The Adrenalist

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Is Alex Honnold the Bravest Man Alive?

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Alone on the Wall – First Ascent from Mountainfilm in Telluride on Vimeo.

“Mom, Dad, I’m dropping out of my prestigious UC Berkeley engineering program to begin a full-time, incredibly dangerous, very probably unprofitable career as a big wall free solo climber…Mom?…Dad?…Hello?”

We’re not sure if that’s exactly how the conversation went between then 19-year-old Alex Honnold and his parents. We are sure young Honnold took a  tremendous risk leaving college early to pursue a dream birthed when he was just 11.  Luckily, that risk paid off. Big.

Now 26 and having completed more than 1,000 climbs, Honnold has received the 2010 “Goldon Piton” award, broken numerous records including a superhuman 5-hour, 49-minute Nose of El Capitan ascent (that climb usually takes 2-4 days), garnered a sponsorship deal with North Face, and been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes. What’s most amazing is that he’s done all this using nothing more than his passion, world-renowned prowess, and a sack of climbing chalk.

Yes, that’s right. Honnold is a free solo climber and that means a harness only makes its way around his body for practice runs. Once he’s properly scouted the terrain, he risks his life, climbing thousands of feet into the air unencumbered by any type of rope/anchor insurance. Honnold says his muscular fingertips, built up by years of clawing in between the tiniest slivers of rockface cracks, enable him to hold his entire body weight (160 pounds) at times when he’s got no place to set his feet.

Sounds like this guy is really an adrenaline junkie, ay? Not so. When asked if he climbs for the rush, Honnold offers a seasoned approach to the sport he lives and breathes. “There is no adrenaline rush,” he says. “If I get a rush, it means something’s gone horribly wrong, you know, because the whole thing should be pretty slow and controlled.”

So, what does keep the only man to ever free climb the infamously difficult  northwest face of Yosemite’s Half Dome going? Probably the challenge of succeeding at something less than 1% of climbers ever attempt. “Every time you finish a climb, there’s always the next thing you can try.”

His tenacity and devotion have catapulted Honnold to the forefront of his thinly populated field and made him an international celebrity in the climbing community. Almost mutant in his capacity to surmount obstacles that would have 99.999% of the population quaking in their boots, Honnold has nerves of steel and a vision possessed by few people of any age, let alone 26-year-olds.

Does all this make Honnold the “bravest man alive”? Maybe. He’s certainly party to a miniscule group of contenders. And let’s not forget, the kid did tell his parents he was dropping out of college to climb mountains. That alone might be enough to nab him the title.

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