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Solo, Part III: Guy Lacelle
13. How do you stop fear from controlling you?
Most of the fear and doubts happen before I start the climb, not on the climb. Controlling fear and doubts comes in part from natural makeup and in part from mileage. It seems when something wrong happens and things get dicey I can focus all my abilities on doing the right thing to get me out of the situation. It might mean I keep going with a less-than-secure placement to save enough energy— as opposed to getting secure placements until I run out of energy and fall. I am thankful this situation has not happened for many years now.
14. In 1997, you did the first free solo link up of three WI5/6 climbs on the very exposed Trophy Wall on Mount Rundle in Canada: Sea of Vapors, Terminator and the Replicant. How do you deal with the exposure and the fatigue on such a link up?
I didn't put any pressure on myself. I started with Replicant to warm up, then I felt good and climbed the most demanding route, Terminator, and finally felt like I had enough energy left to climb Sea of Vapor safely. It took me five hours, which is about the maximum amount of time for me before my focus and energy start to diminish. As for as the exposure, it helps me to stay focused but doesn't wear on my energy. I have been more taxed on a few occasions than the Trophy Wall day. For example linking Weeping Pillar and Polar Circus in twelve hours in December with brittle ice and less training.
[Photo] Chris Alstrin collection
15. What was your scariest moment on a free solo climb?
During the early 1990s I tried the first free solo ascent (as far as I know) of Nemesis. The climb was going to push me close to my limit without any incident. On the steepest section of the climb the ice got very thin and brittle. I started getting stressed and tired. As my forearms got pumped, I didn't feel my placements very well and broke a pick. When I swung the other tool harder, I bent that one. I was too pumped to pull my third tool, which was stuck in my hostler. When I realized that a fall was imminent, I decided to keep climbing fairly quickly on marginal placements as a last alternative, and it worked. When I reached a rappel stance and contemplated if I should continue climbing using the third tool I realized that I had already failed whether I reached the top or not, and I came down. I waited almost ten years before returning for the solo. This time I was ready and was able to chase the demons that were still in my head.
16. How do you train mentally for free solos?
If a climb is well within my abilities I need only to remind myself not to let my guard down and be focused. If a climb pushes me closer to my limit, usually a long multipitch route or link-up of routes, with a lot of vertical brittle ice, I start focusing on the project a few days before. First I make sure my main motivation is pure. I want to push myself for what the climb will bring to me regardless of what anyone thinks.
I would not be honest to say that this is the only motivation but it has to be the main one. Then I see the project in my head and break it down in sections and remind myself that I can stop if things start getting too dangerous. Only a couple of times have I backed off soloing, but the knowledge that the option is there in most situations takes some of the pressure off.
17. Do you accept death as an outcome of free solo climbing?
I would say that death is a possible outcome of free soloing but so is rope climbing and driving a car. For me death means losing the game, and I hate losing. I don't live as close to the edge as I used to do. I am a little more comfortable with keeping a better margin of safety then I used to, but I still feel most alive when soloing serious climbs.
18. Free solos have been a part of your climbing for many years. What do you believe has kept you safe?
I have had a handful of close calls, but what has kept me safe for the most part is my physical and mental endurance, and the fact that I am very thorough. I don't leave much to chance. If I am not sure of a placement, I will work at it until it feels right. I am also very patient. I will wait until I am ready for a climb. Once on the climb I will not rush, and I will save a good amount of energy in case something happens that requires more of me. Usually more than one thing needs to go wrong before I start getting taxed. I also realize that I have had my share of good luck.
19. How has free soloing affected your roped climbing? Do you still enjoy it?
I still enjoy it a lot mostly because I have so many good climbing partners nowadays. Rope climbing with safe partners is more relaxed than free soloing. The downside of rope climbing is I get a little impatient if my partners are moving slowly. It breaks down the flow.
20. How does your family view your free soloing? Does their perspective influence your climbing?
My wife Marge tries not to think about it too often or she would spend too much time worrying. She knows I don't have a death wish, that I am not stupid and that I keep things in perspective when planning my climbs. I only do one or two big solos per season now, and I don't talk to her much about it.
[Photo] Chris Alstrin collection
21. What is your advice for young alpinists who look up to your accomplishments?
Nothing they haven't already heard. If you are patient and have the right priorities and motivations, chances are with a bit of luck you will live long enough to have a lot of great adventures. If you take too many chances and choose the wrong partners or wrong objectives, your luck may run out and you could lose the game.
Always keep the big picture in mind. There are a few occasions when I put too much importance in one climb and almost paid the ultimate price. Keep your family and friends in mind when making that kind of decision.