Free Solo: A Rock Climbing Story


Dylan Stuflick, Editor in Chief

Rock climbing is a sport full of adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. And if you know anything about climbing, you’ve probably heard of Alex Honnold. Part of a unique sect in the rock climbing world, Honnold participates in something called free solo climbing. Free solo climbing eliminates everything except the climber and the rock wall, leaving destiny up to a sliver of rock and your ability to achieve perfection.

The National Geographic documentary, “Free Solo” follows Alex Honnold as he trains for and attempts to free solo El Capitan, a granite cliff face that towers over 3,000 feet high above the Yosemite valley. Successfully climbing it with full gear and support remains the crowning achievement of a climber’s career.

But merely climbing it was not enough for Honnold.

As Honnold prepares himself physically and mentally, the film does an excellent job of teaching the audience what really makes him tick. Instead of portraying him as some adrenaline junkie or seriously mentally damaged individual, they filmmakers are able to show the multifaceted portions of his personality form a variety of perspectives as well. Whether it’s his girlfriend discussing his inability to communicate or his own recalling of how his mother demanded perfection from him in everything, the film finds a way to weave this into the story in a natural way. The documentary allows the audience to come to their own conclusions.

Instead of merely recounting what happened and providing viewers an insight into the life of these great events and people, filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi takes it a step above. He turns the complicated patterns of life into a coherent story that makes you feel like you’re watching a movie that deserves to have “suspense” as the top tag and not “documentary.”

What makes this film extremely memorable though, is that suspenseful aspect. As I watched Honnold climb the almost completely smooth granite face my heart pounded. Seeing him attempt to traverse a certain series of holds that he found extremely difficult during earlier attempts. He even fell multiple times before, and I find myself with sweaty palms as he tries these same routes. Obviously these are not things I expected in any kind of documentary.

With a satisfying conclusion that wraps up both the personal and physical triumphs of Honnold, you’re left in awe of this incredible feat that will remain in the annals of history for years to come. Just as Honnold’s achievement is the kind that will be known forever, this movie is the kind that will remain with you long after you’ve left the theater.