Matt Maddaloni uses a trapeze net to safely free-solo rock faces.

Look ma, no ropes. Photo by Bryan Smith for National Geographic

Even to most hard-core rock climbers, climbing without ropes, or “free-soloing” sounds unnecessarily risky, if not straight-up crazy. Climber and inventor Matt Maddaloni became addicted to the thrill of free-soloing. “If I even sneezed, I was dead,” Maddaloni says. “Exciting to say the least.” Since there are no second chances to learn from a mistake free-soloing, Matt began looking for ways to get the same thrill safely. Like many experiencing their free-soloing mid-life-crisis, he turned to deep-water free-soloing, and then to massive circus trapeze nets spread under him.

But, really, what’s the point? Isn’t a big net a lot like having a rope? Sure, it’s a longer fall (which may involve crapping your pants on the way down,) but surviving the fall has never been what free-soloing is about. Free-soloing is about total commitment. While I have never considered rope-free climbing, I have noticed I am a much better climber when my commitment level is high. It’s all mental. Just like free-soloing. But is having a net below you, instead of being attached to a rope, enough to inspire the mental state that results in total-immersion-style commitment? You’ll have to try it to find out.

Video created by Fitz Cahall and Bryan Smith.