By Brian Freitag
I was outside yesterday sizing up the trees around my house for some trimming next summer. I have had this primal urge to climb things since I was very small. I started climbing floor lamps (which I very casually rode down to the floor…most of the time) graduated to trees (rode a few of those down to the ground, too, but that’s another story) and just moved on to bigger things like buildings, bridges, and rock faces in the military.
You might be thinking at this point “How did he survive past adolescence?” Climbing with the right equipment, backed by experienced co-climbers, is an exhilarating experience. Climbing without ropes or other safety implements can put you in a world of hurt if you aren’t extremely experienced and physically capable.
Knowing how to fall might save you some hurt in martial arts; but does nothing for you if you make a mistake Free-Climbing.
Here’s something I don’t normally do: I suggest you watch this movie before reading the book. That movie is called Free Solo. In this film you’ll see a lot of footage of El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, rising 3,000 feet from the base to the summit. By comparison, the highest point in Michigan—Mount Arvon in Baraga County—is 1,979 feet above sea level, but you only go up 421 feet when summitting.
Now imagine climbing that sheer rock face of El Capitan with just your balance, skill, and the strength in your hands—no ropes or other safety implements.
Those of you with a fear of heights might be getting squeamish. This scenario isn’t just one of imagination, but is exactly what can be seen in Free Solo. This documentary covers climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to be the first to climb this famous rock without the aid of ropes.
The movie Free Solo gives you stunning views—not only of what El Capitan looks like from the ground, but also how things look while clinging to rock ledges with your fingertips. That’s something that text on a page can’t convey on its own. In addition, the movie gives insight into how and why Honnold pursued this feat.
Once you have the visuals from Free Solo in mind, I recommend that you read Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold. Since books can go into much greater detail than movies, you will be able to better understand the how and the why, as well as have access to more of Honnold’s life leading up to the climb.
You often hear the book is better than the movie, but in this case, the book and movie work together. Honnold refers to multiple movies throughout the course of Alone on the Wall.
One movie he references teaches more about the history of climbing in Yosemite. Valley Uprising takes viewers from the 1960s and through present day climbing culture and adventures in the area. Both movies are available at the library for checkout with a valid library card. An audiobook version of Alone on the Wall can be accessed via Hoopla and a physical copy of the book can be requested via interlibrary loan.
If you have an urge to see what the climbing experience is like without taking your life into your own hands, drop by the library and check out Free Solo or Valley Uprising. Take care and keep reading!