You’ll want to leave your friends at home when you head to the theater to watch “Free Solo,” the feature-length documentary about climbing legend Alex Honnold.
That way, no one will notice that you’ve broken out in a cold sweat as you watch Honnold, author of the book “Alone on the Wall,” slither his way, solo, up a 3,000-foot sheer cliff wall without any ropes to catch him if he slips.
I sweaty-palmed my way through the flick about Honnold’s June 2017 ascent of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park last night and felt like I was dangling from the edge of that cliff myself. It felt visceral.
The movie follows the buildup as Honnold attempts to become the first to climb the wall without safety ropes or gear. He practically oozes his way up the cliff, flowing over rock like an octopus, clinging to holds the size of cough drops and cramming his arms into rough rocky cracks that sandpaper skin right off.
At one point, he trots right over a pair of climbers (one in a pink bunny suit!) who are sleeping (mere mortals sometimes take several days to do the climb) in hammocks tacked to the rock. Toss in personal narratives about his girlfriend, who is trying to find the balance between letting the man she loves do what he loves and the worry that weighs like a grand piano on her shoulders, and the filmmakers, who fear they might do something that would disrupt his climb, and you’ve got an hour and a half of anxiety in store.
It’s worth it.
I won’t give anything away by telling you Honnold survives the climb, and does it in less that 4 hours.
I interviewed Honnold last year, after he spoke at South by Southwest. Read that story from the Austin American-Statesman here.
A few months later, I wrote about Honnold’s mother, Dierdre Wolownick, who climbed El Capitan (albeit with ropes) alongside her son for her 66th birthday.
The movie is playing at the Regal Arbor 8.