Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

People

Curious Case: Brette Harrington Breaks New Ground

Brette Harrington is known for her daring free solos, but she wouldn’t classify herself as a free-soloist. She’s a trad climber at heart and only solos “for fun.”

Lock Icon

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All-Access
Intro Offer
$3.99 / month*

  • A $500 value with 25+ benefits including:
  • Access to all member-only content on all 17 publications in the Outside network like Rock and Ice, Climbing, Outside, Backpacker, Trail Runner and more
  • Annual subscription to Climbing magazine.
  • Annual gear guides for climbing, camping, skiing, cycling, and more
  • Gaia GPS Premium with hundreds of maps and global trail recommendations, a $39.99 value
  • Outside Learn, our new online education hub loaded with more than 2,000 videos across 450 lessons including 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers and Strength Training for Injury Prevention
  • Premium access to Outside TV and 1,000+ hours of exclusive shows
  • Annual subscription to Outside magazine
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details


This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 230 (November 2015).


Brette Harrington stems the <em>Shadow</em> (5.13-) in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Rich Wheater / REEL ROCK.
Brette Harrington stems the Shadow (5.13-) in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Rich Wheater / REEL ROCK.

Brette Harrington woke to a wall of mist outside her bivy cave above the Torre Valley. The skies had stormed all night
and, knowing that the rock would be drenched, she went back to sleep. At 10:30 a.m., patches of blue sky emerged. By noon, the upper half of the Aguja
Saint-Exupery—an 8,000-foot granite tower in the Fitz Roy massif, Patagonia—was in full sun.

Harrington set out alone and climbed the first few pitches, able to avoid the small streams running down the rock face. But when she reached the lower
dihedrals, the crux, she found them shaded and soaked.

“I stopped for a few minutes in a small sun patch to re-evaluate how I was feeling,” she says. “I was in a sort of ‘curious’ head space, so I wandered
up to the [crux] to check things out, then realized I was in a good head space.”

She decided to go for it, despite the wet. Three hours later, Harrington, 23, of Lake Tahoe, California, stood on top of the tower. Not only was hers the
first free-solo of the 2,500-foot Chiaro di Luna (5.11a), it was also the first free-solo by a woman on any tower in the Fitz Roy massif.

Still, Harrington wouldn’t classify herself as a free-soloist. She’s a trad climber at heart and only solos “for fun.”


Q&A with Brette Harrington

What type of kid were you?

I was a quiet kid and liked to be alone. My mom liked to say that I was always trapped in my own head. I was kind of rebellious, too … it wasn’t that
I was out to do anything bad, but I had a hard time listening when people told me not to do something. I was rebellious more out of curiosity. I liked
to explore and adventure—sneak into places.

What are your interests besides climbing?

I played all types of sports as a kid, but I was mostly into skiing—that’s why I chose to go to school in B.C. I ski raced for eight years, then
transitioned to free-ride for four years, but I quit after having too many concussions and breaking my neck when I was 20.

Brette Harrington. Photo: <a target=
Brette Harrington. Photo: Matthew Van Biene.

How did you get into free soloing?

When I first learned about free-soloing, I thought, What the hell, that’s crazy. I never thought about doing it until I started alpine climbing.
We wouldn’t rope up for easy third class to get to the base of a climb since we could move so much faster. Then it was fourth class, then fifth, 5.7,
5.10—soloing got easier and easier.

I started free-soloing multi-pitch routes for fun around Squamish. It all depends on what type of mood I’m in.

For me, soloing while tired and clear-minded is the best. If I have too much energy, I become shaky. Or if I’m in a bad mood, I won’t solo.

Have you ever been gripped while free-soloing?

No. If I did, it’s a sign that I shouldn’t be on that route, or I wasn’t ready for it that day.

Heights and exposure never bothered me. [Soloing] forces my mind into hyper-focus, where I climb at my best.

How do you determine where your limit is?

When I get to a difficult move that I know I won’t be able to down climb, I have to make a decision to keep climbing or not. If I know I can get through,
I’ll go for it. If not, I’ll back off. For me, I must be able to down climb.

Is your ability to control fear a skill you developed over time?

It’s something I naturally have, but I’ve soloed a lot, so have become comfortable with it. I don’t consider my free-solos bold—I know when I’m being
bold. Keeping my mind together is one of my strengths.

Where do you see yourself in a few years?

That’s so funny. My dad asks me that all the time. I don’t really know, I don’t think like that. I go step by step. Some climbers make plans for these
big trips years down the road, or say, I want to climb this grade in this many years, and this grade by then. But that’s not how I think.

I’m kind of on the endless road trip right now. I went to Patagonia after graduating [from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver], then to Europe,
and now I’m back in Squamish for most of the summer. I’ll be climbing in Indian Creek and Yosemite in the fall, Patagonia again in January.

I’ll always be a rock climber, but I could take any turn if I’m following my heart.


Brette stars in her own film in this year’s REEL ROCK 11 film tour. Check out the trailer and link to show listings below.


REEL ROCK 11 Official Trailer

Check out the film lineup here and visit reelrocktour.com for a complete schedule of screenings and locations.


Also read

Jimmy Chin: What I’ve Learned