Free Solo

“I didn’t want to be a lucky climber, I wanted to be a great climber.” Alex Honnold.

The 2018 academy award winning documentary film Free Solo directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin features rock climber Alex Honnold in his quest to climb of El Capitan, Yosemite, ‘free solo’. ( alone, without aid of ropes or equipment.) 

The documentary also offers a rare glimpse & perspective of the film crew. All athletes & climbers themselves face physical, creative and morale challenges in the midst of their creative efforts to capture Alex’s climb.

One might assume those attempting death defying acts like Alex are without natural fear, perhaps driven by some inexplainable force.

Yet, Alex is not without fear. 

He thought about the climb for 8 years, saying it was ‘just too scary’.

Within intense training, he would choreograph each move up the 3,200 foot granite face. Every… single… body… movement.

Alex would train for 2 years, climb El Capitan 50 times with ropes, using what looked to be a large toothbrush to find indentations in the rock face.

His handwritten journals overflowed defining every single move, where each thumb would be placed,… thru the entire climb. 

He rappelled down the face days before climbing after a rain, making certain there were not wet spots where he might slip and making certain his chalk marks were still present.

The extra challenging route portions were climbed over and over again. Falling with the ropes, he would immediately review on site what went wrong, change a movement, practice practice practice. 

Preparations to this degree aren’t accomplished by someone with a death wish. 

This is mastery. 

Honnold free soloed Yosemite’s Half Dome in September 2008 with nothing like the preparations he made for El Capitan. “I didn’t really know how to prepare for a potential free solo, so I decided to skip the preparations and just go up there and have an adventure. I figured I would rise to the occasion, which, unsurprisingly, was not the best strategy.” Honnold said in an April 2018 Ted Talk. 

On a giant, slightly – less- than- vertical slab near the summit, he came close to falling. Although he completed the climb, it was not the experience he wanted. “ I was disappointed in my performance because I had gotten away with something,” he said. “ I didn’t want to be a lucky climber. I wanted to great climber.”

The climb of El Capitan took him 3 hours and 56 min.


While researching this post, I discovered European American artist Hermann Ottomar Herzog  traveled to & painted El Captian in 1873. His beautiful golden renditions of the area are still in circulation today, found on pillows, wall art, prints, beachtowels & free wallpaper.

It’s the first time I have tackled my own rendition of a Master’s work. 

To make certain it wasn’t about ‘copying’, I didn’t allow myself to wear glasses, his image a  fuzzy mass of shapes on my laptop. My own canvas became a blurry application of colour & texture. Out of my comfort zone, it was equal parts scary & freeing.

I chose a horizontal closer cropped composition, using large brushes and mostly guess work with colour. ( no glasses restricts me from seeing colour detail) Working quickly I gave myself a time limit, so the work would have a plein air feel. I didn’t look at the final piece until I returned with my camera. 

Thanks for the inspiration Hermann, indirectly encouraging me to try something new, solo and free.

~ NEW Work~

“Sunday Sunset” ( Sunset Drive) 14×18 oil $910.oo

“Hermann’s El Capitan Sentinel” 24×36 oil ~ email me for availability.