The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life

Author(s): Mark Synnott


'With the possible exception of the lunar landings, free-soloing El Capitan may rank as one of the most audacious-and terrifying-things a human being has ever done. Synnott's narrative plasters you a 3,000-foot granite cliff and doesn't let you go until the climb is done. It is one of the most compelling accounts of a climb and the climbing ethos that I've ever read.' - Sebastian Junger, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Tribe, War, and The Perfect Storm On June 3rd 2017 Mark Synnott, veteran adventure journalist and professional big wall climber and alpinist, was in Yosemite to witness something that only a handful of people knew was about to occur: the most famous climber in the world, Alex Honnold, was going to attempt to summit one of the world's most challenging ascents: a route called Freerider on the notorious rock formation, El Capitan. It is a climb extraordinarily dangerous and difficult - one that few climbers are able to do - and yet Honnold was going to do it 'free-solo'. Meaning a 3000-foot vertical climb with no help. No climbing partner. No equipment. No rope. Where a single small mistake would mean certain death. To most, it would be seen as an insane proposition. But most are not Alex Honnold, and few know this better than Mark Synnott, which is why National Geographic sent him there to cover the story. Mark Synnott is nearly a generation older than Alex, and when he got his start as a professional climber, the sport was just starting to become uber-commercialized. Obsessed with finding the world's last untouched frontiers, Mark took advantage of growing sponsorship opportunities to become known as one of the world's greatest pioneers of unexplored peaks across the globe. And as a member of the North Face 'Dream Team', Mark's career inevitably collided with Alex Honnold's after the young gun broke onto the scene. Mark brought Alex on his first big expedition - to Borneo - to be followed by other adventures together. To Alex, Mark became 'Mr. Safety' - the older mentor-like figure for whom the desire for extreme risk-taking is tempered by the desire to return home to his family alive. To Mark, Alex is the extraordinarily talented climber whose appetite for risk is supported by his astonishing skill at vanquishing fear in the most harrowing situations - allowing him to do what no other human has ever have done. Indeed, to summit El Cap 'free solo' was a feat likened to Neil Armstrong first walking on the moon. And yet, in June 2017, Alex Honnold succeeded in his lifelong dream. There is no underplaying the magnitude of this achievement. In The Impossible Climb, Mark Synnott uses his own career as a professional climber, its intersection with that of Alex Honnold, and the lead-up to Honnold's historic climb, to paint a insider portrait of the elite climbing community; what motivates climbers; the paradoxical drive to keep climbing pure and to fund climbs; and the role that awareness of mortality plays in the endeavor. Told as a chronological narrative, The Impossible Climb draws readers in through its characters, vibrant settings, and gripping adventure, ultimately following along through Mark's eyes as Alex plots, trains, and attempts his heart-stopping, free-solo ascent. Under it all is a story not only about climbing but about what makes us human, how we respond to fear, and our drive to transcend the inevitability of our own death.


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Mark Synnott is widely regarded as one of the most prolific adventurers of his generation. His quest for unclimbed terrain has taken him on 30 expeditions around the globe - from Guyana to Pakistan to Uzbekistan to Cameroon and Oman, among others. As a 20-year member of The North Face "Dream Team," Mark has led expeditions with some of the greatest adventure athletes in the world, such as Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold, and Conrad Anker. He has climbed El Capitan 22 times (with a rope!). Mark is also regarded as one of the best storytellers in the business and is called on often as a motivational speaker. He is also one of the most sought after adventure writers in the business and has written hundreds of magazine articles for dozens of publications in the US and abroad, including Outside, Men's Journal, New York Magazine, Skiing, Climbing Magazine, Rock and Ice, Ascent, among others. Today he works almost exclusively for National Geographic Magazine. Mark has also worked extensively in the film and television industry, both in front of and behind the camera, with credits including work for National Geographic Television and NBC Sports.

General Fields

  • : 9781760633226
  • : Allen & Unwin
  • : Allen & Unwin
  • : October 2018
  • : ---length:- '23.4'width:- '15.3'units:- Centimeters
  • : April 2019
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 416
  • : 796.5223092
  • : English
  • : 1904
  • : Paperback
  • : Mark Synnott