Arguably the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport was accomplished on Saturday after famed climber Alex Honnold became the first person ever to free solo the 3,000-foot granite wall in Yosemite’s El Capitan. No ropes. No safety gear. Just his favorite red shirt, favorite breakfast (oats, flax, chia seeds, and blueberries), and possibly an imbalance in the part of the brain responsible for fear. For perspective, that climb eclipses the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The 31-year-old climbing prodigy ascended the peak in 3 hours, 56 minutes, but Honnold’s training for this feat dates back for more than a year. The UC Berkeley dropout climbed at locations in the United States, China, Europe, and Morocco, according to National Geographic. This past November, Honnold made his first attempt at the free solo, but opted out after less than an hour of climbing because conditions did not feel right.
Peter Mortimer, a climber who has made numerous films with Honnold, was shell shocked by his colleagues half mile achievement.
“What Alex did on Moonlight Buttress defied everything that we are trained, and brought up and genetically engineered to think. It’s the most unnatural place for a human to be.”
Hannold’s accomplishment is, as one world famous climber put it, “the ‘moon landing’ of free soloing.” Only two other climbers have publicly said they seriously considered it–one drowned and the other died in a base jumping accident before each could attempt.
As National Geographic reports, the route to the top of El Capitan has 30 sections and is so difficult that even in the last few years, it was newsworthy when a climber was able to summit using ropes for safety. During the four hour climb, Hannold had to tiptoe across ledges the width of micropenises and even dangled in the open air by his fingertips.
Although there are some climbers alive who can match up to Hannold physically, no one is even in the same stratosphere in dealing with fear management. He is such a savage that neuroscientists have studied the parts of his brain related to fear to decipher how they differ from normal humans.
“With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” he said. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”
Although Hannold kept his climb to a selective group of friends, he enlisted longtime climbing partner Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi to capture footage that will be made into an upcoming National Geographic documentary film.
Ya, I think I’ll tune in for that one.
[h/t National Geographic]