Suddenly, a climbing production sneaks into the Hollywood Oscar gala among the nominees for best documentary. Only the possibility surprises: what can be special about the life of a climber to compete with the rest of nominations, all of high social and dramatic content? The climber in question is Alex Honnold, the film is titled Free only (This describes those who climb in free and without using strings) and presents the gestation of a climb on the Captain's wall (Yosemite Valley, USA), that the world of climbing still does not know how to handle or fit.
On June 3, 2017, the American Alex Honnold climbed the almost 1,000 meters of the Captain's wall without using ropes or holding on to something else that was not the rock. In the most difficult steps it was not attached to any nail or expansion of the wall, nor placed a recesser. Only his technique and strength, his mental control, the precision of his movements and a huge previous work of preparation allowed the feat, something that nobody had ever been able to do before. The unimaginable was, now, a reality for which almost nobody was prepared.
In the key step of the chosen road, Freerider, a slip would have ended his life, but before crashing into the base of the wall he would have had about 15 seconds to think. This key movement is perfectly filmed. The emptiness seems unfathomable. The spectator is sweating his hands in his chair. The cameras that picked up the moment were directed by remote control because the operators did not want to be there. In fact, only Honnold wanted to be in that place and in that way, and that is precisely what makes him a climber who does not define any adjective.
And it is that all want to know not already the reason of their way of relating to the escalation, but the how: what has in the head that allows you to despise the fear of dying? "First, you have to accept that if something goes wrong, you kill yourself and only when you accept this reality can you work to scale in single integral," Honnold explained. National Geographic. No climber wants to die, so invest in whatever material is needed to enjoy the walls protected by ropes, harnesses, self-protection tools, and even then, climbing on large walls is not without dangers. Take the step, dare to dispense with all security to rely solely on strength and technique is something that very few climbers are able to assume because a grip that breaks, a cat foot that loses its grip, a bad reading of the itinerary, lead to the end
The amygdala in your brain that controls fear goes slower
If something is special about escalation, it's its psychological aspect: it's about mastering fear, overcoming the screams of danger in the brain, of cornering the need to be safe. No one has been able to determine why Honnold is capable of not giving in to the pressure of fear, of isolating himself to remain just as precise when an empty space of 800 meters opens below his feet.
Even medicine has been interested in Honnold's case. After performing a resonance on his brain and comparing the data with those of a climber of his age, the doctors concluded that the activity of the amygdala (control center of emotions and feelings in the brain, where, among others, it is controlled the fear) of Honnold responded in slow motion while that of the other climber boiled with activity. Honnold does not believe in these medical theories. In your case, the answer is much simpler: "I can feel fear like any person. Danger scares me. But as I said hundreds of times: if I have any gift is the ability to stay calm in places that leave no room for error. "
In Honnold, the purity of his motivation, the deep origin of his need to climb without a rope, counts enormously. First, it is a physical portent, although it is not one of the strongest climbers on the planet. Later, he is a climber who grew up admiring the history of climbing in Yosemite and deeply respecting his actors, including John Bachar, Peter Croft and Dean Potter. His ideal was always to be better than them, not to fall into complacency, into a life of serenity: his vital motor is to be a great athlete, to improve, always to improve.
"You have to accept that if something goes wrong, you're going to kill yourself," he says.
He has never been interested in money either: for years he has lived in his van and since contracts and money started to rain, he created an NGO to help the most disadvantaged people. Nor has he ever been an enlightened mystic (and that the Yosemite Valley was populated by them in the 70s) nor a victim of the greed of his patrons. Simply, Honnold needs to take on great challenges in his life as a climber. "What attracts me in one is the sense of mastery that comes from taking on a great challenge, the sheer simplicity of the movement, the experience of being in such a risky situation."
To achieve his feat in Yosemite, pursued for ten years, Honnold climbed with rope and companions several times the chosen route. The most frightening thing is that he fell several times on the key step and saved the rope. In the end, he found a way to execute the movements without falling, but nobody knows how his brain did to ignore the previous information: he could fall. In his first attempt, he retired as soon as the route started: he was sure of himself, but he was uncomfortable with the presence of the cameras, many of them friends, like the director of the documentary Jimmy Chin. He aborted the attempt, withdrew workers and, to the second, continued making history.