Let’s set the stage: Magnus Midtbø is a professional climber and YouTuber who is now retired from competitive climbing. He is referred to as the best climber in Norway.
Alex Honnold is known as the undisputed best climber in the world. His specialty is free soloing, which is climbing without any ropes and protection. Search for his name on my blog and you can find a few posts.
Here he invites his friend Magnus on a free solo trip outside Las Vegas.
Watching the 30 minute video wore me out. My hands and feet were wet with sweat. I did a little bit of climbing when I was a young man, and so I appreciate what is going on here. Being hundreds of meters up on a vertical wall with no way down is, per Magnus, an “insane experience.”
Magnus’ mental fortitude is awe-inspiring. You can tell he is scared. The constant coaching from Alex helps keep Magnus calm and safe. Alex is standing on the wall seemingly defying gravity, holding on with one hand while taking video with the other. At one point he says that most of his friends have either died or retired.
You should watch this terrifying and inspiring video as an example of two men who are the very best in their field, showing how preparation, nerve and will can conquer what seems impossible for the rest of us.
At the end, Magnus admits that he will never do this again.
I invite you to watch the video and get some sweaty hands yourself – but don’t try this at home.
The picture above shows Alex Honnold, the world’s most awesome rock climber, with El Capitan in the background, the world’s most awesome big wall.
All my life I was an avid hiker and mountaineer, but rock climbing has always scared me. I could never understand what possessed people to climb vertical walls. I was paralyzed by fear just thinking about it.
Then, at the age of 36, I bought shoes, a harness, a few carabiners, a chalk bag, and signed up for a class in technical rock climbing. I learned how to build anchors, to rappel, to belay and to climb.
Once you get off the ground just six feet on a vertical wall, and you look down, it looks far, and it is potentially deadly. You don’t need to go very high to forget all petty thoughts, all worldly problems or issues. You leave the entire “gross national product world” behind, and you focus on what really matters – the next foot or handhold.
Before making that reach, letting go with one hand to reach up to the next handhold, switching from four-point contact with the wall to a temporary three-point contact, you think about your harness and whether you remembered to double-back the buckle properly, you can’t remember if you locked the carabiner that ties into the rope. Could it have a hairline crack? You look down and check your figure-eight knot and make sure it’s done right. How old is that rope anyway? How about the anchor? Is it really going to hold if I fall?
Panic sets in. Hands start slipping. Time to make the reach. Go! Reach!
Whew. It worked. Next step.
Your mind is singly focused on nothing but you, your equipment and the wall.
I probably haven’t been on a rock wall 20 years now, but I still have a passion for the sport, and I have followed the career of Alex Honnold over the years. I have written about him a few times. Here is an example: Look, Ma, no Rope!
In June of 2017, Honnold finally completed his lifelong dream of doing something nobody has ever done before in the history of climbing: free soloing El Capitan, the hardest, most bad-ass big wall in the world. This put Alex on the pinnacle of the climbing world. This feat is celebrated as one of the greatest athletic achievements of any kind, and it sets an impossible standard: Perform perfectly, without a single mistake, for a 3,000 foot climb, or die. It stretches our understanding and appreciation of the human spirit and the power of mental concentration.
The movie is masterfully done. It chronicles Honnold’s life, and it builds the tension, so when we finally watch the climb itself, we are prepared for the various tight spots and challenges, and we sit at the edge of our seat. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a cliffhanger.
My palms started to sweat at the beginning of the movie, and my hands did not dry up until the closing credits played.
Free solo is a documentary you really, really should watch!
This is on Colorado’s Capitol Peak, the Knife Edge, supposedly one of the more difficult 14-thousanders in Colorado. I don’t know about you, but if your hands were sweaty after you watched this, you are not the only one.
Wingsuit flying and BASE jumping looks very exciting on TV and YouTube. The reality is that fatality rate of the sport is huge. Here is a riveting article in the New York Times about the death of Dean Potter, one of the greats of the sport. Imagine being the girlfriend photographing him jumping, heading for the infamous “V” and then hearing a thump – then nothing else….
Every few months I am attracted climbing sites and pictures of the sport’s superstars. Some years ago it was Dan Osman. Here he is on a wall, climbed up on that crack without any protection, and felt secure enough to show off with acrobatics I could not pull off in the gymnasium with a mat under me:
However, most free soloists eventually die, not due to lack of their own skill, but because something weird happens. A falling rock hits them on the head, or a rock flake breaks off just when they put their weight on it.
Dan Osman died on November 23, 1998 at the age of 35. He was performing a “controlled free-fall” jump (like a bungee jump with a climbing rope) from the Leaning Tower rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Osman had come back to Yosemite to dismantle the jump tower but apparently decided to make several jumps (over a few days) before doing so.
Investigators later concluded that a change in jump site angle probably caused the ropes to cross and entangle, leading to the rope cutting by melting. That was 17 years ago.
The current reigning champion of free soloing is Alex Honnold. I have written about him before on this blog, just search for his name. Here is one post. I cannot watch the video below without my palms getting sweaty – while I am sitting safely at my desk. But there is a reason why there is a category of “climbing” in this blog, so I can’t help myself. I am too old to seriously climb, but not too old to watch.
Whenever I fly home to San Diego from Sacramento I try to sit in a window seat on the left side of the plane. When the weather is clear, and the route of the plane is just right, I have a phenomenal view of Yosemite Valley. Such was the case when I came home last Friday:
As always, please click on the image and get a larger view. For those of you that don’t recognize the two giant landmarks in Yosemite, I have pointed them out in the image below.
It takes just a few minutes to fly over this most splendid part of our state, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can miss it entirely. However, I have spent many hours looking up from the base of the valley on El Capitan, a sheer wall of thousands of feet. Climbers spend many days scaling this vertical wall.
I am fascinated by different perspectives we humans get to have. Being on such a massive mountain, being totally at the mercy of our gear and our training, we feel like ants in the grandiose splendor of nature. Yet, hours later, for a small amount of money, we can be on an airliner cruising over these massive mountains at 36,000 feet, making them look like tiny anthills themselves.
I watched this video and my hands, one safely on the desk, the other cradling the mouse, literally began sweating. I cannot imagine doing this. Those guys have my respect – but I think they are completely insane. I hope nobody I know ever tries this.
Climbing Mt. Everest means facing numerous corpses along the routes, staring at you with open eyes and black faces, their moment of death like a photograph frozen into their faces. Pyramids of human excrement and mountains of trash are piled up in the higher camps. The summit is sometimes so crowded on good climbing days in May that there is no room to stand. This National Geographic article tells the story.
Every now and then I have to experience some climbing vicariously. Then I visit the SummitPost. Imagine climbing the top nipple in the middle of the picture, 900 feet straight up from the deck, called the Oracle. Just check out these pictures and tremble.
This climb by McCannster is scary as hell. Oh, to be 22 years old again…
Trisha and I have been confirmed to climb Half Dome again this year on September 18. We’ll start at 4:00am in Yosemite Valley, hike up the John Muir Trail, cross the falls at the top and make our way to the peak. We should be at the cables by 11:00am, summit by noon, and be back down in the Valley by 7:00pm. It will be a long, strenuous 15-hour day. We’ll be using harnesses on the cables this time.