Before El Capitan
Alex Honnold has conquered some impossible climbs by himself without safety gear as his movie, Free Solo, shows. The author and rock climber talks about how he doesn’t fear death when he climbs. He doesn’t believe that what he is doing is any riskier than living a normal life. He realizes any mistake could lead to his death, so he calculates his route and movements methodically to achieve his climbs.The Free Solo documentary gives its audience an inside look at the day-to-day life of Alex Honnold as he prepares for his most significant climb: El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. When Alex is introduced, the audience learns that he lives in a van so he can easily travel to give speeches, book signings and, of course, climb. His simple set-up has served him for nine years, and he hasn’t considered changing where he lives. When asked about his dating life, he says he would choose climbing over a girl any day.
As the documentary continues, Alex’s life takes on some new changes. A girlfriend is introduced, and he begins climbing with her. Unfortunately, early in the movie, Alex falls while climbing a small cliff face while repelling, causing an injury to his spine. However, Alex doesn’t let his injury slow him down and continues on his quest to climb El Capitan. Alex faces another setback when climbing with his girlfriend; this time he’s climbing El Capitan with ropes as a way to figure out his route up the cliff face. He slips and injures his ankle. Again, the movie documents his no-quit attitude as he works on rehabbing his ankle and ascending El Capitan three weeks later.
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Planning the Climb
Free Solo not only gives the audience a look at Alex’s life and achievements, but it also shows the kind of person he is. He has been planning to climb El Capitan for years. This time he’s determined to do it and make it happen despite his injuries. He also employs the help of Tommy Caldwell, another climber that has climbed El Capitan multiple times and knows it the best. The two set out with the movie crew day after day as they work their way up the cliff face, trying to find the best way up for Alex to free solo.
When Alex finally decides to set off, the movie crew follows him. The crew does state that they worry about throwing him off or causing his fall. The tension in the movie is palpable, as Alex sets off while it’s still dark outside. He begins his climb up the cliff face; however, he can’t seem to focus beyond the movie crew. He decides to stop and try again another time, much to the surprise of the film crew.
After facing a few setbacks and buying a house, Alex begins to work on climbing El Capitan again. Almost a year later, this time he’s confident that this will be his year to do it. The camera crew has also considered how to film him without getting in his way. As Alex writes down advice to himself for his free solo climb, his camera crew talks about where they will place remote cameras and what to do if he falls. Alex works hard to focus on his ascent, and part of his process is not talking about the climb, especially to his girlfriend. His advice to himself is to trust himself – a very deep and profound concept when it comes to climbing a 3200ft cliff face.
Alex Hannold knew that any small slip during his climb would result in death. That’s why having the right mindset during his ascent was so crucial to completing the task at hand. His focus and determination carry him as he begins his climb, this time with the camera crew mostly on the ground, watching with bated breath as he works his way up. Alex’s focus has to be on point as he makes his way through what is referred to as the boulder problem. Previously, Alex has fallen at this spot, with ropes to catch him; this time there’s nothing but his fingers on some tiny thumb holds and a small variance in the rock for his toes. He works meticulously as he places his foot on the next hold and then his hand. His camera crew can barely watch as he pushes himself onto the next grip and doesn’t fall.
Once Alex cleared the boulder problem, his ascent was easy going for him. He ascends the last thousand feet and reached his goal: the top of El Capitan. In just 3 hours and 56 minutes, he accomplished what no other climber has done. He has climbed El Capitan without ropes or safety gear, just his determination, trust in himself, and hand chalk.
Free Solo is definitely worth the watch; it teaches us that determination can take us far, even to the top of a mountain. We just need to learn to trust ourselves and not let setbacks get in our way. Overall this movie deserves a four out of five stars.