The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnott Read Online (FREE)
Read The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life by Mark Synnott full book online for free here.
The Ditch, as climbers sometimes call Yosemite Valley, typically remains summer hot well into September, but a rogue cold front had blown in overnight. A wan sun slouched low to the east, barely discernible through a thick, overcast sky. Tiny droplets of water saturated the air. Alex wondered, Is the rock getting slippery? The friction still felt okay, probably because a stiff breeze was drying the stone as quickly as the moisture-laden air was wetting it. But the rock had absorbed the raw gray cold, and that was starting to bother his feet. His toes were a little numb, and the size 42 shoes felt sloppy on the glacier-polished granite. He wished he’d worn the 41s.
Years earlier, when he first contemplated free soloing El Capitan, Alex had made a list of all the crux sections on Freerider, the parts that would require careful study and extensive rehearsal. The traverse to Round Table Ledge, the Enduro Corner, the Boulder Problem, the downclimb into the Monster, and the slab section on pitch 6, six hundred feet off the deck, which he now confronted. Of all the various cruxes on the 3,000-foot-high route, this one haunted him most, and for a simple reason: It’s a friction climb that is entirely devoid of grips on which to pull or stand. Like walking up glass, thought Alex.
He couldn’t help thinking about the fact that it had spit him off before. It’s only rated 5.11, which, while still expert-level climbing, is three grades below Alex’s maximum of 5.14. But unlike the overhanging limestone routes in Morocco that Alex could bully into submission by cracking his knuckles on the positively shaped holds, the crux here required trusting everything to a type of foothold called a smear. As the name implies, a smear involves pasting the sticky-rubber shoe sole against the rock. Whether the shoe sticks depends on many factors, including, critically, the angle at which it presses the rock. The best angle is found by canting one’s body out away from the wall as far as possible without toppling over backward. This weights the foot more perpendicular to the stone, generating the most friction available. The more a climber can relax, the better a smear feels. Conversely, a tense or timid climber instinctively leans in toward the rock, questing for a nonexistent purchase with the hands. To rely solely on such a delicate balance between the necessary adhesion and teetering past the tipping point in a high-consequence situation is perhaps the most dreaded move a rock climber can encounter.
Alex had climbed this section of El Cap twenty times and fallen once on this move. A guy who keeps numerical records of every climb he has done since high school, he had noted to himself in recent days that 5 percent of his attempts at this move had gone awry. And those were low-consequence situations; he had worn a rope clipped to a bolt two feet below his waist.