Alex Honnold's autobiography Alone on the Wall is co-written with journalist David Roberts. This 248 page document of Alex's climbs is split in to nine chapters that are centred around Alex's main climbing feats - starting with his early solo ascents of climbs like Moonlight Buttress and moving on at the end to his Fitzroy Traverse and then his possible plans for the future and for his Honnold Foundation.
It's a great book, half written by Roberts, who offers commentary on Alex's exploits and life, and half of the passages (the ones in italic) written by Alex himself.
Roberts notes in his acknowledgements "Alex is a good writer - good enough, as I told him in the early spring of 2014, that he could have written this book by himself".
Whilst Roberts' commentary is what holds the book together, and I for one am glad that he was involved in this project, it is the glimpses in to Alex's mind that are the most fascinating aspect of this book, a book which is way more than just a collection of hand-sweating stories of near-death free soloing.
Alex talks candidly about his life on the road, his relationships, his break-ups and his actual thoughts on the media show that is the modern Alex Honnold.
Some of the more interesting parts of the book are quoted below:
"There's no question though, that my impulsive push on Rainbow Wall had everything to do with what was going on with Stacey."
When Alex talks of his solo climbs, and his rocky relationship with Stacey, his ex-girlfriend, he does so with an intelligent and interesting outlook. In direct opposition to the unfortunate back cover of the book jacket, Alex is more than just an adrenaline junkie, and his life and climbs are only part of a very complex character that does start to shine through in Alone on the Wall.
Part of Alex's character that I found most interesting was his 'legitimate' angle - the over-riding sense that he insists that his climbs, the places he visits and his achievements be accurately portrayed and ranked against other feats in the climbing world. There's no hyperbole with Alex Honnold, and I got the sense that he rails against some of the sponsored climbing trips he's been on that have yielded amazing photos, but perhaps not amazing climbing. Whilst other professional climbers might feel pressure to say these trips were amazing, Honnold, being so famous, can pretty much tell it how it is, or at least how he sees it.
I'm going to wrap this review up with a series of quotes from the book to give a flavour of what is in it, and how Alex comes across:
Whilst it was clear that whilst Alex hasn't free soloed El Cap, he feels his speed solo of the 'big one' with daisy chains, and a lot of free soloing involved has been equally as impressive as some of his ropeless ascents, but the public just don't quite grasp the subtle differences in climbing style. Will this lead to him trying the big one completely ropeless? Who knows?
"Because of the sheer scale and difficulty of its soaring, clean granite walls, Yosemite offers almost limitless challenges to today's best climbers - as it will, I'm sure, to the stars of the next generation. No one, for example, has yet attempted a free solo of any of the routes on El Capitan."
I'm not surprised that nobody has yet attempted a free solo of El Cap. I think it's possible, but you'd have to be really ready. You'd have to really want it. The hardest thing would be just getting off the ground. But it would be amazing."
It certainly would be amazing but also terrifying and death-defying. But Alex's ambitions for his own climbing are not all without a rope...
"If there's a great range I haven't visited that intrigues me, it's the Karakoram.... I'd love to bring Yosemite-style in-a-day tactics to some of the biggest faces in the world."
And I think that would be a seriously impressive Himalayan expedition - an expedition with Honnold and possibly his Fitzroy partner Caldwell unleashed on the high granite walls of the Trango Group would surely result in a spectacular ascent of something. But even at these high altitudes ad remote places, for Honnold, the art of climbing always seemingly distils down to one thing:
"If there's a challenge for the proverbial 'next generation', it would be free soloing Eternal Flame."
Leaving me thinking that if Eternal Flame is for the next generation, then El Cap, might, just might, be for this one.
I'll end this review with one more quote from the book, one that I think sums up Alex's climbing as well as his no-nonsense prose style in Alone on the Wall:
"If what I do inspires others, that's fine. But that's not why I do it."
A good book, well written, and a fascinating and honest look at the life of someone who has accidentally become one of rock climbing's all time heroes. More power to you Alex.
The palm-sweating terrifying memoir of the world's greatest free-solo climber, Alex Honnold
A twelve-year-old kid in the audience raised his hand and asked, 'Aren't you afraid you're gonna die?'
Without missing a beat, Alex shot back, 'We've all gotta die sometimes. You might as well go big.'
Alex Honnold is 28 years old, and perhaps the world's best 'free solo' climber, scaling impossible rock faces without ropes, pitons or and support of any kind. There is a purity to Alex's climbs that is easy to comprehend, but impossible to fathom; in the last forty years, only a handful of climbers have pushed 'free soloing' to the razor edge of risk.
Half of them are dead.
From Yosemite's famous Half Dome to the frighteningly difficult El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico, Alone on the Wall is structured around Alex's seven most extraordinary climbing achievements so far. These are tales to make your palms sweat and your feet curl with vertigo. Together, they get to the heart of how - and why - Alex does what he does. Exciting, uplifting and truly awe-inspiring,Alone on the Wall is a book about the essential truths of risk and reward, and the ability to maintain a singular focus, even in the face of extreme danger.
Publication date: 05.11.2015
Number of pages: 256
Dimensions: 234mm x 153mm
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