Archive for category climbing/bouldering

Judgements About Risk And Death

Yesterday’s article about Alex Honnold stimulated many interesting reader comments. Those below are particularly poignant…and even hilarious

Queens, NY

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.

Crazy Me

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.

New York

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.

Ask Save
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.

Hotblack Desiato

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?

Mark F

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?

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Alex Honnold Challenges Death Each Time He Plays

Here are excerpted paragraphs from an amazing and long story about Alex Honnold, one of the world’s two or three greatest rock face climbers. And he does what is called free soloing: no ropes of any kind, neither to help him up or to prevent a fall. He risks death every time. What stands out for me is not just what he does, but that he does not seem to have any fear about doing it. Especially when I am merely trying to not tense up in a game, when I am serving a tennis ball. Both times watching the video I felt my palms go sweaty. Terrifying.

Unroped climbing is, of course, the oldest kind, but ropes and hardware can provide such a reliable safety net that nearly all climbers now use them. This is typically done in pairs, with one climber tied to each end of the rope, moving one at a time.

But using gear slows progress. A roped pair, taking turns climbing and fussing with all that equipment, might spend six hours on a climb that a free-soloist floats up in 30 minutes — focusing purely on the pleasure of movement, the tactile sensation of hands on rock. On cliffs where even elite climbers employ complicated rope systems, the free-soloist wears only shorts, a T-shirt, a pair of climbing shoes and a bag of gymnast’s chalk to keep the hands dry. Honnold has free-soloed the longest, most challenging climbs ever, including the 2,500-foot northwest face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, where some of the handholds are so small that no average climber could cling for an instant, roped or otherwise. Most peculiar of all, even to elite rock climbers, Honnold does this without apparent fear, as if falling were not possible.

At one level, free-soloing can be seen as the most extreme expression of the same progression: One generation aid-climbs a route, the next climbs it in record time, the next free-climbs it, then it’s time for someone to climb it without ropes. But free-soloing is so much more dangerous and frightening, even to highly experienced climbers, that a vast majority want no part of it.

Climbers know that fear itself can cause a climber to panic on the side of a cliff. To get a sense of the experience, try a thought experiment: Picture hanging from a pull-up bar in a playground, with your toes inches off the ground, and feel the calm security of your grip. Now imagine standing on the edge of a skyscraper with that same pull-up bar suspended at eye level two feet in front of you. Lean forward to grab that bar and let your feet swing free, so that you’re hanging by your hands. Look down. How’s your grip now?

Even if you have perfect confidence in your climbing ability and perfect emotional control in the face of danger, as Honnold appears to, most climbers fear the unexpected: the handhold that suddenly breaks, the bird that erupts from a hidden nest. I was once 50 feet up a Yosemite cliff when thousands of biting ants poured out of the rock to attack my bare arms and legs. Free-soloists also die with alarming regularity.

When I asked Honnold’s mother how she tolerated her son’s climbing life, she told me that at some point she realized that she couldn’t live with worrying all the time. “Alex is the only one on the planet who knows what Alex can do, and I’ve had to learn to just trust that.”

Honnold enters death-fall territory with the same casual deliberateness that someone might apply to arranging knickknacks in a bedroom.

The world’s greatest climbers struggle to make sense of this mysterious sang-froid. “Most of us think dying is a really serious, scary thing, but I don’t think Alex does,” says Caldwell, who has climbed extensively with Honnold and considers him a close friend. “He’s wired a little differently from everybody else. The risk excites him, and he knows it’s super badass, but he doesn’t allow himself to go beyond that in his mind. The other great free-soloists always talk about this conversation with death. Alex is like, ‘I’m not going to fall, it’s no big deal.’ That’s what makes him so good.”

“If I have a particular gift, it’s a mental one,” Honnold wrote. “The ability to keep it together where others might freak out. . . . Whether or not we’re sponsored, the mountains are calling, and we must go.”

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One-Finger Pull Up

Who knew that this was do-able? This video shows how Magnus Midtbo trains for wall and rock face climbing. I looked for this pull up accomplishment after reading about climber Alex Honnold, who could do a one-finger pull up by age 16. I realized climbers needed strong fingers…but this is insane…

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Experienced Rock Climber Proposes To Girl Friend And Then Falls Hours Later

Why can’t I grasp how some people think? Maybe I have to be a rock climber, stuntman or other daredevil. The idea of asking someone to marry me and being accepted and then going off alone to risk my life seems incomprehensible. Can someone explain some part of this to me?

SEBASTOPOL, Calif. (AP) — Authorities say a veteran rock climber died in a fall while climbing alone in Yosemite National Park — just hours after proposing to his girlfriend during an earlier climb.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat says Brad Parker’s girlfriend, Jainee Dial, had accepted his marriage proposal after the pair completed a climb of Cathedral Peak Saturday. Parker’s father Bill says his son told him it was the happiest day of his life.

Later in the day, Brad Parker headed off by himself to climb nearby Matthes Crest.

Park Ranger Kari Cobb says the Sebastopol resident was climbing without ropes on an established route when he fell. The fall was witnessed by other climbers.

Parker appeared on the cover of California Climber magazine in 2012. He worked as a yoga instructor.

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Extreme Rock Climbing

Reel Rock: The World’s Hardest Route from Outside Television on Vimeo.

What’s great about this rock climbing video is that you see how two superior climbers keep trying to make it up the rock face. I liked watching them fall off—of course they are attached to ropes—and then attack again or figure out a different route.

Dubbed the hardest sport climb in the world, Spain’s La Dura Dura route has only been conquered by two top climbers, who spent two years attempting the rocks in Oriana. Clocking in with a rating of 5.15c, it’s considered one of the globe’s most strenuous routes. Recently a second climb has surfaced as a contender for the title: one of La Dura Dura’s climbers has proposed Norway’s Flatanger Cave, a soaring cavern with a gorgeous view and gravity defying slopes, for the same rating.

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Even More Exciting Adventures Worth Doing

standing on the Edgewalk in Toronto

standing on the Edgewalk in Toronto

skywalking in the Alps

skywalking in the Alps

walking over a crevice

walking over a crevice

skywalking in Canada

skywalking in Canada

Who does these things? What kind of people volunteer willingly to experience these life-threatening, death-defying adventures? Maybe the same types who are daredevils, mercenaries, stunt drivers. Anyway I am no longer one of them. My parachuting days are long gone, and so are any other trips like these. But I still admire them and longingly wish I felt comfortable enjoying them.

I once went to the highest observation deck (610 feet) of the tallest building (1076 feet) in New Zealand, the Sky Tower in Auckland. In the observation deck, you could walk on a 1.5 inch glass part of the floor and look down to the street. You could see how nervous people were to step on the glass. Of course I made myself overcome my fear.

The tower also features the SkyJump, a 630-foot jump from the observation deck, during which a harnessed jumper can reach up to 53 mph. The jump is guide-cable-controlled to prevent jumpers from colliding with the tower in case of wind gusts. Climbs into the antenna mast portion (980 feet heights) are also possible for tour groups, as is a walk around the exterior, similar to the Edgewalk above. So some city-dwellers don’t have to go far for their thrills. Anybody ready?

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Adventures For The Young At Heart

ice climbing

ice climbing

I received from an elderly friend a few pictures of athletic and outdoor adventures. I can’t resist sharing them. If any of you have already completed these challenges, please let us know what it was like…assuming you made it back safely to your computer…these are high-risk, thrill-seeking, death-defying pursuits.

cliff camping

cliff camping

climbing redwoods

climbing redwoods

relaxing at Yosemite

relaxing at Yosemite

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Ashima Shiraishi Is A Climbing Phenomenon

This video shows how astonishingly dexterous you have to be to climb these indoor walls. It’s unimaginable. Watch for Ashima’s upside down toe hold followed by a crunch that raises her trunk and arms!! She was only nine in this video.

Here is an article about Ashima Shiraishi, an 11-year-old girl who has been climbing boulders and indoor walls since she was six. And now she can beat competitors who are years older than she is. I love that her talent appeared at such a young age.

Competitions have been part of her climbing repertory since she was 7, and for the last three years, she has won the national youth bouldering championships, the biggest contest in the sport.

Modern bouldering is not much older than Ashima. It reached widespread recognition only in the 1990s as a discipline of rock climbing, one that requires participants to climb without ropes or harnesses, on rocks that generally do not reach higher than 15 or 20 feet.

The sport favors the small rocks over the big ones, so it lacks the drama and death-defying heights of climbing mountains like Everest and K2. But its fans are drawn to bouldering for its spare quality, powerful movements and the simplicity of being unburdened and unaided by heavy equipment.

Very little gear is used, beyond a pair of light climbing shoes, a pouch of white chalk to keep the hands dry and a thick mattress, known as a crash pad, that lies beneath the climber.

During local competitions, a point value is assigned to each boulder problem based on how difficult it is. Athletes climb in isolation, without any verbal help from the ground.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 3.65 million people participated in indoor and boulder climbing in 2011. Physically, children and teenagers may even have some advantages over adults: their small hands and feet allow them to use holds that adults cannot. Some experts have suggested that they bounce back more quickly from falls and injuries than adults do.

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