brother to all climbers
June 6, 2017
Email from me to Alex Honnold dated 14/06/2012
Many moons ago I was asked to pick up an award for you at the Kendal Mountain Film festival for your first film. I can remember watching it before I got up and thinking that, unlike people like Ueli or Dean - who I guessed would die climbing - I really hoped you made it (Dean and Ueli dance to a different drum than you). Here was a unique human being - hell - a demigod! - and the world was a much richer place with you in it. When I picked up the award someone said I had to give a speech, so I just said the first thing that came into my mind, which was “Beware of the audience” - sage advice given to me by a long-dead soloist.
A few years later I finally sat opposite you in the canteen in the Valley, and instead of me saying hello to you, you said ‘Are you Andy Kirkpatrick’ - which I thought was pretty cool. That year I was out there trying to solo Zodiac in a day, which for a 40-year-old non-valley climber with kids - and in June! - turned out to be quite a trip (soloed it in a push but not under 24h in the end).
Anyway sat there talking to you, I had the feeling again that I hoped you made it. Here was an Achilles of rock! Your talent and uniqueness are only manifest in rock now, but who knows what wonders they could conjure later?
I’m sure if I’d got down on my knees and said ‘please stop soloing hard shit Alex’ you’d have thought I was mad, and who’d want you to. Instead, I just gave you a cryptic line, that when a Roman emperor rode through Rome - the crowds cheering the most powerful man who had ever lived - he would have a slave beside him whispering ‘remember that you’re mortal’.
Why am I writing this? Well when people say to me sometimes (always complete strangers), ‘please be careful’ I used to think it was because I was so fucking hardcore - but it wasn’t, it was because they loved this person they’d never met, and this love and care were deeper than the fleeting burst of adrenaline of a man risking it all for fuck all. You’re only a commodity to mags and sponsors, but you’re a brother to all climbers everywhere. I’m writing this as your brother because that’s what a brother would do (along with a well done!).
So get your shit together and make the first free solo of El Cap, don’t die doing it, then do the hardest move of your life and make that your legacy to climbing - not your death.
Photo: Peter Haan