(originally posted in June, 2017)
Alex Honnold free soloed El Cap a few days ago. It’s a stunning feat and a testimony to what years of work and commitment can yield. He climbed it via Freerider, which is a variation of the Salathe Wall. I aid climbed the Salathe years ago. I can picture myself up there now, sleeping soundly on one of the ledges in the early morning hours, woken by the unthinkable vision of someone cruising by without a rope. For me, that context brings the gravity of his feat to life. It’s like watching a bird flit past when your feet are stuck in mud.
When I was a teenager (a long time ago) I read Richard Bach’s Johnathan Livingston Seagull. I remember a passage in there where Johnathan, who had practiced tirelessly and learned great airborne tricks, spun past is friends to their amazement. They thought his tricks unfathomable and something impossible for them to achieve. Johnathan knew it was more about his practice than his execution in the moment.
I’m a rock climber. I’ve been dedicated to the sport for 30 years. I’m nowhere near as good Alex, but I’ve got some skills. In my years on the rock, I’ve experienced glimpses of what Alex went through. I’ve trained regularly for my sport and know what it’s like to pursue and achieve a long-sought goals.
What sticks with me most about his feat is his attitude about it. Reading the brief interview with him, to some extent, this was just another day in the life. He did the climb in the morning and was going to train later in the afternoon, just like he did every day. It’s all part of him striving to be the best version of himself. That striving doesn’t stop once a goal is achieved.
I’m a lot older and carry a lot more baggage than someone like Alex, but to strive every day to be the best version of myself is a mantra I also live by (though not as faithfully as I imagine Alex doing it). I love creating new things. I love athletic challenge. I love seeing my kids. I love hanging with my wife. Luckily for me, some of these things crossover. I can challenge myself athletically and hang with my wife at the same time. Creating new products I do on my own—a switch I can’t seem to turn off. Seeing my kids is challenge right now and this is a source of pain for me. Letting go of that pain is a pathway to achieving my best self, relative to them.
Alex wasn’t fearful during the most daring free solo in history. He was well rehearsed. He knew the climb. He had prepared countless hours. It felt casual to him. I’m not at Alex’s level, but I know the feeling he’s describing. I know how my body moves on rock. I know when I’m going to slip or fall off. I know when I’m solid. I’ve pushed through fear and found success on the other side.
My wife and I climbed Book of Saturday on Notch Peak a week ago. That’s what these pictures are from. The route is considered moderately dangerous and there are numerous places where a fall could have grave consequences, but I felt casual all day on the route. There comes a point where fear doesn’t do you any good and you have to let it go and trust yourself. In that moment, lack of fear is the path to the best version of yourself.
Fear is a natural response to pushing a boundary. It’s a useful tool to help us access the risk of a given situation. But at a certain point, it transitions from usefulness to hindrance. This is true in climbing and also true in everyday life. I know the feeling of letting fear go. I’ve literally climbed through it. I’m going to wake up tomorrow and push fear further back in my everyday life. Tomorrow, I’m going to be my best self athletically, as a husband, as a father, and as a creator.
Thanks for the inspiration, Alex!