All of these photos are screen shots from a short film I am working on called “High Contrast” that chronicles my adventures last march in Chile with Alex Honnold. This will be a pretty experimental piece that juxtaposes the city against the countryside and weaves together mine and Alex’s thoughts on human consumption and our impact on the environment. Not that I don’t love editing together climbing porn, but I’m excited to be working on something a little more original.
I I had just gotten off the phone with Alex Honnold. I knew Alex before he was the most famous climber in the universe, and I think he finds it grounding to connect with some of his buddies from those pre-rockstar days. Alex was a little lost and depressed when I talked to him. He had just broken up with his girlfriend, and was wondering what direction his life should take...with his overarching goal being CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB.
In the aftermath of his breakup he went on a soloing binge in Zion and onsight soloed Shune's Buttress, and topped out in a snowstorm. Part of the reason that Alex is such a great soloist is because he has such a high thresh hold for what he considers a "BIG DEAL." In fact after climbing quite a bit in the Czech Republic, with alex, I had nicknamed him "No Big Deal" because he had a way of downplaying all accomplishments, dangers, and close calls, yours or his. I knew that Shunes had been balls to the wall because he made it sound like a bit of a big deal. He topped out in a snow storm and then soloed a thousand feet of fifth class slabs covered in snow... at one point he found himself sliding down a gropple coated face, but stuck a grassy ledge.
Fame is a funny thing, and has a way of making life easier and more difficult at the same time, and over the last couple years I've watched Alex adjust to and even enjoy the deserved attention, and I have to say compared some, he's handling his celebrity pretty well. “Dude, you I was wondering if I could take out and advertisement for cedarwright.com on your left shoulder… you’de give me a bro deal right,” I joked with him. In spite of the attention, Alex still pretty much the hyper-intellectual, knucklehead I'd come to love, and be annoyed by. When he said he had a few free weeks in March to climb, I jumped on the chance. Climbing with Alex is equal parts assbeater, inspiring and fun, so I began throwing ideas out for an adventure.
I had just met a bunch of the folks from TNF South America, and they had invited me down to their Bouldering Competition, and I threw the idea out to Honnold. I figured it would cover our airfare, and we could show up early and link up with my old Chilean friend Andres, Aka, “CHILE DOG!” I sent Alex some links for Cochamo which many call the “Yosemite of South America” and Alex was psyched. We’re both suckers for beautiful granite big walls.
A few weeks later, Alex and I met Andres in the airport in Santiago. Alex is one of the most singularly obsessed climbers I have ever met, and so by that evening we had hatched a plan to get on an unfreed line established by Andres that involved a thousand feet of ultra-technical 5.12 and 5.13 slab climbing. We got up at 4am of our first full day in Chile and drove up to San Gabriel, a scrappy but surprisingly quality bigwall. Honnold proved why he is one of the best climbers in the world, by establishing the first free ascent of the route pulling the rope only a few times on the harder 5.13 slab pitches. I managed to free most of the moves on this route, but JESUS! This would set the tone for the rest of the trip. I think we rested fived days total, in a three-week period! Seven days of sport climbing, five days of bouldering, and four days of bigwalling... what a blur.
For sure for me the highlight of the trip was Cochamo, where we were lucky enough to have marginally good weather for two days in a row, and managed to climb two cool 11+ big wall free climbs back to back, which if you know Cochamo meant A LOT OF HIKING. In two days we went up and down about 10,000 feet of terrain. My knees are still recovering!
For sure the most memorable part of the trip was competing in the bouldering comp. Two other TNF climbers the legendary Yuji Hirayama and top competitive boulder Alex Johnson came down for the competition, and all four of us competed. Lets just say I didn’t qualify, and am not and never will be a competitive climber, but I do have newfound respect for how mentally tasking competing is. Yuji who is now well into his fourties got second place in the Comp, as did Alex Johnson for the women. Honnold nearly made it to finals, but was just one spot away. I have to say that for as bad ass as Honnold is, Yuji is a LEGEND!
So in three weeks I got a whirlwind tour of Chile thanks to Andres who let us into his home and gave us an awesome tour. We got to hang tough with his beautiful wife Kirpal, and his adorable daughter Saire and our Spanish got a lot better because they just rattled off to us constantly in in Spanish.
Looking back, what stuck with me most, is the warm, open Chilean Culture. You great people with enthusiasm and human touch in Chile. If you meet a woman, you kiss her on the cheek. You meet a guy, you give him a big handshake and a hug. We’d arrive at a crag, and be inundated with good energy, handshakes and hugs! I have to say that Americans are pretty cold, and reserved and we could learn something about warmth, kindness and human touch from our brothers in South America.
The other last impact of the trip has to do with Honnold, who was halfway through a reading binge of Environmental literature addressing the negative impact of man on our earth. He had just finished “The End of Oil” by Paul Roberts, and he passed it on to me. I knew that we as Americans use vastly more than our share of the earth’s resources, from coal, to oil to gas to electricity, but this book really nails it home, and I couldn’t help but feel quite conflicted. It’s a conundrum that I’m still working through. All of this world travel is not exactly earth friendly. I looked in to it, and if you are concerned about decreasing your fossil fuel use driving across America has a smaller carbon footprint that flying across it, which means that flying all over the world is pretty wasteful.
In the end, I guess that I am at piece with my lifestyle, and will look at ways to decrease my impact where I can. I’m not going to stop traveling, but I’d like to look at how I can be a better steward of the earth.
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this blog. I know it was pretty rambling, but hopefully it captures some of the energy of our experience. Chile was an awesome trip, and I feel super fortunate to get to climb with the top climbers in the world from time to time, and to somehow be making a living doing what I love. Big hugs and highfives!!