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Vertical Free Solo Limit

Part One

It’s a dark day. December subdues. In the Metropolis of Wuhan a wet market runs as usual. The blood, sweat and tears flow away from doomed creatures. Nobody notices the unusual. Yet that unnamed virus travels, from a man coughing dryly, onto a woman passing by. Within days the lifeless RNA starts a local family. Weeks later (or earlier?) the thing goes to travel and starts international branches.

By March there is not a single contrail in the Lombardian skies anymore. Venice’s water is brighter than anyone remembers. Fishes have taken over while the virus seized control over the news in all Western countries. In the Benelux the talk is all about the so-called bat-virus that brings a relatively high mortality rate of 10% among the 6% infected ones under the 85-plus people. Though some centenarians may easily make it over the infection, others react differently and soon we see abnormally increased mortality numbers.

At that very moment we are on our way deep into central-Europe where our vulnerable hosts cancel last minute. The rubber on the climbing shoes in the trunk instantly realize its days are counted. We divert into the direction of the Franconian forests, where we'll soon be met with Bavarian hospitality at our trusted gasthof. Climbclimbclimb. In the meantime the Coronavirus’ exponential numbers in West-Europe kick in.

The sudden series of events sparks global confusion. We people are hardly responsive to the chronic, but react so easily on the acute. Total chaos is imminent. After the long Frankenjura weekend we drive home. On the ground March may promise mayhem, but high above our heads a high pressure zone settles strong preparing something bright and shiny like this:

Freundschaftsweg on the Napoleon rock tower, lit in the last sun and balancing high above the Wiesent river valley. First climbed by Kurt Albert in 1979.


Right! Here comes the sun.. little darling..


Part Two: the trip that wasn't

What happens shocks. It's over! Woohoow! Nothing happened. Everyone socially distances. People have common sense. 'Course! Figures no longer breathe in my neck in the grocery store, great!

Imagine this pandemic seriously got off ground. We might have seen our governments react like a loose cannon. Or our competition-loving climbing federation echo some kamikaze-macho discourse on rock climbing... saying that it's a high risk place to be on top of being a contagious one, rather than to point to the complex rescue chain that would be the real issue in my opinion. But there's too many opinions already in this period.

No numbers suggest that time spent rock climbing is above-average emergency-inducing. Yet no numbers indicate the opposite, I admit. Sure thing multipitching can transmit contagious diseases. If only we could simul free solo multipitch... Oh, erh... We can! We hesitate... then we remember Daan's magic words: "What could go wrong?"

Birds keep on singing that song! Let's kick off April.. To the Alps! The cassette with The Presidents of the USA... to the radio! *Guitars* *Sudden singing* Moving to the country, I’m gonne climb me a lot of pitches.. As we peer over the horizon which is becoming sharper each glimpse, we are struggling each with our own questions. I can see it in the grim look covering the eyes of my worried companions in the car.

Will we involuntarily recreate the LUAK logo? Would you like to learn to fly, would you like to see me try? Is it a good idea... simul free soloing? Alex Honnold got famous with soloing but do we need to? Google searches for “free solo” multiplied by a factor 50 in the period of his release, but can we really single-handedly spike up the searches for “simul free solo”?

Fastforward to granite big walls two days, one bivouac, one couch and some bakeries later. “Numbers got no soul” said John Sherman (founder of V-grading in the pic above). But they sure do warn you when you’re starting something you can’t get out of without making a fool of yourself. We’ll discover this soon in the chosen one. The obscure multipitch, estimated at 8c+, hopefully proves us to be the record breakers, the Kim Kardashian’s, of climbing. (I’ve read something yesterday about this person and the confusing world of people who do not climb.)

In the LUAK library we had found this book, “Secret climbs for badass adventurers”. The rock that it eventually has send us to seems calm though. The landscape is peaceful. Birds call from all sides. I see fields of green. The edges of the fields are not see-through anymore. Bright trees have taken over. The ground far beneath us is speckled with white flowers. You can take pictures there for your kid’s Holy Communion. Or draw a satanic pentagram if you must.

Today we are pushing our own boundaries. Pushing the boundaries has always been a principal part of rock climbing, but recently I cannot rid myself of the impression that an indoor competition spur permeates to the outdoor*, at least in the media’s offer of superlatives. Olympics here, hardest sports climb there. After some superlatives and Silence The Movie*, we are fed the ‘hardest’ free solo (Free Solo the movie) and then we are plagued again with speed record attempts of the nose.

We want to go with the hype. So that’s actually the other reason why we ventured into this simul solo operation. It's more rad than what Alex Honnold did. If one of us falls, the others fall too (take that Alex). Vertical Free Solo Limit The Movie! When in doubt, run it out... But a sudden scream of my solo’ing partner 10 meters lower might indicate it runs differently.

“Shit, I’m gonne fall”. He looks down and corrects. “I’m not gonna falllll!!!” We see a big shark cravingly holding her big mouth full of gyoto teeth open and ready to swallow today’s desserts whole. “Never trust a book from LUAK!!”

Where does that sea come from?.... BZZZZZZZZ... My alarm? Euh.. I was dreaming? .... Hmmm.... Oh,.. ahum... yes... I already found the approach through this field of apple flap pastries a little bit off... Now I remember, I am working home since our return from Franken. Hello real world. Hello climate and biodiversity disruption crisis. Nature, if you stumble, while you grabs yourself up, what you always do, maybe pick some of us up too again? Can't say you will not regret it, but...


*: KBF as a small federation has a hard task to prevent crowds despite a federal decree that already turned off the red light loosening draconic measures and allowing people to make the best of it and focus on effective measures.

*: Though rankingfetishism already was a topic in 1985, before plastic climbing, see “Le Manifeste des 19” in which French pioneers of difficult climbing averted themselves from narrowminded competition values.

*: Actually it rather is an interesting movie about Ondra pushing his own limits and own impossible, if you forget for a moment the poster’s superlative taglines.