On top of the world

People are crazy. Not all people, but some people. Alex Hannold is definitely one of those people. He might be the craziest.

Think for a second: what’s the highest you’ve ever climbed? Maybe a nice little hike in the Bighorn Mountains; maybe you’re even proud of your trek up a 14er in Colorado. Maybe the top of your Little Giant to clean out your gutters is treacherous enough for you.

Well, Hannold scoffs at your puny afternoon hikes and summer chores.

Over the weekend, the 31-year-old did the unimaginable. Seriously. Only two other people even talked about doing what Hannold did, and both of those guys died before even trying it (both died doing other super crazy stuff, by the way).

Hannold become the first person ever to free solo El Capitan at Yosemite National Park in California.

For those who don’t know, free climbing is the process of climbing using ropes only to catch you if you fall, not to aid in the climb. What Hannold did is called free soloing, meaning he doesn’t even have ropes to catch him if he falls. Both crazy; one nearly impossible to wrap my head around.

And for those who don’t know about El Capitan, it’s basically an enormous rock that shoots directly vertical from the core of the earth straight into the sky. It’s about 3,000 feet tall — more than a half mile — and a higher climb than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, that pretty, pointy glass structure in Dubai. El Capitan is more than 1,000 feet taller than the One World Trade Center.

And for Hannold, climbing El Capitan without the aid of ropes wasn’t much different than climbing one of those enormous glass skyscrapers. At numerous points during his climb, the toe and finger holds — yes, toe and finger, not foot and hand — were roughly the width of a match book. One stretch of climbing doesn’t even have holds, so Hannold had to use friction and balance to keep from falling.

“It’s like walking up glass,” he said.

OK, if you haven’t Googled “El Capitan” yet, now would be a good time. Then come back, and I’ll try to do my best to translate how crazy this lad is.

Hannold is most certainly a little off upstairs. He is absolutely cheating death — remember those two guys earlier? Michael Reardon drowned when he fell from a ledge below a sea cliff, and Dean Potter died in a base jumping accident. These margins of error are slimmer than their toe holds.

But Hannold is also tough as nails, and that’s probably giving a ton of credit to whatever kind of nails are used in that expression.

Sure, the guy is physically tough. He has a homemade training apparatus in his van that trains his finger strength — basically a board with tiny finger holes that he pinches while doing a boat load of pull ups. His core makes Floyd Mayweather look like a flabby slob.

But it’s that mind — that same mind that has the rationale to attempt these absurd feats — that’s his toughest body part.

Other world-renowned climbers, the same ones who never even considered the El Capitan climb, credit Hannold’s mental toughness not only to attempt these climbs, but to accomplish them. Hannold said he simply “sets it aside and leaves it be,” when discussing the fear associated with his climbs.

Sure. Whatever, dude.

But the fear is there, and Hannold somehow controls it. He’s discovered the perfect antidote and combined that with his shear physical strength to create some sort of perfect climbing robot.

Or near-perfect. Who knows where Hannold will go from here, although he did admit that he’d put the free-soloing on the shelf for a while. Who knows how long he can go or how many more boundaries he can push.

For now, he’s on top of the climbing world, and he got there without ropes.

By |June 7th, 2017|

About the Author:

Mike moved to Sheridan from Indianapolis, Indiana. Family and his passion for sports brought Mike to the Cowboy State, where he began working as the sports editor for the Sheridan Press in June of 2014.

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