Free Solo is a documentary about free soloist climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb the 3,200ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope. Alex Honnold previously appeared in the Atlantic:
Why do you do this?
This refers to climbing thousands of feet in the air, alone, with no harness, rope, or other safety equipment. Few professional climbers have risked “free soloing,” as it is known in the climbing community. Many of them have died trying. But Honnold climbs longer and more difficult routes than anyone previously thought possible—extraterrestrially named routes like Cosmic Debris, Astroman, and Heaven. He also climbs them in record time.
“I get really tired of answering those questions over and over again,” Honnold says. But you can’t blame those who ask the questions: fans, friends, me, any rational, thinking, nonsuicidal human being. These are the obvious questions and also the ultimate ones. Why is it not enough to be one of the best climbers in the world? Why remove the protection? It’s as if Tom Brady declined to use pads and a helmet, or Serena Williams played a Grand Slam tournament in which the penalty for losing a set was beheading.
At its most elite levels, climbing is already staggeringly dangerous. Falling boulders, frayed belay ropes, avalanches, broken carabiners and bolts—Rock and Ice magazine keeps a running tally of accidents. Recent entries include: “Bolt Breaks, Climber Falls to Death”; “Impaled by a Quickdraw”; “Earthquake, Avalanche, 21 Dead on Everest.” Honnold’s free soloing has brought him wealth and international recognition, but neither of these prizes seems to be his central motivation.