Solo, Part III: Guy Lacelle

Posted on: July 9, 2008

Guy Lacelle died in an avalanche on December 10, 2009. Find Alpinist's video tribute to Guy in the December 23, 2009 Feature.

Soloing is often described as the most pure and dangerous form of climbing. For all of us, testing the limit of what's comfortable, whether that is scrambling up 5.3 terrain or spending fifty days on a big wall alone, is an unparalleled mental and physical exploration.

Guy Lacelle ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. [Photo] John Evans

We at Alpinist asked the most inspiring solo climbers we know—those defining the edge of what's humanly possible—to tell us more about their rare connection to the vertical world.

After exploring the minds of rock master Alex Honnold and big wall diva Silvia Vidal, the Solo Series delves into the world of ice climbing with Guy Lacelle. Guy has likely soloed more pitches than most could ever dream to climb in a lifetime. Discover below how Guy's perspective has evolved and what has kept him safe since he first started soloing nearly thirty years ago.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Prince George B.C. and work in silviculture. I started climbing in the late 1970s, rock first then ice.

2. How did you start ice climbing? How many years have you been ice climbing?

I started rock climbing in Quebec on an outdoor course with the University of Ottawa. I started ice climbing on a course with La Federation Quebecoise de la Montagne.

3. Please describe what it was like to ice climb in the '70s.

Putting in protection was the most difficult part of ice climbing, especially in the cold ice of Quebec. Stopping to put pro on steep ice was exhausting. I quickly started running out the steep sections and put gear only on ledges. I felt comfortable running out the steep sections and progressed rapidly to free soloing.

4. Ice gear has changed significantly over the past ten years. How does the evolution of the gear influence your free soloing? Do you free solo with or without leashes?


At first, when I started climbing, leashless. I thought I would be going back to most of the climbs I had already soloed and solo them leashless. I felt good on climbs like Polar Circus, but on long vertical climbs, I did not feel nearly as secure as I did with leashes. I realized I was closing in on the margin of safety. Now I don't put any more pressure on myself and use leashes whenever I need the extra margin of safety.

5. Do you only free solo ice, or do you free solo rock and alpine climbs as well? Which medium do you feel most comfortable on?

On rock I only solo moderate routes. I am not as talented on rock, and I don't climb it nearly as much as ice. Rock climbing is more diversified and requires more mileage to have the ability to solo near your maximum ability.

6. When did you start free soloing? What motivated you do it?

After a couple of seasons, I started to solo both rock and ice. It has always felt to me like the most natural way to climb. I get more satisfaction in the flow of movement without having to deal with all the gear, especially on ice. I like to have full responsibility for my actions.

Guy soloing Fearful Symmetry (WI6) in December, 2006. [Photo] Andrew Querner

7. Do you do as much free soloing now as you did when you started?

I don't solo as much now, but I still do it quite a bit. I have more experience and technique now, which allows me to have a better margin of safety as long as I am still aware of my vulnerabilities. I don't get into difficult situations as often as I used to.

8. Does soloing define you as a climber?

I guess in a way it does define me as a climber. My best abilities are solicited when soloing. It is the activity that I am the most suited for physically and especially mentally.

9. How do you decide to solo a route? Do you onsight solo ice routes?

Sometimes I solo them onsight, but if the ice conditions are marginal, I will sometimes climb the route before to see if it is a feasible climb to free solo.

10. Can you define in one word what need you are trying to satisfy when free soloing?

Freedom— in the sense that the greatest satisfaction from climbing comes when there is nothing that comes between me and the climb and all my focus all my physical abilities are used to get up the climb safely. For how long is hard to say, but it lasts longer now in my fifties than in my early days.

[Photo] Chris Alstrin collection

11. What does soloing bring to your daily life?

Basically it satisfies a need deep inside of me that cannot be solicited in any other way. It helps me feel more confident in my daily life.

12. Ice is an ephemeral and brittle medium. How does this affect your free solo climbing?

After all these years, I can usually read the ice quite well, and it is very rare that I am not confident with my tool placements, but still I have to be very careful and expect the unexpected because overconfidence can kill you very quickly. As far as exposure to daggers and avalanches, I do my best to chose the right time to do a climb and choose the least exposed line. Then luck comes into play, same as driving a car I guess.

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