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The Movie I Can’t Stop Thinking About

Free Solo with Alex Honnold

Last Sunday, my friend and I went to see the most insanely gripping movie…

Free Solo is a documentary about mountain climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park — that’s 3,000 feet of vertical rock — without any ropes or gear.

Free Solo with Alex Honnold

I was awestruck by Alex’s physical strength — and the 3,000-foot drop beneath him. Before trying it solo, he practiced climbing the mountain many times while wearing ropes. By the end, the whole mountain was choreographed; as he fell asleep at night, he would mentally walk through the steps — a toe here, half a thumb here. He lives in a van! He does pull-ups with one finger!

Free Solo with Alex Honnold

But, in the five days since I’ve seen the movie, the way his mind works has stuck with me. Can you imagine knowing, while climbing an infamously impossible rock face, that if your every single move, step, finger and toe isn’t 100% perfect, you will fall to certain death?

Free Solo with Alex Honnold

Sometimes Alex begins to panic and has to walk it back. “There are certainly better technical climbers than me. But if I have a particular gift, it’s a mental one — the ability to keep it together where others might freak out,” he says. “You will always feel fear, but over time you will realize the only way to truly manage your fear is to broaden your comfort zone.”

Free Solo with Alex Honnold

Isn’t he scared of dying? For him, the risk is worth it. He told his girlfriend, “I, in no way, feel obligated to maximize lifetime.”

Good for him, not for me! The movie reminded me of this card. :)

Have you seen Free Solo? WE were on the edge of our seats. It would be amazing to see on the IMAX.

P.S. 30 favorite documentaries (I LOVE them), and how would you describe yourself in five words?

(Photos from Free Solo/National Geographic/Jimmy Chin.)

  1. Seraphim says...

    Amazing film! We attended a screening followed by a Q&A with the director a couple of months ago – so interesting to hear the filmmaker talk. We frequently visit Yosemite and are familiar with El Cap and the surrounding landmarks, but I was still blown away by the shots and the concept of climbing that rock face with no ropes…. NO ROPES!

  2. Kate says...

    My partner and I are both rock climbers and we went to see this movie as soon as it came to our city. I’ve followed Alex for years through social media and interviews but I was struck by how personal and raw this film was. It really showcased his personality – the good and the bad. It was fascinating.

  3. Becca says...

    just watched laura dern in the tale — my god! what a captivating story…

    • Christy says...

      Becca, that film has stuck with me for months. As a therapist who works with trauma survivors it made me ill, truly sick to my stomach. The most powerful moment for me at the end- a proverbial punch in the face to the perpetrator. Very moving but so deeply painful.

  4. Carrie says...

    My husband and I went to see this on Saturday at your recommendation and it blew us away! Later that night I woke up around 3am and couldn’t stop thinking about it…he was actually up there with no rope!!! One misstep or bad grip and he is dead. It’s hard to even fathom.

    • rachel says...

      i ALSO woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it! yikes!!! the anxiety i felt. i was on the edge of my seat, holding my mouth the whole time he was up there

  5. I’m wrapping up design production work for an upcoming book written by his mother Dierdre Wolownick, who ends up being inspired by both her children to start running in marathons and climbing later in life. She’s the oldest woman to ever climb El Capitan. So amazing!

  6. E says...

    I found his relationship one of the most interesting parts of the movie. I didn’t think he was selfish at all. I think if anything, it would be selfish to assume or imagine or hope you could change someone from who they are and keep them from doing what they love.
    So, when it comes to their relationship, I found myself thinking good for her, not for me.

  7. Kendra says...

    My son is a climber – and I’m afraid of heights.

    He loves the movie – and I can’t watch it.

  8. My son is a climber and he told me he didn’t think I could handle the movie!!!! I probably need to see at home where I can escape some of the most fear inducing moments!!! k

  9. Jen says...

    Yes, BEST movie I’ve seen in a long time. So inspiring!

  10. Nade says...

    Hi Jo! I really appreciate this!
    I’m leaving my life feeling like Alex on his journey. Without ropes, full of fear.
    Just get to understanding of I can’t loose anything except of my identity hiding behind fear of what I really am

  11. gracesface says...

    Jumped to the comments to say that this was the best documentary I saw last year! I loved it. Also as a big fan of Alex’s I was skeptical this doc would show me something new about his personality or his lifestyle but that was definitely not the case. Highly recommend it!

  12. Sofia Johnson says...

    i know this has nothing to do with the subject of the post but i just want to point out that he is also a vegetarian! : )

  13. We saw it on imax last weekend and I can’t stop thinking about it, either!! I was fascinated by his amygdala. And I thought it was really interesting how premeditated and cautious he was, considering what he was trying to accomplish. He talked about how other solo climbers often just want to achieve something once, but he didn’t go for it until he was reasonably sure he could do it consistently, and didn’t try until then. The whole thing was fascinating and breathtaking!

  14. MissEm says...

    Oh, I saw him on YouTube last year and my breath got short. I have sweaty palm just reading this! But I think his perspective on lifetime and what makes it worthwhile is fascinating. As a mother, my life is no longer just my own, so I don’t think I have that freedom to choose not to maximize my lifetime in the same way (not that I want it!). But I do remember thinking to myself as a young teenager on a fairly ascetic backpacking trip that leaving your comfort zone just meant finding a new way to be comfortable. It was the only way I could cope with what, to me, was an otherwise miserable situation. At the time I thought it was just a cop-out, at best a mental trick, but the older I get the more I think there’s possibly real wisdom in that.

  15. Lauren says...

    My palms get clammy and my feet start tingling just READING about this!! I was absolutely fascinated by this story as it was happening and read everything I could find on it. I cannot even fathom wanting to make such a climb. I’d love to see the movie, but it would make me so nervous even though I know he succeeds!

  16. Dallas says...

    I have not yet seen the film but when he was interviewed on Fresh Air he did clarify that he has some kind of safety rope system so that if he slips he will fall 20 feet or so but he will not fall clear off the rock face. Is that not clear in the movie?

    • Jen says...

      I believe this is just referring to the rope system he uses on his practice/everyday climbs. During the free solo climb (like in the film) he has literally no safety equipment keeping him from falling thousands of feet to the valley floor.

    • LGog says...

      Hey Dallas, he only uses those ropes to practice! The actual final ascent is done completely rope-free. He does an entire podcast with Joe Rogan where he talks about the movie, his methods, his training – the ropes aren’t used in the final climb at all.

    • raq says...

      Jo is correct- when he normally climbs and practices for these big free solo climbs he does use a rope system. This climb was thousands of feet with no gear or protection of any kind

    • Emkkk says...

      I believe the Fresh Air interview you’re referring to was about the documentary Dawn Wall. Those climbers did use ropes. But not here.

  17. Good for him, not for me! I focused on the text of the post because the photos gave me anxiety. I find that the more into my 20s I get, the more afraid I am — it’s almost like all these possibilities are opening up for me, but the risks are bigger and bigger and I don’t want to lose them.

  18. agnes says...

    I find really interesting the comments about Alex’s attitude on risking his life to achieve what he believes in. Some find that irresponsible or selfish. I am certain no one would object if alex put his life at risk for the benefit of the community. But maybe, on a deeper level, Alex is working aswell for the benefit of the community. At least he has a plan for his wild and only life. At least his plan is extraordinary, beautiful, unique. I find it inspiring. I am sure his loved ones admire his intensity, perfectionism and value the time they share, knowing he could die tomorrow. Won’t we all die tomorrow? I wish I were more like Alex, absorbed in passion.

  19. Natasha says...

    Another film to watch about Yosemite climber’s movement is The Down Wall. Extremely moving too!!

    • Rika says...

      Just here to correct the typo, it’s the Dawn Wall.

    • Amy says...

      Loved this movie!

  20. Parrish says...

    My boyfriend and I (who are both climbers and met because we work at a climbing gym together) went to see it for a date night. Not even 5 minutes in, my boyfriend turned to me and said, “I can’t hold your hand anymore. My palms are already getting sweaty just watching this!”

  21. Heather says...

    For all the haters out there… I think Joanna missed giving a HUGE piece to the puzzle. Alex has an abnormal amygdala. He PHYSICALLY does NOT experience fear or risk in the same manner that some of us experience it. Who in this comment board has ever sky dived, zip-lined, done the Six Flags Giant drop, watched a horror film, bought something we’ve wanted for years but that is just out of reasonable price range? We all experience fear and joy and excitement on a vastly different scale. His physical feeling of fear and with that, excitement kicks in way later than any of ours ever would. It is tough to talk about Alex Honnold unless you watch the documentary where the viewer sits in with the doctors, watching them perform the brain scan/ fMRI on Honnold. That test literally shows you just how abnormal his brain is. Would any of us want to live a life without feeling a rush EVER? I ask you think about that before you judge him.

    • Anna says...

      Thanks Heather, for this comment.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Yes but those tests were inconclusive — they showed that he doesn’t experience fear in the same way BUT they weren’t sure if that was because he was born that way OR if it was because he had become so accustomed to scary/tense experiences that regular things didn’t scare him in the same way anymore. So it’s hard to draw the conclusion that he never felt fear the same way as other people vs he has toughened himself up mentally.

    • Rae says...

      I saw this movie with my husband, a doctor, and friend, a neuroscientist. They both laughed during the brain scan scenes and explained later that it was very “soft science” without a lot of comparison data to back anything up. All three of us are long time climbers. Alex Honnold is absolutely at the top of his game and has done something remarkable, both athletically and mentally, but many people participate in sports that require focus and calm in the face of danger. Scientists are interested in the possibility of this explanation but it is still just a theory.

  22. Nicole says...

    Agreed – good for him, not for me! While I enjoy sports, I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea of taking such a big risk for a physical feat.

  23. Stephanie says...

    I saw Alex speak last night at our community arts center—he’s even better in person! You should watch this with Toby— my 9 year old is obsessed with the film and even started reading his book!

    • Stef says...

      Excellent! I’m going to see it this afternoon and came here to the comments to see if maybe my boys would like it (or if it’s be too much for them). I think we will go!

  24. Nicole says...

    I haven’t seen this doc yet but watched another doc on Alex awhile ago. For those seeing him as selfish or reckless, I’d like to challenge you to reconsider your concept of selfishness. He is a vegetarian who lives in his van in an effort to leave the lightest touch on our very fragile right now planet. While your concepts of selfishness may be directed towards relationships with other humans, maybe consider Alex’s values of his relationship with the earth.

    • Elle says...

      Wow that’s beautiful. Thank you.

    • Anna says...

      Well said, thank you.

  25. Ceridwen says...

    This guy has a massive comfort zone! I am finding I am getting more and more afraid. I think it happened after having children. I haven’t been able to learn how to drive because I’m afraid and I just can’t visualise myself doubt it. I confronted that fear last year with lessons but made a few mistakes and chickened out again. This year I have a goal to be braver. Not quite that guy brave! Ha! But at least not let fear hold me back from things I want to do. Increase my comfort zone.

    Loved the article someone posted about his brain. Thanks!

  26. TS says...

    I just can’t get behind calling this incredibly risky behavior a sport, and I don’t want to aid in its glorification. I rock-climb, and I can say from experience that no matter how well trained you are, both physically and mentally, there is still so much outside your control when you’re out on rock in the elements. I think it’s completely irresponsible and selfish for someone to climb rope-less, even if they personally decide they’re “fine” with dying that way. Do they not think about all the innocent people who will suffer as a result of that decision and its inevitable conclusion? My heart breaks for the friends and family-members of the people who put seeking adrenaline over everything else. This is just not the behavior of a mentally healthy person.

    • Brigid says...

      OMG YES! I rock climb too (at a beginner-ish level) and this is the exact issue I have with Alex Honnold. Yes, it worked that time, but it could have gone wrong in like 500 ways and oops, dead. I feel the same way watching Reel Rock (other climbing videos) when you see someone attempt something ridic and uber dangerous and then cuddle their baby.

    • TS says...

      Yep. You’re not just gambling with your own life, you’re gambling the wellbeing of everyone who cares about you. You’re saying that your pleasure is more important than their potential pain and suffering. That’s really shitty and not at all inspiring to me. It’s like how an addict behaves. Maybe Alex is addicted to adrenaline.

    • Darby says...

      I saw the movie and loved it. One of the things that made it amazing was how the film makers focused not only on his climbing and athleticism but also on his relationships and the people around him who care deeply for him. There was one camera man who couldn’t even watch some of the climb because he was so worried for Alex’s safety. When I watched it, I didn’t get the sense he was seeking an adrenaline rush. For him, it seems to be more than that, or maybe not “more” but different… I got the sense he needed to do it for a deeper reason than just getting a rush. He is not just some guy scrambling up a mountain, looking for a good time, nor does he seem to have a death wish. He is incredibly methodical and deliberate in his preparation and he is incredibly talented. I also did not get the sense that he is mentally ill- far from it. I think he just has different priorities and beliefs- and a different perspective on risk and death. If you look at it from a broader perspective, there are many cultures throughout history that do not fear death or see it the same way most people do in North America. He chooses to live in a way he finds fulfilling- I don’t like that he is willing to risk his life in that way, but I think I can respect it.

    • Parrish says...

      I completely agree! I climb as well and work at a climbing gym and while we respect the major accomplishment, none of us think he’s someone to be idolized. I have had close friends have life threatening falls on much easier routes and yes they aren’t professional climbers, but the grades were definitely well within their ability. I especially find it hard to get behind Alex because of his robotic personality which is the very thing that prevents him from caring about how his life affects those around him.

    • nadege says...

      Agreed. It’s hard to not see this as a slow drawn out suicide. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be his family/friends. Sadly, probability-wise, it’s hardly a matter of *if* he could die this way, but *when* will he die this way. Though I suppose this is true of all our lives…

    • Tonia says...

      OMG ok, I still have so many thoughts about this.

      First of all, Darby, thanks you for your comment–I appreciate that perspective and I really thought long and hard about what you wrote. Your point about not all cultures and societies thinking about death the same way is very valid. But, after careful thought, what Alex is doing still does not sit right with me. I know that this probably says more about my own relationship with mortality and death than it does about his, but still, I cannot shake the very strong feeling that there is just something not right here.

      If Alex wants to be reckless with his own life, that is absolutely his choice. But I think you have a responsibility then to not surround yourself with friends, partners, children, etc. who will inevitably be deeply affected by your eventual traumatic death. Ultimately, no matter how generous of a view I take on Alex’s decisions, my heart aches for everyone who loves him and has to watch him put his life in danger over and over again. Do I just have this protective feeling for his loved ones because I am a woman and a mother? I don’t know.

      I also wonder how everyone would look at his choices differently if HE was a woman…I feel like men are often given the freedom to explore the outer reaches of human capabilities no matter the consequences, and then either their success or their demise is celebrated with equal fervor and awe. Women are, with a few exceptions throughout history, cast in the supporting role and expected to be the caretakers of all our earthly responsibilities. What would the world say if a woman placed the exploration of her physical and mental limits over everything else–even her family?

      It seems that no one in Alex’s life feels they can try to talk sense into him, or even express how they feel in regards to his choices, because they know it won’t change anything, and that for Alex, free soloing is the thing that makes life worth living. Isn’t that sad, though? I know it takes all types to make the world go ’round, but I find it sad that he needs to be on the brink of death in order to feel alive.

      The world is such a beautiful place, and life is miraculous, even in (I would argue–especially in) the most mundane little moments of it. If his brain is made in a way that makes it impossible for him to feel exhilaration or happiness unless he puts himself in mortal danger, then I guess that explains why he is doing what he is doing. But that doesn’t make it inspirational. Not for me anyway.

    • Taylor says...

      While I understand the risks and respect your opinion, I ask, do you get in a car? That is in itself (particularly for the sub 50yo) a great risk for death. Yet that isn’t considered selfish. It’s culturally an accepted risk.

    • Emma says...

      I thought that I’d chime in and say that the directors have spoken about the decision to film him and that it was a really considered approach. They did a really good Op-Doc for the NYTimes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-wjmIFlnNo) where they talk about how they were really careful not to influence Alex’s decision to climb. And that if he was going to free solo El Cap then they wanted to film it.
      Both the friends around him and his GF know and knew that he free solos and chose to still be there. Alex is quite frank about the risks around the climbing he does and doesn’t sugar coat it which I feel makes it far less selfish, because they still choose to be there.

  27. Allison says...

    For weeks after I saw this documentary, I could not shut up about it. I told everyone who would listen. It really stays with you! That climb was unreal. What an amazing, terrifying, insane, spectacular accomplishment.

  28. Maura says...

    Oh my gosh! I saw this too, and I couldn’t NOT talk about it with everyone I saw—at the office lunch table, to my class of students, out for drinks with friends, on a call home to my parents…it was such an intense film. In the theater, my mind kept jumping from Alex, to his crew (their palpable investment in the project was so touching, during the prep for the big day, and during the climb—and the skill they had to not only climb along, but capture just the right angles and cut together such a compelling story is mind-boggling), to my palms that would not. stop. sweating! My heart was in my throat the entire time. I don’t think any film has ever left me feeling such a stark rush back to reality after it was over. Such a fun feeling, and such an impressive group of people!

  29. Carrie Jones says...

    I wish my brain was missing it’s fear center also. It’s wild, and kind of sad, to imagine just how different my life would be if it weren’t for fear. This documentary looks amazing Joanna, thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to watch it!

  30. Gina Dwyer says...

    Oh my god – “without any ropes or gear” …mic drop!! I think my heart stopped for a moment when I read that line!
    I THINK I want to see this movie, but I know I will be anxiously gripping the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME! So, not sure? No, I will watch it – how inspring is Alex! I am in awe of him!

  31. Alison says...

    I live in Chicago and saw a screening back in October. Alex and Jimmy Chin (the filmmaker and also an amazing climber/skier/photographer) came to do a q&a. Months later I still think about it. An amazing documentary.

  32. Sasha L says...

    I’m not sure how much this applies to Alex Honnold, but there is a mental health phenomenon that occurs at high altitude. People are more prone to depression and suicide, to risky behaviors, to needing extreme adrenaline rush. And of course high altitude attracts those who have those traits already. It’s well documented now and where I live (Montana) it’s widely understood. The thin air (and probably other factors too) cause brain damage, which can be worsened by other common in mountain town factors like alcohol use and drugs. Every year or so we see death take young adventures like Alex, skiers and boarders, mountaineers, climbers, either by accident or even more sadly, their own hands. Last year a young woman was taken in avalanche, skiing down a remote mountain, and her beloved partner came home and took his own life. It’s a very sad part of life here. These adventurers live extreme lives that can be difficult to accept for those of us who don’t crave height and adrenalin.

  33. katie says...

    NOPE! I’ve never considered myself a fraidy cat – but the stakes of this, I just don’t think I could hang for 2 hours in that constant state of concern for his imminent death EVEN THOUGH I KNOW HE MADE IT. Loved reading about it here & will treasure that (:

    • lindsey petersen says...

      SAME!!!

  34. Krista says...

    I absolutely loved the movie, even though it was difficult to watch in some moments. I think it made it easier knowing he had been successful. I felt bad for his girlfriend, while at the same time wanting her to go away so that she wouldn’t interfere with his mental preparation! She really had to put herself in a vulnerable spot to be filmed they way she was. That is an accomplishment in itself.

    • Darby says...

      I loved his girlfriend… She was vulnerable, and beautiful, and very normal:) I can imagine it would be very tough to love a man like that.

  35. Kate says...

    When you said it reminded you of a card, before even clicking on it, I knew it was the Emily McDowell card! I bought that card for my boyfriend for our recent anniversary. One of my favorite memories of our first date is that we bonded over the fact that we didn’t like hiking (and everyone in the online dating world seemed to love hiking!) and we promised each other we’d never go hiking. As he likes to tell me, “We’re inside people.” :D

    • Christi says...

      Valentine’s Gift idea: Buy matching “indoorsy” t-shirts from Proper-tee!

    • Kate says...

      Oh, that’s a great idea! :) Thank you Christi!

  36. shade says...

    “…to truly manage your fear is to broaden your comfort zone.” That alone is an amazing way to think.

  37. Rachael says...

    My grandfather died on the Grand Teton free climbing in the 1980s. He was incredibly experienced, but someone else made a mistake and in saving that man’s life he gave up his own—so nope, this does not look appealing to me!

    • Katie Seevers says...

      My father climbed the Teton’s in the 80’s and witnessed people dying free soloing, from an early age when I fell in love with it he stressed the necessity of not letting your ego think you don’t need a rope, etc. he’s a complicated man but I think the Teton experiences he had in the 70’s and 80’s deeply impacted him.

  38. Virginia says...

    Given his methods, he will die eventually during one of his pursuits. I live in a climbing community and this happens all the time, even with safety gear. Sounds like he is OK with this possibility.

  39. Suzanne Sonneborn says...

    First time a COJ post has left me needing to blow in a paper bag – maybe next time a lead in sentence sans photo with a warning that the photos to follow will not be warmly received by the height phobics among us!

    • Y.k. says...

      You need a Triggeralert.

  40. Emily says...

    I saw this documentary and loved it. It was so mind blowing. But what I loved most about it was how it dove into his relationships and the impact of his extreme behavior on his loved ones. It’s something I’ve always wondered about people who do extreme sports like this — how can they maintain relationships when they could die at any moment?

    • Anya says...

      Thanks for sharing this – super interesting!!

  41. Emily says...

    I am so afraid of heights that even reading this post makes my heart race!

    • Lauren E. says...

      ME TOO. My legs are all tingly right now.

  42. I want to see this so much! I saw the trailer a few months ago and couldn’t get it out of my head. I don’t understand risking one’s life in this way, but the ability to overcome this primal level of fear and anxiety is fascinating. Humans are capable of incredible things.

  43. Tessa says...

    His poor mother.

    • Amy says...

      Yes!!!!!!!! Ha ha!

    • Lilly says...

      I totally thought this too. Hahaha.

    • LeAnn says...

      My friend knows his mother! She said she’s super sweet, but kind of whimsical herself.

  44. Abesha1 says...

    So. If he fallen and died during the filming, then, it would be … not sad? Just too bad? Certainly it wouldn’t be a tragedy.
    The man’s brain literally does not appear to register the fear that should, by all rights, inform him this is dangerous. Why exactly is that something to be celebrated?
    Maybe he could go climb some mountains to help the people living in them trying to escape wars on the mainlands…. there’s a useful application for his skills.

    Your “gripping” pun is pretty funny, though.

    • Darby says...

      I think that is a misinterpretation of the brain research. My understanding was that it isn’t that he can’t ever feel fear and discomfort, it just takes a stronger or different kind of stimulus, thus he can stay calm, rather than panic, in extreme situations. The movie also shows how he did not do the climb the first time he attempted it- he actually stopped and turned back because it didn’t feel right. He wasn’t mindless or wild about it and did seem to consider the risks and choose not to take risks that he thought would be unsafe or unwise.

    • Justin says...

      His brain does register fear, but requires much higher stimulation for him to be affected by it. He’s about as far from reckless as possible on his free solos, spends years rehearsing every move, even bailed on his first attempt at the freerider solo. And he has the Honnold foundation, a nonprofit that assists with sustainablity projects throughout the developing world and climbing communities

  45. Liz says...

    The neuroscience is so fascinating to me. I also can barely look at the pictures because I have a weird fear of falling to the death – but at the same time, I’ve traveled to some pretty dangerous places, often solo, and a part of me totally gets the drive here.

    There is a true high I get traveling into a place where I “shouldn’t” or that’s “too risky” that is hard to put into words – a buzzing, an energy, an aliveness. And if I go too long without repeating that feeling, I start to feel kind of dead inside, like there is a gnawing hole or ache that I can’t satisfy in any other way. I imagine it’s much the same feeling that drives people to be war correspondents or spies. Feeling “normal” when you are in the risky, heightened situation and lost, adrift and not yourself when you’re not.

    As I’ve gotten older and started thinking about having a family, I’ve started replacing this high with more manageable adventures, but there was definitely a time when I was not afraid to die if it meant doing the only thing that made me feel alive.

  46. Sarah says...

    I enjoyed this film, too, but found the film Dawn Wall — also about El Cap– more compelling. Give it a try! It’s available on Amazon Prime.

    • Laura says...

      Second this recommendation! My favorite climbing movie of 2018.

    • rachel says...

      dawn wall was better! i loved free solo but found dawn wall much more compelling.

    • Heather says...

      Agree!!

  47. Jem says...

    I haven’t seen this movie yet, but it’s on my list. His story reminds me a bit of Colin O’Brady who just became the first person to travel across Antartica completely solo. I loved following his story on Instagram- he posted pictures/videos over the course of his 70+ days of travel. I love that there are still achievements that humans have yet to accomplish, that there is still SO much more that we can do and be. Stories like Free Solo and Colin’s just highlight this concept. It’s amazing what the human mind and body can do! (as a side note…. where are the lady adventurers?! I know they are out there… but I want to see movies about them too!). :)

  48. Jenny says...

    So fascinating. He is one of a kind. It sure is an act of advanced mental and physical abilities.

    Slight correction – I suppose you could consider El Cap a mountain, but it’s really a rock formation. Alex is a rock climber, not a mountain climber. I know it may not seem that different but it is. :)

    • Sasha L says...

      Thanks for this! I wanted to correct too. Sometimes there’s overlap and one is both, but different skill sets and different risks too. Mountain climbing can be pretty darn safe, free climbing El Capitan is a whole other thing. Not that safety is the only game in town. I admire how alive you must be to do this, and how committed to living your life in your way, overcoming fear like this.

    • Rae says...

      Like lots of niche pursuits there is a lot of lingo and specific vocabulary in climbing. Jenny is correct, in this film Honnold is showing us rock climbing rather than a mountain climbing. Both rock climbing and mountain climbing (which may have technical rock climbing as a piece of the ascent, along with ice, snow traverses, altitude) have very low risk options and very high risk options.

      What Honnold has done in this movie is solo climb a big wall. It is not free climbing. Free climbing involves using ropes and protection placed in natural cracks and divots in the rock face to protect from a long fall. Soloing uses no ropes or protection.

      I have been an avid (obsessed?) climber since I was a teenager in the 1990’s. Back then solo climbing was done by few people and was considered an unusual choice that should not be taken lightly. It is much more common now, as is speed climbing with little protection placed – buoyed on I think by social media and the ease of reporting “feats.” I know two young men who have died soloing and I have very mixed feelings about it. I loved this movie, partially because Jimmy Chin (one of the filmmakers) clearly wrestles with Honnold’s choice to pursue this feat.

  49. Here in Belfast Northern Ireland there was a limited showing of Free Solo; but encouragingly the queue was out of the door! What an immense film, we talked for a long time about it afterwards but the thing that fascinated / disturbed me the most was the relationship with his girlfriend…she was sweet but we felt she was always trying to mould him into something he intrinsically isn’t. I wonder if anyone else felt this?

    • gfy says...

      Over all I felt like she was a saint to be able to tolerate and still love him based upon how emotionally distant and almost callous he was towards her but considering what it must take mentally for him to have gotten in the right head space to perform at that level …I saw both sides I think, because what sane person would not try to probe someone they cared for who was about to do something insane by anyone’s definition?

  50. Sarah says...

    Yes! My family saw this together over Thanksgiving in a crowded, uncomfortable, independent theater, and literally every person in the audience was on the edge of their seat the whole time. You could hear the collective breath in and sigh of relief (over and over). And although I saw it almost two months ago, I still find myself thinking of Alex and his story often. The documentary did an incredible job of sharing both the physical and mental aspects of this sport. I loved how much his girlfriend was a part of the film, and how much they talked about his past, family, and the role mental health plays in his ability to perform this way. And it was even funny!
    Go see it!

  51. Anna says...

    Wow, does anyone else have a problem with the idea of kids or teens watching this? Seems like it really glorifies unnecessary risk taking and danger. If something “gives you joy”, is it worth dying for? How do we want our kids to answer that question? Yep, risk is part of life, but I believe that our lives are not ours to throw away wantonly, especially for something like an extreme sport. Sure, climb away, but use some common sense and safety gear to greatly reduce those risks. There is a big difference to between risking your life to save a drowning person, and risking it for a thrill. I just wish this man could use all his amazing physical and mental talents in a more constructive way.

    • Lisa says...

      I would love to watch this *with* my kids. My opinion is that life is short and to be enjoyed however one sees fit, provided that you’re not harming anyone else in the process. I’m certain that he feels he is using his physical and mental talents in a way that is very constructive to him.

    • Madeline says...

      I don’t think it glorified it and they spent a fair amount of time talking to the people around him and actually discussing whether or not promoting this climb and his story was dangerous.

    • gfy says...

      I do not have a problem with it at all because each of us must grow in our our own way and to enforce constraints on creativity and self expression is seriously ignorant of each person’s need to shape their own experience on a soul level. The people around him understand that death is a risk – how many people kill their own lives by staying “safe”? Which is riskier? A soul less life or bravery that risks it all for the possibility of transcending boundaries? I found his success profoundly spiritual personally and am very grateful to him for allowing it to have been filmed. Bravo to all of them.

    • Jame Catlett says...

      Yes, in fact more people are attempting dangerous climbs since this movie – solo.

    • Anna says...

      GFY,
      On the contrary, I am not advocating for a “safe” life. And I do believe that some things are ARE worth dying for. I would die to save my child if that was required. To me bravery is doing something that must be done for your good or the good of another (even with intense feelings of fear). This is not bravery to me-merely lack of a self-preservation instinct. I want my kids to be able to differentiate between those two things.

    • gfy says...

      Anna I hear you, it is a tough call I agree. The key point with him is that he was super experienced and believed in himself – to an admirable level. I want my children to believe in themselves with the same degree of success. Would it still have been admirable if he’d fallen? I believe so because while tragic it was still insanely brave to attempt the impossible on behalf of furthering human potential. Crazy brave yes but brave. How crazy was the first human astronaut for example or the first deep sea diver for that matter. They all expanded the realm of our world immensely.

      Teaching ourselves and our children how, when, and WHY to calculate risk is one of the more important lessons in life.

    • Anna says...

      GFY-I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the fundamental “nobility” of this particular action. Maybe we differ in how much we can call our lives our own? (To be clear- I personally believe that our lives belong to God, and that we should not take unnecessary risks with them.) I RARELY comment but this post struck a nerve. One year ago, I lost a relative to mental health problems/suicide. His family will be haunted by his death. It bothered me to see that many people commenting here don’t seem to have a problem with this man’s attitude toward the preciousness of his life and how the loss of it would affect those who are left if he died. Thank you so much for your politeness in response to my comment!

    • nadine says...

      Thank you for this conversation! It’s so interesting to read different point of views in a polite, sweet and toughtful way. It helps make me reconsider all the many aspects in a way I wouldn’ have thought of..

  52. C says...

    Joanna, I also loved this movie! When I watched previews, my palms were sweaty and I didn’t know if I could handle it. But you’re right, when you watch the whole film it’s easy to get into his head-space and experience the actual climb from his perspective. It didn’t make me want to try climbing, but it did make me want to go to Yosemite park. Agree with the others who liked Meru!

  53. Emiley says...

    I want to see this so badly but haven’t found a showing near me! I totally second the recommendations for elizabeth chai vasarhelyi‘s other epic documentary, Meru. It’s absolutely incredible and features her husband, Jimmy Chin, as well as the legendary Conrad Anker (whose personal life story is also just unreal). I would also recommend another recent film about a pioneering first ascent on El Capitan – Dawn Wall about Tommy Caldwell. From those I know who have seen it and Free Solo, Tommy’s story is in some ways more relatable and triumphant. I’m anxious to say I’ve seen both! Anyway. Climbing books and documentaries are a favorite of mine to read for some of the same fascinating reasons you mention here.

    • Rae says...

      I absolutely loved Meru. Anyone who enjoyed Free Solo would love it as well I think. Beautiful film.

  54. I have not seen this, though my climbing enthusiast husband really liked it. I am not much of a climber but I really liked another recent movie about climbing El Capitan called The Dawn Wall. Its very much about perseverance but it definitely takes a fair amount of obsession to accomplish these big crazy climbs.

  55. Stephanie says...

    I saw this one on a date night with my husband and walked away feeling equally in awe of him (so daring and yet carefully calculated!) and confounded by him (is it really worth the risk?).

    I gotta say, it was a good feeling! I’ll never be in his shoes, but I liked imagining what my scary project might be, and how I’ll support my loved ones if/when they attempt scary projects of their own.

    We talked about Alex for WEEKS afterward. My husband even showed our two young boys the trailer (to which they said, “Awesome!” and for which I emphasized the importance of being both brave AND wise.;)

    Finally, I listened to Alex in a bunch of interviews following the release of the film and found it comforting that he doesn’t have another crazy solo project in mind (what could top El Cap, he explained). He’s so absolutely likable that I hope he continues to feel satisfied with a safer version of the sport in the future. :)

  56. Ro says...

    Oh my god, my palms are sweating just looking at those photos. I haven’t watched the movie but I have to say, I think it’s okay to be afraid of climbing a 3,000-foot rock face, especially without harnesses. That fear seems justified, and therefore not one I’d ever feel the need to “push through.” Just like jumping out of an airplane. No thanks.

    That said, I’m also in awe of people who do amazing things like this. All of my favorite documentaries are about folks riding bikes long distances or sailing solo around the world. Love it.

  57. R says...

    I also saw this movie and found myself thinking of it long after. It brings up all sorts of reflections on life, passion, fear, risk, etc. I’m blown away and inspired by his accomplishments!

    For those who have also seen it, I’m curious about your thoughts on his relationship. In some ways you see them growing closer and building something strong and lovely with one another. But I also found myself bristling a lot. Being unwilling to compromise, minimize risk, or “maximize lifetime” is his prerogative – but to me, that conflicts with the idea of sharing your life with someone. I have a hard time squaring the concept of partnership with single-minded pursuit of a life-threatening passion. THAT SAID, totally not my business, and they seem to have built something very special together. (Maybe this is as a case of “good for them, not for me!”) Just interesting to ponder these big picture themes.

    • Amanda says...

      Totally agree! I saw this movie with my partner, and while we were mesmerized by his talent, what we both kept talking about was the relationship element of the film. Even when they went back through his past, sharing a few details about his family life, it’s clear that there were some elements of his upbringing that have led to his relationship perspective as well as his need to push boundaries. He an his partner seem to have an understanding about his career and lifestyle, but it’s definitely interesting to think about how a relationship would have to evolve to accommodate a risk of this magnitude, as well as account for the needs of both partners. All relationships have risk and require compromise, but this one seems so big, such an extreme extrapolation of the average risk. This is just a thought though, not at all my business! As you said, just interesting to ponder!

  58. Colleen says...

    Yes! Also, check out Dawn Wall. It’s about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson climbing the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. Amazing story (and my friend’s husband;). Now I need to watch this one, too! It’s such a fascinating world.

  59. Sara says...

    I saw this movie before the holidays (early release dates in CA) and haven’t stopped thinking about it. I told my sister to go see it and she said it was pretty much the best movie she’s EVER seen. I might go again.

    The Dawn Wall is also an incredible movie. Go see it after Free Solo!!

  60. I got to meet Alex once; I used to work at a nonprofit in Vail, CO (the Vail Symposium) where we hosted a series called Unlimited Adventure. We would invite amazing folks like Alex Honnold to come to Vail and give a community presentation about their pursuits. I had dinner with him after the event and I was blown away by how calm and even-keeled he is. He struck me as probably the most clear-headed person I’ve ever met. What he does kind of makes sense when you meet him. And he’s such a kind, humble human being too!

  61. Jill says...

    I loved reading the information about studying his brain, and it is so true!! I am not a risk taker at all. Things like a glass of water next to my husband’s computer cause me stress. I can LITERALLY see someone bumping the table and spilling the water on the computer. My amygdala must be firing constantly. I think this is genetic bc I am so much more of a risk taker than my mom who I swear must have wrote the Worst Case Scenario books. So clearly, I am here for self preservation and making sure those around me are safe. lol

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, it’s SO interesting how different people’s brains process risk and fear. my cousin, for example, is such a total thrill seeker and doesn’t get scared of most physical risks, whereas i’m a basketcase even watching a movie like this. LOL @ “Things like a glass of water next to my husband’s computer cause me stress.” = i’m with you, jill!!

    • Kara says...

      The Worst Case Scenario books—I love this haha. This is my husband, which I only learned once we had kids. So many things he imagines can happen to them are things that would NEVER cross my mind otherwise. I’m intrigued to learn more!

    • Lisa T says...

      I am with you! I am constantly moving glasses of water away from computers in my house for the fear that they will topple over. I am definitely not a risk taker – but I am working on it;)

  62. I saw this with my daughter, and I was so nervous the whole way through!

  63. I feel like I have been giving my 10-year-old the same parenting talk for months now – if you want A’s, you need to put the effort in and study. If you want to be good at basketball – you need to practice every day. Talent only takes you so far – you have to work hard. This movie did a much better job at driving this point home than I normally do.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great point, kate. omg, he worked so crazy hard. two words: finger pull-ups!!!

    • katie says...

      YES! Love this, and 10 seems like a great time to hammer home grit & sticking with it. Mindy Kaling also has great thoughts on hard work, too (of course now I can’t recall in which of her two books she talks about this), as do so so many athletes. I grew up with that old Larry Bird quote rattling around my head, “I don’t know if I practiced more than anybody, but I sure practiced enough. I still wonder if somebody – somewhere – was practicing more than me.” And I heard that from some random coach at basketball camp in 4th grade. Just the notion of being outworked – by anyone out there in the world – that’s a mental trick I still use to push myself.

  64. Sandra says...

    So just to be sure I’m understanding, he’s skipping safety gear just for the thrill of it?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      and for the incredible challenge of it! you really get into his headspace in the documentary.

    • Rae says...

      …and for the intense, clear, focus required. It is a different feat. Placing gear and handling the ropes takes time and changes the climb.

  65. Capucine says...

    And then there are the times when part of Yosemite closes because a pro free climber fell.

    One of the best rock climbers in the world and many big wave surfers come from my town. These guys (and occasional women) in real life feel like they are missing a key part of their brain. Larger than life, a creature apart, brilliant athletes and charming humans but…you know how people on the autism spectrum don’t have the social reactions most folks do and you sort of feel that after chatting a while? I think these extreme athletes don’t have the fear/self preservation part of their brain functioning. You can feel it. They just don’t look at danger like most folks do. It’s almost like a special kind of disability, like they don’t react to unreasonable situations properly, the stop-no-way flag, it just isn’t there. I have respect for how palpably unusual they are, but it feels more like crazy in real life, and the things they are known for as teens around town before they found their saving-grace sport are often harrowing. Skateboarding through the sewers and getting stuck! Hitchhiking to Baja and getting stuck in the desert rescued by a group of prostitutes! Stealing pot for the Hawaiian drug cartel and having to disappear to Australia for a while! Very different from, say, how Misty Copeland might feel. Compassion for their families and second grade teachers. That brain must’ve been quite a genetic thread amongst the Vikings. I have a great brain for keeping people alive, I’ll be over here doing that!

  66. marcy says...

    T,

    https://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/science-shows-alex-honnold-feels-no-fear/

    Neuroscientists recently studied Honnold’s brain. They put him in a large machine and then quickly showed him a series of terrifying and off-putting images — toilets overflowing with faeces, mangled and bloody faces, a climber dangling over the void — the sort of stuff that would send most people shivering, gagging, or both.

    It didn’t register with Honnold. They hadn’t seen anything like it. His amygdala, the part of the brain that reacts to fear, lay dormant.

    “Maybe his amygdala is not firing — he’s having no internal reactions to these stimuli,” said neuroscientist Dr. Jane Joseph. “But it could be the case that he has such a well-honed regulatory system that he can say, ‘OK, I’m feeling all this stuff, my amygdala is going off,’ but his frontal cortex is just so powerful that it can calm him down.”

    Medically, it would seem, Honnold does not experience fear.

    • Laura C. says...

      After seeing the first two pictures, I can assure you that my amygdala is feeling my fear and his altogether.
      Man I have vertigo at the mere thought!

    • june2 says...

      He says in the film something about how he processed fear by visualizing how to overcome key points of terror until his brain is accustomed to that situation and it no longer triggers him. I remembered this part because I used to do the same thing as a teenager who was terrified of lots of social situations as well as having a deep fear of sexual violence (when people began talking about rape for example stories were everywhere). It works!

    • Michelle A says...

      Yes, but he wasn’t born that way, he conditioned himself, his mind, his brain to overcome fear and remain calm.

      I think Alex is incredible. People take risks constantly in the effort to achieve a goal, he prepared and felt confident (not cocky) that he could do it. If he died, it would be tragic, but he would die doing exactly what he loved to do. I think he would have lived his life full of regret if he never attempted it. I don’t take him as some reckless athlete, quite the opposite. He seems so methodical and careful.

  67. After reading CoJ for countless years, it made my heart skip a beat to see one of the sports I am most passionate about featured!

    I only began climbing in my early twenties, and now years later, watching my relationship with it ebb and flow, transform and grow, I can say it has truly changed my life. As seen with Honnold’s doc, it is a balance of calculated risk, technique/strength, and mental preparation. The mental aspect is by far the most challenging and the most rewarding for most people, and has forced me to come face to face with my anxiety, self doubt, and fear, learning to be stronger and trust myself when those emotions and thoughts arise. I liken it to a moving meditation, similar to yoga (but with the occasional swear thrown in when you mess up and have to start over!)

    Although it is mostly seen in the media as big risk, big wall endeavors by super athletes, don’t allow it to discourage you from exploring… I encourage everyone to give it a shot, even if you take a beginner course at your local climbing gym – many places offer women-specific nights or classes, which is how I got started! In the beginning, I was so scared of heights, not terribly athletic, and thought the fact that I had “no arm muscles” meant I would fail, but I was so wrong! I found the climbing community offered encouragement, support, trust, and an excitement to share something that brings them joy. Plus, the climbing gym feels like a giant playground for grownups ;)

    There are many groups that bring people of various skills and backgrounds together (women-specific climbing meet ups, POC climbing groups, climbing teams for differently-abled persons, etc.) so if you feel intimidated by the occasional “climber-bro” at the gym, know that there is growing diversity within this smaller sport and you are an important part!

    Most importantly, once you feel comfortable, take it outside and you will see why these “risks” are taken… interacting with the natural world around you, not trying to change it, but instead seeing how you can use your skills and experience to tackle the task at hand… Once you reach the anchors, take a few deep breaths, feel the sharp rock under your callused fingers, listen to the birds flying overhead, look out at the world below, and realize how small, and how big, we all truly are.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, this is incredible, lauren! thank you so much for sharing.

    • Elle says...

      Lauren! Fellow female climber here to second everything you just said – girls, go give it a try!!! I too started in a state of “no arm muscles” and found that to actually be an advantage in many situations! The wall is a great equalizer between men and women for sure. And after a couple years, you better believe I had some pretty awesome arm strength. I ran cross country and track in college and never felt as strong as I did when I was at my peak climbing levels in my late 20s. I can’t wait to get back on the wall when my kids are old enough to join us :) In the meantime, I’m smiling and reminiscing and daydreaming (and maybe my pregnant self is tearing up a bit) over your last sentence. Thanks for that :)

  68. Joanna Tsay says...

    Oh my gosh oh my gosh, it was just last week I stumbled across the making of the documentary on YouTube, had never heard of him before, and then I immediately watched a bunch of other videos as well as Alex’s TED talk and you’re right, the most intriguing thing about Alex is his person. He said himself that he was never a naturally gifted climber so he’s trained and prepared every part of himself so meticulously, it’s just amazing to watch.

  69. Jean says...

    My favorite movie of 2018 … each one of us is given one life and I love that he lives his doing what he wants while he gets to see more beauty than most of us in our daily lives. No judgment on my end whatsoever. It’s been interesting to see his mother fully support his climbing lifestyle as well. I was enthralled by Meru years ago and was just as enraptured by Free Solo (a Jimmy Chin and his wife, Chai Vasarhelyi, fan as well)! Yes, life is precious and we do miss those who don’t live as long as we may want them in our lives, but ultimately, we each are given our own to live.

    • Crystine says...

      This is so lovely Jean. There are great lengths we go to to extend life as though length was the key, the final success! I would rather know that my loves had lived fully then to witness them live a hundred years. This is what love is, is it not. To want those you love to be in love with living.

  70. Maddie says...

    So incredible! I can barely look at the pictures. I’m not sure I would make it through the movie.

    • Kaye Lyssy Berman says...

      I definitely would NOT make it through the movie…and I’m disappointed by that as I hear it is phenomenal. I also have heard Netflix’s Valley Uprising is good too!

  71. jane says...

    I took two of my boys to see it at the Imax theater last night!! We all loved it and gasped out loud at parts of it. I agree, the physical strength is amazing, but it is the mental that stayed with me. Alex has a great sense of humor and an amazing determination.
    Alex said his mom, a French teacher, only spoke in French to him and his sister. I am also a French teacher and as we left the theater, I suggested doing the same to my sons. They said sure, but if I do, they will start free solo climbing. I’ll stick to English!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha

  72. Amanda says...

    I loved the movie. I’ve been following him for a long time and he is just incredible. One of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. I was physically sweating during most of the movie, even though I knew the outcome. As a rock climber, I can’t even fathom the scope of this climb, let alone without ropes.

  73. Tara says...

    I am in awe of rock climbers!! When I first moved to Colorado (very outdoorsy culture) I took up rock climbing at a gym as I was always interested in the sport. As someone who does not like adrenaline or risk taking, it stretched me SO much as a person mentally and physically. I even started teaching climbing to the middle schoolers I worked with.

    I can’t wait to watch the movie!!

  74. Jessica Hetterich says...

    I swear my hands started feeling weak while reading this hahahaa.

    • Annie says...

      Mine started to sweat!

    • Lucy says...

      And VERY sweaty!!

  75. Madi says...

    I also love that a husband-wife duo made the film! It was incredible to watch.

  76. marylouise says...

    No I will not see the movie, and I will not ever sit through that kind of agony. Good for him. Eveyone has to be good at something.

  77. Cameron Glass says...

    Just looking at the pictures makes me panic!! Wow he is so brave!

  78. Megan says...

    I haven’t seen the documentary, don’t think I could watch without breaking into a full flop sweat. but i did listen to his interview with Meghna Chakrabarti on NPR. (https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/10/09/alex-honnold-free-solo-rock-climbing). They included a neuroscientist that has scanned Alex’s brain, so interesting that I then followed up by reading this article http://nautil.us/issue/39/sport/the-strange-brain-of-the-worlds-greatest-solo-climber. The brain is A-mazing!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!! would LOVE to read more from the neuroscientist. they did an MRI as part of the movie and it was sooo interesting to see how his brain reacted to fear vs other people.

    • Sid says...

      Thanks for the links! This part of the Nautilus article was so interesting to me: “The cognitive neuroscientist who volunteered to carry out the scan is Jane Joseph, who in 2005 was one of the first people to perform fMRIs on high sensation seekers—people who are drawn to intense experiences and are willing to take risks to have them. Psychologists have studied sensation seeking for decades because it often leads to out-of-control behaviors such as drug and alcohol addiction, unsafe sex, and problem gambling. In Honnold, Joseph saw the possibility of a more remarkable typology: the super sensation seeker, who pursues experiences at the outer limits of danger, yet is able to tightly regulate the mind and body’s responses to them. She is also simply in awe of what Honnold can do. She had tried to watch videos of him climbing ropeless, but being a low sensation seeker herself, found them overwhelming.”
      Very much: good for him, not for me :)

    • Joaquina says...

      Megan, Thank you for the links. I fell into a rabbit hole after reading the Nautilus article and learned about high sensation seeking and low sensation seekers (I am very much the latter). Has anyone else mentioned the possibility of Asperger’s in Alex Honnald? My brother has High Functioning Autism and I wouldn’t be surprised if his fMRI results showed very low amygdala activation.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      joaquina, they didn’t mention asperger’s in alex (although they did with his dad), but i 100% think he’s on the spectrum. he has so many signs — not reading social cues, obsessive and limited interests, a hype-logical approach to things, not easily understanding theory of mind (like, why something he said hurt his girlfriend’s feelings, or how she could feel a different way about something than he did), a loner as a kid, etc. etc. he’s a sweetheart, i really empathized with him and how he was trying his best in a world that felt foreign to him in many ways.

    • Amanda says...

      Joanna, I also had an instinct that Alex is on the spectrum while watching the movie.

  79. Emily says...

    It’s playing this week (I think just for a limited time) at IMAX – we might go see it again to see it on the bigger screen! Though I don’t know if my nerves can handle it. Also worth watching “Dawn Wall” – another climbing movie set in Yosemite Valley that took place over the same time period, and with Tommy Cadwell who is featured in Free Solo. Dawn Wall is streaming on Netflix.

  80. Wow. For me, crossing against the light is enough of a thrill!

  81. Ellen says...

    MY PALMS ARE SO SWEATY. SO. SWEATY.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha

    • talia says...

      Mine too!

    • Molly says...

      Mine too! Just reading Joanna’s write up they got so sweaty I had to put my pen down.

  82. OH DEAR GOD
    (my reaction to those photos)

  83. Julie says...

    These cards by Emily McDowell made my day! Thanks

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      they really speak to me, haha!

  84. Hani says...

    His mother, nerves of steel or…?!!
    😱

    • t says...

      Oh my gosh his poor mother.

  85. Robin says...

    My hands are sweating just reading this blog post, so I can’t even imagine how much I’d panic watching the movie! Climbing and spelunking really freak me out… in fact climbing on an indoor wall is the only time I’ve ever had an “accident” in my adult life – mortifying.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      fascinating!! thank you, laura.

  86. I agree that it’s amazing and I’ve seen clips of his solo climb and they left me weak in the knees…but I’m one of those people who really just doesn’t see the point in all this. Perhaps because I don’t have a passion for something like he does for climbing but I don’t really understand the big deal about putting on ropes.

    While he might not care to maximize his lifetime, it is most certain that the people in his life wish for him to have a long lifetime. Death has a wide spread.

    (I am most certainly influenced by the premature death of two important people in my life)

    • Kiana says...

      I’m with you kellyn. I know this is an adrenaline rush for some people but I think it’s an unnecessary risk just for the thrill. I can’t imagine how his family feels and how many people will try to imitate him and fare worse.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s fascinating to me, because i do think with some people, like him, feel ALIVE when they’re doing risky things in a way that they really don’t in regular life, which may feel flat to them. he doesn’t care AT ALL about food, home, holidays, etc, and other things that may interest people — free solo climbing is what makes him feel inspired, awake, etc. and his bar for fear and excitement are so different for most people. does that make sense? when i think of it that way, i really understand his drive here, even though it’s 1000% different from myself :)

    • Patricia says...

      I agree 100%…. life is so precious. Sometimes one doesn’t realize that. Your sentence, “death has a wide spread” is so true – perfectly said. Perhaps he should consider his Mother, Father, girlfriend, friends, etc. I also have been influenced by the early deaths of family members I loved deeply, but again, life is very precious.

    • Catherine says...

      I really agree with you. I’m the total opposite of an adrenaline junkie. It’s great if this is what motivates his life, but I relate more to people enduring the day-to-day experiences of life.

    • Abbey says...

      I completely agree. While his journey seems very impressive, saying that you don’t feel obligated to maximize your lifetime to someone who loves you seems very selfish to me (and very callous). Perhaps I’m taking it out of context.

    • Lauren says...

      I totally agree, and feel so strongly about this! There are so many fun and safe ways to get a good adrenaline fix; if you need to free climb to “feel alive”, maybe you need help, not encouragement!

      Not that I don’t understand the impulse to somehow transcend mundane limitations. What’s weird to me is that we glorify it. It’s also strange how the people who fall over themselves to top other people’s crazy adventure stories are often the same ones who are obsessed with healthy eating.

      Again, I totally get that “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” feeling; I just don’t get other people cheering it on any more than we’d cheer on not wearing seatbelts, like ooooooh, rock on man! I’m ridin’ strap freeeee!!!

  87. Michelle says...

    I respect his choices (I think he is nuts), and that he is doing something he truly loves. As a mother, I just can’t imagine if my child were to make the choice to climb without safety ropes.

  88. marcy says...

    not sure i could date someone like that!, I mean, there was that part in the movie where he talks about the girls he date usually come and go.

    such a beautiful movie

  89. Sithara says...

    I went into the movie knowing that he succeeds and I STILL watched half of it through my fingers! I was very impressed by his aborted first attempt– it’s pretty impressive, with a camera crew and so much at stake, to listen to your gut and know that this isn’t the try for you. When I’m afraid, I often just force myself to do the thing I’m afraid of regardless OR stay paralyzed, and his self-possession and clear head is something else.

    Also – I found the interviews with the filmmakers endlessly fascinating. Their decision to film this not knowing whether he would make it, being climbers themselves and friends with him– that was a mini-documentary itself!

  90. Jen says...

    Yes, so good!! I have seen other documentaries about Alex and am always amazed at his mentality about it all. An especially interesting part of the doc to me was when he had the brain scan and learned that his amygdala doesn’t respond to fearful stimuli in the same way as the average person, which explains a lot! And the dynamic between him and his girlfriend was so interesting to watch, their having to reconcile his desire for this risky lifestyle with being in a romantic relationship.

    • I agree! The relationship thread was so fascinating to me. His true El Capitan will be love. I saw him speak after the movie and his girlfriend shared the stage with him. She is incredible.

  91. Clelia Pezzi says...

    Meru is another awesome movie by same director (Jimmy Chin). Watched a few nights ago on Amazon (or Netflix?) after hearing about Free Solo but not being to figure out how to watch from home (our kids make getting to movies in the theater hard). Intense and beautiful!

    • Kate says...

      I just watched Meru, too! It was phenomenal!

  92. Kathleen says...

    Fantastic movie. My husband has climbed basically the same route that Alex Honnold free-soloed although it took him and his two friends 5 days and they were most definitely using ropes and gear! It was super interesting for my husband to see this movie since he has first-hand experience with El Capitan and that particular route. We fell in love while rock-climbing and going on adventures together and I don’t really have a fear of heights so that part of the movie didn’t bother me. We take our 3 kids rock-climbing and really don’t think it’s any more unsafe than many, many other things people do. It takes skill and experience and is super fun and exhilarating. I agree that the way his mind works and how it is so different and unique was the most fascinating part of the story to me.

    • Capucine says...

      I’ve been getting wilderness medical certification over the last year and I was brought up short when I was taught that if someone falls from more than three feet, it must be treated as a spinal where you immobilize the head and evacuate. THREE FEET. That’s, like, a picnic table.

      Since then, I look at my kids tree climbing and rock climbing when we’re not in town in a really different way. I recommend having the first aid background for rock climbing so you’re doing it with eyes wide open. NOLS is great. It’s a fun-times buzzkill for sure. I’m not afraid of heights, and I’m a very chill parent in the woods, but spending a day addressing rock climbing injuries that happen frequently taught me that I was ignorant, not chill. Three feet! Sobering, for sure. I’m ok with this guy climbing with death as his choice, but not my six year old.

  93. Nina says...

    I suspect that for me, watching this movie would not have the effect of “vicarious awesome experience”, but would induce nightmares. We don’t all have the exact same nervous system, and therefore don’t all get our kicks in the same way.

  94. gfy says...

    YES! I LOVED this story but yeah it was very hard to watch. Very cringy because it felt like even just watching was complicit in his potential death. But watching an actual superhuman doing something beyond the scope of reality as we know it was in.cred.able.
    I actually heard about it because the cinematographer, the amaaazing Jimmy Chin, was the star of his own crazy feat as part of a superhuman team in the film, Meru which is on netflix.

  95. Jill says...

    This movie made me cry. Not from sadness or happiness.
    From sheer intense-ness. I just can’t.

  96. Megan says...

    I follow him and Jimmy Chin (did a lot of work on the film) on Instagram. And their photos of this climb and others are amazing.

  97. Marlena says...

    I read recently that when we watch things, like news or stories like this, we experience them in a way as if we were participating. Which is why being bombarded with bad news all the time is making us sick. Here’s the link for reference:

    https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/science-of-kindness-says-we-are-what-we-see/

    So, with that in mind, I’ll take his word on it that it’s a cool experience and life changing to climb a cliff without a rope. I’ll feel those life changing benefits from the safety of my comfy couch!

    • Adrienne says...

      Marlena, thank you for the link to that article. I’m constantly trying to explain to people (particularly romantic interests) why I can’t watch movies like Bird Box or The Quiet Place. Almost all of my anxiety revolves around my kids/parenting–am I raising them right, are they spending too much time alone, am I setting them up for success in life, plus all of the uncontrollable ways they could get hurt. As a mother, movies like that are *horrifying*. Give me a political drama or a documentary any day, but make me watch a movie that gives me more nightmares about all the way my kids could be hurt and I’ll stab your eyes out.

    • Agnes says...

      Sooo agree with this. I’m a child therapist and I’m fully aware that the world has hard and ugly stuff in it – I see it in real life every day in horrifying detail. Therefore I can’t watch anything R rated and even lower-rated stuff is mostly questionable. Watching a movie only to get stressed and sad and horrified?? No thank you. Since starting my career, I love stuff like Hallmark movies, the cheesier and happier the ending the better haha.

    • Tiffany says...

      Agnes,
      I am also a therapist and feel exactly the same. I can only watch feel good stuff. I don’t need any more awareness of darkness in the world.

  98. Megan says...

    I follow Alex Honnold and Jimmy Chin (did a lot of work on the movie) on Instagram. The photos they post of this climb (and others) are amazing and breathtaking. Check them out

    • Sarah says...

      I came to the comments to say this also- Jimmy Chin is a really inspiring follow on Instagram.

  99. Audrey Frederick says...

    I’ve been dying to see it! We live in Boulder, CO where rock climbing is huge and even toddler is actually taking lessons at a kids climbing gym. But he will DEFINITELY be wearing gear :)

  100. Tiffany says...

    My husband and I honeymooned in Big Sur. When we were driving on Highway 1, I was MISERABLE. He was driving and I kept looking at him to make sure his eyes were on the road and not the view. It irritated him to no end. I couldn’t help it. I kept thinking, “all it takes is one wrong move.”
    Safe to say – I cannot wrap my head around the idea of choosing to free solo.

  101. “Last Sunday, my friend and I went to see the most insanely gripping movie…” I see what you did there ;)

    This movie is literally my worst nightmare. My fear of heights is so intense just *thinking* about watching a movie about climbing a mountain is freaking me out!

  102. b says...

    I love what he said about fear. I’m going to write that down and tape it somewhere. I don’t know if I could do this, although I’m fairly adventurous.

  103. Amanda says...

    I LOVED this movie!! I saw it several months ago but I still think about it often. I cannot wrap my mind around how climbing that wall is possible–both physically and mentally. As a mother, I also think about how his mom said this is his joy so how could she ever take that away from him, which seems so unselfish, but yet something I don’t think I could handle. I have an almost 3 year old and I hope he never loves any extreme sports–I might have to be his joy-snatcher!

    If the Banff International Film Festival tour comes to your town (I live in Pittsburgh, I assume it goes to NYC) you might be interested in checking it out. All of the movies, which are about the outdoors or sports in some way, inspire me to be a little more active and get outside more, and a lot are about people who are so passionate and driven about some specific thing. For example, three people who walked/kite-skied across Greenland to kayak some river they had only ever seen on Google maps. Why would you do that?! Or a woman who still figure skated competitively at age 90. It’s pretty amazing what some humans can accomplish.

    • Amanda says...

      I love finding fellow Amandas who also love the things I do – and that particular movie at the Banff International Tour is one of them!! What a small world :)

      My husband and I have made it an annual event (save a few years where we lived in a small town and couldn’t buy tickets before they sold out), and we are super excited to be going to two nights of the tour this year! Someday we’ll work up to the three full nights in Denver, and going to the actual film fest is totally on our bucket list! Some of the stories stick with me for so long – like the man who retraced the Silk Road on horseback, or the guys who lived on a remote and frigid beach during a Norwegian winter in order to surf some epic waves! I never, EVER leave disappointed!

  104. Sarah says...

    My palms started sweating just watching the trailer!

  105. Lindsey says...

    Oh my gosh, I have anxiety just *looking* at these photos. Also, my initial reaction to his “you must step outside your comfort zone” is…well no one said you had to go *that* far outside! Sheesh! Maybe just try wearing purple, or cooking octopus or something. (But also, I’m fascinated and want to see this/peep fearfully from behind my fingers.)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “Maybe just try wearing purple.” Hahaha best line of the day! Xoxo

    • Marlena says...

      That is exactly how I imagine myself watching this – intermittently peeking from behind my palms, clenched muscles, with a semi-permanent “Ahhhhhhh!” look on my face the entire time, asking myself “Why am I watching thissss???” haha

    • Katherine says...

      Same! I had to walk away and take a break because I got so anxious!

    • Sarah says...

      LOL purple. Not a bad start, not a bad start… ;)

  106. Nina says...

    wow. sounds amazing. I decided that long ago – when I was 18 – that I was scared of everything so I could either do it and be scared or not do it and still be scared. doing it doesn’t change the being scared. so…I just do it! (I read years later Georgia O’Keefe said something similar).

    I still don’t see me scaling a mountain face without safety equipment…that’s just crazy! Did you read the news story of the rodeo guy who just died. He had safety equipment on but…to me its like gambling – you say to yourself – I am happy without this money as there is never a guarantee of getting more. If you do inherently risky stuff you are saying “I am ok dying this way.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      apparently many mountain climbers will say that they know for sure that they’re going to die from climbing. but the risk is worth it bc they love it so much. so fascinating.

    • Caitlin says...

      My mantra for this year is the primary reason behind doing or not doing something cannot be fear. It started out as a way to ease my heart as I venture into the world of parenting a mobile toddler versus a tiny baby, but I’ve started applying to all aspects of my life and feel braver, stronger and more myself than I have in a decade.

    • t says...

      Joanna, if they are actually saying that to me it is no different than doing drugs or having a severe disorder that will actually take your life (anorexia, etc). I don’t at all understand how this is socially acceptable and I wonder if there is a treatment for them.

    • marcy says...

      T,
      there’s a part in the movie where the doctors MRI his brain and find out he’s missing a part that controls your anxiety (or maybe it was fear)

    • t says...

      Thanks Marcy. I still see this as a mental health issue. Again, how is doing something super risky and knowing you will very likely die doing it (at some point) different than other mental health issues? Most mental health issues don’t present themselves on an MRI.

      Again I equate this behavior to repeatedly doing heroin. You are addicted to the high and you know at some point you are going to die. I find his behavior sad and not to be celebrated (in all fairness I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know if it is celebrated). I am not judging him or his behaviors at all (or addicts or anyone facing mental health challenges); I am just questioning why we see this as OK but say someone with an addiction or anorexia is not OK?

    • Bec says...

      T.
      Anorexia is very much a mental illness not at all a choice. I watched my little sister get caught in its hold and this is the hardest thing to understand about the illness…that the anorexic is not making a choice to behave a certain way. So no rock climbing is not the same.
      I would argue that drug taking is different also but I think that’s all very complex and caught up in “war on drugs” type approaches to drug taking (which have had limited success) as well as the harm (physical particularly) that can come from a result of drug affected behaviour.

      Of course a loved one dying in a climbing accident would be tragic but knowing that you are likely to die is surely sensible. At least climbers aren’t engaging in an activity without recognising the risks. On the other hand we all get into our cars with barely a thought…I know how I’d prefer to go.