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Stephen Mayo | To Climb Another Day

To Climb Another Day

Nov. 21, 2021

Alex Honnold is well-known for being the first climber to free solo (climb without a safety harness) up the face of El Capitan, a 2,900-ft vertical rock wall in Yosemite National Park.  It’s an incredibly difficult, treacherous ascent in which the smallest mistake is likely to be fatal.

But when he achieved this breathtaking feat in June 2017, it was not the first time he had attempted it. Several months before his successful climb, he started up the wall, but called it quits when he was less than 25% of the way up. 

His reasoning?  He had trouble putting it into words: “ah, I don’t know, my feet”, “I don’t want to be here”, “I’m not into it”.*

It’s as if his intuition and his body were saying Whoa, something’s not right. Better save this for another day.

And so he did, even though it meant all the crew members, climbers and photographers who were filming the event would need to wait till next year to come back and try again.

Remarkably, instead of being upset, the rest of the crew were relieved to see Alex pull out of that climb.  Multiple individuals commented that it gave them confidence about his judgment, because it showed he wouldn’t do something unsafe simply because everyone was watching, waiting for him to climb.

Next time you face a decision that requires courage to do what seems right, remember (1) there’s no telling how people will actually respond; their aptitude for understanding might surprise you.  And (2) by making the tough call, you might create space for even more daring leaps in the future.

*Watch the 2018 documentary film Free Solo, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, for the rest of the inspiring story. 

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