficient with rope systems. I wanted to be a climber. I wanted to be able to take a rope and gear and lead expeditions. That required partners. It was one of the first things I took up that required me to leave my isolated bubble and seek out others.
I started climbing a lot, and it became a task to line up multiple partners for everyday of the week. It also started to feel like a lot of work to go out and rope climb at my local crags in San Diego, so I started running out there on my free time and climbing the routes that I had dialed without a rope. I started to establish mastery in my own mind up to a certain grade, and then started to onsight solo, which is to climb routes I’d never climbed before. It is the most liberating practice in my life.
Sometimes I wake up at 4am and can’t go back to sleep, and I’ll just hop in the car and drive two hours to Tahquitz in Idyllwild and climb thirty pitches by 11am. I’ll get back in my car and drive back to San Diego and get a burrito, throw a swim suit and fins in the trunk and drive to Ocean Beach for a body surf session.
When it comes to big long moderate alpine routes exposure and logistics become such a hassle that it just makes sense to me to just go for it alone sometimes. These are huge adventure routes and often the technical climbing is forced. When I was climbing the East Buttress of Mount Whitney I kept thinking that it would be so much better to experience without a rope.
I free solo because it’s who I am. I sprint hiking trails, and now I sprint long moderate routes. I’m a touchy person, and I’m difficult sometimes, and it is so nice not having to worry about my conduct around others. It’s nice when I lose patience with the only person that I can control–myself. I dance with myself, and I adapt to situations in a way only I can.
And I don’t fall.