Matt has been climbing for over 16 years, starting on the Southern Sandstone outcrops in Kent. His focus more recently has been on the indoor competition climbing scene, and he is the 2016 British Bouldering Champion, and has represented Team GB at international level. Matt is also a regular setter and sponsored athlete for The Arch.
Firstly I’d like to start by saying that I’m no Alex Honnold, Alain Robert or the more understated but equally impressive British climber, Julian Lines. However, I do happen to enjoy the same style of climbing for which these legends are known for. For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s the art of Soloing. Climbing high above the ground without the use of safety ropes, harnesses or anything else that could stop you from falling to the ground.
"I decided to write this article, as more and more frequently, I seem to be being asked the question ‘Why soloing?’"
I decided to write this article, as more and more frequently, I seem to be being asked the question ‘Why soloing?’. I completely understand that to many people, soloing seems to be a dangerous side to our sport, some people may even think it’s reckless or selfish. However, as somebody who has had some of my most memorable climbing experiences soloing, I feel I can answer that question, and shed some light on the subject.
Let’s start at the beginning; living in the South East, I’ve had the privilege of living near the Southern Sandstone crags in Tunbridge Wells. For those who’ve not climbed in the area before, it’s made of soft sandstone, too soft to use traditional gear like nuts and cams. The accepted method of climbing the routes there is on a top rope. (Although, I’m not entirely sure this was always safe anyway. Think ropes tied around peoples waists!).
Having climbed there throughout my childhood, I had done many of the classics, and was looking for a new challenge. For me, this came in the form of soloing, it allowed me to gain a new found enjoyment from some of my personal favourite climbs. So as I got older and more experienced, I adopted this minimalistic style. In the following years I soloed many of the lower grade classics, but had never attempted to try anything particularly hard or near my limit. I was happy to enjoy the freedom, soak up the atmosphere and see how soloing changed the character of the routes I knew so well.
The real turning point for me came in 2013, when I decided to take soloing to the next level. The route in question was a climb called Chimera at High Rocks, which is graded English 7a (French 8b/8b+). It’s known to be the hardest route in the South East of England. I remember seeing that it had never been soloed, and I thought that it would be a great opportunity to prove to myself that I had the technical ability and mental tenacity to solo it. Physically I was in shape and feeling strong, and was already familiar with the route, with it having been an old project of mine. The mental challenge was something I was unfamiliar with, and had never experienced on this scale before.
"During the solo ascent of Chimera, I felt an overpowering sense of heightened awareness. From the moment I left the floor, everything became so vivid and clear."
During the solo ascent of Chimera, I felt an overpowering sense of heightened awareness. From the moment I left the floor, everything became so vivid and clear. Every part of me was focused and concentrated on the movement, only being able to think about each move in the sequence. There was no room for fear, or to think about the possibility of falling. It’s almost as though my sub-conscious took over, and I was a spectator watching myself from a distance. My body and mind completely synchronised, producing primal instinctive movement. A mass of concentrated positive energy running through me producing controlled and deliberate movement.
The feeling I felt that day, and have done since, is one of the reasons I chose to solo. Many people refer to this feeling as ‘being in the zone’, being completely immersed and involved in an activity. It’s more than just a simple rush of adrenaline, it’s more complex, with multiple elements needing to fall into place to allow this state of mind to be achieved. When it does happen, it is a truly amazing sensation.
Since then, I have soloed several other challenging routes. Many have also been on Southern Sandstone, including, What Crisis? And Temptation. Some others have been on grit including Gaia E8 6c, End of the Affair E8 6c, Simba’s Pride E8 6b. All of these routes have been special to me in some way, and I feel lucky to have been able to climb them in their purest form. Gaia and End of the Affair are both routes, which I have always wanted to climb, having watched them hundreds of times in the film Hard Grit when I was younger.
So, I understand that soloing isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s a great way to embrace the mental side of climbing. That’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy competing, as that also involves both physical and mental strength. Soloing gives me a feeling of freedom that I just don’t get with other styles of climbing. All of the climbs I have soloed in the past have been significant and important to me in some way, and if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have put myself on the line. So, in conclusion, there isn’t one simple answer to the question ‘Why soloing?’, but these are the reasons why I chose to take the risk.
"So, in conclusion, there isn’t one simple answer to the question ‘Why soloing?’, but these are the reasons why I chose to take the risk."
There are still some beautiful lines out there that I look forward to soloing in the future. So wish me luck!