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Solo, Part V: Steph Davis
14. You speak of surrendering: can you explain what you surrender to in soloing?
Steph Davis negotiating the top of the fourth pitch as she traverses into the start of Pervertical's splitter crack systems—5.10 climbing above 13,000 feet. See this image and more in Davis's article, "Stripped," in Alpinist 23. [Photo] Brian Kimball
Soloing is a lot about control. But I got to another level when I found out how to let go of things, on a bigger plane, which I learned from skydiving. Surrender is very liberating. Letting go of attachments, fear, anxieties— these things can be foreign to a climber, who feels conditioned to hold on. Letting go, for me, was the key to the next level.
15. To free solo, you need a lot of self-confidence. Yet, for you, soloing helped you regain your lost self-confidence. Can you explain why and how this worked for you?
It felt right, when I was having a hard time finding direction, and it led me back to a place I find natural and peaceful.
16. Would you call free soloing an addiction?
For me, it is a form of self-expression, and an integral part of climbing, just like all the other styles of climbing we practice.
17. How do you mentally prepare for a free solo?
I spend a lot of time thinking about possible outcomes. I think honestly about the thought of falling, and what that means to me. I get these thoughts done before I go to the climb, so I don't need to do this thinking during the climb. "Be relaxed, have good feelings," is something I repeat to myself sometimes throughout a long solo. I imagine myself moving up perfectly through the entire climb, and never visualize falling at all or even allow myself to think about it. I find that whatever I think or say is often what happens in life.
18. In BASE jumping, you are falling. In free soloing, falling is not an option. For you, how do the two complement each other?
Both are about precision, mastery and faith. I'm amazed by the similarities between climbing and BASE. They seem to be opposite because of the direction of motion, but in fact, they are both expressions of the relationship between the human body, gravity and the mountains. They differ in that climbing can be slower, and can slide into being goal oriented due to the quantitative nature of our modern approach to it. BASE jumping has taught me to value every single second, and that being alive and happy is success.
19. Dan Osman said: "You don't wanna die, right? So, you just don't fall!" It sounds like Osman felt immortal, yet you feel very mortal. Can you explain this difference in perspective?
I feel very aware that I am going to die, because we all—all living creatures—are going to die. It's the one thing we know for sure in this life. I realized long ago that avoiding seemingly risky activities is not going to prevent death. Since I do a lot of committing things, I think realistically about consequences, but I will not be kept a prisoner by the fear of them. I think that is the ultimate trap.
20. Does free soloing define who you are?
No, but the approach I take is very characteristic of who I am.
Steph Davis entering Pervertical's ca. 500 feet of classic splitter cracks. See this image and more in Davis's article, "Stripped," in Alpinist 23. [Photo] Brian Kimball
21. What was your scariest moment on a solo climb? How did you deal with it?
The most afraid I've been was during a solo of Snake Dike on Half Dome on my 23rd or 24th birthday. I didn't know anything about the route, and I got lost on the approach and summitted Half Dome by the cables route, and then found the turnoff to Snake Dike as I was hiking back down. So it took me a lot of miles to get to the base, and it was late in the day when I started climbing. It took me completely by surprise that the crux was a friction slab move, because I didn't like to solo things that were slabby, I just knew it was supposed to be an easy route. So I was really afraid doing that friction move, trusting my shoe rubber, with tired legs—When I set out in the morning, I didn't think much in advance about what I was getting into, about consequences, or outcomes, I just wanted to do the climb, and generally knew where it was and the grade. It taught me to make sure I find out what I'm getting into, at least by getting some information about the approach, the route, and the descent, and to think carefully before running off to solo something, even if it has an easy grade. I have learned a lot since then, but that experience was very special for me.
22. What is your advice for young alpinists who look up to your accomplishments?
Listen a lot and trust yourself.