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?