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The Impossible Climb Books

: Mark Synnott : March 2019


Why do people risk their lives to climb rocks that seem unclimbable? This book focuses on the early days of rock climbing, and the personalities of the pioneers of the sport, culminating in the impossible becoming real – Alex Honnold’s solo, unassisted scaling of El Capitan In Yosemite.

Much like surfing the original climbers were fringe characters sleeping in their vans and living just to climb. Then money and endorsement and fame got involved, and everything changed.

Surfing and rock climbing are basically the same sport, one on big rock walls on land and the other on big waves in the ocean. Both were started by young men who were just in it for the joy it gave them. Both are individual sports based on unwritten codes; who has the right to surf the best waves, and trusting unverified reports of big rock climbs.

There is no objective way of saying who is best, although judges judge surfing contests and climbers rate the difficulty of different climbs. Both are dangerous; if you fall off a big wave you can get grinded, even killed, by the coral at the bottom of the sea floor; if you fall off a big cliff you will die.

Both spawned very competitive superstars; Laird Hamilton in surfing and Alex Honnold in climbing. Both have arguments over what is pure and ethical and how to use equipment; Hamilton pioneered the use of being towed out by Jet Skis to catch big waves, climber’s use of Sherpas and ropes to assist climbs is controversial.

Both sports were commercialized by apparel and equipment makers offering stars endorsement contracts. The stars are made by adventurous cameramen, who tend to be former surfers or climbers. And unlike the major made for TV sports that show live football, basketball, or golf, surfers and climbers get famous through films and video clips are seen after the fact.

The skills necessary for success are the same; mentally, dominating fear; physically, balance and knowing how to constantly reposition the body as the physical environment changes.

The famous old joke applies to each sport; there are old surfers (climbers), there are bold surfers, but there are no old, bold surfers.

SummaryOne slip, one false move, one missed toehold and you’re dead. On June 3rd, 2017 veteran adventure journalist and professional climber Mark Synnott was in Yosemite to witness something that only a handful …

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