Some Thoughts on Alex Honnold’s Free Solo of El Capitan

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The last time I wrote about something climbing-related that made national news, I was critical of the hero-narrative being universally espoused, and that pissed a lot of people off. I want to say at the outset that I have no interest in taking away from, or detracting from, Alex Honnold’s mind-bending achievement. I have the utmost respect for Honnold, about 50% because of his climbing, and 50% because of what he uses his climbing-borne fame to do. It seems like The Honnold Foundation (whose goal is “to improve lives world-wide by offering grants to organizations and engaging projects that make a positive difference”) sprung up overnight immediately following his explosion into the annals of climbing history. His work with the foundation and partner, Goal Zero, has made strides towards a better way of life in Angola, and here in the states in the Navajo Nation. In my opinion, Honnold is a shining example of what a pro rock climber should be: namely, someone who recognizes their privilege, and their opportunity, and works to wield those tools to make the world a better place. As far as I’m concerned, Honnold does that as well as any.

So let’s forget about Honnold. This article has nothing to do with him. Let’s talk about Ueli Steck.

After all, the ink is barely dry on the page after he met his end, also free soloing (in a very different way, but free and solo nonetheless), just over a month ago, on April 30th. Ah – but a month is a really long time for news nowadays. Tell you what, let’s forget Ueli, too. No wait, we already have – haven’t we?

Something about the way we deal with high risk climbing makes me feel bipolar. If somebody dies doing it, we laud them with judgment and criticism. If somebody survives, we call them hero. What I want to talk about is the phenomenology of how we talk about high-risk climbing. I want to talk about the way we toss stones at the dead, and laud praise upon the living for what is ultimately the same act, plus or minus one smidge of bad luck.

There is something broken here. Is it the way we talk about the dearly departed? The survivors? Both? Is it the pure fact that we are so hopelessly captivated by those that tiptoe the edge between life and death that almost nothing else gets as much attention from the climbing media, and community at large?

Personally, I don’t even know how to identify what the broken thing is, much less offer a solution. Maybe we should follow CLIF Bar’s lead and stop supporting “risky” climbers. We as consumers could boycott media that portrays extremely high risk forms of climbing. Professional photographers could refuse to hold the camera to shoot photos of their friends while they put their lives in the balance. We could all, en masse, simply turn away, and refuse to look.

Would any of that make a difference? If there was just a complete moratorium on all press coverage for free soloing, would the number of practitioners decrease? I don’t know for sure, but my guess would be yes.

And would that be a good thing?

I don’t know. I don’t have a damn clue, to be honest. I’ve free soloed plenty, but don’t any more. I’ve written for Alpinist Magazine in defense of soloing, I’ve written for Rock and Ice in opposition to it. I’ve gone round and round in circles in my head a million times on the subject, finally ending up on the bland and banal adage, “to each his own.” It irks me that I can’t come up with something better – but that’s all I’ve got. In the end, it’s a decision that can only be made individually, from within the confines of one’s own mind.

But making that decision properly requires an accurate accounting of the costs and the benefits of casting off from the ground so untethered. I guess I am increasingly convinced that the ability of young climbers to engage in that weighing of the risks and rewards is severely hampered by our community’s portrayal of the heroic nature of high risk climbing.

My gut tells me that what is broken is the way we as a community—as gym rats, boulderers, sport climbers, trad climbers, alpinists, desert rats, friends, family, vanlifers, sponsors, magazines, advertisers, photographers, writers, cinematographers—talk about the risks we take in climbing. Because if we are helping, even in the slightest, subtlest, most remote and seemingly benign way, to push young men and women to a skewed perception of the risks and rewards, then we all have some degree of blood on our hands when they die. We are all, in some way culpable (sigh, I guess I better spell it out again; no,  I am not blaming Alex Honnold, in particular, for some past or future climber’s death… nor am I exonerating him. I’m including him, and myself, and you, and everyone else.)

The question any soloist must ask his or herself, at some time or another, is: “Is it worth it?”

My question is, exactly whose voice is it in their head when they hear that self-gratifying answer, “yes.”

I wonder what might happen if the entire climbing world flipped the narrative to one of “no, it isn’t.” And I’m not talking about shaming, or guilting that climber friend in your life. I’m just talking about reminding them how loved they are. I’m talking about suggesting to them that their worth on this planet is not confined and restricted to the special way in which they fondle stone. I’m talking about letting the climbers in your life know that, yes, they are wonderfully talented vertical gymnasts, and for that we love them… but they are also so much more.

Maybe that would help encourage Honnold to finally tone it down (what a novel concept – down instead of up…) a notch.

Maybe Honnold’s greatest achievement – his personal Dawn Wall – will not be free soloing El Cap, but living to the ripe old age of 80, 90, or 123. Maybe it will be his humanitarian work. Maybe it will be knowing when to quit – something so many of his predecessors didn’t seem to figure out.

Maybe by engaging in the conversation a little more deeply, by giving a bit more thought to that question – is it worth it, maybe, just maybe, we can help Honnold and some of our other brightest stars to finally rest in peace…

Without having to die, first.


Ed Note: 

If you haven’t already, I would STRONGLY recommend reading this interview with Alex Honnold, following the climb. He truly is an exceptional human being (not just climber, but all around human).

There were many great parts of that interview, but I think my favorite were:

“Do you feel the world kind of needed something cool like this, at this moment in time?”
“What the world needs is for the U.S. to stay in the Paris Accords. There’s some bigger issues. But I think it’s always cool for somebody to work on something difficult and achieve their dream. Hopefully people can draw inspiration from this.”

And

“How was your sleep last night?”
“Oh, I slept like a baby. I woke up at around 2:30 or 3:30, like, ‘Let’s do this!’ And then looked at the clock and was like, ‘oh,’ and then went back to sleep and then woke up around 4:30.”

That last part, I just can’t even… I guess that’s what makes Honnold Honnold. Sleeping like a baby before stepping into permanent rock climbing legend status (as if he hadn’t already done it before).

29 comments

  • Good article, Chris. I think about this a lot. My feelings are well summed up by Mark Anderson, who recently posted on the Trango web site “40 Climbing Lessons.” Number 37 is pasted below:

    37. Don’t Solo
    There’s nothing harder than trying to explain to a late-teens/early-20’s male climber that they really don’t know everything, and they really will see the world differently when they (truly) grow up. In the classic Western movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s character Will Munny says, “It’s a hell of a thing killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.” Consider that when you solo, you aren’t just risking your present life, you’re risking your future life—a life that likely will be filled with joys and wonders you can’t yet imagine (to say nothing of the impact on those who love you). Do the future-you a favor and rope up. Even if you (absurdly) assume climbing is infinitely more valuable than every other part of life combined, think of all the climbing you’ll miss out on if you break your neck. It’s simple math, soloing’s just not worth it.– Mark Anderson

    Liked by 1 person

  • Chris, media has changed and it is true that we can immediately see images or video from Alex’s great climb without even looking for it – but I’m not sure the media depiction of high risk climbing is as fundamentally different as you may suggest than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. When I was a younger man the antics of Peter Croft and John Bachar were highly celebrated and it certainly affected me in that I felt that soloing was part of being a well-rounded climber and something that I HAD to do as a “real” climber.

    I’m not sure that climbing real climbs unroped is not part of being a well-rounded climber. Clearly, the control of focus and the ability to deal with danger is a real and tangible skill and, even when roped, the risks are real and the possibility of getting into a situation where the rope may not save you is undeniable. For me, however, I decided that it was not a good idea to climb unroped and it was not a “skill” or “mindset” that I wanted to expand.

    I fear that the current media marvel may inspire climbers who have not thought it through to try to reproduce that feat and, in that way, I agree without your concern. But I think you agree that we might take media and consciousness and talk about risk and climbing in a way that promotes the notion that climbing matters and that it offers some value to modern society. Maybe that is what you are saying here. But the opportunity is now new: we have been debating the meaning of risk in mountain climbing, including unroped rock climbing, for over 100 years.

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    • Matt – thanks for your comment. I’m not sure where I suggested that the media depiction is different from what it was, but I’m glad you bring up the point that it’s not. This is a very old debate, and dates back further than Croft and Bachar for sure.

      Yes, I think climbing unroped makes you a better climber. For that matter, I agree with Paul Preuss that so does downclimbing. I even am attracted to his notion that one should not climb up something one could not climb down, because of the inherent lack of control that implies.

      That said, and while I agree that climbing matters and is valuable, I don’t know that being a better climber is the end-all, be-all. We can certainly improve as climbers without pushing the risk envelope, and when we come home, we can spend the rest of our lives working on being better children, parents, lovers, friends, employees, employers, etc.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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  • While I mostly agree, for the majority of our population, I really do, I also think we should take into account people, in general, who engage in high-risk behavior and the reasons why they do so.
    The same climbers who drink excessively, use drugs, tend to live on the ‘counter’ side of culture, often are also soloing.
    Let me be clear: I do not want to pick up my friend’s body from the crag, and I don’t engage in deep relationships (romantic or platonic) with people who solo regularly, because I don’t want to lose them. But I also don’t think it as easy as pie to just say, don’t do it, we love you.

    Emotional abuse, parental abuse, depression, etc are all real-world things people deal with, and add to the reasons (sometimes, obvious-sometimes not) why people engage in reckless behavior, and I think this has a place in the conversation as well.

    A small piece of my heart also says, climbing is anarchy. So do what you want, but death does affect those around us, even if it just means that someone has to clean up someone else’s SPLAT.

    And climbing is the only thing that matters to some people. Climbing saves some people’s lives, and they don’t care whether it claims them again later, too. But I do think self-destructive behavior has a role in many people’s reasons for soloing, even if its not consciously.

    I tell my friends not to solo, because I love them, but I’m honestly not sure if it makes a difference.

    Thanks for bringing up a tough subject Chris.

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  • Being simplistic, there are three main pillars to rock climbing, the physical, the mental and the emotional.

    All climbers have these three qualities to varying degrees, some have amazing physical prowess (Daniel Woods), some have amazing mental abilities (i.e. Onsight IQ, knowledge of technical systems and a polymath of all climbing disciplines, Ashima in the former, Conrad Anker in the latter) and a special few have natural or trained emotional control.

    It is the latter that is least discussed in climbing but is ultimately the most important. Few want to admit that they are emotionally weak and don’t know how to be stronger.

    Honnold has exceptional emotional control, he is the Megos or Ondra of emotional strength when it comes to climbing.

    You talk of risk, but risk is subjective. A child behind the wheel of a semi on the highway is at more risk than an adult trained for that job doing the same activity. What is risky to us is not risky to Honnold. Is the consequence of his actions the same? Yes. But is it likely? No.

    Daily we engage in many high consequence, low risk scenarios and think nothing of it.

    This is hard to comprehend. We understand why Conrad Anker can go where we can’t, or why Woods is capable of climbing many grades beyond most of us. But what are the metrics for the emotions? How do we grade how a complete mastery of ones fear can lead to a state of flow and precision that most will never experience?

    The purpose of life is not to pay bills and die in a decrepit state. If we are lucky we find our raison d’être, if we are luckier still we have the resources and time to pursue it freely. Honnold achieved both and his achievements now are the result of that.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Leigh – I thought this was a really enlightening comment. I like the way you’ve painted the picture of Alex’s mastery in something that is so difficult for most people to fathom.

      My only critique of your comment would be that my question is not really with Honnold, or his decision making. My question is primarily concerned with how we, as a community, treat high risk climbing. More to the point, do we have any hand in encouraging people much less qualified than Honnold to pursue similar actions.

      Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Many refer to what Alex is doing as “walking on the moon”. In many ways I find this an apt comparison, because he is pushing the limits of human potential, and risking the ultimate price to go there. Should the moon landing have been broadcast? Were we not glorifying the risk those men were taking to visit a satellite rock around earth and motivating other men to do likewise by becoming astronauts?

        I understand your concern however, that climbers driven by ego will see the fame that Honnold has achieved through soloing and wish to copy him, with the intent of gaining notoriety, and die in the process. I would counter that fickle egos should never be allowed to detract or mute actions driven to express the human spirit.

        Life is defined not by it’s length, but by its depth.

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  • Having entered climbing through mountaineering and trad rock climbing as a kid in1966 my perspective is different.
    I was told by mentors as well as read in instructional material that of you were serious about the sport you would within a few years know people who died and would likely see it in your climbing career. There was an obituary section in almost every issue of a magazine.
    There was still a lot of climbing that involved, the leader should not fall; and a fair amount where the leader must not fall . The elite were those who were best at handling this.
    This kept a lot of people out of climbing and definitely slowed ones ability to become technically proficient as quickly as in modern rock climbing with better protection.. Climbing has become less of the risk sport it used to be. (One in ten going to the Himalayan Range used to die)
    At a certain point the ability to put ground up routes of increasing difficulty becomes too costly in terms of effort. So free soloing routes becomes a way of fulfilling the reality of risk and mastery for individual climbers who have the psychological drive to play with edges; and the image of risk for those in the sport in general.
    There is also in the psychology of the sport a need to blame most deaths on “stupid ” mistakes WE will not make ( an element of blaming the victim); thus minimizing the risks we face; and having “heroic” deaths and epic survival skills to show ourselves to be playing a more elite game than baseball.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Craig. Although, I disagree with one notion: that new routing is too costly in terms of effort. I think that’s a misconception of our age. I’ve been able to establish new routes at home and abroad (yes, of the ground up variety!) without too much cost inflicted. The High Sierra, Cascades, Winds, Canadian Rockies (for starters, in North America) are all massive mostly blank canvases to play on… in spite of the fact that people have been climbing in each for over 100 years.

      But I appreciate what you have to say about the blame we often place on “stupid” mistakes. It’s a common fallacy to think “oh, what happened to THEM could not happen to ME, because now I know better.” Of course, the most dangerous things are not those you think will kill you, but those you don’t.

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  • This is a great article. Well written, insightful. More of this about climbing, please!

    And not one to leave the obvious unsaid: I completely agree with your point. Romanticizing things changes the perception. Are Satan’s Minions affected by this coverage? I’d be willing to bet the answer is no (except for rumblings congestion on routes). Can the same be said for the hordes of teens and college kids in the gyms all over the country? Probably not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  • How should we treat high risk climbing? With respect.

    I hear so much hand wringing from old men who used to free solo but are wiser now. I guess they have forgotten the feeling—that surge of live force that tells you in that moment that you can do the impossible. It is that feeling, that madness, that drives us humans to push forward, imagine the unimaginable, break all the rules, and achieve our greatest accomplishments. That sense of risking all for a vision can be manifested in art, technology, business, politics as well as in physical deeds. And while the path is littered with failures (and even deaths in all those endeavors), there is nothing as life affirming as to try. To not try when you see the line, have made your assessment, and believe you can succeed is a worse death.

    And for all of those who worry that videos of Honnold’s exploits will inspire those who are not ready, you are correct. A few testosterone-charged (mostly young men) will die. But why not focus your outrage on war movies instead where glorification mixed with testosterone leads to millions of dead and not just those who choose to play.

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    • Touche, Alan. Actually, the comparison to propagandists telling kids “join the army, see the world” is something I’ve thought about a lot. Alas, that’s a different blog post for a different blog.

      I appreciate your perspective. I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss free soloing. It is, definitely, awesome. But maybe that’s part of why I wring my hands over it and don’t do it anymore. Still, I don’t feel I have ceased to live. Nor have I forgotten that feeling. In honesty, my decision has had far more to do with a feeling of indebtedness to the people who love me and emotionally invest in my future well-being. I decided to tone it back a notch out of respect for them.

      Like

  • Richard Conner

    I was saddened by Ueli’s death. I am proud of Alex’s achievement. Other than that, I don’t think opinions on these matters are worth a damn

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  • Writing this as someone who has never climbed before in my life (so an outsider perspective):

    I am not well versed at all with climbing culture… I played soccer and ran track and that was about it. I never really hiked or even camped growing up, so athleticism outside of a cross country trail is pretty beyond my scope of knowledge. As a newb, I saw by chance an article about Alex Honnold and watched some of his videos out of curiosity. It was pretty stunning… I think the risk associated with free-soloing really grabbed me (as in it made me want to read more): It was pretty strange to watch. I was really impressed by his athleticism and dedication, but what made me click link after link was because I had a weird feeling thinking about someone climbing without ropes. From everything I’ve read, it seems like a pretty controversial subject: some people think it’s too much of a risk/stupid, others laud it… I didn’t know what I thought so I kept browsing, trying to develop an opinion.

    I think what I’ve taken away from Alex the media coverage of risky climbing is this:

    As someone who still has yet to climb anything, I think focusing on Alex really helped me make an initial connection with the sport. He grabbed my attention, but it eventually drifted elsewhere: after learning about his work, I began looking at competition videos for bouldering and stuff. I learned about other climbers who free-climb instead of free-solo. I started getting interested in training videos and blogs, etc. I don’t really have the money or am in a position in my life where I can climb (I live in a very small town so there’s no climbing gym anywhere nearby), but I gained a huge respect for the sport.

    However, though my introduction into the climbing world was was through a risky free-soloer, I know I would never take those risks if I had the chance to climb… even if I could dedicate a lot of my time to it. What I’m trying to say is that, for me as an outsider, I don’t think glamorizing free-soloers really affects my instinct to avoid that type of climbing myself. That could be just me. But I think many outsiders to the climbing world recognize the enormous risks associated with that type of climbing and would stay away from it. This may be different for intermediate/pro climbers who lack the experience (physically and mentally) to undertake any free-soloing… maybe some will overestimate their abilities and try to emulate the high risk work portrayed in the media. Also, since I know I am never going to go pro, I think my opinion could be altered by that as well. If you’re in the climbing business and trying to go pro, maybe the media attention to figures like Honnold would push one to try riskier climbing to gain some spotlight. I don’t know.

    I am still pretty mixed about this and see valid points in all of the comments and especially in this article. I think the media should shed some more attention on other, non-free-soloing climbers… since free-soloers make up such a small subset of the climbing community, they’re being really, really overrepresented in the media right now. Not to discredit their work, but I think it would be healthier to shed light on other non-free-soloing climbers if for no other reason than for more equal representation of the climbing community.

    Since I am not a member of the climbing community, I cannot speak to how high-risk climbs like Honnold are interpreted there and hope that people stay safe and know their limits. But, as an outsider, I think he was helpful in making me more aware of the amazing world of climbing that exists.

    To conclude:
    This news-grabby feat helped get me connected with the sport on whole which is great. I don’t think people outside the climbing universe are any more inclined to try risky climbing if climbing is something they ever take up… it just gets them inspired to get on a wall somewhere. However, the risky climbing may be interpreted differently in the climbing community… I just don’t know. I think more types of climbing needs to be recognized in the media besides this small subset. But I think many of the discussions around free-soloing and Honnold ignore the impact they can have on drawing outsiders into the world of climbing. Maybe that inspirational feeling for outsiders can be equally achieved if the media represented free-climbers instead of free-soloers and I think that is an interesting conversation we should have. But since I don’t see free-climbers in the media that is available to the lay-person, right now free-soloing is a major gateway for people to learn about your sport.

    That may be good or bad in your opinion (I don’t really have one on that matter… still researching), but that is what high risk climbing and Alex Honnold stand for right now. It’s not something I can have a legitimate discussion about since I’m not a climber, but I wanted to, as an outsider, let you know what it’s like from outside of the party. I can’t wait to see what the climbing community decides/says about how you guys are represented to us noobs.

    Like

  • Writing this as someone who has never climbed before in my life (so an outsider perspective):

    I am not well versed at all with climbing culture… I played soccer and ran track and that was about it. I never really hiked or even camped growing up, so athleticism outside of a cross country trail is pretty beyond my scope of knowledge. As a newb, I saw by chance an article about Alex Honnold and watched some of his videos out of curiosity. It was pretty stunning… I think the risk associated with free-soloing really grabbed me (as in it made me want to read more): It was pretty strange to watch. I was really impressed by his athleticism and dedication, but what made me click link after link was because I had a weird feeling thinking about someone climbing without ropes. From everything I’ve read, it seems like a pretty controversial subject: some people think it’s too much of a risk/stupid, others laud it… I didn’t know what I thought so I kept browsing, trying to develop an opinion.

    I think what I’ve taken away from Alex the media coverage of risky climbing is this:

    As someone who still has yet to climb anything, I think focusing on Alex really helped me make an initial connection with the sport. He grabbed my attention, but it eventually drifted elsewhere: after learning about his work, I began looking at competition videos for bouldering and stuff. I learned about other climbers who free-climb instead of free-solo. I started getting interested in training videos and blogs, etc. I don’t really have the money or am in a position in my life where I can climb (I live in a very small town so there’s no climbing gym anywhere nearby), but I gained a huge respect for the sport.

    However, though my introduction into the climbing world was was through a risky free-soloer, I know I would never take those risks if I had the chance to climb… even if I could dedicate a lot of my time to it. What I’m trying to say is that, for me as an outsider, I don’t think glamorizing free-soloers really affects my instinct to avoid that type of climbing myself. That could be just me. But I think many outsiders to the climbing world recognize the enormous risks associated with that type of climbing and would stay away from it. This may be different for intermediate/pro climbers who lack the experience (physically and mentally) to undertake any free-soloing… maybe some will overestimate their abilities and try to emulate the high risk work portrayed in the media. Also, since I know I am never going to go pro, I think my opinion could be altered by that as well. If you’re in the climbing business and trying to go pro, maybe the media attention to figures like Honnold would push one to try riskier climbing to gain some spotlight. I don’t know.

    I am still pretty mixed about this and see valid points in all of the comments and especially in this article. I think the media should shed some more attention on other, non-free-soloing climbers… since free-soloers make up such a small subset of the climbing community, they’re being really, really overrepresented in the media right now. Not to discredit their work, but I think it would be healthier to shed light on other non-free-soloing climbers if for no other reason than for more equal representation of the climbing community.

    Since I am not a member of the climbing community, I cannot speak to how high-risk climbs like Honnold are interpreted there and hope that people stay safe and know their limits. But, as an outsider, I think he was helpful in making me more aware of the amazing world of climbing that exists.

    To conclude:
    This news-grabby feat helped get me connected with the sport on whole which is great. I don’t think people outside the climbing universe are any more inclined to try risky climbing if climbing is something they ever take up… it just gets them inspired to get on a wall somewhere. However, the risky climbing may be interpreted differently in the climbing community… I just don’t know. I think more types of climbing needs to be recognized in the media besides this small subset. But I think many of the discussions around free-soloing and Honnold ignore the impact they can have on drawing outsiders into the world of climbing. Maybe that inspirational feeling for outsiders can be equally achieved if the media represented free-climbers instead of free-soloers and I think that is an interesting conversation we should have. But since I don’t see free-climbers in the media that is available to the lay-person, right now free-soloing is a major gateway for people to learn about your sport.

    That may be good or bad in your opinion (I don’t really have one on that matter… still researching), but that is what high risk climbing and Alex Honnold stand for right now. It’s not something I can have a legitimate discussion about since I’m not a climber, but I wanted to, as an outsider, let you know what it’s like from outside of the party. I can’t wait to see what the climbing community decides/says about how you guys are represented to us noobs.

    Like

  • Thank you for your words of wisdom. This is deep soul searching stuff that deserves attention and I encourage people to develop a relationship with death. Doing so will open the heart with life. Our modern western mindset is so fearful with going deep with transition, or change that it is crushing the planet with our closed cold hearts.
    I am with you Chris on not watching video of anyone’s solo. It’s an intensely private affair, which should be experienced away from prying eyes.
    My take away is that we as climbers (what ever level) have an opportunity to band together to develop a method of living and interacting with the world on a much more progressive level. We take incredible risks for what, personal development? That is fine and dandy but what are we doing with the takeaway? We have kings who can dance on a head of a pin and it inspires me do better than just chalk up on the bliss train.

    It would be great to have a gathering and do a little talking and scrambling to keep the flow going.

    Like

  • I would really like to know how one “gets down” off the mountain after such a climb. Hopefully a helo?

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  • Everyone sees the risk in Alex’s climb, but at the same time we’re not seeing how we each participate daily in risky activities such as biking on busy roads, crossing the street on foot, frying things in hot oil. To put it simply, we all make coordinated actions, where the mind-body coordination is the only source of security. So we all solo, to an extent. Alex just chooses to extend this a bit further in his climbing. His example is not one to follow to the letter, but to simply inspire each of us to continue honing our skills in our respective endeavors.

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  • BEAUTIFUL CLIMBING BUD!!!
    FYI Alex… the Paris Accord is nothing more than a lynch pin for the global climate scam to rip off the planet of trillions of dollars annually. Globalists probably know as much about climbing as you do about their shenanigans.

    Like

  • My child started skateboarding at 3 years old and refused to wear a helmet or knee pads. He had all the protective equipment but would discard it when we weren’t looking, or just be stubborn and sneak around skating free. Later same with biking, and then snowboarding. He was physically elegant and always more poised and competent than his peers. He never sustained any serious injuries. He insisted he was better at these sports being free of protective equipment that interfered with his movements. Sigh. He is now an adult and in a profession that requires him to wear protective gear, and he does. He has always had his ideas of what he considers dangerous. As a parent I spent years putting up with irate family, friends, and neighbors who clearly saw me as an irresponsible parent. I had a decades long rant — told him that if he sustained a serious head injury or became crippled I would not be changing his adult size diapers for him. Now he does gymnastics for fun. No protective gear needed. Thank God he never got into heavy climbing although the Rockies were in our backyard. I don’t think a solo free climber is going to stop if it was labeled
    politically incorrect. No way. With all the fame and glory removed — those who want it badly are still going to do it. It does seem a bit like an addiction in that respect.

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  • I think without the fame and notoriety, there would be a lot fewer pushing the boundaries. But there will always be some who look at the impossible and ask “Can I?” Some people just need to know the answer.

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  • I think without the fame/notoriety there would be a lot fewer pushing the limits of risk. But there will always be some who look at the impossible and ask “Can I?” Some people will always need to know the answer.

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  • As consumers of these current climbing crazes, we must keep our egos in check and our personal goals close to us. Alex didn’t spray to all about his solo ascent of Freerider for months, he just did it. And that was HIS goal.

    Please keep embracing the uncertainty of possibility and allow yourself, and others, the stillness to make these choices for themselves.

    Climb on!…if you want. 

    https://outsideisyourbestside.com/2017/06/14/challenge-by-choice/

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  • I am a lapsed climber, but also a former naval aviator and carrier pilot who swam in risk for quite a few years. When I watch videos of Alex, he can be calm because I am nervous for him. The feeling I get in my stomach…whew. I absolutely am in awe of his self control.

    Ok, the one useful thing I have to say is about the thought process some young people will follow. For Alex, I believe the logic is “I am a master, therefore I can solo.”

    Other people want to be masters too. But they flip it around into, “I solo, therefore I am a master.” That’s a false logic. It is possible to have a solo climb be a shit-show but not die. The real test is whether you are honest with yourself afterwards.

    There was a term for some pilots who were too lucky to die but too dumb to know it was luck and not skill, NAFOD (no apparent fear of death). There will be a few more if those out and about at the crags. Just the way of the world.

    Thoughtful piece, Chris. Thanks.

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  • I think the biggest thing is this quote from Alex’s interview

    “There was no uncertainty on this. I knew exactly what to do the whole way. A lot of the handholds feel like old friends.”

    So basically I think it is fine for a guy with an attitude like Alex’s to free solo, I have nothing but respect for the late Ueli Steck.

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