Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” It’s a very viable (alternative) definition of the word insanity, but by no means is the only (nor best) definition. Insanity typically means out of one’s mind and generally has a negative connotation. But insanity can also mean crazy in terms of doing something out of the norm.
I find myself a bit haunted by the visual images I get when I think of my most recent exposure to what I personally consider, “Insanity”. On January 1, 2012, 60 Minutes did a segment about a young man named, Alex Honnold. Alex could be considered quite normal by most accounts and from his interview appears to be an absolutely wonderful and caring human being. Despite an amazing attitude and a huge zest for life, Alex Honnold is not like everyone else. On the surface he’s just like any other “nice guy” you’d come across. But 26-year-old Alex Honnold is quite unique in once specific way, he’s one of the best rock climbers in the world. And according to some, he may be the best.
But being one of the best rock climbers in the world is not what sets Alex apart from his rock climbing peers. Few in the rock climbing community would argue the fact that Alex Honnold is likely the best free soloing rock climber in the world. Alex has set several speed records for free soloing in places like the 3,000 foot high El Capitan in Yosemite, which he completed in five hours and 49 minutes (typically taking 2-4 days). He is the only person known to have free soloed the Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite.
The amazing and “insane” part of this style of climbing is not just that it’s done with speed in mind, but also that there’s a freedom with free soloing that probably can’t be found doing anything else. When climbing a wall like the 3,000 foot tall El Capitan, there’s a certain point of no return, meaning that once you cross that point on the wall (maybe 50-75 feet up), it’s impossible to go back down, the only way off the rock is straight up.
Imagine for a moment you’re 2,000 feet up, on the side of an enormous rock, with 1,000 feet to go to get to the top. What happens if you cramp up, or a gust of wind causes you to lose your grip? Scary, yes, but at least there are ropes and gear to protect you in the event you accidentally slip and fall. Well, that’s not the way it works when free soloing.
Free soloing is exactly that, free of all restrictions and assistance and out there on the rock totally on your own. All that a free solo climber has on their person is rock climbing shoes, the clothes they’re wearing, maybe a little food and water, some climbing power in a pouch in their back, and their trusty hands. And that’s it. One wrong move and a slip and there’s a 100% guarantee he’ll plunge hundreds or thousands of feet to his death. And in this case, I don’t think imminent death would be the worst part of it. It’s the 11 seconds it would take to hit the ground, and a lot can go through one’s mind in 11 seconds. And when he hits the bottom……it will be at roughly 240 mph give or take a few mph. And at that point I figure the faster the better so not to feel a damn thing upon completion of the journey.
Alex Honnold has been documented on both National Geographic and 60 Minutes (see videos below). He’s estimated to have logged over 1,000 individual free solo climbs. I checked out Alex Honnold’s Facebook page and many people compliment him on what he does and the courage to get out there and embrace his passion. On that account I completely agree, but there’s a certain part of me begging to ask the obvious question of Alex and all free solo climbers, “Are you out of your damn minds?”
Free soloing has claimed the lives of others in the past and will again in the future. It’s the nature of the beast. The whole practice in itself is just asking for disaster and it’s really only a matter of time. I fully respect Alex and his peers’ rights to do whatever floats their boats, I just feel it’s insanity and it’s rawest form.
Admittedly, I know nothing about rock climbing except for what I’ve seen on TV and on the internet. And ropes or no ropes you’ll never find me on the side of a rock mountain going up. But doesn’t it make sense if you must partake in such a dangerous activity, wouldn’t some sort of a lightweight parachute make sense (just in case)? Maybe it’s a stupid idea, since I know nothing about it. Obviously, if someone fell from a fairly low altitude they’d never have a chance to pull the cord, or if they stayed too close to the wall it wouldn’t work either. But at least it’s a fighting chance when that fateful day does come, because the odds are, it will eventually come. It only takes one slip.
But who knows……maybe I just don’t get it.
The moral of the story: When you have family and friends who love you, you at least owe it to them to take little precautions that could eventuality save your life.