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    • I recently saw the Free Solo the movie. And now I need to discuss it.

      Spoiler alert! Though, there isn't much that's surprising because Alex Honnold's ropeless ascent of El Cap was international news minutes after he finished the route.

      My world was turned upside down on June 3, 2017, when Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan in Yosemite without a rope via Free Rider. It blew my mind that such a feat was possible. As I climber, it's hard for me to fathom the athletic ability required to climb 3300ft of rock in 4 hours with no breaks. The route takes days to complete for most expert climbers due to its length and difficulty. This was an order of magnitude jump in the progression of climbing.

      There was little more than one photo released on the day of his accomplishment. Alex's lips were closed. He didn't talk much about it. It left us climbers hanging. We regarded the climb as maybe the greatest athletic achievement in history, but we knew nothing more than the fact that it had been done. We wanted to know thinks like he did it, what the training was like, and what was going through his mind.

      Soon the world learned that Nat Geo and Jimmy Chin were producing a movie about the climb, hence why any media of the ascent was not released. We had to eargly wait a year to see the film.

      But, Alex Honnold spilled the beans on the Enormocast, the most prominent climbing podcast. Alex talked about the climbing pitch by pitch, the fact that he bailed on an attempt months before, and injuries that slowed his training. He made it so very clear that there was little drama and mishaps in his life, even during the project. So I wondered, how good could a feature film be if there's no drama for a story? I think he was so stoked to talk to another Yosemite climber, the podcast's host, that he forgot those details were supposed to remain secret so more of us climbers would pull out our wallets when the film debuted.

      It was an incredible film for the non-climbing public but left us climbers unenthralled. The film dove into Alex's psyche. It explored why Alex risks his life for such goals of free soloing the world's most iconic rocks, like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Moonlight Buttress of Zion National Park. MRI's reveal Alex's amygdala does little to respond to fear, hence why he never describes climbing on penny-size edges thousands of feet above the ground as scary.

      It further revealed the person he was through his relationship with his loving girlfriend. He is unwilling to let another human, even his significant other, get in the way of his goals. And he'll pursue death-defying activities even if it hurts her.

      It was beautifully filmed. Possibly Jimmy Chin's finest piece of cinematography. They did an amazing job getting unique perspectives on the wall. The drone work was incredible. They did a remarkable job pulling focus, something that few documentaries nail due to the nature of filming candid events.

      But for climbers, 20 mins wasn't enough for a 97 minute film.

      Climbing El Cap is scary, even with a rope. Big falls happen all the time. Sometimes gear pulls out. Sometimes people fall to their deaths on a rope having taken many safety precautions. To climb it without a rope, you have to be a true adrenaline junkie. Something has to be seriously wrong with your brain. He may always seem at peace, but still, that's Alex. We knew that.

      A film that spends most of its time explaining the dangers of free soloing and why someone would do it is stating the obvious for climbers. That could be condensed into a minute. Climbing is what we wanted to see, and we got a little of it.

      I'd opt to watch all ~4 hours of Alex's climb in real time instead. His climbing is what's most exciting to me. His delicate foot-work and the seemingly effortless upward movement is a work of art. If you're not a climber and you're curious, I highly recommend you watch it.

      As for myself, it inspired me to climb harder and be safer. It further cemented my rule that free soloing is something I will never do. I'd made me love my gear even more. And luckily, most of the hard climbs out there are safe with ample protection including El Cap's Free Rider.

      What did you think?

    • I think that people are going to respond based on their worldview.

      Some people have the worldview that life's purpose is defined by something outside of humanity. That this purpose is objective.

      Other people have the worldview that society and the social contract create life's purpose.

      Still others believe that there is no purpose in life except that purpose which the individual sets for himself or herself.

      There are probably other worldviews but these three examples can be used to illustrate the point that I am trying to make.

      A person that thinks that the third example is the correct way to look at life is not going to find anything at all wrong Alex Honnold's decision to free solo.

      A person with the second view may think that he was not being fair to the other people in his life.

      A person with the first view may (depending on what he thinks life's objective purpose is) feel that Alex Honnold engaged in something which was futile and meaningless.

      The point that I am trying to make is that different people are going to respond to this question differently based upon the fundamental assumptions of what they think a person is supposed to do with his life.

      Philosophical Idealism speaks of standing up for what is ideal even when the majority oppose you. But others believe that popular opinion is the definition of appropriateness.

      Since there is a diversity of viewpoints, even answers that are similar in consequence may vary in motivation.

    • As a climber myself and a fan of Alex, I was quite honestly disappointed. But this could be because I knew to much from Alex spilling the beans on The Enormocast. I personally felt like the story was told wrong and they focused to much on the relationship between Alex and his girlfriend. Instead, I wish they focused more on the preparation and what lead him to the point of being able to free solo El Capitan. It felt like they tried too hard to turn Free Solo into a mainstream movie and ended up disappointing many climbers. However, the actual climbing in the movie was great and I believe truly showed the difficulty of specific moves. I just wish the movie was more based on the climbing process and less on the outside drama, that according to Alex and his interview on the Enormocast was basically non existent.

    • Welcome to Cake, Hannah! 🧗‍♀️

      I've done some climbing but nothing hardcore. I have a few very hardcore climber friends like @MarniWolf and @PaulMRobertson .

      The reason I went, besides climbing being awesome and I love Jimmy Chin's filmmaking, is I heard the claim that it was the greatest athletic achievement in history. Hmmm, really?

      I loved the film and could see why it was supposed to play in independent theaters but ended up breaking into mainstream theaters. What I loved is it addressed the question of what it takes to do something that extraordinary. I don't know what drove him, but he was willing to give up every last thing—his relationship with his girlfriend, his mom, his best friends, his life... Even his girlfriend kept trying to understand why he wanted this so badly, but she never could.

      After watching it, even I can't think of another athletic achievement I'd rank above this.

    • The movie is about Alex Honnold first and foremost. Those that don't know much about Honnold but are curious must see it. It's epic.

      I guess I was hoping it would blow my mind. It didn't because June 3, 2017 already blew my mind. Every climber knows Alex Honnold, and that makes the movie inherently disappointing because it's already been spoiled. You can't blame the filmmakers or Honnold for that. Still, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I think I'll buy it when it's out to support the filmmakers. Thanks, Jimmy Chin for capturing it.

      Ok, Kilian Jornet might take a close second for greatest athletic achievements. It took him just 26 hours to climb Everest and under 7 hours to climb Kilimajaro.

    • The climbing world has its own language to describe climbs. The community came to a consensus that the route Honnold chose, Free Rider, is a 5.13a PG13 Trad 3300 ft Grade VI climb. It's also coming to a consensus that Free Solo is a disappointment. It's a one-sided worldview.

      What's so great about Free Solo is that it's one of the very few climbing films that made it to mainstream theaters. It's so exciting to see what non-climbers got out of the film.

    • I saw Free Solo last night. I read through the comments this morning.

      Here’s my thoughts and opinion on Jimmy Chin’s Free Solo movie.

      I really loved it and here’s why, Jimmy was able to tell a meaningful story and personally I relate to it so much. No I’m not a free soloist, but I am a climber. I relate because I am partner to a hardcore climber/alpinist and we have had similar conversations to that of Alex and Sunni.

      I saw the film with my partner and we discussed about it after. Alex is definitely a unique person, maybe even an outlier, but I don’t think anything is mentally wrong. His MRI showing an amygdala that needs more stimulation to activate, I think this makes sense taking into account how long Honnold has been taking risks and pushing his limits.

      At first I saw his girlfriend as unnecessary, maybe Jimmy intended that feeling. I would think maybe some climbers see her not as girlfriend material for such a high status climber as Alex. Even showing her drop him made me feel uncomfortable and doubt their relationship. That changed in the movie that moment when Alex talked about potentially not telling Sunni when he was going to free solo Freerider. I suddenly saw her as very human and someone who has a right to know Honnold’s plans.

      Probably the most poignant scene for r me was after Alex told Sunni he was going to attempt the first time and it then it shows her cutting his hair. There is so much feeling, and I saw it like Sunni is so much more than just a girlfriend, she takes care of Alex.

      As for the climbing my palms sweat and heart rate rose watching every free solo scene. Got me pumped for future objectives in climbing.

      Overall loved the movie and would recommend it to climbers and non climbers alike.

      @PaulMRobertson and me on Moonlight in Zion NP 📸 by Jeremiah Watt

    • The film did a really good job of showing that Alex is, in fact, no adrenaline junkie. He was raised in an environment that pedestalized performance. "Good enough isn't." like his mother used to say. Seeking perfection is the goal. Not heightened emotion. If he were an adrenaline junkie he would have gone the route of Dan Osman and started rope jumping--or Dean Potter and started suite flying. I felt it was a story of someone so steeped in the idea of performance that he couldn't see the people around him.

    • I don’t know if I would rank anything above this in just raw mental armor!

      Sure there are probably harder things for the physical body to do, but man he had to couple extreme athleticism with total mental strength.

      This idea of being a warrior and demanding himself to obtain total perfection is astonishing.

    • What impressed me most was Alex's no-compromises attitude about his goals. I think there are a few different ways people can be funneled into this unflinching mindset, but the one i am most familiar with is a home where love is conditional on performance. This upbringing spawns two unshakable facts about life: 1) My feelings are irrelevant to my actions (so feelings don't matter so much) and 2) I can earn love and acceptance only through flawless performance.

      The result is a human being who has difficulty connecting with people on an emotional level. Who can't understand the weight of their decisions on relationships.

      I also believe that Alex has moved past seeking validation from outside sources. Instead, he's trying to find excuses to care about himself. Remember the scene when he reads the doctor's mental health questionnaire and the line about feelings of depression...? I don't know about you, but his lack of a response seemed telling.

      As far as the general consensus among avid climbers goes, everybody I've talked to loved it. No disappointments whatsoever. Good story. Amazing climbing footage. lots of reasons to laugh and feel perplexed by our own ambition to climb. because at the end of the day, its a pretty useless way to spend out time in the big scheme of things.

    • Fascinating!! I had a no-compromise mom when it came to education so her dream for me, which she always talked about, was a graduate degree from a great university. I pursued it with all my heart, but I did it out of love for her. I didn't want to let her down.

      Also, great to hear your reaction and your climbing friends and Marni to the movie. The two climbers I watched it with preferred Dawn Wall because they said more climbing, less noise about psychology and girlfriends.

      I couldn't find a theater to watch it in but I'm gonna pre-order from iTunes for $14.99.

      Glad to hear @MarniWolf 's heart was racing for Free Solo because I was flipping out.

    • I used to climb 5.13 and even free soloed at times (always alone) but I don't like how it's done today. If anyone is climbing without a rope and doing it for profit then there's a problem. Although there aren't very many soloists who die doing it, the game is changed when financial gain gets involved. I especially don't like it when there are sponsors involved. I understand everyone has to make a living but it's just like those who have died from talking selfies in high or dangerous places in order to make money. You may have heard of guy who recently died trying to make some money for his mother by taking dangerous footage high atop a structure. Sad story.

      While it's an impressive physical accomplishment to solo these type of climbs, it's not some kind of miracle. Not having to mess with pro or wait for a partner certainly speeds things up and reduces the physical cost or expenditure of the climb. I won't likely watch the show because it promotes these people taking undue risks beyond what they might do just for themselves. If they want to do it alone just because then I'm okay with it.

    • This comment for the NYT opinion was haunting:

      PPMD Times Pick

      Bret, As the mother of an extreme athlete, a rock climber who I know would have agreed that, either you get it right or you're going to die, I can't watch the film.

      All those years ago when my young son, Dean Potter was at the top of his climbing career, I could agree with Honnold's mom, "How can you even think of taking that away from somebody?" Today, 3 years, 5 months and 10 days since Dean fell to his death B.A.S.E. jumping off of El Cap, I feel like you, Bret, it's not supposed to be that way, a parent shouldn't have to bury their child.

      Dean admired Alex and would have cheered him on. I send him every blessing I can think of.

    • A film that spends most of its time explaining the dangers of free soloing and why someone would do it is stating the obvious for climbers. That could be condensed into a minute. Climbing is what we wanted to see, and we got a little of it.

      That's true - though even for non-climbers like me, as soon as someone answers your question "What does free solo mean?" you also know the dangers, you don't need to be a climber to get that, haha! I thought the movie was great, but I had my eyes closed for much of the climbing scenes. Even though I knew he made it, obviously, it just made me too queasy to do more than peek here and there to see what he was doing. Obviously, the filmmakers needed the film to be commercially viable. My perspective on the background stuff (girlfriend, relationship with family, etc.) is that it helped me to bond with Alex as a person, and not just see him as some weird freak of nature who thinks only of climbing at the expense of all else.

      I admit to an overall feeling of sadness during the movie; he came across as so likeable, smart, and funny that all I could think of is that, talented and careful as he is, if he keeps doing this he is unlikely to live to a ripe old age. And while I always feel sorry when I hear of a climber losing his or her life in a climbing accident, it will almost feel personal to me if something happens to Alex Honnold, because the filmmakers did such a good letting me think I know him (a little bit) as a person, and not just as a real-life Spiderman.

      Anyway, agree that climbers would not have been as interested, but for me I thought it was great.

    • I thought it was the best documentary I've ever seen. I've been a huge fan of Jimmy Chin ever since I saw Meru, which was the only other documentary I've seen that I thought was as good as Free Solo. I climb―not a huge amount, but enough to feel like I have some clue of how insanely difficult that must have been, both mentally and physically.

      I do think that they overdid the significance of his relationship with his girlfriend (not that their relationship isn't significant, it just felt like the story of the climb was overshadowed by the story of their relationship, which seemed backwards).

      I'm really curious to see what Alex does now. He made it sound at the end of the film like he might be backing off from pushing the limits of free soloing. I wouldn't be at all surprised if after completing the climb of El Cap that he'd been working towards for so many years, he experienced what thru-hikers call post trail depression -- in case anyone hasn't heard that term before, it's the depression that often sets in when you succeed at something that's been your primary goal/motivator for a really long time. I've experienced this on a couple of trips I've taken, and those were only a couple of months long each, so I can imagine it might be incredibly strong when you finish a decade-long project. I can't imagine Alex just sitting around and enjoying life "at home"―he's been a climbing dirtbag (that is not at all meant as an insult) for way too long to start living a normal-ish life.

      What do you all think he's going to throw himself into next?

    • I was wondering the same thing, Jessee. It seems like a lot of people like him need to do something even more epic next time. I'm that way. I don't know how athletes retire in their 30s and then just chillax. I wouldn't be able to. I need to feel like I'm doing something epic that pushes me.

    • I always viewed Alex as this calm, zen-master of climbing. He's so smooth and calculated. In my mind he is still all those things. But the documentary altered my perception because I started seeing parallels with those who've perished pushing the edge, like Dean Potter. The concept of perfecting a tough route enough to climb it confidently without pro excites him. Why isn't flashing Free Rider with adequate protection enough? He's taking something so safe and making it dangerous to make a point that he can climb it flawlessly. This is the discipline of mastering playing with fire. The same discipline of wing suiters and snake wranglers. The idea that they can avoid death on something so unimaginably difficult due to their abilities excites them enough to do it. Isn't that what an adrenaline junkie is?

    • While it's an impressive physical accomplishment to solo these type of climbs, it's not some kind of miracle. Not having to mess with pro or wait for a partner certainly speeds things up and reduces the physical cost or expenditure of the climb. I won't likely watch the show because it promotes these people taking undue risks beyond what they might do just for themselves. If they want to do it alone just because then I'm okay with it

      100% agree. I feel it's reckless. More and more experienced climbers are getting hurt or killed running out easy terrain every year according to the Accidents in North American Climbing. I can't help but wonder if Alex Honnold being the poster child of the climbing is perpetuating the poor choices being made that lead to these accidents.

    • I wonder how this would have all played out if he had died in the attempt. Or how this will play out if a few more people die in similar attempts if they are filming it or have a large number of supporters in the endeavor. There seem to be an awful lot of companies like Red Bull who are raking in the money of promoting extreme sports. These sports are causing a large number of injuries that's for sure. Not to say humans haven't pushed themselves to crazy levels before but it seems like it's the new gladiator sport and we are pacifying the populace by treating them to the events. At whose expense?? I say this as someone who like I said before has spent his life doing risky things and I've injured myself plenty while doing it. Nor have I stopped doing many of those dangerous things.

    • I wonder how this would have all played out if he had died in the attempt.

      Years ago I noticed a set of base-jumping photos in the basement of a friend's house. He said he left them up to remember the previous tenant, Jan Davis, who died base jumping in Yosemite. She was extremely experienced, beloved by the base jumping community, and the last of 5 to go off El Cap during a demo to plead for making base jumping legal in national parks. Photographers and news crews were there along with a large group of spectators.

      That pretty much sealed it for the national parks. Base jumping has stayed illegal.

    • This is a fascinating profile of Jimmy and his co-director and wife who made the film, Elizabeth Chai. You can really understand how they made such a great film:

    • Huh, that was really interesting. They're SO different from each other. Jimmy still has some of the climber-dirtbag vibe, even though he's not really anymore, whereas Elizabeth Chai has a sort of high-society feel (I don't mean either of those terms as insults). It's sort of surprising to me that they ended up together, but it seems to work really well for them.

      Also, I've seen clips of Alex on the wall about 100 times now, and it still gives me chills.