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“An Exploration Of How We Move Through Our Fears:” A Conversation With Makers Of “Free Solo”

Jimmy Chin
National Geographic
Rock climber Alex Honnold peers over the edge of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. His June 2017 ascent to become the first rock climber ever to free solo El Capitan is the subject of the 2018 documentary "Free Solo."

In June of 2017, a young rock climber named Alex Honnold broke a world record in Yosemite National Park, becoming the first person ever to free solo the iconic granite wall towering over Yosemite Valley. He climbed all 3,200 feet of El Capitan without a partner and without any ropes or safety gear, in a nail-biting three hours and 56 minutes.

Credit Chris Figenshau / National Geographic
National Geographic
Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi on location during the filming of Free Solo.

It was a superhuman feat, but on the way to accomplishing it, he grappled with the very human feelings of success and failure, fear and love. And a film crew followed him. The resulting work, a gripping and suspenseful documentary film called Free Solo, chronicles two years of training and setbacks as Honnold prepared for and ultimately accomplished his life’s goal.

In this interview, we speak with Free Solo’s husband-wife directors, filmmaker Chai Vasarhelyi and filmmaker-alpinist Jimmy Chin, about Honnold’s engaging story, as well as the ethical challenges of documenting his historic climb.

You can find screenings of the film here.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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