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Popular rerun - AdventureStats Special: What is Solo?

Posted: Mar 19, 2010 08:42 pm EDT

(AdventureStats.com/previously published 12:40 am EST Nov 05, 2008 and 10:31 am CDT Sep 25, 2007)

Back in 1997, over a cup of tea at Yak and Yeti hotel, we had a debate with famous mountaineering chronologist Liz Hawley about the definition of solo.

Readers Digest had just called, to fact check a 1996 Everest solo claim and Liz was pretty impatient with their inquiry; the climber in question had used fixed ropes, climbed with a Sherpa and had the company of some 200 people on the route.

A mind game

"What is a true Solo, then?" we asked. Liz said that the least requirement is for the climber to be completely alone on the route, using no fixed ropes or tracks made by other climbers.

She added that climbing solo is a mental challenge as much as a physical one. In fact, she acknowledged Messner's as the only true Everest solo yet.

In other words - with the crowds on the peak these days, it is simply impossible to achieve an Everest Solo, unless you go off-season or climb beyond the normal routes.

The meaning of solitude

Liz stressed that being solo is to be truly isolated. And she went a step further; saying that perhaps one shouldn’t even talk to other people over radio or sat phone. But then she hesitated; "this was perhaps to go to the extremes", she figured.

Self-sufficiency is a matter of great pride to seasoned explorers; often more important than the goal itself. Only when you are self-sufficient and alone, will your solo claim be accepted.

The Dictionaries say: “Solo is alone and without assistance from others”

The word Solo originates from Latin and translates into 'alone'. Alone is defined as “being isolated from others”.

Examining a range of dictionaries, the word solo requires a person to be alone, but also without assistance from other people. Here are some examples:

Collins Dictionary
Solo - any performance, mountain climb, or other undertaking carried out by an individual without assistance from others.

Princeton WordNetSearch
Solo - any activity that is performed alone without assistance.

Solo - a flight in an airplane during which the pilot is unaccompanied by an instructor or other person.

Cambridge Dictionary
Solo - alone; without other people.

The Exploration community says: “Solo is alone and without assistance from others”

AdventureStats' definition of Solo in polar exploration is: “… ‘solo’ requires that the explorer is alone and receives no outside assistance. A solo performance thus requires the assist label ‘unassisted’.”

AdventureStats continues with a definition of assist: “Assist refers to the outside help received by an expedition. The most common form of assist given to a polar expedition is resupplies by air.”

WSSR (World Sailing Speed Record Council) definition of Solo in sailing is: "'Single-handed' means there is only one person aboard. If a single-handed skipper accepts any kind of outside assistance (see 21e) then the voyage falls into another category or may be invalid." (Ed comment: Single-handed is the sailors' word for “solo”)

WSSR's definition of assist: "'Without assistance' means that a vessel may not receive any kind of outside assistance whatever nor take on board any supplies (beyond the harvest of the sea), materials or equipment during an attempt. A craft may be anchored or beached during the attempt, but any repairs must be made entirely by the crew without outside resources or materials."

Unsworth’s Encyclopedia of Mountaineering simply defines solo as “climbing alone”.

Generally, solo within mountaineering requires that the climber is completely alone on the route - from base camp to summit. The climber should further not use any fixed ropes, ladders or other aid put in place by others.

Who did it solo?

The word Solo is abused virtually every year by novice or media savvy explorers in climbing and polar expeditions. Out of all the claims, let’s check who actually did do a Solo:

Everest: Reinhold Messner and nobody else
North Pole: Borge Ousland, Pen Hadow and nobody else
South Pole: Erling Kagge, + 12 other explorers on various occasions.

Who is not solo?

Polar skiers who receive resupplies are not solo. Sailors who get resupplies in harbors or out on the ocean are not solo. Mountaineers can only be solo if they are completely alone on the route and take no advantage of pre-existing tracks and ropes.

The difference - in reality

The exact terminology is set to differentiate between levels of difficulty. The difference can be huge. Below is an example - between a true Solo vs. a single person skiing to the North Pole with resupplies:

Sled weight: Over 150 kg (300 lbs) vs. below 100 kg
Heat/fuel: 1 hour/day (from stove) vs. 3-5 hours
Water: Down to the ounce vs. plenty
Bathing: Wet wipes vs. sponge baths
Clothing: One set (for 2 months) vs. 4-5 changes
Food: Freeze-dried vs. mixed with fresh
Sleeping bags: Wet, cold and heavy vs. light and dry
Broken gear: Expedition over vs. replacements
Injury/illness: Self-care vs. medical air drop/check-up
Deadline: Last food ration vs. final flight time
Mind set: Self-sufficient vs. supported

Care of gear, repairs, effort, comfort, challenge and planning are world-apart in spite of the fact that both people are traveling alone. This difference of challenge is equally big in climbing and ocean adventures.

Choosing to go Solo

That doesn't mean though that people team up only because they wouldn't manage to go alone. Many explorers simply choose the company of friends for the fun of it. Couples can decide "it's both of us or none of us," such as latest Badia Bonilla and Mauricio Lopez on Broad Peak. And then there are folks who simply like their own company best, in addition to the challenge of ultimate self-sufficiency.

They all deserve respect. Adventure should follow the heart; claims however must obey the rules.

#Polar #Stats #topstory

"One-man-expedition" is not solo if there are other climbers on the mountain. Tracks, fixed ropes and ladders simplify the climb.
Bush pilots delivering dry clothes, food and medics disqualify the solo status. Solo is a physical as well as a mental challenge requiring total self-sufficiency
Enter a harbor for a shower and resupply and the trip is no longer alone or solo. It might still be single-crewed but the assistance disqualifies the solo label