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Speed Soloing Is Climbing’s Deadliest Game—Dani Arnold Is Its Only Living Player

Dani Arnold, the fastest alpinist still alive, and his high-stakes quest to smash speed-soloing records.

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This is a preview of Ed Douglas’s article from our summer issue, which profiles Dani Arnold, holder of speed solo records on the North Faces of the Eiger, Matterhorn, Cima Grande, Grandes Jorasses, and more. His only competition, Ueli Steck, died in a fall, but Arnold has pressed on and now weighs the risks and demands of being a professional climber with those of family life and doing what he really wants. To read the full article, and gain access to more world-class storytelling from our entire network of sites, join Outside+ today

The Cima Grande Solo

At 6b+/5.11c and made of the sort of fractured rock that you worry might let you down, the Comici is an impressive solo. Dead vertical most of the way, and at times overhanging, and with that yawning gulf chipping at your self-control, the route is what the French call engagé: It demands things of you. And that’s before you cast off the rope. Add in the complexities of climbing on average 8.5 minutes per 300 feet, while remaining in control and focused on each hold, and Arnold’s achievement grows in dimension.

The North Faces

For Arnold, the Comici was all about speed. “Ach, I’m not a good rock climber,” he said in Bürglen, waving a hand dismissively. “But I wanted to do a hard rock climb fast.” He was being a little disingenuous. Among the highlights of his career is his solo of the Carlesso on the south face of Torre Trieste, part of the Civetta group east of the Tre Cime. The Carlesso is 25 pitches, even longer than the Brandler-Hasse, and though first climbed in 1934 by Raffaele Carlesso and Bortolo Sandri, the route has some seriously steep ground and a notorious slab pitch at two-thirds height that goes free at 7a+/5.12a. For most parties the Carlesso is a long day with an irksome descent that sees many benighted. As a solo, it’s staggering. What’s even more remarkable is that Arnold hadn’t done the crux free before his solo—during previous roped ascents, the first with his wife, Denise, he hadn’t trusted the gear to hold a fall and preferred to use a point of aid rather than risk slipping off. “I’m not sure I would do this again,” he wrote afterwards on his essentially onsight solo of the 5.12 crux. “I must have had incredible confidence that day.”

Learning to be a Pro

For his 2011 race up the Eiger, he prepared his mind, visualizing each section of difficult climbing and how he would approach it. He acknowledges the anxieties he struggled with before embarking, and how he had gone up to Kleine Scheidegg with his gear a few months earlier and then turned around because he didn’t feel right. Two weeks before his solo, he had guided the route and knew what kind of condition it was in. Once he committed to the solo, though, he discovered he could push everything to one side and retain a vice-like grip on the job at hand. (He views this ability as “an innate or genetic gift.”) The face was busy with climbers, and while that may have given him some sense of security, it also required him to climb around the parties. High on the face he met his fellow guide Simon Anthamatten with a client. “We didn’t stop to chat. We said hello and shook hands then I went on,” says Arnold.

The Two Percent

Arnold takes pride in his speed ascents and is happy to acknowledge that he likes being recognized. He’s not averse to media-friendly stunts, like being filmed at dinner, to cut with footage of him racing up the Eiger. But he is clear-eyed about what climbing means to him and where his heart lies. “You’re on television, in the media, 98 percent of your audience aren’t climbers. You can tell them what you want. Two percent know what these things mean. The money is with the 98 percent, but the two per cent is much more important. They are the ones who understand the details of your ascent. If these people think you are doing good stuff, then you win.” Then, he adds quietly, “I think Ueli forgot about the two per cent.”

Read the full article here