Hardest Free-solo You Have Ever "Accidentally" Done


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Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Mar 20, 2017 - 12:18pm PT
Mt. Whitney. My friends were doing the East Face, and I didn't have the patience for that, so I hung out at Iceberg lake 'till about three in the afternoon and then headed up the East Butt to meet them on top. I'd soloed the route before and had no concerns about route-finding.

Somewhere up there I came to the end of a rope hanging down from above. I followed the rope up out of curiosity, this is probably where I went off-route. The rope ended at an anchor of two midsize cams. Oddly the rope was tied off to the anchor (not rigged to be pulled as in a normal rappel).

I tossed the rope and clipped the cams to my chalk bag belt. Without thinking, I headed on up. I was in the zone, but suddenly realized I was in a corner, having done some climbing I did not really want to reverse. Looking up, the corner appeared to have decent finger locks so I elected to keep going. I did some climbing which I though was pretty dicey before I finally emerged onto easier terrain and topped out to meet my friends.

That was when the real business of the day began, but that's another story.

edit: Lolly that's a wild looking mountain, and a beautiful image.
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
Mar 20, 2017 - 01:49pm PT
Edith Cavell in 2009. Lost the route. Reached up and pulled down a 100kg rock. Swung out on one hand and foot placement like a door as it went by.
The rock hit the loose stuff at the bottom of the rock band I was on, and kept going.
The downclimb was worse than going up. Went to Maligne Lake after.

Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell
Credit: John Duffield

The Granite State.
Mar 20, 2017 - 02:14pm PT
Messing around at Notch Peak in UT a decade and a half ago, I inadvertently found myself on the buttress next to my buddy, who was showing me around.

The grainy crack flared, and I was left with the dilemma of how to continue living. I tossed the half consumed Pabst and very very carefully downclimbed the two hundred feet to retrieve my detritus in the ever growing darkness, two hours from a hospital.

Two years later, I decked from forty feet onto a snowbank up on Donner. When I woke up covered in snowmelt my first thought was that I should have learned my lesson out in the West Desert.

Haven't made the same mistake since.

Social climber
I'm Lolli.
Mar 20, 2017 - 04:35pm PT
Thank you, Kris. I can recommend the Pyrénées. Beautiful and wild country.

Ice climber
Mar 20, 2017 - 04:52pm PT
I was told that a route in the foothills was "casual 5.6, a good first solo".

That was accurate until you'd done the 5.6 mantle that would have been dicey to downclimb due to the sloping gravel below. Ahead was the true crux, an overhanging 5.9 OW. Thanks, man.

Occupied Territory
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 20, 2017 - 06:53pm PT
Poised on 5.7 face, carrying a worthless rope coiled around my shoulders 800' off the deck. Not Fun 4 a rookie.

This one and many others are waaaaay worse than mine. I wish I could remember the climb name and specific rating better...oh well. I DO know that if I had peeled off I would have had a fighting chance at landing in brush from about 50'...maybe death, maybe not. 800' up is for sure.

Mar 20, 2017 - 08:10pm PT
Me, Shipley and Merry were working IMAX Zion on wall street Moab when Hoover suddenly decides he wants
the camera to record Merry doing a pendulum in a Medicine man costume.

The rope had to go to and anchor some 100 feet up on a ledge.

The crack to the ledge was some horrifying off-width.

We had no cams that fit as we left them back at the motel in Moab.

I said "How we gonna get the rope up there?"

I was hoping Shipley would lead as he's crazy enough to do so.

No dice and no way Jose he said.

What do we do now?? I ask? Hoping we'd come back tomorrow with proper gear.

No way Hosay again, Hoover and Shipley said I got to do it NOW because I'm Werner Braun!!!

WTF man they're trying to kill me.!!!

They made me do this thing without pro and I was scared to death .......


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Mar 20, 2017 - 08:32pm PT
My mom told me that my four year old twin brother Bill and I were discovered forty feet above the sidewalk on unfinished brick work of an under construction movie theater in Wildwood New Jersey.

Occupied Territory
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 20, 2017 - 08:38pm PT

I would suspect that many great climbers got their start that way and at that age. :)

Apr 9, 2017 - 05:19pm PT
Long ago, a friend of mine was fidgeting around on the start of Judas at Josh. I'm sure it gets soloed all of the time, but not by me. It's really like a boulder problem. I got impatient and told him, "Give me the f'ing rope!" Next thing I know, I'm reaching for a draw to clip the bolt above the crack from a rack I did not have. LoL...


Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Apr 9, 2017 - 09:13pm PT
Adrenaline 5.11c next to Serenity.

That's such a good pitch and you never hear it mentioned.

Good on you not to fall :-) Yikes!

Hobart, Australia
Apr 10, 2017 - 12:45am PT
Great story, Werner!

Remember that time I soloed up above Reeds? That was out there. So glad to have your leg for the potential grab at the top of the second pitch of Reeds, I was not able to focus correctly that day!

Then, after dry heaving on the ledge for a few minutes from the heat exhaustion of running up the two pitches to catch up with you, I saw you traverse bouldering on the ledge, and literally the next thing I knew I was 30' above the ledge, dyno-launching full reach for a chickenhead and as I did this, the chickenhead I was on broke away. If I fell, I would have bounced off the ledge and gone for the full 200 foot coffin box whip to the ground. The memory of being there holding on with just one hand, two wheeled bicycling with my feet before I was able to swing around and match hands on the chickenhead jug (which was bigger, but thinner and more friable than the one that had snapped) remains etched in my mind, as well as looking down after I mantled up on that wafer thin chickenhead and gathering my wits for the first time, then looking down to see you shaking your head as if I was already a goner. Still was a bit dicey, crumbly holds, face climbing to get over to the third pitch of Reed's offwidth/squeeze, then to the top of Reed's Pinnacle proper, and downclimbed back to you on the ledge. Then we wordlessly began the 5.8 down climb back to your car before heading over for laps on Energy Crisis.

Blazing Buckets. Someone later put in a bolt on the first part, thinking they were doing a first ascent, and rated it 5.10c. As I have no recollection of the first bit, apparently the technical crux moves, I rated the pitch 5.9+.

Trad climber
Apr 10, 2017 - 02:56am PT
Speaking of young... or so the story goes... my mom hears me screaming in the middle of the night. She comes down stairs to find 3 year old Mikey hanging to the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard, mouth stuffed with the last of the cookies. :)

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Apr 10, 2017 - 08:35am PT
By 'accident'? Third pitch on a five-pitch 5.9 rope solo where I realized I had threaded my grigri backwards.

Trad climber
Apr 10, 2017 - 09:37am PT
So 3 friends were climbing a multi pitch route with the technique of using 2 half ropes with the followers simul climbing. Of course you need to swap ropes every time the leader changes. Jim had just finished leading pitch 4 or whatever and Steve and Jeff started simul climbing. twenty feet above the ledge Jeff says to Steve "I am tied in to both ropes. You are soloing"
So they downclimbed and Jeff passed Steve one end.

Trad climber
Apr 10, 2017 - 12:39pm PT
Herb Laeger and I are fishing back up the North Fork of the Kings above Courtwright. We get domed on both sides of the river. Herb discovers a ramp up the left dome so off we go. The ramp ended half way up the dome. We ended up soloing the rest, about 5.7 in wet hiking boots and packs on and passing the fishing poles back and forth to free each other up for the cruxes.

On another fishing trip we went up the Roaring River from the end of Kings Canyon. The traverse to enter the canyon was about 10 feet of 5.8 traversing, also in wet hiking boots, with packs and passing the fishing poles back and forth.

The worst was probably on the South Fork of the Kern. We are a couple hundred feet above the river in the middle of a cliff band. We are kind of stuck and would need to climb up another couple hundred feet to continue. Instead we 'run' across the 60 degree slab and slam into the corner on the other side hoping not to miss and fall to our deaths. If you had to climb that it would have been solid 5.10 but running 'seemed' more reasonable.

Most of my worst experiences seem to come when Herb is along.
Mike Honcho

Trad climber
Glenwood Springs, CO
Apr 10, 2017 - 12:55pm PT
Fear of Flying, 5.10 Enchanted Rock, TX.
I was 16, bouldered up a little, gave a sudden half hearted attempt to go a little higher, couldn't reverse the moves, panicked and really committed myself and puckered my way up and off. Good times!

Climber is not me, picture ripped off of MP.
Climber is not me, picture ripped off of MP.
Credit: Mike Honcho

Social climber
carmel, ca
Apr 10, 2017 - 12:59pm PT
That's such a good pitch and you never hear it mentioned.

Good on you not to fall :-) Yikes!

I had done it before, thank you Jeebus, as having some foreknowledge probably saved my life as I knew how to do the crux.

I got distracted when tying my Figure 8 and it was just the 8 with the rope pinched enough by the "8" to not fall off my harness....:(
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