100 Days of Milo: Day 15 — Bouldering and Rock Climbing

Though time constraints have keep me out of the climbing gym for the last two years, I still follow the sport of climbing closely (in fact, one of the most popular articles on this website is about climber Alex Honnold). With my son now just a hair over two years old, and very interested in climbing all over the apartment, it might be time to return to the gym. Albeit as a spotter more than a climber.

Check out my page of climbing resources here.

Top Ten Stand Alone Posts and Pages

Of the over 700 posts and pages on this website, here are top ten “stand alone” pages which are neither Boston Qualifier Questionnaire responses nor book reviews. Its a funny grab bag of stuff. Check ’em out below:

  1. Fitness Habits of Disgraced Generals
    A silly little piece chronicling the fitness habits of Generals McCrystal and Petraeus.

  2. The Egoist on the Fixed Gear
    Some thoughts on the bad behavior of some New York City cyclists.

  3. Divine Madness
    A resource page on the cult/new relgious community/running group also know as “the Community”.

  4. Running Heroes – The Six Women of the 1972 New York Marathon
    A short piece on the running activists who protested the 1972 marathon

  5. Milo and the Calf
    The story of Milo of Croton after whom this website is named.

  6. The Hero Brought Low: Representations of Milo in Art
    s the title says, a short piece on the way Milo of Croton has been represented in art.

  7. Phil Coppess – Hero to Working Stiff Runners
    An appreciation of the incredible amateur runner whose twenty year old course record at the Twin City Marathons still stands.

  8. 12 Thoughts on the New York Marathon Course
    An overview of the New York City Marathon Course

  9. Weight and the Marathoner
    On the role body weight plays in marathon performance

  10. Alex Honnold and the Viewers Guilt
    My thought on climber Alex Honnold and watching free soloing.

Alex Honnold, Free Soloing, and the Viewer’s Guilt

There is a profile of the fascinating climbing pro Alex Honnold up on the Esquire website.  I read it with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m impressed by Honnold’s climbing prowess, and fascinated by his recent record breaking assents, but on the other hand I worry that by following Honnold’s career, I am risking his life.

Honnold, for those who don’t follow the sport, is one of the most famous rock climbers in the world. He is perhaps best known for his speed assents of classic routes in Yosemite, and for free soloing, the extremely dangerous practice of climbing very high walls without safety equipment.  Honnold has been featured in countless rock climbing articles and blog posts, and has even had some cross over into the mainstream with including this piece in esquire and a piece on 60 minutes.

From everything I’ve read about the guy, and the interviews I’ve seen, Honnold comes off as a modest, thoughtful individual.  Perhaps he is too modest for a man of such clear talent; but that is hardly a flaw.  In this interview, he goes to great lengths to down play how often he free solos, claiming it is a rare activity for him.  But still, how closely Honnold’s fame is tied to this extremely dangerous activity troubles me.

As the Esquire article notes, many of the world’s most famous free soloists are dead.  If Honnold keeps climbing routes like Half Dome without safety equipment, it is quite likely he will die on the wall as well.  We all know this, don’t we?  I imagine Honnold knows this as well.  Yet he continues in this risky behavior. Sponsors continue to pay him. I continue to watch.

I’m of two minds regarding Honnold’s free soloing.  He’s a grown man; if he wishes to risk his life that is his prerogative.  However, Honnold, and free soloing do not exist in a vacuum. His actions affect others who climb in Yosemite, those who rescue climbers, and his friends and family.  If Honnold were to fall many people would face awful consequences.

Free soloing is just another example of a question I intend to return to over and over on this blog – where does personal freedom intersect with our duty to society?  It reminds me of a comment I’ve heard attributed to Malcolm Gladwell.  When he was asked about the ethics of football, he apparently said “I don’t think you can stop adults from playing the game, the question is should you be watching?”  That’s something I often wonder about.  Because not only does Honnold owe his fellow man a duty to act responsibly, but we owe him a duty to not encourage his dangerous behavior.  Honnold was not featured on sixty minutes because he is an incredibly good climber (which he is). He was on it because he was doing things that could lead to his death.  I watched that video with fascination and a certain admiration, but I didn’t feel good about it.

I imagine Honnold would say he does not free solo for the (limited) fame and money it has brought him. That might be true. But we cannot ignore that he is paid to do these things.  And I and everyone else who follows his career, should remember that by championing Honnold’s most dangerous exploits, we are putting his life in danger.