American Culture

A daring young man … and a documentary dependent on his survival

Alex Honnold is a remarkable young man. He may be the foremost rock climber in generations.

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Alex Honnold

That his most recent feat was done entirely ropeless — meaning he’d die if he fell — adds to his impressive résumé.

Honnold, 31, climbed the Freerider route on the 3,000-foot granite monolith El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in just under four hours. (See the illustrated route map in The New York Times.) Just try to imagine it: He scaled vertical, sometimes overhanging granite, often using fingernail-sized handholds, with only his talent, control over fear, and sheer will protecting him from a fatal fall.

A life as a full-time, professional rock climber, such as Honnold, requires financial support. Honnold’s website points this out: “These are the companies that allow me to climb all day every day,” he writes. His sponsors include mountaineering equipment suppliers Black Diamond, Maxim Dynamic Ropes, La Sportiva, and North Face as well as GoalZero and Stride. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a climber who shuns the protection of a rope has rope manufacturers as sponsors …)

Sponsorship isn’t new in the mountaineering world. Want to climb Everest? Be prepared to pony up about $45,000 per person. Or … find sponsors. Honnold’s means of supporting his chosen sport isn’t any different than that of other professional athletes. He has excelled, and sponsors have flocked to him.

Honnold’s feat will be the focus of a documentary for National Geographic, whose film crew followed Honnold as he flashed up El Cap.

The Freerider solo ascent wasn’t just a risk for Honnold. NatGeo surely had bet a large amount of money on a successful outcome of Honnold’s months of training for the climb. Success, of course, would be defined simply: Honnold lived.

After Honnold’s spectacular climb, Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production at National Geographic channels, praised the young man:

Alex’s passion to push himself to the edge of what is humanly possible, to continually redefine the limits set for him, encompasses everything we represent at National Geographic. He is a true explorer in every sense of the word, one who fully embodies the pioneering spirit we have championed at National Geographic for more than 129 years. Alex’s feat is nothing short of historic, and when people see the extreme preparation and indomitable human spirit we captured for our upcoming movie they will truly be in awe.

What would Pastore have said had Honnold fallen — and died?

Well, Honnold didn’t. The documentary is scheduled for release some time in 2018. NatGeo can sell ads against it on its cable channel … and re-air it incessantly … to recoup its investment.

May Alex Honnold have a long and happy life. Some others who chose to solo mountains without the protection of a rope did not.

1 reply »

  1. Just one slip, one unchalked hand sweaty and loosing grip, just one anticipated hold out of reach…..as a former rock climber I’ve always considered free climbing to be the drug for adrenalin junkies and, perhaps, those with a death wish.
    I’m glad he made it. I just hope it doesn’t encourage people with less experience, stamina and strength to attempt similar acts.

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