September 24, 2023
Explore the history, risk and rewards, and famous climbers of free soloing El Capitan. Learn about the few who have accomplished such a feat and the challenges they faced, as well as the risks and rewards associated with free soloing. Understand the psychology behind such an extreme sport and analyze the trends and future predictions for El Capitan.


Free soloing, a form of rock climbing where the climber scales the wall without the aid of any ropes or protective equipment, is a feat that requires immense skill, strength, and mental fortitude. Few things embody the spirit of climbing more than a person free soloing a massive rock face like El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. In this article, we explore the history of free soloing El Capitan, the risk and rewards of such an extreme sport, and the famous climbers who have taken on this monumental challenge.

Free Soloing El Capitan: A Brief Overview of the History & Statistics

Free soloing is a subcategory of rock climbing where climbers climb without any rope or protective equipment. Climbers rely solely on their physical ability and mental strength to make it to the top of the climb. Free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is the epitome of the sport, as it is one of the most technical and physically demanding climbs in the world.

Over the years, the number of individuals who have attempted El Capitan without the aid of protective equipment has been limited. In total, only 15 people have achieved the feat of free soloing El Capitan.

The first person to perform a free solo on El Capitan was John Bachar in 1981, who did so on the neighboring 600-foot climb called the “Rostrum.” However, it wasn’t until 1993 when Derek Hersey free-soloed the “Nose” route making into into the history books.

Since then, the number of successful free-solo attempts has been limited, and the few climbers who managed the feat have received admiration and respect from the climbing community worldwide.

The “Nose,” “Freerider,” and “Salathé Wall” routes have been the main focus for free soloists with degree of difficulty ranging from 5.12c to 5.13b.

Pushing the Limits: Stories of the Few Who Have Free Soloed El Capitan

Free soloing El Capitan is a significant achievement, and the stories of some of the climbers who have accomplished this feat are awe-inspiring. One such climber is Alex Honnold, who free soloed the 3,000-foot “Freerider” route in 2017.

Honnold’s climb took him four hours to complete, with what he called “two particularly hard sections.” One of those sections is a crack known as “The Boulder Problem,” which is considered the crux of the climb.

Earlier, in 2015, Dean Potter, an accomplished climber and a base jumper, became the first person to free solo the lower section of the “Freerider” route. Potter accomplished the feat in one hour and 5 minutes.

Potter climbed “The Monster Off-Width,” a section of the climb that is too wide to fit a person, and uniquely known as an Off-Width. Potter shared his exhilaration about the climb on his Facebook page: “I soloed the FreeBASE route on the Leaning Tower and have felt that I must free-solo El Capitan to have the full experience of extreme soloing on the largest wall in America.”

The Risks & Rewards of Free Soloing El Capitan: Numbers & Insights

Free soloing El Capitan is an incredibly risky endeavor, as the climber is relying solely on their physical ability and mental strength to make it through the climb. However, for some, the risk is worth the reward, as the feeling of accomplishment is unmatched.

The risk associated with free soloing is massive, and the number of fatalities from the sport is high. The possibility of slipping or losing balance due to sudden gust of wind, equipment malfunction or unnoticed small rock break, can lead to severe injury or death. According to a study published in the Journal of Wilderness Medicine, out of 4,447 climbing accidents reported between 1998 and 2012, 64 were related to free-soloing, and the fatality rate was around 30%.

Despite these harrowing statistics, for some climbers, the reward of the climb outweighs the potential risks involved. Climbers report feeling a range of emotions after completing a free solo climb, including euphoria, gratitude, and relief.

From Honnold to Potter: A Look at the Free Soloists Who Conquered El Capitan

Alex Honnold and Dean Potter are two of the most famous free soloists who have conquered El Capitan. Honnold, a California native, began climbing when he was just 10 years old. His free solo of the “Freerider” route in 2017 catapulted him into the mainstream, with his story receiving extensive coverage in the media.

Potter, on the other hand, was known for his extreme adventure sports and was a well-known name in the climbing community. Potter was a free spirit who liked to push the boundaries of what was possible in climbing and other outdoor sports.

Both Honnold and Potter had a unique approach to climbing, with an emphasis on free soloing. However, their methods differed, with Honnold relying on meticulous planning and preparation, while Potter was more spontaneous in his approach.

The Evolution of Free Soloing El Capitan: Trends & Future Predictions

Over the years, free soloing has evolved and changed significantly. With advances in climbing equipment and safety standards, free soloing is becoming less common. However, as long as there are climbers looking for a challenge, free soloing will always be around.

At present, El Capitan is facing new experiments in climbing. The latest innovation, drone-assisted rope-free climbing, has been witnessed recently, where a Russian climber, Alexey Pastukhov, flies his drone up to 150m and uses a monitoring device to climb the ‘Salathé Wall’ using a special hanging apparatus. However, there is no evidence yet of any such attempts on El Capitan.

Although the future of free soloing El Capitan is unknown, it is likely that the sport will continue to evolve in new and exciting ways in the coming years.

Exploring the Mindset of Free Soloists: Interviews With El Capitan Climbers

Free soloing El Capitan takes courage, strength, and a unique mindset. Interviews with some of the climbers who have accomplished this feat provide insights into the psychological and emotional factors fueling such climbers.

A climber who is well known for free soloing El Capitan, Peter Croft, shared his feelings about free soloing in an interview with Outside Magazine, saying, “One thing that has always drawn me to soloing is the sense of peace. In the absence of a partner to talk to or worry about, it’s just me and the rock and my thoughts.”

Other climbers shared similar sentiments, with many saying that free soloing is a way of connecting with nature and a sense of self that is hard to achieve through other methods.


Free soloing El Capitan is an extraordinary feat that requires exceptional skill, strength, and mental fortitude. Despite the danger associated with the sport, climbers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. The stories of climbers like Honnold and Potter are awe-inspiring, and their accomplishments have brought renewed attention to the world of free soloing. As long as there are climbers looking for a challenge, free soloing El Capitan will remain an iconic achievement in the climbing community.

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