Unless you’ve been living under a rock (a very sheer, 3000′ tall granite rock), you’ve heard about the landmark free solo ascent of El Capitan that climber Alex Honnold made this week. Free soloing is exactly as it sounds – climbing by yourself, without any safety gear to secure you to the rock except your own two hands and feet. It’s about as risky as it gets, and when you combine free soloing with a granite face higher than the world’s tallest skyscraper…well, we just summited a whole new level of crazy.
Without any warning, without any fanfare, the internet suddenly went ablaze this week with stories of this amazing feat of physical and mental dominance. I mean SERIOUSLY – who does this??!! I can’t even shimmy within 5 feet of a 30 foot vertical drop without a jolt of leg-liquifying adrenaline pulsing through my vertiginous joints. How does someone have the power and nerve to climb the incredibly flat, notoriously fragile face of a cliff that is over a half mile high? Without ropes? Without a safety harness? Without a parachute or wing suit or paraglider or God knows what to ensure a pleasant glide to the bottom should one of your 3,000 steps fall short? Can someone please explain to me….HOW DOES SOMEONE DO THIS?????
The point is, we can’t explain it. That’s why Honnold’s story has captivated us so much. He has single- (or, more appropriately, double-) handedly thrown not just the climbing world, but the world of rational thought into an existential tailspin. Because it’s not just his awesome athleticism that is inspiring – climbing El Cap in under 4 hours is insane enough to make him the stuff of legends – it’s the mental muscle it took to overcome the very real, very human fear of falling/dying and will himself to do something humans (or really, any animal) aren’t supposed to do. Didn’t he ever look down and think, “man, that’s pretty far, I kind of wish I had my ropes with me today?”
In the short snippets of interviews with Honnold that have already been released, he mentions that mental preparedness is just as important to his free solo ascents as physical fitness. That’s why we didn’t hear anything about this landmark climb until after it was all said and done. Heck, his MOM didn’t even know he was doing it, which in retrospect, was a fair call there, Honnold. For him to believe, truly believe that he could do the incredible, he needed to only be surrounded by others who believed he could do it. Too much worrying, too much hype, too high of expectations and his whole chi could go haywire. Which pretty much meant Honnold’s circle of trust centered around himself (and a handful of National Geographic photographers, videographers, and journalists that may or may not have believed he could do it, but wisely thought it best to keep those thoughts to themselves).
In celebration of what is either the craziest or most inspiring thing to happen in Yosemite this year, I thought I’d share some rock-centric images from my April trip to the park. Congratulations to Honnold for proving that what was once impossible can become incredible – if only we look within, and then UP.