As someone who recently learned Rock Climbing free solo climbing is undoubtedly one of the scariest things I can think of. Free solo climbing is an extreme version of the sport in which the climber climbs alone – without any harness, ropes or equipment. Otherwise known as my nightmare fuel. To dangle hundreds of feet in the air, attached to a harness and at the other end to secure an experienced backup man (the person controlling the rope) to the other end, was terrible enough. Also that was a little too much adrenaline rush for my taste.
That's why I was so excited when I saw Free Solo the National Geographic Oscar winner following the legendary climber. Alex Honnold while training El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and finally climbing free. El Capitan (or "El Cap", as climbers call it) is a 3,000-foot cliff of pure granite. He chose a well-known route called Freerider.
Honnold, 33, is the first person ever to solo the iconic rock formation, and has done so in less than four hours. It is considered one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time, and quite the largest in the history of climbing.
The first thing I noticed in the interview with Honnold was how cold he is.
I had an opportunity to talk to Honnold about the epic rise and fascinating documentary, and I immediately noticed when he answered the phone that he was surprisingly cold. That makes sense: Honnold grew up outside of Sacramento and spent about ten years in a delivery van (first his own, then his own) after leaving Berkeley so he could sleep and wake up near his favorite climbing sites. He's been climbing since he was a kid and started taking part in this sport over 20 years ago.
But every time I ask Honnold (and do not bother to disguise my disbelief), he can deal mentally and emotionally with free soloing, his response was shockingly nonchalant. As if it were perfectly normal to climb thousands of meters without safety net.
The thing is that has become the norm for him.
Honnold started to solo in solos sometime in 2005. The answer is pretty factual: he grew up in California, so it was something he always thought he might try someday.
As a child, Honnold spent a lot of time in Yosemite and Joshua Tree. Two of the Most Popular Climbing Destinations in the US "I grew up with stories about iconic climbers in the 70s and 80s who played incredible solos. That's why I always thought that was kinda cool and I always thought I should try, "he says. The rock in these areas is granite, which is well suited for free solo playing, adds Honnold. (Granite is fairly natural, hard and resistant to erosion, and when it falls off, it usually cracks, making it great when climbing.) "If I'd grown up in a place where the rock is really bad, I would not have it I'm involved, "he says.
Having decided to give solo rock climbing, he realized that he was good at it and decided to keep trying. "I realized that I was a bit better than average and I feel like it's my thing. I thought, I'm good at it, I should do better "he says.
Honnold explains that in his early days of free solos everything felt even more extreme and he made more mistakes. "I did not have that much experience, so I would suddenly get off the track," he says. Previously, the routes he climbed were relatively easy and not nearly as high as at El Capitan.
He then completed a dozen remarkable free solo climbs in the US and overseas, including Yosemite's Astroman, Rostrum and Half Dome, and Zion's Moonlight Buttress. Like any other sport or skill, he explains, it becomes more and more comfortable and safer over time. "They practice and it feels normal."
In Free Solo, the directors get an fMRI from Honnold's brain to see if it can shed any light on how he reacts to fear.
This also helped answer some of my questions (I'll get the scan results in a minute.)
I ask Honnold to tell me about the special emotions he experiences when he's without gear Mountain climbs. Is he scared and tense and ties the stone to his sweet life? Or does he go into a completely quiet and mediocre state, as some people do when they run?
"Calm and meditative is a fair overview," he says. "It changes a little between light and hard terrain. Easy, I can think about anything I want. I get involved and try not to fall down, but it's not all that elaborate, so I can think about what I'm eating for lunch or thinking of friends, enjoying the weather and the view. On hard climbs, my mind is completely empty and only trains and executes trains, "he explains. "It's like walking – with occasional jogging, you can admire the scenery and appreciate the place you're at, but when you run sprints, you definitely do not admire the scenery."
If Honnold Seems Too Casual Given the circumstances, it may be helpful to know this: In Free Solo you see Honnold getting an fMRI scan of his brain, an exercise that uses the To give viewers an idea of how the man willingly does things that are too horrible for most of us to even think about. The results show that Honnold's amygdala, an area of the brain involved in the processing of anxiety, does not show as much activity when looking at photos that are supposed to trigger that feeling. The person interpreting the on-screen scan suggests that this result may result in Honnold only needing more stimulation than the average person to register anxiety. Honnold himself says that he never feels anxious. "I work through fear until it's just not scary anymore," he says in the documentary.
A few years ago, Honnold's friends approached him about a documentary film. The attack on El Capitan seemed to be a natural plot point.
Honnold accepted the challenge of El Capitan when a group of producers (who happen to be some of Honnold's friends in the climbing community) asked him if he wanted to do anything a documentary. "They've approached me, and as a professional climber, this is a great opportunity for someone to shoot a feature film about you." As a seasoned, freelance soloc-climber, "El Capitan was something that I had dreamed of for many years, so [the opportunity] coincided with this project that I wanted to do, "says Honnold.
After saying yes, he had to concentrate – to get to a point where you feel ready, such a death-defying one Achieving performance requires a lot of training, says Honnold, spending about two years preparing for this one ascent, during which time he probably made only seven or eight free solo climbs, concentrating on the rest of the time to train, boulder, rope, and climb his grip strength .
"It all depends on physical preparation, holding the grips and memorizing They know how to climb the route and know where to place their feet and hands to hold on, "he says. "Part of it is the self-confidence that comes from a high level of fitness, by training all the training to know that I can do it comfortably and not be too tired." In Free Solo we see him go through his preparation – repeatedly sending the route to a rope, practicing and puzzling over the puzzles, while he has a safety net and can afford to mess things up ,
"The other part is the mental side," he adds. "That's kind of nebulous. It's hard to know when you're done, but you just feel it. "He says he took the time to visualize and visualize the ascension." At some point, you think, That seems to be something I can do . "
Honnold says on the day he boarded El Capitan was one of the happiest days of his life.
"I was very happy and very satisfied. To dream about that for so long and to go to so much trouble to endure to the very end was definitely satisfying, "he says in his same odd tone. "The crew is all a good friend of mine. Therefore, I was able to share the experience with so many good friends, which made it even better. "
His girlfriend Sanni returned to Las Vegas a few days earlier. I give myself the opportunity to do my thing," explains Honnold. None of his family members knew of his attempt in advance. "Normally people do not talk about soloing so often because it overburdens people," he says. I can not imagine why.
So, what's next for Honnold? For now, he says, he does a lot of climbing and works with his foundation, the Honnold Foundation which supports solar energy initiatives. He lives only his life. "I'm just trying to be a good friend and spend time with family and friends."
The thing is, Honnold says, that free soloing is just a discipline of climbing for him. "It's the summit experience," he says. "Other guys [of climbing] are equally important to me." But he did not focus on them that much. "I've climbed the same way for about 10 years and do great outdoor adventure climbing, the Ultra Marathons of climbing. Rock climbing in the gym is like sprinting, it's more intense. So when I do full time [lately]I've probably changed my education for years.
For Honnold this change is enough. After all, he has been in control for a lifetime. "I do not know if it will ever be as challenging as El Cap," he says, "and I do not know if there is a need."