FREE SOLO CLIMBING

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According to Wikipedia, free solo climbing, also known as free soloing, is a form of free climbing where the climber (the free soloist) forgoes ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending, and relies only on his or her physical strength and climbing ability. Free solo climbing should not be confused with general free climbing, in which gear is typically used for safety in case of a fall, but not to assist the climb.

So why is free solo climbing so popular? Reasons for free soloing given by high-profile climbers include the simplicity and speed with which one can climb, for example Alex Honnold’s two hours and fifty minute ascent of the 2,224-foot (678 m) Regular Northwest Face route on Yosemite’s Half Dome, a route normally demanding multiple days with ropes and safety harnesses. Other reasons given are the intense concentration required and the adrenaline rush. The practice is mostly confined to routes familiar to the climber, whose difficulty lies well within the climber’s abilities. However, inherent risks such as loose rocks are always present. Some high-profile climbers have died while free soloing.

Well, guess what? We recently met up with a climber who has taken some of the risk out of free solo climbing. Even though there aren’t a lot of places in the 573 where you can free solo climb, there’s one place gaining popularity in the sport. Meet Mitch Johnson and his spotter Chelsea Dale.

I’m Mitch Johnson. I enjoy anything outdoors. I spend my weekend picking ticks off my legs, tuning up my mountain bike and planning the next weekends adventure. I stay as healthy as possible by eating a clean nutritional diet. I coach at Parkland Crossfit several days a week. Staying fit is conducive to my lifestyle where rock climbing, trail running, mountain biking and kayaking all take up most of my free time outside spending time with my kids.

I got into climbing through my friend when I lived in South Carolina. We would spend the weekends in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains climbing. There is a lot to learn as far as being safe and what equipment to have and how to utilize it. Brandon, my friend,spent a lot of time with me to show me the ropes. Since I have moved back to Missouri, we plan climbing trips out West every year.

My job as Union Ironworker has helped fund my lifestyle. I enjoy working hard and using the skills I learn as a climber to give me an advantage in the work place. My job puts me at heights and in some positions that are only comparable to climbing. It also has worked the other way giving me an early edge in climbing where heights are just part of a daily life.

There are several different types of climbing. All have their inherent risks. There are safety measures used for most, with the exception of free style or free solo. Most climbing uses a rope tethered to the climber and hand fed through a safety device called a belay device by a partner appropriately named the belayer. Free solo is basically just going up the rock face with no harness or safety rope used. This style is not recommended for novices or even the experienced. The cool thing about the Offsets is that I was able to free solo with the safety of the water below and it’s only tens bucks to get in.

Climbing at the Offsets was better than I had anticipated. The rock doesn’t see much traffic, so it has a lot of vegetation growth and can be difficult to grab in some areas. In some places the rock is even loose and tends to fall off so a helmet is recommended if you are climbing with others. There are no established routes, but I think there is definitely potential for some. All in all it’s a pretty good free solo climb.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW DIGITAL EDITION WITH PHOTO SPREAD AND VIDEO. (July 2014 ISSUE)

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