Free Solo Climbing | The Ultimate Sport

» Dont miss the May issue of National Geographic. It contains an article (beginning page 98) titled » Yosemite Climbing. These guys do something called free solo'ing » climbing rocks without ropes .. sheer cliff-faces, thousands of feet tall.

National Geographic Cover May 2011One slip, one mistake, one bad-hair day .. and you're toast. Splat. "A grease spot," (.. in the vernacular of Vincent Vega, our man from Amsterdam).

In other words » you fall, you die. That's why I call it the 'Ultimate Sport'.

Online you'll also find some videos you wont find in the magazine.

I've been rock-climbing. (Even have my own chalk-bag.) And let me tell you .. even WITH ropes, it's gnarly. But yes, exhilarating as hell.

After our rocking-climbing expedition, we headed for a restaurant just outside the park where hungry climbers congregate.

That's where I met a guy named Kevin who my buddy Tom introduced me to. (Tom seems to know all the climbers.)

Super nice guy (Kevin). Surprisingly humble .. for being an Ultimate Warrior of the vertical rock. Easy-going. All the climbers I met were like this .. like they had nothing to prove.

On the drive home, Tom told me how Kevin liked to free solo selected routes .. and how he once fell. Thirty feet. Landed flat on his back. (Ouch.)

Kevin credited his quick recovery to years of yoga. He dated a yoga instructor (.. something I did myself once).

Free Solo YosemiteI am very much interested in what makes a person like this tick.

My buddy Tom says it's a chemical thing .. that they have very low levels of the hormone that registers as excitement (adrenaline, I think) .. and very high levels of a hormone associated with calmness (.. tho I forget what this one was).

But I feel there must be something more .. some psychological component. Cuz there are many calm people who dont enjoy risking their lives for fun.

Obviously they need to be is flawless-shape. Every ounce of fat is another ounce they need to haul up a cliff-face. And they need supreme CONFIDENCE in their ability.

Personally, I think they're crazy. But I do admire them, and find them fascinating. Fascinating characters. Fascinating creatures.

••• today's entry continues here below •••

In Yosemite valley I can sit for hours at the bottom of El Capitan and watch the various climbers scale the face. Tiny specs on an enormous wall of granite. At night, you can see the lights glowing from their porta-ledges where they sleep.

My buddy Tom climbed El Capitan twice. Took him 3 days each time. Said it was more about logistics than actual climbing. (Have to poop in a plastic bag, etc.) No desire to do it again. (It was his wife's idea to celebrate their anniversary.)

Kevin Jorgeson climbs El Capitan in YosemiteThe first route he climbed was » Zodiac. Next year they went back and climbed » Lurking Fear. He said the route called » Wyoming Sheep Ranch (on El Capitan) is considered most dangerous.

I'm okay until ~20 feet up. Then I start getting scared. I love the cool gear these climbers carry. Very technical sport.

The article ends thusly:

Like those who made the pilgrimage before them and those who will follow, they've come to Yosemite to test themselves against the rock. They know that these walls are more than mountains: They're giant mirrors that unsparingly reflect what lies inside each climber.

You can almost hear the ancients whispering thru the ages "Know thyself."

I love this stuff. Not sure why. Sure, rock-climbing is romantic, being out in nature. But it's also demanding and unforgiving. It requires unswerving focus in the face of mortal peril. Imagination (about falling & its consequences) must be suspended.

[ When little more than faith keeps you attached to the rock, doubt can be dangerous. ]

Even with a rope, it can be surprisingly difficult to suspend imagination (I've found) .. because yes, even with a rope, you can still die.

Once you start climbing without ropes, rock-climbing becomes more than just a sport .. because the consequences of failure become dramatically more dire.

Bull-fighting, race-car driving .. you might live. You might survive a nasty accident. Not when you free solo. You have NO CHANCE of surviving a 1,000-foot fall onto granite. None.

To give you some perspective .. the Empire State Building is 1,000 feet tall. Half Dome is over 2,000 feet. El Capitan is 3,000. Think about it. Not difficult to do the math.

Alex HonoldAlex Honold

In the world of free solo climbing, Alex Honold is king. He's the kid from Sacramento who dropped out of Berkeley to pursue his passion.

(Getting accepted into Berekely tells me he must be very intelligent.)

Here's a cool video. Hard to watch and not freak out.

I cant help but think we'll be reading about him in the future and it wont be good. Hopefully not. Hard to sit for long at the roulette wheel of free solo climbing when you can only lose once.

But that's what makes him a climbing legend. He wins every time and makes it look easy. Beautifully easy. Poetry.

The thing that freaks out most hard-core climbers is not so much that Alex uses no rope or fall protection .. but rather the SPEED of his ascents.

Empire State Building = One thousand feet tallHe crushes all previous records. Destroys them. (Obliterates might be a better word.)

Think of somebody running a 2-minute mile, or dashing 100 meters in under 5 seconds.

If he were a marathoner, he'd already have showered and be eating dinner by the time the next guy crossed the finish line.

If you think about it, you can see how this means he spends much less time actually holding on to the rock .. which (in turn) means he spends more time (percentage-wise) moving up the rock.

Obviously he lingers very little.

If you made it this far, then you probably also wanna watch the two First Ascent trailers posted here. ■

P.S. - I considered inverting today's entry .. putting the beginning paragraphs at the bottom and concluding ones at the top .. to simulate the effect of climbing a vertical rock. Tho that would be too cute.

UPDATE - I found this PDF (24-MB). My buddy Tom knows some of the guys mentioned in the article. And he knows their wives, too.

UPDATE June 15, 2012 - Alex sets new records. See here. He's an animal! He climbed the three biggest faces at Yosemite .. in succession. All with 24 hours. He's obviously not human.

For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » national geographic yosemite free solo climbing el capitan half dome

Freediver Nick Mevoli at Dean's Blue Hole, Bahamas, Nov. 17, 2013Update » November 17, 2013

If this type of extreme sport stuff interests you, then you will probably be fascinated by the story of Nick Mevoli ..

.. a 32-year old dude from Brooklyn who freedives to amazing depths.

These types of people interest me. Nick died after breaking the 100-meter mark. (328-feet).

Which is deeper than the Statue of Liberty is tall (ground-to-torch, 305-feet, 93 meters).

It seems impossible to me. Humanly impossible.

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