looking into the space below

Today you’re going to read about free solo climbing the Tenaya Peak in Yosemite National Park.

(In fact)

This article is going to give you a first hand perspective, bases off the author’s actual experience free soloing one of the Tuolumne Meadows’ most famous peaks.

Enjoy!

What’s Free Solo Rock Climbing All About?

“Free solo rock climbing, also known as ‘soloing’, is a form of free climbing and solo climbing where the climber performs alone and without using any ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment, relying entirely on his or her ability instead.”

Many people are fascinated by the rock climbing world. The less you know, the more dangerous it can appear.

Free soloists were a rare breed in the early days of the sport; often described as insane, daredevils or just plain reckless.

Of course you still get some people displaying those characteristics within the community now, as you would with any, but for the most part rock climbing now is extremely safe.

The risks are very low, however the consequences can be high, which is what creates a perceived risk or a sense of danger that’s not really there.

Climbers are always looking to challenge themselves. They are trying to push their personal climbing grade higher, set routes previously unknown and in general elevate the sport.

Rock Climbing Without the Rope: Are You Nuts?! 

Free solo rock climbing is an entirely different ball game. And with Alex Honnold making history being the first to free solo El Capitan – arguably the most famous rock face on earth– it has brought new light to this subculture of climbing. 

As mentioned at the beginning, free soloing is climbing without a rope, harness or protective equipment.

Just you and the rock. There is absolutely zero margin for error as you rely entirely on your ability and skill.

For more on Alex Honnold and free soloing see: “The Dawn Wall vs Free Solo: Which Film Is Better? [Hint ~ It’s Not Free Solo]

When it comes to free solo rock climbing, the very fundamentals of the sport have been altered, therefore the way in which you approach the climb must be too.

Rather than pushing yourself to the brink of your physical ability, you need to be operating within the 3-6 /10 level. Each move needs to be thought out and you need to be 100% sure of it. There are no chances.

climber reading the topo

This is how the risks are somewhat mitigated. 

The issue with working at a less challenging level is when you become complacent. Interestingly, many free solo climbers have had mistakes with serious consequences on climbs in which they have done hundreds of times before.

Like when you’re not paying attention walking through your house and stub your toe on the counter that has always been there.

Free Soloing and “The Flow State”

“I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me the crucial question is not how to climb without fear-that’s impossible- but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings.”  – Alex Honnold 

The mentality in which you need to be in is often referred to as ‘flow state’. This is your cruise control. Your Mr Miyagi, musuo mode, zenned out warrior focus.

You are fully within your ability level whilst giving each move your full focus and attention. A deviation in that can be fatal. 

Looking for some inspiration for the rest days? Here’s a list of resources to keep any adventurer busy inside!

My Experience Free Solo Climbing Yosemite Valley Tenaya Peak

climber after finishing his free solo

I entered this world by free soloing the slab face of Mt. Tenaya, Yosemite National Park (10,209 ft / 3111m), with the all round mountain badass, my girlfriend Fran (@frangarlick – check her out, she does cool stuff).

This climb was done in preparation for running Mattes Crest, a famous ridge line in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park.

tenaya peak topo
Tenaya Peak, Source: Mountain Project

The climb itself is a fairly cruisey grade, which is what you want when you’re going rope-less.

The difficulty here lays within the exposure.

Most people can haul themselves out of a swimming pool. But can you do that exact same manoeuvre on the edge of a 100m drop?

The physical demands of the move have not changed at all, the difference here is knowing what’s under you (or not under you), and knowing the consequences of failure.

It is an entirely mental battle.

For the record, we did take a rope with us. We brought it along as a backup. As mentioned, this was my first time attempting something like this.

If I was to freak out majorly and decide soloing wasn’t for me, Fran would be able to set the rope up and create a belay in order to finish the climb.

That was one way of removing some risk. I was pleased to know it was there, but also excited to attempt without.

Game Time!

climbing reading topo while free soloing

We started with a hike in and a gradual gradient increase. Switch-backs were no longer necessary as we moved higher, it was now about going straight up.

Time to change from hiking shoes to climbing shoes for that extra bit of grip. 

We continued whilst scanning the rock for any imperfections in order to place a toe. Each move had to be made with the precision of a neurosurgeon.

If you’re looking to find climbers, head on over to our FB GROUP and drop a post with your dates!

Fingers squeezed tightly on the pinches, moving one foot at a time. Points of contact had to be maximised.

I was moving well until my left foot carelessly slipped out from under me.

Fortunately, I was in a good enough position with my hands and right foot that I didn’t go anywhere. I had a brief episode of cardiac arrest.

looking out over the lake

My life did not flash before my eyes, which I was somewhat disappointed by. I was still here, clinging on. 

I reminded myself of something an old climbing partner used to joke in these instances, “Are you a climber or a faller?’” he would say.

It’s cheesy, but actually good advice on where to focus. I took some deep breaths, got back into my flow state and continued.

We moved at a snail’s pace up the slab. Tiny little baby steps, making use of every minute imperfection and outcrop of rock from the face.

We kept going until things got a bit more vertical. About 50m from the top was a technical section that involved some jamming and layback action.

woman looking over water

It was also next to a corner that opened out to a steep drop, a reminder of where we were.

The climbing was easily within my ability. The difficulty was trying not to think about what might happen if I was to slip right now. 

The most exposed section was out the way.

Next was a traverse across a ledge and then some boulder problems until the peak. T

his was the perfect spot to take in the views of Tenaya Lake, as well as looking over to the back of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. 

Peaking

climber durring a free solo

Every peak bagged comes with a huge sense of achievement, which is increased with each step, hour or hardship endured to reach the top.

Overcoming the fear and conquering the mental challenges brought on by climbing mountains, in any form or size, is a huge accomplishment.

If you’re looking to find climbers, head on over to our FB GROUP and drop a post with your dates!

And after jotting our names in the guest book, we were on our way down and thinking about the next one.

If you were interested in joining me on an expedition to some bucket list mountains such as Mt. Kilimanjaro, then follow this link for details and sign up!

For further reading see: “Absolutely everything you need to know to Climb Squamish [NEW]” and “Rock Climbing Auckland: Deciphering The Best Climbing Auckland Has To Offer“.

Published by Chris Whittaker

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