Love it or leave it: Love it!
Recommended for: athletes (especially climbers, obviously), Yosemite enthusiasts, climbing history buffs, and anyone who would prefer to live vicariously when it comes to heights.
I have no desire to free solo. Anything. Ever. When I first started climbing, I was almost too psyched out by heights to even get on a rope. When I first saw Alex Honnold soloing in Yosemite, on the big screen in Reel Rock 7, my palms were sweating even though I was safely seated in a Pennsylvania high school auditorium. But I was fascinated by this tall, sort of awkward climber who could do this thing I would never dream of doing. I continued to follow his climbing (with awe) as I myself started my climbing career. When I saw the announcement about Alone on the Wall on social media, I knew I had to get my hands on it; my favorite down-time activity when I’m not climbing is reading, especially adventure lit, so it seemed like the best of two worlds coming together.
The book starts with Honnold’s account of his climb of Moonlight Buttress in 2008 and follows his career through the sponsorships (and loss of said sponsorships in one case), National Geographic covers, 60 Minutes specials, and other bold climbs like setting the speed record on El Cap. Initially, I was a little unsure what to expect when I saw David Roberts as an author – I was more interested in hearing about climbing from Honnold – but my doubts turned out to be unfounded. Roberts lends his voice without being overbearing, and contributes the valuable analysis of a veteran journalist to a book that is part memoir and part chronicle of climbing history. Honnold himself doesn’t disappoint- his writing is as coherent, and entertaining as you’d expect after some of his op-ed pieces in the New York Times. The descriptions of some of his solos are still enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.
My favorite thing about this book was how it helps humanize Honnold. For an East Coast climber like me, his exploits have always been in the realm of climbing legend; since I haven’t yet been to one of his live events, he was this sort of untouchable, inaccessible presence that only existed in on a screen and in the pages of climbing magazines. The book was a great way to bring everything back down to earth (pun intended), to hear about Honnold’s life from his perspective: who his inspirations were, what he’s learned from his mistakes, and how he feels about love, life, and spirituality. I came away from Alone on the Wall feeling better able to relate to this fairly normal dude, who is intensely passionate about climbing, makes mistakes, speaks his mind, and maybe isn’t the greatest with relationships (who is, really?).
Takeaway: “I was 100% certain I wasn’t going to fall off, and that certainty is what kept me from falling off.”