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Old Yesterday, 01:20 PM
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Alex Honnold can climb a half-mile of sheer vertical rock.

I spend a lot of time clicking aimlessly around at YouTube. If I linked to every interesting video I saw, I'd start hundreds of threads! There are many amazing people out there in the world.

But Alex Honnold flabbergasted me so much I had to start a thread for him. He climbs vertical rock mountains without any rope. Often only the strength of a few fingertips prevents him from plunging to certain death. And once he starts, survival requires making it to the summit. Descent is impossible. His only tools besides his own fingers and the rest of his body are his rubber shoes and a bag of chalk powder to keep his fingers dry.

There are a variety of YouTubes showing his amazing climbs. (In many, the photographers are themselves expert climbers ... who are tethered to ropes.) As just one example, here he is when his shoes get wet unexpectedly. This video shows just one of his several record-setting "free solo" ascents.

I have severe acrophobia and can barely watch these astounding YouTubes.
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Old Yesterday, 02:04 PM
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Aaaaaand I just threw up a little.

At least you warned me about this video. I hate it when I see the auto-playing vidoes on facebook about people doing crazy things at crazy heights and I always freeze just a bit and feel panic.

I can't even imagine...
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  #3  
Old Yesterday, 02:07 PM
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Even reading about him in NatGeo makes me queasy.
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Old Yesterday, 02:17 PM
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A recent full-length movie of his El Cap ascent was released recently, aptly titled "Free Solo".

trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moLpLlULXzs

It's worth seeing in a movie theater if you can, although it's streaming now. I think they did a good job on the movie - the drama of the climb sells itself, of course, so they just let that play out without trying to overhype it too much. I think the most compelling part of the drama is the second camera team filming the primary camera people who are all expert climbers who truly understand how much risk is involved - they linger on the guy filming from the valley floor who literally cannot watch at the crux. I'm not sure that I could have watched either if I didn't know how it turned out.

But much of it is a personal portrait of Honnold, trying to get inside his head. It's apparently not easy to do that, but it was certainly interesting.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 02:21 PM.
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Old Yesterday, 02:25 PM
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I know this is often said about athletic achievements, and usually proven wrong - but it's hard to imagine how his El Cap climb could really be surpassed - at least until we reach an era of modifying our bodies through biotech or whatever.

It's hard to know the exact number, but his risk of death on that single climb was perhaps somewhere in the 5-10% range, perhaps a little higher even. The only way it could be surpassed would probably involve upping that to (say) a 1 in 3 chance of death... which then becomes, well, I don't know what exactly.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 02:27 PM.
  #6  
Old Yesterday, 02:25 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Originally Posted by Riemann View Post
A recent full-length movie of his El Cap ascent was released recently, aptly titled "Free Solo".
This is what I thought the thread was going to be about. I heard an interview with him and the director of the documentary on NPR a couple weeks ago and sought out some of the footage of him climbing El Capitan (and also a Ted talk.) What he does is sheer insanity to me, but I gotta praise him for his dedication, planning, and living his life on his own terms. An inspirational character, but I don't have 1/10000 of the nerve and mettle he apparently has.
  #7  
Old Yesterday, 02:36 PM
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...An inspirational character, but I don't have 1/10000 of the nerve and mettle he apparently has.
Yeah, the most compelling thing is probably not his technical climbing ability - obviously he's among the elite, but there are probably several dozen climbers with similar technical skill - it's his mental ability, carrying out those moves when a single mistake means death. One of the notable things in the movie is that they did an fMRI scan, and (unsurprisingly) his amygdala basically doesn't work. The test involves showing a bunch of images that trigger an emotional response in most people, but in him they weren't enough to get any neurons in his amygdala to fire.

Of course, the amygdala is involved not just in the kind of emotional reactions you experience when under stress, but also personal relationships etc., so it's no surprise to discover that this part of his life is not straightforward either. Although I did find the extent to which they lingered on his relationship with his girlfriend felt a bit creepy in the movie.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 02:38 PM.
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Old Yesterday, 02:44 PM
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Alex's exploits are pretty amazing. My wife and I always attend the traveling Banff Film Festival tour when it is in the nearby city and we have always enjoyed his films. There were a couple years of his "Sufferfest" exploits with Cedar Wright that we really enjoyed.

I just hope he gets to retire before he makes a mistake.
  #9  
Old Yesterday, 02:49 PM
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Amazing comments about his amygdala!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Riemann View Post
A recent full-length movie of his El Cap ascent was released recently, aptly titled "Free Solo".

trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moLpLlULXzs
Quote:
Video unavailable
This video is not available.
:-{

I'm in Thailand. Do you think I could watch the Trailer if I fired up the Tor Browser?
  #10  
Old Yesterday, 02:53 PM
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I just hope he gets to retire before he makes a mistake.
I was talking about this with some climber friends the other day. It seems to me that he does now have a possible psychological path to that - his El Cap climb may never be surpassed, so he can justifiably feel that he has reached the pinnacle of human achievement. And there's a very real sense in which it would be way cooler for his legacy to do what he has done... and then die at 103 of old age.

But he doesn't strike me as the "settle down and have kids" type, so I don't know.
  #11  
Old Yesterday, 02:55 PM
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I'm in Thailand. Do you think I could watch the Trailer if I fired up the Tor Browser?
The whole movie is streaming for $10, if that isn't also georestricted. Youtube or Googe Play.
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Old Yesterday, 03:28 PM
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:shudders: I get dizzy standing up suddenly.

How can he be sure there is a viable path? How closely can they map the mountain side?

Yes, it is an amazing athletic achievement, and a triumph of the human spirit. But it's like child birth - the end result is great, but I don't care to watch the process unless I have to.

Regards,
Shodan
  #13  
Old Yesterday, 03:38 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Originally Posted by Shodan View Post
:shudders: I get dizzy standing up suddenly.

How can he be sure there is a viable path? How closely can they map the mountain side?

Yes, it is an amazing athletic achievement, and a triumph of the human spirit. But it's like child birth - the end result is great, but I don't care to watch the process unless I have to.

Regards,
Shodan
In regards to El Capitan, according to the interview I heard, he basically practiced with ropes and safety gear for two years until he had every nook and cranny absolutely memorized.

In terms of the amygdala, in the NPR interview they talked about that, but Alex did not seem to be convinced that he was necessarily genetically/physically predisposed to having a lesser to no reaction to stress, but rather framed it as a chicken or egg situation. I donít know if thereís a conclusion one way or another in the film. Itís in my queue.
  #14  
Old Yesterday, 03:41 PM
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How can he be sure there is a viable path?
For anything but the most trivially easy (for him) route, before a solo he will have learned and practiced it many times with protection. He knows exactly how he will make every single move going up a difficult solo, it's analogous to a concert pianist who has practiced a piece hundreds of times and is now doing it "for real" in a concert (except for the part where the concert pianist doesn't fall thousands of feet if he makes a mistake). And he and others will have carefully cleaned the route of vegetation or loose rock.

The thing is, though, the crux of El Cap is so difficult that it's not as though he has anywhere near a 100% record when practicing with protection, as you see in the movie. They don't reveal the actual percentage of times he gets it, or how many consecutive times he gets it right in practice before the real thing.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 03:44 PM.
  #15  
Old Yesterday, 03:51 PM
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Thanks. I know as little about rock climbing as I can manage.

In jujitsu, it is easy to know when you have made a mistake because somebody punches you in the mouth. In free climbing, it is also easy to know when you have made a mistake, but you only know it for a few seconds.

I will be over here where it's safe.

Regards,
Shodan
  #16  
Old Yesterday, 04:11 PM
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In free climbing, it is also easy to know when you have made a mistake, but you only know it for a few seconds.
The terminology is a bit confusing, but "free climbing" does not mean without a rope, it means a style of climbing without using any artificial aids to take your weight or pull yourself up - but it does not imply lack of protection (rope etc.) if you should fall.

Just "soloing" means climbing alone, so I think you can even say "solo a free climb", and that still implies using protection in case you should fall - rope and a self-belay device.

It's the specific term free solo that means climbing alone without using any aid or protection from falling.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 04:12 PM.
  #17  
Old Yesterday, 04:44 PM
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My preferred term for any of this is "ARE THESE PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR FRACKING MINDS!!?!?!?"

Get back to me when they install an elevator. And it can't be a glassed-in one either.

Regards,
Shodan, Who Is At Sea Level and Much Prefers It That Way
  #18  
Old Yesterday, 06:15 PM
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I know this is often said about athletic achievements, and usually proven wrong - but it's hard to imagine how his El Cap climb could really be surpassed - at least until we reach an era of modifying our bodies through biotech or whatever.
I watched the film "Valley Uprising" on Netflix, which chronicles the history of climbing in Yosemite from the early days thru the Honnold era, with all the characters along the way.

I think I remember them asking how the El Cap climb could be topped - Honnold's answer - do El Cap and Half Dome in the same day! And he threw-in Mt Watkins (across the valley from Half Dome), for good measure!
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Old Yesterday, 06:40 PM
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The other thing these climbers are doing to top each other is speed records. I think Honnold and Caldwell speed-climbed El Cap in 2 hours. IMHO, this activity will end up getting people killed (maybe not the elite climbers, but those emulating them).
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Old Yesterday, 08:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Riemann View Post
A recent full-length movie of his El Cap ascent was released recently, aptly titled "Free Solo".

trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moLpLlULXzs

It's worth seeing in a movie theater if you can, although it's streaming now. I think they did a good job on the movie - the drama of the climb sells itself, of course, so they just let that play out without trying to overhype it too much. I think the most compelling part of the drama is the second camera team filming the primary camera people who are all expert climbers who truly understand how much risk is involved - they linger on the guy filming from the valley floor who literally cannot watch at the crux. I'm not sure that I could have watched either if I didn't know how it turned out.

But much of it is a personal portrait of Honnold, trying to get inside his head. It's apparently not easy to do that, but it was certainly interesting.
If I watched that on a big screen I would die. Iím pretty sure Iím not exaggerating.
  #21  
Old Yesterday, 09:45 PM
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If I watched that on a big screen I would die. Iím pretty sure Iím not exaggerating.
I saw it in IMAX on the biggest screen in the country! (Lincoln Square NYC) That was quite the experience!
  #22  
Old Yesterday, 09:59 PM
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If I watched that on a big screen I would die. I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating.
Watching Honnold (whether in this movie or on other videos) literally makes my palms sweat. I've never had that kind of physical reaction to anything else I've seen in recorded form.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 10:00 PM.
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Old Yesterday, 10:04 PM
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...IMHO, this activity will end up getting people killed...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_s...able_accidents
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Old Yesterday, 10:10 PM
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If you like Honnold, here's Ueli Steck speed climing the Eiger. Steck was probably an equally great talent, but more a high mountains guy. He was killed on Everest last year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhyWpLBVl6E

I find this more disturbing than watching Honnold. Honnold is in some scary exposed positions, but to my eye everything always look perfect, never in doubt. Even in this short video, you see Steck make some little slips as he's feeling out his holds when dry tooling.
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Old Yesterday, 10:12 PM
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He's either really stupid or really brave, actually I don't think he's either, he's got an amazing sense of instinct and proprioception and executive planning when it comes to climbing, and he is also as emotionally controlled and calm as anyone could possibly be where literally a fraction of a microsecond of hesitation would mean death. I'm impressed, I give the guy props, but he's proved himself many times over I hope he retires, lives a long time and conquers the world of miniature golf or something.
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Last edited by pool; Yesterday at 10:13 PM.
  #26  
Old Yesterday, 10:13 PM
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IMHO, this activity will end up getting people killed (maybe not the elite climbers, but those emulating them).
Pretty much all the expert free solo and speed climbers have died climbing. Very few leave the sport alive.
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Old Yesterday, 10:33 PM
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Pretty much all the expert free solo and speed climbers have died climbing. Very few leave the sport alive.
Makes me think Freud wasn't too far off when he talked about a "death drive".
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Last edited by pool; Yesterday at 10:34 PM.
  #28  
Old Yesterday, 11:05 PM
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Is it a coincidence that we've all been watching the same video this lately? Watching it gives me the willies but I can't stop.
  #29  
Old Yesterday, 11:05 PM
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... it's hard to imagine how his El Cap climb could really be surpassed
May not be all that hard to imagine. All he'd have to do is free solo the Nose route on El Cap.

The route he did is known as Freerider, and of those that run from the base to the top it's basically the easiest (which is to say, hideously difficult). (If you haven't done serious technical rock climbing, I think I can promise that what you're imagining to be the actual difficulty is far, far below the reality.)

The route on which he and Tommy Caldwell set the speed record is known as the Nose (because of the way the rock flares out a bit at the base). They did it in 1:58:07, which has the same sort of feel as a 3-minute mile.

It has been climbed free (though definitely with ropes and protection) just a few times - first by a woman (Lynn Hill) in 1993, and by (I think) just 4 or 5 others since. The crux moves on this route are much tougher than on Freerider.

Alex has climbed this route many times, but so far as I know never free, and he has certainly never attempted the free solo. But it surely must have crossed his mind. To the general public, this wouldn't look like much of a step; to climbers, it would be a inconceivable leap.

I certainly hope he doesn't try this, and I don't think he will. His "repeat all the hard moves until you have them wired" approach probably wouldn't work here, and I don't think he's interested in rolling the dice.
  #30  
Old Yesterday, 11:14 PM
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May not be all that hard to imagine. All he'd have to do is free solo the Nose route on El Cap...
Sure, but doesn't that fit exactly what I described in the part of my post that you didn't quote: the only way to surpass what he has done would be an attempt of such extreme difficulty that it would involve a risk of death perhaps more on the order of 30% to attempt it free solo. That comes closer most people's definition of a suicide attempt than a climb.

Last edited by Riemann; Yesterday at 11:18 PM.
  #31  
Old Today, 02:01 AM
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I wonder whether any of them have done Mount Thor?
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Mount Thor... is a mountain with an elevation of 1,675 metres (5,495 ft) located in Auyuittuq National Park, on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. The mountain is located 46 km (29 mi) northeast of Pangnirtung and features Earth's greatest vertical drop of 1,250 m (4,101 ft), with the cliff overhanging at an average angle of 15 degrees from vertical...
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