If you have not watched the documentary Free Solo, you need to. Like, seriously…carve out some time this weekend to fire up Netflix and get busy. It is awesome, for a bunch of reasons. Alex Honnold is the only person who has ever climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park WITHOUT ANY ROPES OR CLIMBING GEAR!!! Yes, you read that correctly, this is an amazing feat of human achievement.
The documentary shed light on several things that maybe not everyone picked up on. The focus of the film was the climb, and the easy takeaway of watching this was to be enthralled with the actual ascent and the moments on top of the mountain. But there was, in essence, a lifetime of preparation in this one day of glory. As is with many things in life, an overnight success spends years toiling in the shadows until someone finally turned the spotlight onto them.
The detail in preparation for this climb was impressive. The copious notes taken, the rehearsed movements, the visualization of the route, all of this pre-work is what made this journey possible. For several years, Alex thought about doing this, but was not ready to undertake this task. As the caption on the photo at the top reads: The consequence is Death. You better make damn sure you are ready if the task you are undertaking has that kind of penalty to it. He started more than once, only to turn back. He knows himself well enough to know when he is in the right state of mind and when he is not. That in itself is an amazing skill as a human; most of us delude ourselves with too much or too little confidence, and very little clarity.
The filming crew were all advanced climbers, including Jimmy Chin, who is famous for his photography of climbing expeditions, heliboarding and skiing adventures and similar extreme sport adventures. He shares some great insight on Alex’s undertaking, and the anxiety surrounding the idea of filming a good friend who could easily plummet to his death. No one achieves anything alone, and despite the Free Solo title, many people’s efforts were needed to make this endeavor possible.
I think some day we are going to hear on the news that Alex Honnold has died climbing. It is the nature of that sport; the danger is part of the draw to it, but a seemingly inevitability of it as well. To push your own limits means you walk a fine line, and as you continue to push yourself and that line continues to narrow, at some point it is too small to balance on. Will his death be tragic? I guess that depends on how you look at it. It will be tragic for his loved ones; they know he was born to do this, but their lives will have a huge void in it. Will Alex regret it? I doubt it. I do not believe he would trade a safe and sedentary life of safety and a longer life for the achievements and rarefied air he tasted any more than an Olympic Champion regrets his bad knees that cause him pain every day. The juice of a fruit that sweet and that rare is worth the squeeze, whatever the cost.
Am I encouraging you to try a free solo climb this weekend to get a high similar to what Alex must have felt? Of course not. Find your own proverbial El Capitan to ascend. Do the prep work, study, ready yourself for the task at hand. When the time comes, go all in, and focus like the consequence is death.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.