Free Solo Climbing Has It All

Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a video of Alex Honnold on Facebook, which is both very nerve-racking and inspiring, just like the one we saw for class. Fascinated by the sport of free solo climbing and this incredible free-soloist’s strength and skill, I searched for more videos and articles about free solo and Alex Honnold online.

Alex Honnold climbing in Oman

After enjoying the exciting free solo films and documentaries, I realized that free solo climbing could be an interesting issue to consider when thinking about not only freedom of action but also meaning of sports.

In Chapter III of Mill’s On Liberty, he argues that “there should be different experiments of living”, and that “free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others.” Free solo clearly should be an experiment of life that people are allowed to do without hindrance from Mill’s perspective. However, due to the tremendous danger of free solo without protection from gear or rope, it shares some characteristics with suicide when considering freedom of action. A legendary free climber, John Bachar actually fell to death when climbing a rock. As a result, many people disapprove of free solo climbing because of the high mortality possibility. The following video shows how Alex Honnold free-solos and both beauty and danger of this sport:

Not surprisingly, I found some comments to this video hoping that Alex would stop free soloing due to the high risk (“please stop free climbing, you’ve done enough” “only hope he’s signed up as an organ donor”). According to Mill, whether Alex chooses to continue free climbing is a self-regarding issue. Therefore, even though “considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even obtruded on him, by others,” “he himself is the final judge.” More importantly, “all errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.” The video below reflects that Alex Honnold is aware have already considered the risks of his sport comprehensively and still keep challenging himself after all. Another interview of him also reveals how important pushing limits and experiment with life are to him even taking into account the possible danger.

Although Honnold should be free to climb without ropes and gear, is it still appropriate to regard free solo climbing as a sport? Or should it be considered as something else? The concerns general audience holds for free solo climbing remind me of the definition of sports Giamatti suggests in his book Take Time for that sports should be fun for both players and spectators. Free solo climbing, along with all the extreme sports, might fail to provide joy for spectators due to the high mortality potential, because spectators may be more worried than happy when watching the sport. However, this does not mean that free solo climbing is not a sport. Giamatti’s opinion on sports is not perfect in adaption to many current sports, because sports haven’t developed as multi-dimensional as they are today. Revising Giamatti’s claim to better summarize today’s sports, it might be plausible to say that all sports can make both players and spectators excited instead of happy. In this way, extreme sports, including free solo climbing, are indeed sports because they undoubtedly produce adrenaline rush for athletes and spectators.

Small community does free solo climbing have, this sport provokes as many controversies and debates as any sport that boasts mass audience and attention, like football or baseball. Probably everything happening in life is worth reflecting on, even watching teenage TV shows in couch, and this can be one answer to the question of why we want to keep living.