A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary called ‘Free solo’ about Alex Honnold’s climb of 3,000 feet (900m) high El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Alex is an American rock climber and the first and only climber to climb El Capitan without a rope or any supportive equipment. He did it in 3 hours and 56 minutes.
El Capitan is a vertical cliff. To say that this documentary was breath taking probably wouldn’t do it enough justice. During some of the shots I could feel my stomach going up-side down – the videography was incredible and the story that came with it even more powerful. It won an Oscar for the best documentary this year.
It’s unbelievable how far we can go and how we are able to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible. What Alex did was classed by many as an ‘impossible’ feat. But not for him. He said in one of the interviews: ‘you choose your own challenges’. For him it was a dream and a challenge. He didn’t wake up one day and decide that it’s time to climb it. Behind the actual climb that happened on 3 June 2017 were two years of practice, preparation and visualisation. During this time, he climbed the wall with rope endless times building a routine exploring all possible steps and rehearsing, so that when he actually did it - it felt like he was in control knowing exactly where to place his hands and feet.
Obviously, the question about fear and death is at the forefront of climbs like this. He said in an interview: ‘With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way. It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.’
What made this climb possible is practice and there is a lesson for us all. If you have a dream you want to achieve – ‘your own wall to climb’ – the only way around it is to prepare for it. You will need to ‘go out there’ and practice. And yes, you will fall a couple of times (while you still have the rope!) and this will allow you to learn what doesn’t work so you can make changes and do it differently next time. The result depends on your effort, focus and the relationship you develop with fear. Fear is not something that can be erased; it will be there but the question is how you control it. As Alex said: ‘You will always feel fear, but over time you will realize the only way to truly manage your fear is to broaden your comfort zone.’
Fundamentally, the more you can stretch your comfort zone the more control you have over your fear to do anything. Your comfort zone expands by preparation and practice.
I am truly humbled by people like Alex who push the boundaries and make us believe that everything is possible. My only experience of climbing was indoors a couple of years ago – I enjoyed it and learnt a lot from it while at the same time being taken out of my comfort zone.
I will conclude with Alex’s quote:
‘I'm not thinking about anything when I'm climbing, which is part of the appeal. I'm focused on executing what's in front of me.’
What’s in front of you? Do you have an ‘El Capitan’ in your life; something you want to do or achieve which appears difficult?
Be inspired by this story and know that you can.