matt bush | red bulletin


Alone and without ropes, free solo climbers transcend fear and risk on their journey into the unknown. South Africa’s Matt Bush is one of the world’s best.

Bush’s first taste of the outer edges of human experience came early, when as a pre-schooler he was plucked semiconscious from the bottom of a swimming pool by an alert childminder. But the origins of his journey to soloing were more mundane: dominating the South African competitive climbing scene for five years straight sharpened his appetite for a new test, and the elemental purity of free solo spoke to his soul. “The challenge, to see if they can do it – that’s always the main motivating factor,” says SA mountaineering and BASE-jumping pioneer Andy de Klerk of the allure of free soloing. “To see if they can push through their own fears and boundaries to do something that’s unprotected and unsupported. Matt is very bold. He’s got a very cool head. He’s comfortable stepping out of the comfort zone and taking risks others wouldn’t.”

What follows is a brief insight into the story of Matt Bush that the team from Red Bulletin, writer Angus Powers, a posse of the finest riggers and myself put together.

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“What separates soloists from everyone else?” asks Bush rhetorically. “Courage. Soloists have courage to go where most people say they shouldn’t go, and the courage to push on the margins of their experience and to reach out for something unseen. Why should I get pulled into other people’s fear around what I do? It’s not my fear. It’s often people’s own fears of death being projected into my space. “One mistake, you die?” he says incredulously, his eyes widening as he questions the hand wringing that sometimes dogs what he does. “I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t died."


The Bat Hang.

Maybe, but the epic un-roped moves that Bush produces – like a bat hang from a yawning overhang or a human flag on a Table Mountain cliff face 1,000m above sea level – cannot be contemplated without being haunted by what ifs.


Matt is a supremely professional athlete. There was a-lot of prep that went into this shoot. Rehearsing moves, finding angles, testing perfect times of day. Much of this was done to avoid having to do retakes. But come the shoot Matt asked repeatedly whether I was keen for him to redo many of the moves and pitches These questions will I'm sure be forever one of the hardest, most conflicted questions I would have answered. Will you please risk your life for a picture that I already have. The perfectionist in me said do it. The realist said no. I did ask him to do retakes and he obliged.