Free solo climbing or free soloing is climbing without safety ropes, harnesses, protective gear, or the assistance of other climbers. The free soloist relies only on his or her own strength, ability, and mental determination.
Before he died in a climbing accident, British free solo rock climber Derek Hershey told the New York Times: “Observers think [I’ve] got a death wish. But there’s nothing else that makes me feel so alive… When you’re free soloing, you can’t afford to be distracted. You concentrate on the flow from move to move to move. You exist only in the present.”
Most of us can’t imagine taking the personal risk required to participate in such an extreme sport as free solo climbing. And yet, we continually lead our ministries and organizations depending only on our own strength, ability, and talent. As a result, the personal risk and the risk to our organization could be just as catastrophic.
Physical and mental stamina alone can’t protect the free soloist from the inherent risks of loose rocks or sudden changes in weather. The dangers associated with this form of extreme climbing cannot be controlled completely by the abilities of the climber. When a mistake is made or outside forces intervene…free solo climbers rarely get a second chance. Experts have indicated, however that most deaths attributed to free solo climbing could have been avoided by the use of safety ropes and climbing partners.
The term belaying refers to a variety of techniques used in climbing to exert friction on a climbing rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A belayer is a climbing partner who secures the lead climber at the end of a rope and belays out rope as needed. When a lead climber loses his or her footing the belayer secures the rope, allowing the climber to regain a secure foothold to continue the climb.
The reality is that many of us are so talented that we can succeed alone…for a time. The reality is also that our talent will only take us so far and the time will come when the inherent risks of free soloing in our area of ministry will cause us to fall…also alone.
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).