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The Infamous Footloose Climbing Adventure

by Emily Gindle » on Oct 21, 2010 1

I recently free soloed a rock climbing pitch on accident, in my Fivefingers. Luckily for me, Fivefingers are better for climbing than I would have thought.

If you’re not familiar with the climbing world, free soloing means climbing a rock face–one for which people would ordinarily bring a rope, protection equipment, and a partner to catch them if they fall–without any of those things. It’s extremely dangerous, even on well-known terrain, because of the many factors that can change every climbing experience: a hold breaks, some of the rock is wet, maybe you don’t make the exact same choices with your positioning on the route and suddenly you’re off. John Bachar was a famous climber, really an icon, and one who had free soloed thousands of feet of rock; he died last year falling off a route he knew very well and it’s been speculated that a freak wind burst blew up and took him off the wall. There are many different reasons that climbers decide to take on this experience, but in my opinion none of those reasons is worth dying for. That consequence has to be faced every time a climber goes up without a rope.

In my case, I had all the equipment: I had a rope slung over my back, my partner was in front of me, and we had our harnesses slung with gear. The guidebook we were using for this particular climb made it look like we were supposed to scramble on top of a big ledge to start our day. The buttress in front of us didn’t look very steep from the ground, and the alternative was to stem up a chimney (meaning to press our hands and feet against opposite walls to “walk” up a slot). Climbing in chimneys is not my strong point, so I opted for the buttress.

We crawled up the slope, for which the Fivefingers were great because you can get a lot of contact and grip with your toes. But then came a move I wasn’t expecting: it got steep in a spot where we also needed to turn a corner, and the only places left for our feet were little edges the thickness of a couple of nickels. I have always assumed that Fivefingers would fail me on this kind of climbing, because after all your toes are all spread out and none of them are individually very strong. Climbing shoes harness all your toes together so the full power of your foot can be focused on a tiny spot like these double nickel edges, and here I was, high enough to break a leg and about to depend on the strength of my big toes to hold me up. It was just as scary to back track as it was to continue, so I took a breath, set my toe on the edge, and stepped over. My toe didn’t slip or buckle; it didn’t roll off like I was expecting. My feet were strong and steady and we made it intact to the base of the real climb, where we had another, different kind of adventure in our sticky rubber shoes.

I love when my body surprises me with what it can do: when I run farther or faster, climb higher or harder than I previously thought possible. Next time I’ll definitely be using more safety precautions, and in the mean time I just hope my mother isn’t reading.


1 Comment

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