A Look Inside the Beautiful Tranquility of Free Soloing

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Free soloing is a beautiful dance. It is precision, rhythm and herculean control—unencumbered.

It’s a test of endurance: multiple pitches, sometimes over multiple hours, with finite rest. Relaxing your muscles could kill you. In fact, any number of things could kill you.

While soloing (climbing without ropes) is not as devil-may-care as it appears—climbers study and prep for routes extensively—soloists can (and do) fall to their deaths. According to a 2010 study by researchers at Klinikum Bamberg in Germany, climbing generally has lower injury and fatality rates than both basketball and soccer. Injuries, when they do occur, are even rated as less severe.

Perusing the annals of prominent free soloists, however, there are two numbers that leap out at you: the death rate (alarmingly high) and average lifespan (tragically short). Free soloing,…

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