Now, why do you want to climb to the top of El Capitan?… in response to this question from a journalist friend, Alex Honnold said: “Because… it would make me happy.” One may be able to trace impression of English mountaineer George Herbert Leigh Mallory (June 18, 1886 – June 8/9, 1924) in Honnold’s reply. During the 1924 expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Sandy Irvine, disappeared on the northeast ridge of Everest. The pair was last seen when they were about 800 vertical feet from the summit. Mallory’s ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered on May 1, 1999 by an expedition that had set out to search for the climbers’ remains. Meanwhile, there is a difference between Mallory and Alex. Unlike Mallory, Alex – the American rock climber best known for his Free Solo ascents of big walls – has made no attempt to climb the world’s highest snow-covered peaks. He loves to climb dry, rocky hills. His style of scaling them is different. Alex does not use any of the safety gear commonly used by professional mountaineers… not even a rope! He climbs rocks alone, without ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment. It is called Free Solo. This particular form of climbing forces the climbers to rely entirely on their own individual strength and skill.
Alex conquered El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California in June 2017… solo and empty-handed. The entire death-defying event was captured in camera by his friend Jimmy Chin, a professional climber, photographer, as well as an Academy Award-winning film director. A documentary film on Alex’s feat was released in September 2018. And, the film, by E Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, won the Oscar Award (for the Best Documentary Film) in 2019.
Apart from Jimmy, Mark Synnott, too, witnessed Alex’s journey toward his rope-free climb of El Capitan in Free Solo and the preparations prior to it. Alex was 31 when he conquered El Capitan. However, he had been planning to set foot on the top of El Capitan since he was 24! Repeated trial climbs had helped Alex jot down every necessary step in his notebook, before achieving the feat. Multiple failures made him stronger. Later, he said that although he was mentally prepared to conquer El Capitan at the age of 24, his body was not mature enough. El Capitan is basically a vertical rock formation. The granite monolith is about 3,000ft from base to summit along its tallest face. Hence, it is virtually impossible to conquer El Capitan without safety gears. Synnott stressed: “I felt like I was walking on glass while climbing the El Capitan.”
Synnott recently penned a book, titled The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life, on Alex’s feat. In this publication, the author tells how a mountaineer has adopted the Free Solo Method of rock climbing as his Philosophy of Life. According to Synnott, for climbers, like Alex, life means hanging onto a piece of rock thousands of feet above the ground, by a finger. It cannot be compared with the life of a common man. People, like Alex, enjoy testing all the possibilities of overcoming natural obstacles as Human Beings. Once, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
In his book, Synnott also discusses various aspects of Alex’s life. His friends often call Alex Saint, as he has never consumed drugs or alcohol. Alex is also a Social and Environmental Activist! There is a confession of Alex in this book… he is autistic! Maybe, that is why he is stubborn! It is to be noted that Alex’s 2017 accomplishment of free soloing El Capitan is regarded as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time…
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