Inspired by recommendations on disobey_gravity
, I went to see Free Solo
, which is about Alex Honnold's free solo ascent of El Capitan in June 2017. The climb itself was big news at the time, at least among climbers - climbing over 3000ft of steep granite with some technically hard parts, with no protection is an amazing achievement. And also very dangerous. There's a section in the middle where the film remembers a whole series of notable free solo climbers, all of whom have died while climbing.
It's not just a film about the climb, though - there's quite a bit exploring the character of Alex, how and why he does what he does, and so on. We hear from a number of Alex's climbing partners as well as his girlfriend Sanni. I have to admit, I ended up with the impression of someone who is a brilliant and fearless climbing but a rather inadequate human being. He's so focused on his climbs that he often seems blind to his impact on other people. During filming, they learn that Ueli Steck has died free soloing on Nuptse. Sanni relates how when she was talking to Alex about this and wondering how Steck's wife Nicole must feel, he remarked "Oh, she must have known it was coming". He seems unable to grasp the idea that if he dies soloing it will have a significant impact on other people.
Another interesting issue explored by the film is the ethics of filming someone free soloing: does filming Alex make him take risks he wouldn't otherwise take? How would the crew feel if they filmed their friend falling to his death? At a number of points it's clear that the crew (all of whom are professional climbers) find watching Alex solo really pretty stressful.
The final ascent was pretty tense to watch, even knowing that he's going to succeed. While Alex looks so assured on the route, some of the moves he does are ones that would look pretty hairy on lead, never mind soloing 2000ft off the ground!
Free Solo is by turns fascinating, infuriating, funny, sad, and impressive. And it's gorgeously filmed.
 a note on terminology. Free climbing is climbing without "aid", i.e. you only pull on the rock; ropes gear and suchlike are just for safety. Free solo climbing is like that but you do it by yourself without a rope i.e. there is nothing to protect you if you fall.