Four Bold Free-Solos of Canadian Rock Climbs
Bold climbs on The Chief, Smoke Bluffs, Saddleback Mountain and Yamnuska over the past few decades
Free-soloing is one of the oldest forms of rock climbing, but it’s best left to the most experienced climbers. In Canada, there’s been bold solos in every range and at crags from coast to coast to coast.
From free-solos of huge alpine climbs to sketchy ice/mixed routes over the years, there’s no shortage of memorable climbs. This list is about four memorable free-solos of pure rock routes in B.C. and Alberta.
In 2014, Alex Honnold made the first-ever free-solo of the eight-pitch University Wall 5.12 on The Chief. Honnold finished the climb in less than two hours. It’s one of the boldest free-solos ever done in Squamish. During the same trip, Honnold soloed 290 pitches on his 29th birthday.
“I climbed the U Wall on my first trip to Squamish something like eight years ago,” Honnold said after his solo. “It’s always represented that burly crack climbing style to me. It’s like the hardman version of Astroman. I’d wanted to solo it other seasons in Squamish, but it’s often wet so I’d never had the opportunity. This year I had good conditions and actually felt up to it.”
Nearly a decade ago, Will Stanhope made the first free-solo of Zombie Roof 5.12d/13a in Squamish.
In fall 1976, a handful of Canadians were in Yosemite. It was the start of the free-climbing revolution led by climbers like Jim Bridwell, Dale Bard, Ron Kauk and John Bachar. Kauk’s route Separate Reality 5.12 would be the inspiratoin Peter Croft needed to search for a roof crack back home in Squamish.
In this video, Perry Beckham and Stanhope explain the history behind Croft’s first ascent of Zombie Roof and the process behind Will completing the first free-solo of the route.
Geoff Powter’s free-solo of CMC Wall, a classic 310-metre 5.11b/c up one of the steepest walls on Yamnuska, stands as one of the boldest free-solos in Rockies history. The rock is frail, slick and the moves are very exposed. Every pitch is stout.
There’s a lot of mind control going on when hanging off Rockies limestone without a rope. Something Powter is good at. His book Strange and Dangerous Dreams is an examination of the blurry mental line between madness and adventure.
Also in the Rockies, Powter free-soloed the 140-metre Paper Chase 5.11 at Guides Rock and the 600-metre Sisyphus Summit 5.10d on Ha Ling (four times), not to mention he’s established countless new routes.
He was part of at least 13 expeditions to the Himalayas, including many notable first ascents such as a new route on the North Peak of Manaslu. He spent 13 years as editor the Canadian Alpine Journal.
Screams from the Balcony
In 2016, Marc-Andre Leclerc onsight free-soloed Screams from the Balcony, a five-pitch 5.11, at Saddleback near Lake Louise. Photographer John Price was there to capture Leclerc’s climb.
After his climb of Screams from the Balcony, Leclerc made his way to Back of the Lake for an onsight free-solo of Wicked Gravity 5.11.
In 2016 and 2017, Leclerc onsight free-soloed dozens of big routes in the Rockies, including Tall Storey, an eight-pitch 5.11c, in Echo Canyon; and Pinko, a 10-pitch 5.10 on Rim Wall. One of his biggest links was soloing EEOR’s Tail, a steep and loose 360-metre 5.10, and Cheesmond Express, a 600-metre 5.10 with very loose sections, in three hours and 25 minutes car-to-car.
His Rockies solos include the Emperor Face on Mount Robson, three routes on the Stanley Headwall in a day, Hydrophobia in the Ghost and many more. But that’s for another story.