"Free Solo" Alex Honnold climbs El Capitan in Spider Man fashion

“Free Solo”: A young man climbs El Capitan without ropes as only Spider Man could

Just having gotten back from the San Francisco Bay area and had a spectacular flight over the Sierra Nevada, I saw “Free Solo” as an extension of my recent trip.

This is the second science-oriented documentary from National Geographic (“Science Fair”, Sept. 28) in two weeks. And the film certainly carries out the theme “the young people will win.”

The film traces the rock climbing career of Alex Honnold, now 33, who became the first person to climb El Capitan Half Dome in the California Sierra Nevada, on Saturday June 3, 2017, without ropes, in slightly less than four hours. The film is directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.  The camera work on the climbs is amazing and required considerable technical skill and athleticism of some of the crew.  I presume choppers were used to film from higher up the cliff.

Curiously, his girl friend does not want to watch, given the “risk”.

The final climb is indeed harrowing. Honnold becomes Spider Man (“with great power comes great responsibility”) and it looks physically impossible to me that athletic shoes and finger tips could hold on to a vertical cliff.

Honnold also rather looks like superman.  He is thin and superhumanly strong with upper body capacity. His personality is interesting.  He says his girl friend wants to be happy, but being happy is not a satisfactory life objective; overcoming challenges (like a “warrior”) is.  An MRI shoes an amygdala less responsive than usual to external stimuli, so much motivation comes from within.  Although he is socially comfortable, in some ways his personality displays the unusual abilities and laser focus than sometimes are associated with mild autism.  The film shows him traveling to Africa to start a foundation and later to train in Morocco.  He gets a spinal compression fracture and later a broken foot, requiring an air cast, and yet continues to train.

Honnold lived out of a large van for some time, before buying a house in Las Vegas, apparently near Red Rock Canyon.  He has experimented with migrating toward a vegetarian diet for sustainability.  I think Bryce Harper may be a neighbor.

He speaks at a school in his home town Sacramento, and says his climbing earns him a living as well as a “moderately successful dentist”. That’s an odd metaphor.

Honnold is certainly an outstanding role model, worthy of David Hogg’s phrase.

Note: If you drive West from Reno and Lake Tahoe along US 50, you pass at least two other rock formations, on the south side of the highway, that resemble “little” El Capitans.  But Yosemite is about 70 miles south of US 50.

NY Times Op Doc short film on Honnold's climb:

Honnold's near death-fall

Name: “Free Solo”

Director, writer: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Released: 2018

Format: 1.85:1  (I wish this were available in Imax to Smithsonian and science theaters.)

When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic 2018/10/5

Length: 100

Rating: PG-13

Companies: National Geographic Documentary, Itinerant Films, Little Monster

Stars: ****_

(Posted: Friday, October 5, 2018 at 5:45 PM EDT)