American Climber Jim Reynolds Completes First-Ever Free Solo Up and Down a Massive Patagonian Peak

jim reynolds
Prisma by Dukas/UIG / Getty Images

American mountain climber Jim Reynolds has set a unique and impressive new record in the climbing world: According to National Geographic, on March 21, he free soloed—climbing without assistance from ropes or other safety gear—a challenging 5,000-foot ascent up Cerro Fitz Roy, an imposing 11,171-foot peak in southern Argentina. Even more impressive, he climbed down the same route without ropes, and completed the whole trip in 15.5 hours.

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Reynolds is a 25-year-old climber from Weaverville, California. An experienced alpinist, he works for the Yosemite Search and Rescue team, and this isn’t his first noteworthy climb, either. In 2017, he and climbing partner Brad Gobright captured the speed record for ascending El Capitan’s famed Nose route with a time of two hours and 19 minutes. Their record stood until Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell broke it with their sub-two hour climb in June 2018.

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Reynolds’ daring ascent of Fitz Roy caps off his three-month climbing trip to Patagonia’s Chaltén Massif, home to several world-famous peaks. During his time there, he free soloed a few other routes on neighboring mountains to prepare for the Fitz Roy attempt. The route he chose, called Afanassieff, includes large portions of nearly blank rock, where hand- and foot-holds are tenous and widely spaced.

Reynolds brought a few key pieces of gear with him on the journey, including climbing shoes, sticky rubber sneakers for easier sections, crampons and an ice axe for icy areas near the summit, and a rope—just in case he needed to rappel out of immediate danger. Only later did he realize that he had forgotten his harness and belay device, which meant the rope was essentially useless. Despite the danger, he overcame all these obstacles and summited the peak in six hours and 38 minutes.

“It was pretty incredible, really surreal, to be on the summit of Fitz Roy all alone,” he told National Geographic.

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Even soloing is not done alone. Huge appreciation to all the people who have been a part of my journey recently and over the years. Much love for the communities of El Chaltén, Yosemite, Bishop and Trinity. Check out the link in my bio to read Nat Geo’s excellent article. ****************** My suggestion is to strive for two things in this world: The creation and propagation of the highest level of art, beauty and love that you can imagine, and to support others in their pursuit of those things. ******************* My art (as for many climbers) is the combining of our humanity with the splendor of raw nature. It is to dance through a painting. I don’t think climbing has to be selfish. It is a way to fill my cup of joy til it overflows into the rest of the world. It is gathering as much positivity as we can from the mountains and bringing it back to share amongst the people. So whatever your thing, go out there and do it!!!!!!!!!!!! **************** Photos are mine or Tad McCrea, who has been a hugely impactful teacher and great friend in my time down south #beingtowardslife #climbing #patagonia #Fitzroy #rockclimbing # Alpinism #alpineclimbing #freesolo #love #sincuerda #Argentina

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But that was only half the challenge. He had to hustle to get down the mountain as the sun began to set, and the return climb ended up taking even longer than the way up. He strayed off route and had to backtrack multiple times, and night fell before he arrived at some of the steepest sections of the route. He considered rappelling down, but decided to try climbing through.

“I had to try hard here, and as I was down climbing I was just letting out these primal battle screams into the night, just to increase my power and effectiveness,” he told National Geographic. “I never felt like I was on the edge of insecurity, but I was screaming to put my full focus and concentration into making that down climb as solid as possible.”

He made it down, and notched a new and unparalleled ascent—and descent—on his list of climbing achievments. Although climber Dean Potter free soloed up Fitz Roy in 2002, Reynolds is the first person to climb up and down the mountian without artificial assistance. While many think of daring climbs like this as a pure adrenaline rush, Reynolds sees things differently. Rolo Garibotti, an Argentinian climber and Patagonia expert, told National Geographic that he was amazed at Reynolds’ calm and focus while watching the videos the American climber shot on his iPhone during the ascent.

“There was zero stress,” says Garibotti. “His key strength is being very comfortable on this terrain. He seemed cheerful and calm.”

For Reynolds, climbing isn’t about flirting with extreme danger or amping up his blood pressure. Instead, as he shared with National Geographic, it’s an art form.

“For me, soloing is a way to combine the beauty of humanity with the beauty of the natural world to create a higher art.”

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