Matt Bush (2002G) has taken the rock climbing world by storm as he attempts even higher rock climbs without any gear or ropes (free-solo).
"I asked myself what would I do if I lived my life without limits? The answer is free-solo. Some people think that I am into this for adrenaline and that I'm a thrill seeker. But free-solo for me is a meditation. It's an art form. It's a calculated and controlled experience." - Reflections from my freesolo life
Matt has to be one of the most down-to-earth individuals on the planet. For someone so humble and relaxed, one would never guess he enjoys hanging off cliffs hundreds of meters above the terra-firma. We asked him a few questions about his unusual lifestyle and here's what he had to say...
How and when did you get into climbing?
My first experience of climbing was with my dad at the age of four. We climbed in Newlands Forest. The seed was planted. But it was only years later in high school when I formally started rock climbing. A friend named Antony Hall invited me rock climbing on Table Mountain. I was sixteen at the time.
Why do you free-solo? / What made you decide to start?
Free-solo is the ultimate challenge and the purist form of climbing. I do it for the sense of freedom and personal achievement. It's been a natural progression from climbing with ropes to climbing without. I would say it was a logical step in my climbing progression.
What goes through your mind when you’re free-soloing?
Stay strong. You can do it! And then moments of complete presence, not thinking, but just being and inhabiting the now.
I have many favourites. But I would say one of the big overhang routes that I recently completed. I hung by one arm on the edge of the towering overhang. It was one of the wildest moments. I called the manoeuvre 'hang five' - a first of its kind.
If you could choose between bouldering, sport climbing or traditional climbing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Free solo. Hahaha. You left that off the list, huh? Well I am glad I don't have to choose. If I had to then I would say bouldering. It's free and requires minimal equipment. At some point big boulders become free-solos anyway.
Do you have any big wall free-solo plans?
Yes. I have plans to travel and establish new first ascents of remote big walls. There are plenty right here in Africa. My goals are worldwide.
What was your biggest regret/failure on a route and what did you learn from it?
I fell off route from ten meters, hit the ground and rolled. Luckily, I was uninjured. At the start of the climb I pushed on against my intuition. I had to make a big jump to catch a grip and I mistimed it. I swung out from the rock and came crashing down. It happened very fast. But I got up, dusted myself off and took a breather. I faced a decision; either to walk away and retire from free-solo or try again. I refocused on the goal, gave it another go and succeeded! I learned to trust my intuition that day and to never give up. You can do it if you really want it. Try, try, try and you'll make it in the end.
What advice would you give to beginner climbers?
Don't free-solo. Always be safe in your practise. Learn from the best, develop healthy habits and enjoy the process. It's not all about achievements but rather who you are and the social contribution that matters.
Tell us about your biggest whipper/fall
I fell 12 meters on an attempt to open Table Mountain's most dangerous trad route. That was a big fall. A cam popped out and I went whizzing down. I returned the following day and did it.
How does your family feel about you free-soloing?
I would say there have mixed emotions. But they know it's part of my purpose and it makes me happy, so they support me. I am lucky to have their support.
What is your favourite/funniest memory of Bishops
I ran the Bishops cross-country one year. I did not train at all, but I beat the schools best by a long shot. Nobody saw it coming. I have to say I was surprised too. A few days later, one of the school's best mile runners came to me and said, "The avenue mile is next week. But just as well because you can't run short distance." I said, "Let's see!" I hadn't planned to run the mile but I thought 'why not now?' I ran, gave it my best effort and won the race.
Who was your favourite teacher at Bishops and why?
I had a very nice mix of teachers. I can't say who was the best. Maybe it's easier to say who was the worst? Hahaha, just kidding.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is a by-product of purpose. When a person is living the life they are meant to be living, following their heart and achieving their own personal dreams then happiness comes naturally.
Fear of death is probably the greatest of all human fears. I would say there is a healthy amount of this fear that keeps one alive, sharp and focussed. Climbing has helped my face and overcome many of my fears.
Which living person do you most admire?
Not one person but many. My family. They're all heroes who've overcome a lot.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The fact that I was born physically weaker than my siblings and peer group. I couldn't keep up in physical education/ PT class. I was teased and bullied for being weak. But I had a dream of being a free solo climber. To be strong like the mountains. And I have achieved it!
Who is your fictional hero?
Spider-Matt. The real life version that comes out once a week on Wacky Wednesday to climb urban structures and performs stunts.