Yesterday’s article about Alex Honnold stimulated many interesting reader comments. Those below are particularly poignant…and even hilarious
Life is defined by risk. Every time you enter a crosswalk at a busy time of the day, you take a risk. Buy a pack of chicken parts from the meat counter, you take a risk. Sell Apple stock short, you take a risk. So in everyone’s life, the various risks that they take in to survive, or even to find that elusive, probably non-existent thing called “happiness,” is defined by risks.
So any single life is in fact, a “basket” or collection of risks one takes, and those risks define who you are in a fundamental way. What I see is that Mr. Honnold has invested nearly all of his “risk-capital” into one spectacular risk that defines his life the way he wants to live it.
People may think that he is being selfish by not dedicating his life to “helping others,” but that ignores that fact that by pursuing this particular dream or obsession, he is taking a path 180 degrees opposite to that of all the others whose self-interested agendas end up causing misery to others. So by not causing misery to others, he is helping others. “Do no harm.”
I read him as a modern mystic, a fundamentally spiritual man, a monk of mountain-climbing if you will. As such, he has my admiration. The closest I have come to attaining that kind of mystical transcendence by defying the laws of gravity, was when I flew motorless gliders (soaring planes), as a much younger, and if you will, more foolish person.
Now I just meditate on solid ground, but still a mystic of sorts.
The world in which we live was made over the last 10,000 years or so by people who were not afraid to fail and not afraid to die. Progress requires going into the unknown and going into the unknown requires risk. There is no such thing as a safe risk. If the next great climber starts on his journey toward doing the impossible as Alex is currently doing because of this article, good for him or her. Freedom allows this next climber to make decisions for himself or herself and to live with the successes and, perhaps, to die with the failures. It is their choice. Good for them whatever their decision.
I broke my leg skiing once. My choice and my fault. No blame goes to the great skiers of the world.
I just made a contribution to the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton team. I know one of the rider’s families and she, like so many of our elite athletes in non-revenue generating sports, can use the support. She flies head first down mountains. Has she been hurt? Yep! Does she get back on the sled? Yep. Does she amaze me? Yep. Is she intelligent enough to make a decision about whether doing this is a good idea? You bet. If she wins her dream is the reward her’s or mine? Hers. All hers. And I will cheer until I am hoarse. If the unthinkable happens and she dies, will I admire her less? Not a bit.
You go boys and you go girls. Show us how to manage the fear that paralyzes we lesser humans and go do the impossible.
To characterize Alex Honnold as “one of the two or three best rock climbers on earth” is, with respect to the author, completely the wrong way to put what Alex does, and I’m a little disappointed that the article barely touches on the psychology of free soloing.
There are many, many rock climbers who are more technically proficient than Alex is (including Kevin Jorgenson and Tommy Caldwell), and are able to climb much harder routes than Alex free solos. However, unlike Alex, they climb with a rope that protects them from falling to their deaths should they make a mistake (which is an extraordinarily sensible thing to have). They have the luxury of not having their climbing mentality impacted by the constant possibility of death. Climbers far “better” than Alex would never be able to climb the comparatively “easy” routes that Alex does, because they just cannot suppress panic/fear the way Alex does — that is, 100.0000% of the time. If you free solo and only seize up from fear of dying one out of every million steps, you’re dead.
What Alex does is beyond “rock climbing.” Free soloing at the level Alex does takes world-class technical climbing skill, for sure, but what matters far more is a mentality to either ignore or perfectly suppress the built in fear-death evolutionary instinct that we’re all supposed to have. For the rest of us, what Alex does is incomprehensible, in the most literal sense of the word.
San Diego, CA
There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers. Enjoy this while he lasts. Climbing is a ton of fun and a great way to stay in shape, achieve mental clarity, and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a bummer to see such a great publication glorify unsafe climbers though. NYTimes next “inspiring” article should highlight the world’s best Russian roulette player.
Good grief these comments depress me. Apparently the only acceptable activity for many these days is one that helps society and involves little risk, which pretty much means that everyone has to be a ticket taker at a merry-go-round. Even then you could get conked on the head by a wooden horse. What to do?
This guy is going to die. He should not be given ANY admiration for the choices in his life — and for the countless choices on vertical rocks he continues to covet and make, climb after climb — that defy logic, commonsense, and, up to now, odds.
There is nothing to admire about choosing death, which will come as the result of one slip or miscalculated move.
No parent, child, spouse, or family dog would — without serious and genuine reservation — support such repeated purposeless risks. Outside of his own personal journey, what’s the point for his family or community?