The Moon Landing Of Free-Solo Climbing
June 3, 2017 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Alex Honnold (previously in the blue for his ascent of Half-Dome and his possibly-unusual neurology) has completed the first free-solo ascent of Yosemite's El Capitan this morning.

From the National Geographic link:
"Renowned rock climber Alex Honnold on Saturday became the first person to scale the iconic nearly 3,000-foot granite wall known as El Capitan without using ropes or other safety gear, completing what may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.

He ascended the peak in 3 hours, 56 minutes, taking the final moderate pitch at a near run. At 9:28 a.m. PDT, under a blue sky and few wisps of cloud, he pulled his body over the rocky lip of summit and stood on a sandy ledge the size of a child’s bedroom."
posted by mhoye (66 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I feel like free soloing shouldn't be given any press ...it's just time delayed suicide. It's stupid, selfish, and completely unnecessary.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:35 PM on June 3 [16 favorites]


Holy hell, this is amazing. My palms are sweaty just reading the article. I can't even ..
posted by bigZLiLk at 6:38 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


>it's just time delayed suicide. It's stupid, selfish, and completely unnecessary.

Yeah, you could say the same thing about watching TV and eating chips though. At least free soloing has some aspiration to it. Not that I'm out climbing shit--but we all get to stake our lives on the activities of our choosing, and God bless us.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:50 PM on June 3 [33 favorites]


I'm not a climber and only have aspirations of bouldering in the gym, but damn if I couldn't read these articles forever. They're interesting and so totally inspiring.
posted by nevercalm at 6:57 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


I feel like free soloing shouldn't be given any press ...it's just time delayed suicide. It's stupid, selfish, and completely unnecessary.

Agreed. Even in the 23rd century when Vulcans with rocket boots are a thing, this is a stupid idea.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:59 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


Speaking as a climber: holy shiiiiiit. Also: something wrong with that boy.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:19 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you could say the same thing about watching TV and eating chips though. At least free soloing has some aspiration to it. Not that I'm out climbing shit--but we all get to stake our lives on the activities of our choosing, and God bless us.

No. There's nothing wrong with climbing, but free soloing is Russian Roulette, it's insanely dangerous for no good reason. It's adding a ridiculous amount of risk and the stupid journalists keep writing about it as if it's a good thing.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:35 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


>we all get to stake our lives on the activities of our choosing

>No.

'No'? I'm pretty sure we do.

If you think free soloing is stupid, don't do it. I don't. I don't watch football games either 'cause I think that's stupid, but I don't tell other people they can't.

The human mortality rate is holding steady at exactly 100%; the only thing that's in doubt is whether you will get to spend any time doing what you want before you go. If somebody looks like they know what they want to do, I say again, God bless 'em.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:45 PM on June 3 [39 favorites]


People aren't actually obligated to live their lives in ways that make others feel safe and comfortable.

(Also I finished the First Ascent episode with Hunnold about 45 minutes ago and my heart is still beating too fast.)
posted by lalex at 7:54 PM on June 3 [9 favorites]


(leotrotsky--sorry, I'm not trying to be all argumentative. I, personally, am excessively risk-averse, which I tend to feel is also selfish, stupid, and a waste of life in its own way... Anyway, we're all burning up our time here in the way that seems best to us; that's all I mean to say.)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:59 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Alex Honnold is amazing and I love reading about his feats. But I'm most looking forward to this article at some point in the future: Alex Honnold announces retirement. "Quit while you're ahead!
I'm going to spend the rest of my days raising llamas."

posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:08 PM on June 3 [18 favorites]


It would only be selfish if Honnold had a family depending on him, or some other similar circumstance. As it is, why shouldn't he do what he does?

His neurology is fascinating. I've heard a few stories about people who have various kinds of brain damage that prevent them feeling pain. They always end badly -- for example, the patients burn themselves badly because they don't know that they're touching hot metal. If Honnold was in some other line of work, like the military, his neurology might have gotten him killed, but as it is, he seems to have this on lock. I wish I did. I'm terrified of getting out of the damn bed some days. I'll be the last one to condemn him Shatnering his way up a mountain.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:09 PM on June 3 [4 favorites]


People aren't actually obligated to live their lives in ways that make others feel safe and comfortable.

As someone with a cousin who had to spent a significant part of a day looking for someone’s brain in Eaton Canyon outside Los Angeles (apparently bashing your head on the rocks can “squirt” your body parts a decent distance), I find this kind of thinking incredibly selfish. Other people have to pay the price for your YOLO lifestyle.
posted by sideshow at 8:16 PM on June 3 [21 favorites]


If only humans weren't such an imitative species by instinct. Then maybe I wouldn't feel bad about cheering on a daredevil like this guy who might inspire others to follow his lead at all. But then, I'd probably also feel guilty if I cheered him on and then he died, but that's just me, and I seem to have an oversized sense of personal responsibility that can become self defeating at the extremes. I had a co-worker getting into base jumping a couple years ago and couldn't in good conscience not discourage him when he was first considering trying it just because I would have partly blamed myself if he'd gotten killed. So like they say, YMMV, but I still can't feel inspired by this kind of thing like some do. Honestly I kind of wish I could, but that'll never be me. I can't help wanting everybody to just be safe.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:24 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]


The moon landing was concentrated act of teamwork requiring the mastery of a number of engineering and science disciplines over a number of years, in an effort to advance humanity.

This is one guy doing an amazing physical feat, to show off.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:50 PM on June 3 [10 favorites]


As an outdoor enthusiast who takes certain risks myself, I also feel like I have a sort of moral obligation to state my warning, here. Like if there was some idiot tourist trying to pose their baby on a bison while feeding bears and walking off-trail in a geothermal area.

"No. Don't do that."

Even if a person has no friends or family to leave behind, there's always the hiker who comes across a half-eaten corpse. A SAR team that spends days freezing their butts off looking for a fool, or more often the fool's Earthly remnant.

As far as I'm concerned this is like a Guiness Banned Record: nothing here. No name, no time, no location, no memory. Shame on any outdoor publication that encourages this stuff.
posted by traveler_ at 9:05 PM on June 3 [9 favorites]


For anyone who bothered to RTFA it is obvious that the guy trained, hard, to do this. He practiced and practiced, he even rappelled the route a few days before to make sure nothing had changed after a recent storm. he was prepared for the effort, and skilled enough to pull it off, why shit on his efforts because it seems dangerous to you?
People sail alone around the world, do flips on mountain bikes, slackline over canyons, surf in shark infested waters, climb everest w/out O's, walk to school in the dark -- life is not without risk.
It's not like there are a host of other climbers out there just itching to see if this could be done so that they can now try it. He's an outlier, but he still does his homework and trains like crazy.
Good article, good for him for accomplishing this feat.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:28 PM on June 3 [25 favorites]


The guy who climbs a sheer surface using only mettle and muscle deserves recognition, the person foolish enough to follow his lead does so at their own peril.
posted by furtive at 9:32 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


I feel like Leotrotsky and traveler_ have the right of it, in addition to most people here it seems so far.

Feats like this are astounding and impressive and while I respect the ability and planning and dedication that went into this greatly, I'd also feel like I was being irresponsible in not pointing out the utter disregard for anything approaching standards in terms of safety, and also the utter and complete disregard for every single person that would be involved if he were to fail. The stories I've heard from SAR people and normal folks who've been near the sort of accidents that this sort of thing can cause are fucking chilling.

I know I'm not the only one here saying this, but as someone who likes climbing things, even to a dramatically lesser degree, free-soloing is just pointless idiocy and irresponsible to report on. It's no more impressive than making the same climb with better safety gear unless you care more about flash than human life. We invented those measures for a reason.

I really am incredibly impressed by his accomplishment, but I also like climbing things and people like him are almost certainly destined to die falling off a cliff face and perhaps other people, less prepared and skilled people, will think free-climbing is a fun and good idea because of people like him and hurt themselves because of his breathless press coverage.
posted by neonrev at 9:59 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]


Not being a climber, I don't know the answer to this, but is there anything about climbing without safety equipment that makes the actual climbing harder? Or is it just the mental fear of knowing that if you fall you die?

I would have guessed that the actual climbing with safety equipment would actually be harder -- dragging extra weight, having to stop and do whatever it is you do to keep clipped into your safety gear, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:05 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]


Honnold had a whole team crawling El Capitan up and down videoing him, decorated climbers all. No rescue team was going to need risk their life for him, nor was any random hiker likely at risk of being traumatized finding his brains.

This is all about risk management, and every one of us does it every time we get in a car. Jared Diamond likes to tell a story about Papua New Guineans avoiding camping near dead trees because generations had figured out that the lifetime risk of doing so was too high. They thought he was nuts for camping near a dead tree--and he was from a certain point of view.

Were our culture to exist for a thousand years with cars, people might think getting on the highway was crazy. And think of those rescue crews who risk their lives every day to pick those reckless car users off the road! And the poor other drivers who might see a body---because we must hide death at all costs and pretend that it doesn't happen, and denormalize it.

In general it is tricky to figure out when a rescuer is being put at excess risk. I would differentiate two situations:
1. That of an unprepared hiker from the city who decides to climb Mt. Washington in New England during a snowstorm. They seem to put rescue teams at excess risk because those rescuers would not be up risking their lives on the mountain under those conditions.

2. Picking the carcasses of other human beings off of Everest is a different story---the people who do *that* sort of rescue *live* for that stuff. It is what they *want* to do. Not my thing. But no one is forced to do that sort of work. Half the climbers on the mountain do that sort of rescue for free, as part of the meaning generation of their lives.

Frankly under situation (1) I think no rescue should be attempted (except again for those volunteer rescuers who actually gain significant meaning from taking high risks themselves).

As for whether Honnold or Ueli Steck encourage others to take unnecessary risks---that seems like saying expert race car drivers encourage regular folk to get on the freeway and drive like race cars. Perhaps, but only in the case of what we would consider mental illness. We do not censure race car drivers when someone does go crazy on a freeway and emulate a race car driver. We do not imagine that they encourage less skilled people to drive recklessly.

Further, I think the disgust expressed by neonrev's "fucking chilling" is illuminating. I accept it, that neonrev would be squicked out, but one could level the same disgust reaction at the meat isle in every grocery store---grisly brains and blood and guts everywhere! And yet somehow we think this is OK in the case of nonhuman animals. I can't differentiate, and in particular given the shortness of life just can't bring myself to censure someone for taking such risks.

Let's say Honnold were free climbing a skyscraper over a busy street where the chance of him falling on someone and killing them, thus decreasing their short life and limiting their freedom of decisions--then surely criticize away, put him in jail. But not in this case.
posted by supercoiled at 10:17 PM on June 3 [23 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree it's Russian Roulette (I'm impressed by the training and planning that went into this climb). I agree that it's selfish, but not necessarily in the way the comment might have been meant. I was trying to find a good Honnold quote about free soloing. I couldn't, mainly because he's pretty nonplussed about the whole thing. But I found this from South African climber Tristan Firman:

“Climbing, and soloing, is a passage, a journey,” he told me, “It’s not a short undertaking, and mass media fall short when they popularize the sport because they focus on the only really tangible aspect, the purported risk.” The more important dynamic at work, Firman said, is the longer-term process of elemental self-discovery that can happen. “Part of the challenge is grappling with the mind versus body versus mountain interaction,” he said, “And because it has consequences, the experience is crystal.”
posted by not_the_water at 10:30 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]


I also don't want to become argumentative about this, but feel I need to focus what I meant:

I've climbed my share of mountains and rocks, and the delusion that a person has ever practiced and prepared enough to free solo is not something unfamiliar. But it is a delusion nonetheless and one that must be actively resisted, like the dark side of the force. Not only within one's self, but among the community as a collective obligation.

Believing one is a good enough pilot to fudge the procedures is always always always a mistake. That's how doctors and Kennedies die. You'll still find pilots who think they're good enough, who get sloppy. They get away with it right until they don't. And you'll find climbers who think they're "skilled enough to pull it off", who get away with it until they don't. In sailing, solo circumnavigation is totally a thing. Doing it without emergency equipment is not only more risky but pointlessly so. I believe it's even illegal. It's certainly shunned.

Tl;dr the overestimation of competence among the competent is a common problem. "Risk management" is absolutely my point. And if I were a race car driver, I would censure the hell out of a fellow driver who refused to wear a nomex suit because he'd "scouted the track and was good enough not to crash." Even if he was racing solo and not risking anybody else. The fool.
posted by traveler_ at 10:38 PM on June 3 [17 favorites]


OK, I completely agree with traveler_ that overestimation of competence among the competent is a common problem. And there is an important sense in which one *cannot* practice enough to be prepared to free solo. The uncertainties of the rock itself, the weather on the holds, alone means that there is a level of risk that cannot be practiced away. But I don't buy the nomex suit argument, and I'll try to explain why.

First, there is nothing magical about these free solo guys. Honnold will *likely* die free-soloing. There is no question about it. He is accepting a certain level of risk to practice a certain art form, and at that level of risk, his expected age of death is probably mid 40s. I *expect* to read about his death before mine and I am 15 years older. We can't hold him up as someone who is so magically competent that he is going to get away with it until he is 90.

But I don't believe that Honnold or the others are necessarily 'fudging procedures' because they are overestimating their competence. I think they are likely fudging procedures for aesthetic reasons or reasons of personal significance. They may be fully aware of the risks, and be choosing to take them anyway.

Now let's go to the race car driver & the nomex suit. It seems like the guy without the nomex suit is a fool. But the problem is, there are levels of safety equipment that go way above the nomex suit! We could add some new titanium cage around the driver, add extra fire extinguishers around the cockpit, etc. etc. Then we could say, the guy with just the nomex suit is such a damn fool, risking his life without the titanium cage!

The fact is that even with the nomex suit, race car driving is, in an absolute sense, extremely risky behavior! You couldn't pay me enough to do it! The guy with *just* the nomex suit is choosing to accept a seriously high level of risk for his chosen art form. For some reason, the people who like race driving aesthetically find it displeasing to put the driver in a titanium sphere cockpit. As far as I am concerned, they are idiots to do this, but they would think that it was ruining race car driving for me to require the titanium sphere. This is a purely aesthetic reason.

The mountaineers on everest, even the ones with lines of sherpas, oxygen, and the best gear are absolutely taking a high risk path to the top, relative to someone who wears a spacesuit (and the top really is pressure suit territory), and uses some kind of motorized conveyance. They are in exactly the same sense (that of not choosing the safest way to do it) fools.

The only way I could buy the nomex suit argument is if we agreed that some particular absolute level of risk was OK, above which the risk was not OK, and if the nomex suit got us to the magic absolute level of risk. But we aren't going to agree on that.

The way I think of it, *even with* emergency equipment, there are lots of activities which are pointlessly risky at the risk level I personally choose to accept. Per launch, manned space flight could be more risky than free soloing. A good guess of the risk of death per space flight might be 1% given the US track record. The per free solo ascent risk for the best climbers is probably much less, probably 0.1% or less considering the number of training ascents they successfully accomplish solo. Somehow we justify letting astronauts take the risk. It would be much safer if they stayed on the ground, it is certainly an unnecessary risk.

My father used to be an avid cave diver. Took all the training. Used all the appropriate gear. Practiced, practiced, practiced. Was used to the checklist mindset. He was rewarded and saw amazing stuff that I am forever envious of, and he didn't die and never had an incident. But even at his skill level and with all the support, I could not bring myself to accept the level of risk he did. I hope that none of my close friends or relatives take up cave diving (at least until they've done everything else they want to do). And yet if they chose to do this, if I truly loved them and respected their autonomy as conscious beings, I would accept it.
posted by supercoiled at 11:24 PM on June 3 [14 favorites]


This is amazing and beautiful and I'm glad people like this exist. I could never do this. I think free soloing something higher than about 12 feet is scary (I'm not afraid of heights I'm afraid of depths).

Not amazing or beautiful: arguing that some rando you don't know and will never meet should live life the way you see fit.
posted by rtha at 12:14 AM on June 4 [13 favorites]


As someone with a cousin who had to spent a significant part of a day looking for someone’s brain in Eaton Canyon outside Los Angeles (apparently bashing your head on the rocks can “squirt” your body parts a decent distance), I find this kind of thinking incredibly selfish. Other people have to pay the price for your YOLO lifestyle.

You can just leave the brains out there you know. Something will eat it.

People like Honnold are gonna do stuff like this. If you don't like it, don't read about it. He knows the risks a shitload better than anyone here pontificating from their couch.
posted by fshgrl at 12:43 AM on June 4 [8 favorites]


What an amazing feat. What an amazing amount of preparation, but also probably the exactly right amount of preparation: so much preparation that most likely eventualities can be managed and maybe even the unlikely ones.

The preparation that went into this is the only thing that saves from being a fucking crazy stupid thing and changes it into a controlled, extraordinary feat.

That said, I've been in enough situations that I know my way around so intimately I could do them blindfolded, backwards in my sleep - it's the inconceivable happening that has made me shy and even stopped me. In Honnold's case something like a bird shitting in the wrong place at the wrong moment or a little dust devil whipping dust into his eyes. But I was about 40 when I started to recalibrate what was possible vs what the unexpected would cost. So I guess it's good he did this now and that he succeeded. But Christ, what a crazy fucking thing to do.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:21 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


I certainly hope nobody calling this man selfish has ever ridden a motorcycle.
posted by pmbuko at 1:35 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


I guess the idea of seeing this and deciding to imitate it is so incomprehensible to me personally that I'd have a hard time holding this dude responsible for any significant percentage of splattered brains in the world. But I'm not particularly in touch with climbing culture or how it relates to stuff like this.
posted by atoxyl at 3:09 AM on June 4


My reaction, as a long-time climber, goes straight past any judgement or fretting about safety, and is simply awe. What a time to be alive, while there's such turmoil and terrible news, people are quietly achieving incredible, beautiful, fantastic achievements like this. People are, indeed, awesome.

Did you know someone did a 1080 on a skateboard recently? And people thought Tony Hawk had pushed beyond the possible. Another skateboarder in Europe landed a 1080 triple kickflip. Forget backflips, Nicholai Rogatkin is doing 1080 cork front flips on a mountain bike.

Just...human achievement is unbelievable. And now this.
posted by other barry at 3:11 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


FWIW, a few people have definitely managed to transition away from a high-risk climbing career into respectable old age. I hope Alex Honnold manages it too.

Exhibit A, Peter Croft, mentioned in the article.

Exhibit B, Australian climber Mike Law. The man who infamously started the trend of neon lycra tights to the climbing world in the 80s, did a LOT of free soloing, had a LOT of close calls, and took on entire geological strata that had been deemed too loose, crumbly and dangerous to climb on by the mainstream climbing community. He now has a real job and PhD, a family and a daughter, and a dad bod. Last I heard he still climbs at the big Sydney climbing gym, and trolls young hotshots who don't know who he is.
posted by other barry at 3:54 AM on June 4 [12 favorites]


This past November, Honnold made his first attempt at the free solo, but backed off after less than an hour of climbing because conditions did not feel right.

I can't talk about climbing but sailing around the world solo was mentioned and it's another activity that sounds nuts to some folks and while I've not done a serious passage I've been a good ways out in the ocean solo. If it's done right it's safer than laying in bed. No, really I was reading mortality statistics and there's a measurable category for people that die by accidental strangulation by sheets. How do you prepare for perfect safety there?

The world these days is very safe, stay out of war zones and LOOK BOTH WAYS every time crossing and really you're very safe, at least statistically.
posted by sammyo at 5:16 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I guess the idea of seeing this and deciding to imitate it is so incomprehensible to me personally that I'd have a hard time holding this dude responsible for any significant percentage of splattered brains in the world.

That's the thing that makes me feel that some of the criticism doesn't carry water. I have a hard time seeing free soloing inspiring copycats. It is self-limiting. People see this and are wowed in one of several different directions, but who sees this and thinks "I gotta try that"?
posted by entropone at 5:43 AM on June 4


Incredible. I wish I had his presence of mind:
“With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” he said. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”
posted by invokeuse at 6:56 AM on June 4


entropone: "People see this and are wowed in one of several different directions, but who sees this and thinks "I gotta try that"?"

Have you ever met a teenage boy?
posted by Mitheral at 7:57 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


I'm definitely conflicted about this; certainly an impressive feat, but what is gained by doing it wiout safety gear. I'm not a climber so I ask in seriousness: given the risks inherent in climbing a 2000+ foot rock wall, just how much safer do ropes etc. make it? Especially for experienced and skilled climbers? I also wonder what his critics think of Phillipe Petit and his World Trade Center tightrope walk.
posted by TedW at 8:43 AM on June 4


I mentioned that last night I watched the Honnold episode of First Ascent, a 2010 six-part series where each episode focuses on a climber or small group of climbers:

Episode 1: Alex Honnold
Episode 2: Sean "Stanley" Leary
Episode 3: Chris Sharma
Episode 4: Jonny Copp and Micah Dash
Episode 5: Timmy and Sean O'Neill
Episode 6: Dean Potter

Leary, Copp, Dash, and Potter are all dead.
posted by lalex at 10:05 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]


"Leary, Copp, Dash, and Potter are all dead." And none of them died free soloing. Potter died flying in a wingsuit, Leary base jumping, and Copp and Dash were struck by an avalanche.

Look, I've been climbing almost 30 years and have climbed over 100 days in the past year, and what Honnold did yesterday is absolutely fucking amazing, visionary, and inspiring. All of the hand wringing and pearl clutching I'm reading here quite frankly pisses me off. I'll kindly ask you to stfu unless you actually know what you're talking about. And it's pretty clear that the people dissing Alex don't have a clue.

"I'm not a climber so I ask in seriousness: given the risks inherent in climbing a 2000+ foot rock wall, just how much safer do ropes etc. make it? Especially for experienced and skilled climbers?"

It's night and day. Hundreds of people climb the Freerider on gear every year with virtually no serious accidents. I've taken thousands of roped falls with no more than an occasional bruise or scrape. If you fall free soloing from more than 75 feet or so, you die. And the route is hard. It would take me, an experienced and skilled climber, several days and dozens of falls to climb it. Which is precisely what makes Honnold's achievement so outstanding. It's mind blowing.

He fucking crushed it. Good on him.
posted by lost_cause at 11:42 AM on June 4 [26 favorites]


I feel the same way about this as I do about young people signing up for admittedly unlikely Mars missions. If you have a family there is an element of selfishness involved.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:59 AM on June 4


TedW: "given the risks inherent in climbing a 2000+ foot rock wall, just how much safer do ropes etc. make it? Especially for experienced and skilled climbers? "

Ropes make it incredibly safe, Especially for experienced and skilled climbers that are good at placing gear (meaning, using blocks and camming devices to anchor into cracks and other places, to attach the ropes to).

If you fall when climbing without a rope like Alex Honnold, you'll die 100% of the time
If you fall when climbing with a rope, you have a less than 1% chance of dying, provided you're placing good enough gear.

Even after climbing for many years, you can fall off the easiest routes. I once slipped on a bit of sand and landed 10m below where I was before. If Alex slips on wet rock, a rock comes loose or gets bitten by something halfway up the wall and loses his cool, he's dead. If he'd have a rope, he'd be scraped up at most.

I hope that clarifies it a bit.
It's an impressive feat.

(Btw but what's more dangerous is n00b climbers who have no idea what they're doing hanging out without anchoring/security 150m up a wall because they feel like their belay ledge is large enough - or people placing shitty gear because they just bought a lot of $$$$ gear, and think that'll save their lives, even if they don't know how to place it properly)
posted by Thisandthat at 12:33 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Incredible deed, congratulations to him!
posted by so fucking future at 4:46 PM on June 4


I've been bouldering for about a year, now, in gyms. Have done top rope a few times, but the campus rec doesn't usually have top rope hours that work for my schedule so haven't done it a lot. This weekend I went on my first outdoor climb, Bulo Point and French's Dome up on the east side of Mt. Hood.

Over a couple of days I managed a 5.6 and a 5.8. I worked on a couple of 5.10Cs, but didn't finish either. The technical aspect wasn't the super-hard part. I kept having panic attacks after about 50-60 feet up due to the height. My belayers were amazing, and encouraging, and it wasn't like I was going through a "i'm gonna fall i'm gonna fall oh god gonna die" litany or anything in my mind; it was just straight-up physiological freak-out. Doing the 5.8 today at French's was really, really hard, pushing through that feeling.

On the way back, we got into cell service, and kept chatting about this in the car ride. This is flat-out incredible. I'll never free-climb and I don't even know how much outdoor climbing I'll do in the future, but watching humans perform this kind of feat - weird/wired brain or not - is inspiring.
posted by curious nu at 6:48 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


All of the hand wringing and pearl clutching I'm reading here quite frankly pisses me off. I'll kindly ask you to stfu unless you actually know what you're talking about.
You can ask all you want, but as they say, see which hand fills up first.

I've spent my time on rock, but you don't need to be an expert alpinist or climb 5.14c to understand that publicizing stunts like this is irresponsible and silly.

If you're sure your life is worth nothing to anyone around you, then sure, do it on your own -- but with no cameras and no publicity, for your own enjoyment. Knock yourself out.

When you make it a public activity, you're tacitly encouraging other people to undertake similarly foolhardy activities. That's the objection here, and it's a very sound one I have yet to see countered in any meaningful way.
posted by uberchet at 8:25 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


This thread has really bothered me. Enough that I couldn't get to sleep last night and had to take a pill. Enough that I woke early this morning, tossing and turning, and couldn't get back to sleep. Enough that it was running through my head as I ran through some nearby mountains today. (Alone in grizzly country! What risk!)

I keep coming back to this idea of responsibility. Almost every subculture has it: Not everyone is ok with taking high doses of psychedelics. But if you're going to trip, have a sitter. Not everyone is ok with BDSM. But if you're going to, better set boundaries, prepare safewords or whatever, do aftercare. These are well-known within their respective communities as important parts of how to lead risky lives.

So I'm compelled to try again, perhaps with an analogy closer to home for most of us: driving a car without a seatbelt. Just driving at all entails some amount of risk. Not wearing a seatbelt, somewhat more. But above and beyond the basic number of what that risk is is the uselesness of it: there's no good benefit of leaving the belt unbuckled. It's chutzpah, like giving the finger to fate.

A solo circumnavigation in sailing is a certain degree of risk, one some people are ok with and others are not. It's a judgement call and a personal decision. But leaving your flotation devices and EPIRB on shore is an extra risk for no good reason.

Most of us won't end up trying to decide whether to free solo a big wall climb. But the same illusions of control that make it seem like it matters how much the unnamed guy has prepared or how skilled he is is a siren song that everyone can be susceptable to hearing. It's important to recognize the symptoms and know wisdom.
posted by traveler_ at 8:37 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


One of the photographers has published some photos from the ascent.

One of my favorite El Cap videos is Emily Harrington climbing Golden Gate. You can really see the try-hard and the determination it takes to climb one of these big routes. She falls a lot.


And here's Emily and Alex climbing together with some hilarious back-and-forth.
posted by misterpatrick at 9:16 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I guess the idea of seeing this and deciding to imitate it is so incomprehensible to me personally that I'd have a hard time holding this dude responsible for any significant percentage of splattered brains in the world.

That's what Honnold says about himself: it's not extraordinary that he can do this, it's extraordinary that he wants to.

I free soloed many times when I was younger, although we didn't call it that. I started climbing so young I can't remember learning.

When you read these stories don't project your own fear onto Honnold, let yourself imagine that what he feels is the joy of being outside in nature in perfect sync with his body, mentally alone in pure focus on a task. Imagine how people did things before they were people and had words to describe and think about them. Just looking and forming a wordless idea of physical movement and then executing it. Because I imagine that's exactly what he feels. Perfect flow.

Don't worry, it's not dangerous to imagine that. None of us are going up there after him no matter how good it probably feels. He's uniquely talented. He's a lucky man.
posted by fshgrl at 9:43 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


He's uniquely talented. He's a lucky man.

Until his luck runs out. Also, see above re: the competent overestimating their own competence.

If he's not married, has no kids or other dependents, and has a support system in place to do rescue if things go wrong (although, let's be real, "things going wrong" in free soloing usually means it's recovery, not rescue), then his life is his to do with as he pleases. But, in a case like this, free soloing means nothing other than increasing the risk drastically for the purposes of increasing the risk. Not, for instance, as in the cave diving example given above, for seeing amazingly beautiful things otherwise inaccessible, or exploring the unknown (astronauts), or even testing the limits of human endurance. Just risk for the sake of risk. Philippe Petit is an artist. Honnold is committing slow-motion suicide. And, while I concede his right to do so, I also reserve the right to think that that's a stupid thing to do.
posted by praemunire at 9:56 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Only if you measure the worth of a life in quantity and not quality. Not everyone does.

And you're wrong that it's risk for the sake of risk. It is risk for the sake of achievement. Honnold is not operating from a place of fear remember. He's doing this because he's pretty sure he can and he loves it.

Metafilter has to be the most risk averse group of people on the planet though, so I realize I'm in the minority here. But people are not necessarily reacting to his achievements the way that this group has decided they are. It's not like thousands of kids never thought of climbing on things before this guy came along but now they're super into it.
posted by fshgrl at 10:32 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


It's true that if Honnold miscalculates he's dead. But so is the motorcycle rider, or person descending a mountain road, or person driving 65mph on a two-lane road with traffic coming other way.

You may say: but the ordinary driver/rider is careful such that there is very little risk involved.

So is Honnold. The probability of his falling, given the amount of prep (free climbing (roped)) he puts into these routes is about the likelihood of the average driver crossing the double yellow and colliding head-on with the semi going the other way, or driving off the mountain road or the like. It's minuscule given the way he does it.

This is not like some BASE jumping or wingsuit flying or the like.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:58 AM on June 5


You can just leave the brains out there you know. Something will eat it.

Don't know the legal status in the US, but in a lot of places, there's a legal obligation for the authorities to attempt to retrieve the body in order to cremate or bury it. And that's discounting the possibility that the body might actually be alive, which you cannot ascertain for certain until you find it (admittedly, this won't apply to stray brains).


It's true that if Honnold miscalculates he's dead. But so is the motorcycle rider, or person descending a mountain road, or person driving 65mph on a two-lane road with traffic coming other way.

It's not just the risk, it's the unnecessary nature of the risk. Driving is dangerous, yes, but driving without a seatbelt is just adding danger for no benefit. Climbing without ropes adds nothing, except risk and danger. It's irresponsible not to sell to minimise risk within reason, not seek to maximise it. Climbing El Capitan without falling once is impressive whether or not ropes would've caught you if you did. Doing it without is just adding danger for its own sake.
posted by Dysk at 3:55 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]


He knows the risks a shitload better than anyone here pontificating from their couch.

To be fair, you don't know how high my couch is.
posted by flabdablet at 5:36 AM on June 5 [9 favorites]


discounting the possibility that the body might actually be alive, which you cannot ascertain for certain until you find it (admittedly, this won't apply to stray brains)

Pffft. All you need is a hat and a belt.
posted by flabdablet at 5:40 AM on June 5


in a case like this, free soloing means nothing other than increasing the risk drastically for the purposes of increasing the risk. Not, for instance, as in the cave diving example given above, for seeing amazingly beautiful things otherwise inaccessible, or exploring the unknown (astronauts), or even testing the limits of human endurance. Just risk for the sake of risk.

Why privilege certain amazingly beautiful things otherwise inaccessible over others, on no better basis that those so privileged are external to the bodymind?

Beauty is in the beholder.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 AM on June 5


It's not just the risk, it's the unnecessary nature of the risk. Driving is dangerous, yes, but driving without a seatbelt is just adding danger for no benefit. Climbing without ropes adds nothing, except risk and danger. It's irresponsible not to sell to minimise risk within reason, not seek to maximise it. Climbing El Capitan without falling once is impressive whether or not ropes would've caught you if you did. Doing it without is just adding danger for its own sake.

This is not true. Climbing with ropes, whether free or aid, is simply not the same activity as free soloing. Rope management, placing gear and managing your own safety are serious tasks that actually take away from and compete with the elemental pleasure of moving vertically over stone. That's why bouldering is even a thing. The analogies to driving without a seatbelt are wildly off the mark. There are no analogies applicable.
Even though it's now a fact that a human has done this, it is still incomprehensible. What are the right words? Awe? Terror? Anger? Ecstasy?
I think Edmund Burke's formulation of the word sublime is about right.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 7:58 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]


The bottom line is - no matter what existential spin you try and put on it he has a mother at home who he puts through 4 hours of abject terror on a regular basis, assuming she knows what his plans are. If she doesn't, she's probably in a near constant state. Selfish.

Like, how many times do we think he would realistically be able to repeat this climb without dying?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:26 AM on June 5


And let's not forget speed is actually a thing. He climbed the route in under four hours. Freerider is 35 pitches with a pitch generally being one rope length or gold feature to good feature. I've been climbing for close to 20 years and on a climb like this I usually calculate one hour per pitch. In other words I would be on that route for two days. Actually forever since I can't climb 5.13 but you get the idea. Free soloing is just you climbing. Not having to bring up a second, place gear, manage rope and set belays - just climbing. There is something to be said for that. With roped climbing there is a lot that can go wrong, with soloing there is only one thing.
posted by misterpatrick at 8:48 AM on June 5 [5 favorites]


> Selfish

He talks in this clip about how his dad died. His dad was 55 and running to catch a connecting flight and he died of a heart attack. Honnold talks about how that recalibrated his sense of risk and possibility.

Maybe give him - and his mother - credit for having had these conversations, probably on an ongoing basis.
posted by rtha at 9:06 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]


Alex's mother, Dierdre Wolownick, knows all about his climbing (and he takes her climbing some place awesome every year on her birthday). Here's an article with a quote that really sums up her perspective:
No one can stop Alex from doing what he’s driven to do. I would never want to. It’s what gives him purpose, and joy. Happiness. (Such a pale word, here!) Why would any parent want to deny that to their child? So no, I would never want my child to be miserable and safe. Life is too short!
I wish more people (in this thread and otherwise) had her perspective.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:24 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Oh, and for the climbers in the thread: Tom came back for a special edition of the El Cap report.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:33 AM on June 5


The bottom line is - no matter what existential spin you try and put on it he has a mother at home who he puts through 4 hours of abject terror on a regular basis, assuming she knows what his plans are. If she doesn't, she's probably in a near constant state. Selfish.

You don't get to involuntarily bring someone into the world and then demand that they live in a way that makes you feel good. I've seen an interview with Honnold's mother. She's fine, takes it all in stride, and very proud of her son.
posted by lalex at 9:39 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]




This quote is just magic:

Interviewer: A normal person would probably take the afternoon off after they free-soloed El Cap.
Alex: But I’ve been trying to hang board every other day, and it’s the other day.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:28 PM on June 5 [4 favorites]


Alex did something amazing and close to insane. I don't understand people critizing this feat. He has no children. If he fell and a first responder had to pick up pieces of him...well that's their job. People complaining about that seem to be making it about themselves. Thankfully Alex didn't listen to people like them and lived his dream.
posted by sety at 4:07 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Like, how many times do we think he would realistically be able to repeat this climb without dying?

From the interview linked above:
Honestly even now I feel like I could go do another lap right now. I feel so amped.

As someone who is pretty risk-averse, I've been following the discussion here with interest. I took up indoor climbing earlier this year and have been completely sucked into the rabbit hole; it's no doubt because of this newfound interest that I find Honnold's achievement spectacular. It's inspiring, too, though not in the sense that some of you seem to fear it might be - I've never even been climbing outdoors, let alone free soloed anything - but rather in the satisfaction that I derive from seeing someone work hard at a goal thought to be next to impossible and crush it.

I pop into r/climbing from time to time and the occasional posts I see where someone tells their story about meeting Honnold at the crag paint him as a humble and relaxed fellow. I find myself wishing I had more people like him in my life.
posted by invokeuse at 8:44 PM on June 5


I don't understand people critizing this feat.

Dude's image promotes risk. We're asked to celebrate the culmination of the risk. "Its the riskiest risk anyone ever risked at that super risky spot! Its cool though, he de-risked it." O_o Some of us blanch at this. This is OK. If everyone got it climbing would be normal.

This sentiment is awful, though, and makes me wish it's lulzy trolling:

If he fell and a first responder had to pick up pieces of him...well that's their job

I mean, seriously. Making anyone's job shittier is being a bad human and a waste of resources. Its part of the job, just like dealing with the milkshake someone dumped on the table is, or the mess in the crapper or vandalism or any number of other things we'd rather not need to deal with but need to because people are awful.

And about SAR. SAR? Perhaps most sainted of volunteers?

Trauma to a falling body is...not sunshine and flowers. I feel for anybody who has to deal with that. I certainly would like to believe in the reality where dude gets picked up by his own certified crew. That's a nice world to believe in. (The largely volunteer) SAR is going to get this guy out no matter how many friends he has because his friends ain't gonna do much beyond call it in if past evidence littering the valley is of any guide.

So, anyway, tip your wait staff more than you think you should once in a while and leave your hotel room as clean as you can stand to.

Good job, Alex, though its not about our saying so.

.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 9:33 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


How many times could Honnold repeat this without falling? Indefinitely. Not in a row, obviously. But the chance he was going to fall was very very low.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:00 AM on June 6


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