Friday, December 30, 2016

#56 [2016/CBR8] "Alone on the Wall" by Alex Honnold with David Roberts

It's been less than two years since I decided on something of a whim to try climbing and ended up joining a climbing gym. It looked like fun, the gym also offered yoga, and I thought it would improve my grip strength. I still rarely venture outside (so far), but rock climbing has become one of my favorite things. So, as I often do with new obsessions or hobbies, I've picked up a few books on the subject.

Alex Honnold is a world famous climber, and I find him fascinating. If you didn't know better, you'd think he's just a skinny, dirty guy who lives in a van. His most recognized exploits are his free-solo climbs. He pulls himself up granite walls thousands of feet high with no partner and no rope. If a handhold breaks off or his foot slips, he could die. The simple drama of it has captured the attention of the public and made Alex Honnold a pretty famous professional climber.

I have zero interest in free solo climbing myself. Just looking at the picture below makes my stomach hurt, but I also can't help but be impressed. I picked up Alone on the Wall (2016) by Alex Honnold with David Roberts because I was interested in learning more about both Honnold's accomplishments and what drives him to keep pushing himself in this intense way.

Alone on the Wall alternates between Alex Honnold writing about his life and momentous climbs and David Roberts, an Outside writer and climber, rounding out some of the details from a more objective viewpoint. Both are clear and interesting writers. The book goes over Honnold's childhood, how he got into climbing, his girlfriends, his biggest climbing accomplishments, and the establishment of his sustainable energy non-profit.

Honnold seems like a very thoughtful and honest person, and that is reflected in his writing. I could not help but try to psychoanalyze him as I read the book, though. He seems to have an incredibly strong drive to achieve but not be overly interested in outside praise. Although his feats are often called death-defying and crazy, he seems to be pretty calculated when it comes to taking risks. He certainly doesn't embrace every adrenaline-rush he can get. Finally, his actions are sometimes incredibly thoughtful and sympathetic, such as the reasons for starting his non-profit. On the other hand, he can sometimes come across as arrogant and uncompromising. 

Even though this book gave me a glimpse into parts of Honnold's life, I can not begin to understand him. I enjoyed reading about his major accomplishments, from his more famous free solo climbs, to his speed climbs, to his multi-day alpine treks. He is a remarkable person, and I hope that he is able to climb to a ripe, old age. You may need to be a climber or have an interest in it to get the most out of this book, but I certainly enjoyed it.

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