“Peter Croft once explained the feeling you get from free soloing as a heightened type of perception. A little edge that you need to stand on looks huge—everything comes into high relief. That’s just what happens to your body and your mind when you’re focused intensely on the feedback you’re getting from the environment and there are no other distractions. You become an instinctive animal rather than a person trying to do a hard climb, and that perception doesn’t immediately go away when you get to the top. It dulls over time, but for a while it feels like you almost have super senses. Everything is more intense—the sounds of the swifts flying around or the colors of the sun going down. A lot of times I don’t want to go down, I don’t want it to end.” -Mark Synnott, The Impossible Climb
I am finishing up Mark Synnott’s book on the history of rock climbing, which focuses on Alex Honnold’s historic “free solo” of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, documented by the Oscar-winning movie, “Free Solo” released in 2018.
This quote seems to be one of the most poignant in the entire book. It captures something in the way of “why” these free solo climbers do what they do. Pushing themselves to the limit, requiring complete focus, mind and body, to do one of the hardest climbs in the world without any ropes, without any falls or errors, and the risk being immediate death.
There is an aspect of “flow” in the focusing that creates a “high” because of the complete concentration and the complete exertion. Upon completion there is both the sense of accomplishment, but also the heightened senses from the “fight or flight” response triggered by fear and the gravity of what you are attempting.
I am both in awe of what has been accomplished by climbers like Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and others, but also understand that I would never take unnecessary risks that they subject themselves to on these climbs. While Synnott points out that Honnold has a personalized “risk calculus” in his climbing, due to his training and practice, but despite that, there are always inherent risks in anything we do.
Today, we got over a foot of snow, and I still had to go into work. Driving in that is a risky proposition. This book was multilayered as it looked into the history of rock climbing, but also the psychological aspects of climbing, risk, and what it means to really live. What I am living for is drastically different than what Honnold is living for and values. I was surprised by how much the book made me look deeper into those ideas and view the sport of rock climbing in a completely new light.
I received this as an eBook from PENGUIN GROUP Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review of the title. I did not receive any compensation from either company. The opinions expressed herein are completely my own.