Alex Honnold and Freesolo Climbing

Alex Honnold, arguably one of the world best free solo climbers, was fired by Cliff Bar for soloing. Cliff Bar had previously sponsored twenty climbers and recently dropped five of them, including climbers who freesolo climb, base-jumps, or slackliness.


Alex, as well as some of the other dropped climbers, was featured in Valley Uprising, a film sponsored by Clif Bar that documents that evolution of Yosemite rock climbing. When asked why they terminated these contracts, a Clif Bar spokesperson said, “After evaluating a variety of sponsorships at all levels of climbing, we’ve made the decision to get back to Clif’s roots and focus on the more traditional aspects of the sport, like trad, bouldering, alpinism and sport climbing to name a few. Our climbing athlete sponsorships will reflect this traditional focus.”

Clif Bar, as well as many climbing experts, argues that freesolo climbing does not fit in to the standard definition of climbing, but I wondered if it would fit in to Huizinga’s definition of play.  Huizinga classifies play as free, separate from normal life, uncertain, unproductive/autotelic, governed by rules, and essentially make believe. Freesolo climbing is free; nobody is forcing Alex, or other climbers, to undertake this incredibly difficult task. It is separate from normal life; freesolo climbing is not an ordinary task. It’s definitely uncertain; the climber could fall and die at any moment. It’s unproductive in that it serves no essential purpose or achieves anything concrete. It’s governed by rules: that no ropes or harnesses are allowed, and it is a make believe “game.” So why doesn’t Clif Bar consider freesolo climbing to be an adequate form of play?


John Stuart Mill, would argue that freesolo climbing is climbing, it’s just different. Mill values individuality and a variety of situations. He would appreciate the fact that there are different kinds of climbing, and the people could learn different things from each type.


People climb in all different ways and for all different reasons. For example, Steph Davis, a more novice climber describes in her blog how she feels when she climbs: . “quietly filled with joy, satisfied–and also proud of myself for figuring out how to break past my mental barrier in a way that worked for me, slowly and gradually.” Chris Sharma, of the popular climbing blog, Evening Sends, says he loves climbing because “it means giving back to the community through the creative process of bolting and climbing new routes.” This is the kind of individuality that Mill would find to be beneficial to society. Both Mill and Huizinga would agree that freesolo climbing is a valid sport.

3 thoughts on “Alex Honnold and Freesolo Climbing

  1. Great job making a connection between Huizinga and Mill. This post is very well written and thought provoking. The problem with traditions is that it leave not room for individualism. To be or follow tradition is to conform and often times restrict growth and progression . I think that Cliff Bar brand is doing an injustice to sports by trying to stay within traditions. All forms of sport have transformed over the years and most of these changes have been for the better. Free solo climbing is just another aspect that has brought some much needed originality and uniqueness to the sport of climbing. It allows an individual to make his or her own rules and contribute to the innovation of climbing that can be great to the future of the sport in general. Free solo climbing has not caused harm to others therefore it shouldn’t be viewed as wrong or be punishable, according to Mill.


  2. Rock climbing is an extremely tough sport and is very dangerous. Some people die from the outrageous mountains and rocks that they climb. This blog post is extremely interesting and perfect for me to comment on because this sport is unique. You talk about Huizinga and his definition of play. Yes, rock climbing would be considered a sport in his eyes but in my opinion it also cannot. This sport are most peoples lives and they work day in and day out to become better and get something out the sport. There are many competitions that people from all around the world come to compete. This shows that rock climbing can also not be apart of Huizingas definition of play. Yes, there is freedom in this sport, which includes the variety of techniques to climb a rock and the path one takes to get to the top. Every climb is different and that just shows how freedom is portrayed in his definition. Overall, this blog post is very interesting and it was nice to read something other that the recent headlines that people write about.


  3. I think your discussion of Clif Bar’s sponsorship decisions is extremely interesting. I never knew about this story. I also think your analysis of whether freesolo climbs through the lens of Huizinga and Mill is interesting. I think that Huizinga would definately consider freesolo climbing still an example of play. However, I think that Huizinga would argue none of these Clif Bar sponsored climbers are playing when they climb because they are being payed. If one is payed, they are not, according to Huizinga playing. Therefore, even though your analysis of whether Huizinga would consider freesolo climbs play or not is correct, it is not germane to the equation.


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