Fallen Star
July 7, 2009 12:19 AM   Subscribe

Free Solo climbing - climbing without a rope, partner or protection - is clearly the most dangerous form of rock climbing. When practiced at the highest level it demands peerless physical skill and stamina and unshakable nerves. Few climbers have ever taken soloing to the extremes that John Bachar did.

His exploits in Yosemite Valley and Joshua Tree have become campfire legends in the climbing world. His climbs captured media attention like few others.

He died on the 5th of July in a climbing fall.
posted by tim_in_oz (79 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, he died doing what he loved. I hope I die doing what I love: smoking cigarettes and eating Pop-Tarts.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:23 AM on July 7, 2009 [17 favorites]


oh dear god that gives me the willies. It's so... high.

I suppose his death--well, the manner of it--was merely a matter of time, but it's still tragic.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:34 AM on July 7, 2009


Sorry to hear that. This also makes me think of Dan Osman, another free solo climber that died young - not during a climb, though, but in a free jump accident caused by damaged ropes. The first time I watched Osman speed climb was astonishing.

Obviously all of these guys are complete adrenaline junkies and know the risks involved. I'm sure one of the last thoughts during these accidents is an acknowledgment that the inevitable finally occurred - but they can still say, yeah, you beat me this time, but I kicked your ass dozens of times.
posted by empyrean at 12:38 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


"I'm going to climb for the rest of my life" indeed. Still, 30 years of active climbing beats 60 of just surviving no doubt.
posted by @troy at 12:49 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Few climbers have ever taken soloing to the extremes that John Bachar did.

For good reason apparently. Note that WP states that he offered ten grand to anyone who could follow him for one full day back in 1981, no one took the challenge.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:56 AM on July 7, 2009


Few climbers have ever taken soloing to the extremes that John Bachar did.

Um, I'm going to have to go with Ethan Hunt and James T. Kirk. Thank you.
posted by callmejordan at 1:01 AM on July 7, 2009


I'd call it an interesting and unusual form of suicide.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:21 AM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


safety equipment, or Darwin award? hmm...tough choices.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:15 AM on July 7, 2009


I like ice climbing. It looks so easy: just kick in the crampons and swing the axes and up you go. A few minutes in, my arms were so tired that my axes bounced ineffectively off the ice as if swung by a little girl.
posted by exogenous at 3:27 AM on July 7, 2009


Not to be disrespectful of the dead, but are we really celebrating somebody who disregarded the use of safety gear, and (one would assume) inspired others to do the same? Where's the memorial post, then, for all those brave souls that died riding their motorcycles without helmets, or in traffic accidents without seat belts?
posted by jbickers at 3:30 AM on July 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


The courage of these people is just unreal, it seems they live in a different world. I stumbled into reading about these people somehow, found a book in a used book store and it just opened up from there, in particular a guy named Mark Twight is completely insane, totally driven, remarkably accomplished. Again and again he writes about having the head for it, that you cannot go out onto a face if you're not absolutely confident. Not cocky -- cocky people die fast(er) than others -- but confident. Maybe it's something different from that even. I don't know. I don't have it. But I love to read about the people who do. I find them amazing, I admire their dedication.

And now I have another person to read about -- John Bachar.

Yes, it's easy to dismiss these people as lunatics, suicides over a longer course than a razor blade. But their lives are different from ours, they spend days upon days in places in the heart that most of us find moments of scattered through-out our lives. They get into a place in their head and in their hearts and stay there, everything else falls away, it's them and the rock, the climb, the highest stakes that there are, and in that place they experience total freedom, total clarity.

I'm sorry this man died. I'm glad that he lived.

.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:31 AM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


30 years of active climbing beats 60 of just surviving no doubt.

You know, throw in some cheese with that 60, maybe a little sourdough and some Monopoly, and I think I'd take the 60.
posted by smoke at 3:46 AM on July 7, 2009 [17 favorites]


On August 13, 2006, Bachar was involved in a serious car accident while travelling home from the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City. He suffered five fractured vertebrae.

Another vote for the climbing.
posted by mediareport at 5:07 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to climb competitively. Free Soloers are the a-holes of the climbing world. Most climbers respect the skill but HATE the shadow it casts on the sport, and to some extent the danger it puts some of our climbing resources in. See, when there's a bad fall, safety committees and departments of rec like to shut things down.
posted by TomMelee at 5:09 AM on July 7, 2009 [10 favorites]


This just infuriates me. He had a child and he still risked his life for an adrenaline high. What an ass.

I read Outside magazine and over the years I noticed that every time there was an article about a free climber falling, they were almost always survived by a wife / long-time girlfriend and a couple of kids. Usually there was the suggestion that the surviving family didn't have a lot of money. So sad.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:12 AM on July 7, 2009 [18 favorites]


There's tons more fascinating info in "Being Bachar" from Rock and Ice a little while back, including details about the controversy in the 80s that isolated Bachar from other climbers and this great little story:

Around that time, Bachar came in and out of money from a wide spectrum of means, some more legal than others. A Lockheed Lodestar brimming with six tons of high-octane marijuana crashed in winter in Lower Merced Lake, high above Yosemite. The wreck, which killed the pilot and co-pilot, was known to the Feds, but they were only able to remove some of the pot before being shut down by extreme winter conditions. Word of the gold mine leaked to Camp 4 and instantly dozens of climbers, including Bachar, punched through knee-deep snow to hack 80-pound bales of weed out of the lake ice. Some climbers reportedly went back two, three, four times to load their packs with the "Airplane Weed" that fetched up to $400 a pound on the streets of L.A. and San Francisco. Reportedly, some 1,500 pounds were liberated by climbers before the Park Service caught wind of it and closed the lake. Bachar's take: A measly eight grand. Why not more? "I felt lucky to get in and out once. Everyone gets busted when they get greedy. And people were nuts out there on the ice. A friend almost hit me by swinging an axe. I said, 'Hey, watch out,' and he snapped around and said, 'Go f--- yourself.' When I got out I was stoked. I got a car and told myself not to push my luck."
posted by mediareport at 5:32 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good god he was a beautiful man. I mean if he'd been around in ancient Greece, reams of highly effusive poetry would have been penned about those blond locks and bronze thews, loftily comparing them to various improbable things - and rightly so!
posted by teresci at 5:40 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Was everything really that golden back in the 80s?

I climb a bit; it's always wonderful to watch someone really good. At least he died doing what he loved, though it's sad that he apparently loved climbing more than his wife and child.
posted by nonspecialist at 6:03 AM on July 7, 2009


Usually there was the suggestion that the surviving family didn't have a lot of money.

And it's a pretty safe bet he had no life insurance, because the people who write those policies are not into risks of that level.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:08 AM on July 7, 2009


This just infuriates me. He had a child and he still risked his life for an adrenaline high. What an ass.

This just infuriates me. He had a child and he still risked his life for an adrenaline high. What a SELFISH ass.
posted by alfanut at 6:09 AM on July 7, 2009


Well, he died doing what he loved.

Actually, he loved the climbing. The falling, probably not so much. Still,

.
posted by procrastination at 6:31 AM on July 7, 2009 [10 favorites]


Not to be disrespectful of the dead, but are we really celebrating somebody who disregarded the use of safety gear, and (one would assume) inspired others to do the same?


This something I have always wondered about. I mean, I have no problem with people who choose to free climb. It's incredibly dangerous, but I mean, that's their thing! And it's hard to imagine, watching these folks do what they do, that they could do it any other way. It seems like a true calling for some folks.

I am concerned about the kids and young adults who idolize them without the same, I must say, innate talent.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:51 AM on July 7, 2009


This just infuriates me. He had a child and he still risked his life for an adrenaline high. What a SELFISH ass.

Soul-crushing desk jobs kill fathers prematurely, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:51 AM on July 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Soul-crushing desk jobs kill fathers prematurely, too.

Riiiiiight. Because idiotic hedonistic thrill-seeking and soul-crushing desk jobs are the only two options available to people.
posted by jbickers at 7:01 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can everyone who came here to rant about selfish risk taking please fuck off? There's an open thread where you can engage in debate over questions of risk, if that's what floats your boat.

I climb, and I ride a motorcycle. If I ride a bike without a helmet (or even without gloves or long trousers) I'm being an idiot. I'm not pushing any boundaries or riding any more skillfully than I normally would. Someone might be inclined to ride without a helmet because it makes them feel good. The danger adds to the thrill. Such people are messed up, IMO. But they are free to do what they want, and they no doubt see things differently.

Free soloing is not riding without a lid. Lead climbing (where you can fall twice the distance of your last anchor point) is different from belay climbing (where you can only fall the distance since your climbing partner last paid attention). Lead climbing is therefore more dangerous. Do people do lead climbing just because they are thrill seekers? No. They do it because it's a challenge. It's a different form of the sport and, yes, it's more risky. But it's not more risky because it's belay climbing done carelessly.

Free soloing is a recognised form of climbing. Climbing with a drunk belayer is not. Both are risky, but one of them is not like the other.

.
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:02 AM on July 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


Riiiiiight. Because idiotic hedonistic thrill-seeking and soul-crushing desk jobs are the only two options available to people.

I didn't say, or imply that. I used an example at the other end of the spectrum to, you know, make a point.

BTW, what would you say about police officers, or demolition team workers, or high-steel workers with children?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:11 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


BTW, what would you say about police officers

That's what I often wonder about, the women who choose to partner with men in high risk occupations or avocations--as if there's some kind of prestige in being a young widow.
posted by Restless Day at 7:27 AM on July 7, 2009


BTW, what would you say about police officers, or demolition team workers, or high-steel workers with children?

Those are professions, not hobbies. And those professions all have best practices and tools when it comes to operating safely.
posted by jbickers at 7:34 AM on July 7, 2009


It seems that cheese platters and quiet nights of monopoly were never in the future for this man and people like him. From this video from the 1980s or so, he recognizes that a fall from 50 feet or greater is fatal, but free climbing was the natural progression for him. In his 2008 interview excerpts, he jokes about the next level being to climb naked and barefoot.

I don't believe that his wife married him or stayed with him and believed that he'd live forever. And he was the Director of Design of Acopa International LLC, a company which manufactures rock climbing shoes, so he might have planned for the future better than you imagine. Or maybe not.

That's what I often wonder about, the women who choose to partner with men in high risk occupations or avocations--as if there's some kind of prestige in being a young widow.

Seriously? You don't marry someone because they'll die, you marry them because they're alive. I'd imagine that people who are adrenaline junkies or enjoy the risks and danger could be seen as more alive, or simply a lot less dull than many other people.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:34 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gecko, untrue.

In my experience, the reason people lead versus toprope is because they want higher, more challenging, safe climbs. Static line only comes in lengths so long, and is only rated for so many KiloNewtons, AND, here's the big AND, requires non-climbing access to the top of the climb to be undertaken.

Besides that is the technical skill in placing nuts and cams, in carrying an extra 20lbs of dogbones and 'biners, in hanging by one hand as you set the gear and lace the rope.

You're right that it's not about being selfish (and yes, I've free soloed and it's surprizingly easy to lizard-stick yourself to a rock when you know falling = dying), but it's still...well, it's the ESPN of the sport, not the truest form.

It's also mostly illegal. Which is maybe another reason why people do it.
posted by TomMelee at 7:40 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow... my condolences to his family.

Seems like he had quite a talent... the thing is, even the best of us have bad stuff happen to us once in awhile. I wonder how many near misses he had over his life...
posted by ph00dz at 7:41 AM on July 7, 2009


We can admire the man for his incredible drive and his spectacular accomplishments.

We can deride the man for his willful and thoroughly selfish disregard of his familial responsibilities.

It is okay to do both, and is neither paradoxical nor contradictory. Some people focus on one, some the other. Both aspects of the man are true.
posted by Xoebe at 7:55 AM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Benny Andajetz: BTW, what would you say about police officers, or demolition team workers, or high-steel workers with children?"

I say they are preforming a necessary social function that happens, unfortunately, to come with risks and dangers. This guy isn't adding anything to society, and he's taking plenty away from himself, his family, and apparently, the climbing community.
posted by jckll at 7:57 AM on July 7, 2009


The trouble with this sort of thing is because a lot of the non-climbers out there think this is what climbing is. Every time someone dies doing something like this the public just shrugs and complains about their tax dollars mopping up the splatter. The same thing happens when some unqualified frat-boy dies of exposure trying to climb Mt. Washington (NH) in sneakers in the winter. It makes climbers look reckless and stupid.

The non-climbing public doesn’t realize that there are thousands of other climbers out their climbing safely and responsibly. Most climbers aren’t there to live on the edge or to cheat death but that’s how the public sees them because that’s what the media has made them out to be. Guys like this aren’t helping any.

A shame he left a family behind. I’m sure his wife never expected he’d live forever, but his kid didn’t have a choice in the matter.
posted by bondcliff at 8:01 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this post. Bachar seemed like a truly fascinating, level-headed and interesting guy, and it's amazing he lived as long as he did undertaking such incredible climbs. It's a shame there are a few posters who're trying their damnedest to derail the thread, but I suppose that's to be expected when you're discussing someone as extraordinary as this man clearly was.

.
posted by nonmerci at 8:14 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Back in the early 2000's I saw a great poster hanging in the office of the guide service I used. It showed 3 people scrambling up something that they shouldn't. At the top of the poster, just below the free climber that was reaching up for the hand of one of his friends it said DROP.... and then it said DROP on the ledge below that... and then it said DROP on the ledge below that... all the way to the bottom of the picture where it had the words DEAD.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:15 AM on July 7, 2009


What I find astonishing about this story is that he spent thirty years doing this extremely dangerous thing. Safely, and without killing himself. Then one slight accident, alone with no one even to see it, and that's it. Part of me wishes some people could balance on the knife edge forever.

(And for all you getting indignant for his wife and kids.. Do you know them? Are you prepared to own their emotions about their husband / father's death?)
posted by Nelson at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I don't think anything about his style seems reckless or stupid...it looks as if he's dancing up the rock-face. The grace and beauty of his musculature is nothing short of breath-taking.
posted by nonmerci at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2009


I should note before people find the poster I mention insensitive, that it was part of an anti-scrambling anti-free climbing campaign launched in Canada designed to prevent what it was depicting...
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2009


Free Soloers are the a-holes of the climbing world.

This is nonsense (everyone knows that boulderers are the a-holes of the climbing world. Or is it gym climbers?).


In my experience, the reason people lead versus toprope is because they want higher, more challenging, safe climbs.

Not necessarily "safe".

In my experience, the reason people lead is they are after a greater challenge. Often that challenge comes in the form of dealing with higher risk. Even the safest lead climbs ("sport" climbs: with closely spaced expansion bolts drilled into the stone) carry more risk than a top-rope. Some "traditional" leads are as dangerous as free solos, and, in the climbing world, these get tons of respect. Case in point, one of the most respected climbs in North America is the Bachar-Yerian (yep, John Bachar put that up), in Toulumne Meadows, California. Fall off the crux pitch and you will almost certainly be badly, badly injured if not worse. For many that climb represents a facet of the very soul of the sport, even if most of us will just walk by it and marvel.

For those of you who can't get your heads around why someone would do something so obviously risky and foolish, let me try to persuade you that it isn't so cut and dry. If I, despite 20 years of climbing a fairly middling punter, were to be free soloing anything moderately challenging, you could rightly criticize my judgement. However, a climber of Bachar's ability and talent is so unique you simply can't generalize. If you had ever seen the guy -- or any of the small number of free soloers at roughly his level -- you would see instantly that he had far more control and was probably far safer than a large majority of the weekend warriors sketching their way up sport crags "safely".

Climbing is (still) a small, strange subculture. Its greats are almost never very well known or celebrated outside the community. Bachar was one of the best in his generation.


.
posted by bumpkin at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Soul-crushing desk jobs kill fathers prematurely, too.

This is a first-world psuedo problem.
posted by kathrineg at 8:42 AM on July 7, 2009


I mean, I have no problem with people who choose to free climb.

FYI, Bachar died free soloing -- free climbing is using your hands and feet to move up the rock while protecting it as you go using cams, nuts, or clipping into the aforementioned expansion bolts in the stone. Its counterpart, aid climbing, allows (or requires) the use of that protection as a tool to make upward progress. You slot an aluminum wedge into a crack, clip your slings and rope to it, then stand up so that you can reach higher to continue.

If you fall free climbing or aid climbing, your rope (and belayer) will stop you on the last piece of protection you placed.

Free soloing uses no protection, no ropes. If you fall, you go to the ground.

It's sad that the odds finally caught up with Bachar -- he was an amazing climber. I'm sure he knew the risk of what he was doing and, while they're far greater risks that I would ever take as a climber, they were his choices to make. The effects on his wife and son aren't for us to judge, in my opinion, however tragic they may be.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2009


I don't understand why people get angry when their beliefs about the importance of longevity are challenged. Personally I would rather live a shorter, more fulfilling life and I know I'm not alone in that. I've have had a desk job for 3.5 years now and it's killing me. It's the worst thing I've ever done for my body and I know I have to quit if I want to be healthy and happy again. Some people are just lucky or brave enough to find what they love and follow it as far as they can.

As for society, it can kiss my ass. When you stop spending my tax money on bombs and sex scandals let me know and I'll consider contributing more.
posted by fshgrl at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I admire Bachar's skill and spirit, sad to hear of his death. I own a pair of Acopa climbing shoes, too.

That said, some free climbers are assholes.

Especially the one that decided to move from the route next to us to the route we were on when I was leading with a partner in the shawangunks.

If someone wants to risk their own life, have at it.

If they unilaterally decide to share that risk with me and my partner by climing above us without protection, then they are assholes.
posted by de void at 8:54 AM on July 7, 2009


More discussion fodder, from this UKC Forums thread: Very sad. Seems crazy to have done the things he's done and fall somewhere as innocuous as Dike Wall. If someone came along today and claimed to have soloed half of the things that he'd done they'd be dismissed as a fantasist.

In this 2008 interview, he talks of not wanting to plant unnatural things into the rocks, and to leave the way open for people to come along later, partially in an environmental point of view, partially for future climbers.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:55 AM on July 7, 2009


everyone knows that boulderers are the a-holes of the climbing world. Or is it gym climbers?

Last time around we mostly agreed that the dude who climbed Delicate Arch is an asshole. Looks like the jury's still out on free soloing.

My opinion is as long as they don't fall on me or get my climbing areas closed by dying, they can do what they want. I wouldn't want anyone I cared about personally to do it, though.
posted by echo target at 9:04 AM on July 7, 2009


Andrew Todhunter's book Fall of the Phantom Lord, about the climber described in empyrean's comment above (third comment in the thread), wrestles with the ethics of taking these kinds of risks.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 9:17 AM on July 7, 2009


Kudos to the man for doing what he loved, but I can't help but thinking there is no other fate for men like him and Dan Osman, eventually the law of averages is going to come along and take you out. For someone like Bachar to get back up on the mountain with his back problems is amazing.
posted by daHIFI at 9:22 AM on July 7, 2009


but they can still say, yeah, you beat me this time, but I kicked your ass dozens of times.

You know, I doubt the mountain ever even noticed the dozens of times it had it's 'ass kicked'. I guarantee this guy noticed when his was, tho.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bachar was a legend. Very sad.
posted by alpinist at 9:37 AM on July 7, 2009


I doubt the mountain ever even noticed the dozens of times it had it's 'ass kicked'.

Speaking as an occasional climber, it's funny how much we anthropomorphize the landscape. The mountain, of course, does not give a shit whether we climb it or not. Giving shits is just not part of what mountains do. Their utter indifference is actually part of their charm. And ascribing 'indifference' to a mountain is just more anthropomorphizing. See how deep it runs?
posted by echo target at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few years ago, at a showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, I caught a clip of Front Range Freaks, specifically documentary\tribute to Derek Hersey, another legendary free solo climber who died a few years ago while climbing in Yosemite. The film was a nice balance of honoring Hersey's devotion to the sport while also acknowledging that he was quite the man apart from his peers. In contrast to all of these irresponsible fathers that are provoking folks into rending their hair and beating their chests, Hersey lived an almost monkish life solely focused around climbing. No family, no kids, no distractions. For folks who are intrigued by the psychology of free solo climbers, the film is worth hunting down (or petitioning to be included in the Netflix catalog)
posted by bl1nk at 10:05 AM on July 7, 2009


some free climbers are assholes

Just to be pedantic, free-soloing is climbing without protection; free climbing is any climbing that doesn't involve the use of protection as a means of upward progress. Free climbing includes sport climbing, trad climbing, bouldering, free soloing, and basically anything other than aid climbing.

That said, some free climbers are assholes.
posted by Dr. Send at 10:10 AM on July 7, 2009


Well, he died doing what he loved. I hope I die doing what I love: smoking cigarettes and eating Pop-Tarts.

You're doing it wrong: smoke the Pop-Tarts, eat the cigarettes, and you'll surely accomplish your goal!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2009


It's one thing to do something like free solo climbing if you have no responsibilities. When you have a kid it's time leave behind such selfish pursuits.
posted by deborah at 11:27 AM on July 7, 2009


If that's the case, then it's also time to leave behind such foolish notions as divorce, driving in traffic, and eating fatty foods.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:31 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


As a climber myself, I reject absolutely the label "adrenaline junkie". That really has nothing to do with climbing. The elemental thing about it is this: Climbing requires a conscious choice regarding risk, at every moment. Most of us wallow through life with no awareness of the dangers to which we subject ourselves. Any risk averse desk jockey can get in his car and drive 3 blocks to 7/11 for a Slurpee. If he gets taken out by a drunk driver, it's sad, but we don't count the victims contribution by simply driving around. We don't assess the victims skill behind the wheel. We don't question driving around.

Firemen, police, soldiers and others frequently speak of the high associated with the risks of their jobs. They can have their pleasure without critique because their risk/reward choice is simply useful to the rest of us. That's bullshit.

Most of modern life is completely arbitrary and absurd. Maybe 10% of the population does something actually useful to survival. The rest is consumerism and self-entertainment.

Climbing puts it in your face because it is totally useless. No fans, no media, no money, no utility. Simply a human being moving over the surface of the earth, because he or she wants to. Being a human, fully.

Bachar was one of the great ones. I miss him already.

Here's what he meant to his people
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:31 AM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


I write too slow for the internets.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:33 AM on July 7, 2009


Dammit, why does MeFi have to press "Post" if my cursor gets outside the textbox?

To continue, kids lose parents to death all the time. Most of them seem to grow up just fine regardless. It's a bloody shame that Bacher's kids are without a dad now, but they'll survive it. Life is full of tough emotional shit; asking someone to give up their passion and livelihood and happiness is a helluva lot to ask. Bacher without free-solo would have been as happy as a chicken in a factory farm: unhealthy and miserable.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:34 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is currently a SuperTopo thread in which people who knew Bachar are sharing pictures and stories about the man they often referred to obliquely (and fondly) as "a certain shoe salesman".

The man's spirit lives on in a new generation of bold free climbers and soloists, such as Alex Honnold, who has free soloed both Yosemite Valley testpieces Astroman and The North Face of The Rostrum in the same day, Moonlight Buttress, and The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome.
posted by strangecargo at 11:43 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am not a climber, and although I think it's very cool, have no desire to be. I am a writer, though. I no longer write for publication, but I write all the time, even since I started having kids eight years ago. For me, it's just a piece of who I am, and if too much time goes by and I don't do any, I get to a point where I pretty much can't do anything else until I sit down and meet that need by writing for a couple of hours.

It's easy to say that someone else's passion is something they should give up once they have kids. But for someone as gifted as this guy, it's easy for me to imagine that it's a central to him as writing is to me.

And, you know, I do feel for his son. My fear of dying before I've finished raising my kids is greater even than my fear of losing one of them. But that's the family his son was born into, and he couldn't have been born into any other one--that's just the story of his life. He got an early, hard piece of the kind of grief that comes to everyone; I hope he and his mother will care for each other as they should, and come through OK. One thing that will help them do that is if they get more compassion than judgment in the days to come.
posted by not that girl at 11:46 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


"At least he died doing what he loved, though it's sad that he apparently loved climbing more than his wife and child."

This is just crazy. About three dozen people die skiing every year in the states (and way more than that driving back and forth to the slopes; we were at least 0:6 at the hill I worked at last year). Thousands experience medically significant injuries (mostly ACL). There are about 2.5 medically significant injuries per 1,000 skier visits. Yet you rarely hear rants on the recklessness of skiers. Do all those people love skiing more than their kids? Heck people even take their kids as young as three out with them.
posted by Mitheral at 12:39 PM on July 7, 2009


For me, climbing was never about adrenaline so much as it was pure physical challenge. I mean, when I was 15 I was aussie-style rappelling down some pretty big faces on 8mil accessory cord. It wasn't scary (of course, at 15..what is?) but my point is that I learned to trust my rope early, and so there wasn't any more "fear" in it than in a full contact soccer game or a deepwoods solo hike. You learn your knots, you keep track and care of your gear, you learn how to set self equalizing anchors and you keep your gates opposed, and you do just fine.

Interestingly though, I never cared for bouldering. Big dyno contests were fun, finding new routes was fun, as was chalking routes that nobody could possibly ever climb, just to watch new people walk up and go "wow, someone climbed that?!"

I think it's sort of human nature to see something tall and say "I wanna be on top of that." And I think it's a lot of guys nature to pee off it when we get there. "Hey this is a big rock", and you climb it...because, well, it's there.

Interestingly though, when I was in the Alps, I intentionally did not go along the crazy-edge-route to the pinnacle like my friend. In that case, I was like some of the Japanese Everest Climbers who intentionally stop short of the peak. It's not about dominating nature...it's about being in it, with it, and getting there.
posted by TomMelee at 1:03 PM on July 7, 2009


It's also mostly illegal. Which is maybe another reason why people do it.

Really? I'd be very surprised if that were true, down there in the "land of the free." It's not unlawful up here in Canada.

I'm a former climber, and one who really liked free-soloing from time to time. I came to it because I hated trusting belayers whose attention would wander like an Australian on walkabout as soon as a pretty girl walked by the base of the climb. If I was climbing without any useful protection anyway, why not forego the extra 30 pounds of gear and just climb free?

I would set limits... only soloing climbs that were rated two to three grades easier than the climbs I was comfortable with while roped. Even then I would only solo them if I had climbed them on rope first, both up and down. And yet, it still felt like a new climb the first time up without the rope. But as someone said earlier... keeping your cool, and focusing on the climb, allows you to stick like a gecko when you know there's no rope.
posted by Snowflake at 3:23 PM on July 7, 2009


From strangecargo's link to Alex Honnold's interview: Some say that free soloists have a death wish. What do you think of this assessment?
Well I haven't died yet. I definitely agree with the Dan Osman quote: "You don't wanna die right? So you just don't fall." And I've often said things to the same effect. "It's no big deal because you won't fall." I would rather not die. But I know I will eventually, and I might as well live fully until then.
Some people wish to live fully while they can. Others are happy to keep on living. I wish I was in the former, but I'm more of the latter.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


The death rate among these guys is astronomical. Not for the long-lived.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:37 PM on July 7, 2009


.
Free soloists are the only real artists left.
posted by humanfont at 3:59 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Especially if you lay out a big ol' canvas below their route. It might take years, but you'll eventually end up with something reminiscent of a Jackson Pollack.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:27 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why are so many me-fites so self-righteous? Give the guy a break. Nobody ever says damn that Marine, he joined the Marines knowing he could go to war and die and had a kid. How dare him/her! Or astronauts, or fishermen, or oil workers, etc. etc. Get over yeselves, really.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:05 PM on July 7, 2009


Nobody ever says damn that Marine, he joined the Marines knowing he could go to war and die and had a kid. How dare him/her! Or astronauts, or fishermen, or oil workers, etc. etc.

Every single one of those occupations has a reason to exist besides "I like tempting the Grim Reaper."
posted by darksasami at 5:24 PM on July 7, 2009


It's not about tempting the Grim Reaper. It's about taking pleasure in living life. For those who find that hard to understand, I promise not to laugh when you decide it's safer to cross the street wearing a helmet.
posted by exogenous at 5:34 PM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


And so does climbing, free solo or otherwise. Obviously that won't stop the self-righteous among us from judging, I know of plenty of members of military that signed up for the "adventure", whatever the hell that means.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:35 PM on July 7, 2009


On a human acheievement and athletic level, I marvel at these guys. It almost looks like CGI, like no human could--or would want to--do such a crazy feat.

I hate to piss on a dead man, but...his son. His son. The man was a) married and b) had a son. Taking those kinds of risks is fundamentally different is you're a single man, and it's one thing to gamble with your life then, but when you have children, IMHO, I think that should change.

I'm biased, though. My son was born three months ago and seeing this kind of thing just makes me realize just how damaging that kind of gamble can be if you lose.
posted by zardoz at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2009


Why are so many me-fites so self-righteous?

Cause it's so fucking *easy*.
posted by mediareport at 6:09 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


You can take pleasure in life without orphaning your child. It's not a choice between dull life chained to a desk watching your dreams die OR Free Solo climbing.
posted by kathrineg at 6:13 PM on July 7, 2009


The man was a) married

No he wasn't. If you read the links, he and Brenda separated in 1990, and there's nothing I've seen about another marriage. And we don't have a clue why he ended up with custody, or how much he prepared Tyrus for this eventuality. We can debate if that's even possible (I still don't know how old Tyrus is - do you?), but dismissing a man's life work as "selfish pursuits" from your armchair in front of a computer screen is absurdly despicable behavior. Even for the internet.
posted by mediareport at 6:21 PM on July 7, 2009


Btw, Tyrus has apparently been posting in that thread at SuperTopo. Summary here.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, I missed the bit in the Rock and Ice article that says Tyrus was born in 1996, which makes him 12 or 13.
posted by mediareport at 6:31 PM on July 7, 2009


You can take pleasure in life without orphaning your child. It's not a choice between dull life chained to a desk watching your dreams die OR Free Solo climbing.

I don't think anybody has said that.

Nine years ago, my wife and I had my first, and only, son. Two weeks before he was born, my wife said, " I want you to sell your motorcycle, and quit riding." I was 40 years old, had ridden my whole life, and loved my bike. I was a good rider and always, winter and summer, wore long pants, full helmet, boots and gloves. I didn't see the risk like my wife did, but I complied and haven't ridden since.

I loved riding my bike, but it wasn't my passion. I have friends, on the other hand, who would shrivel up and die if they couldn't ride. Their bikes are their paint brushes, their musical instruments, the way they express themselves and interact with the world. Riding a bike carries an inherent risk, but they are not reckless and they certainly don't want to die - but if they had to pick the way they'd die, I guarantee it would be riding their bikes.

If you don't chase your passion, what's the point?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


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