Fear upon a Mountain Top (or a Rock Wall)

The last two nights, I have had the pleasure of seeing the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. I found out about this festival about 4 years ago, and now every year, I make every attempt to go. If you’ve never heard of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, it’s kind of like the Oscars for mountain adventure films. The full festival happens at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada every fall, and lasts more than a week. After the full festival, they take a selection of the films on tour all over the world. In fact, they may be coming to a city near you! Check it out.

As I’ve mentioned before, my husband is a rock climber, so any rock climbing film holds special interest for us. Last night, they ended the show with a film called First Ascent: Alone on the Wall, about young climber Alex Honnold that has been taking the climbing world by storm and soloing big rock walls. In climbing lingo, “soloing” means: climbing without ropes, which basically means: if you fall, you die! And this guy is taking the daring sport of solo climbing to new heights, literally—he’s soloing things that other people have never dreamed of soloing because of their height and length. The pinnacle of this particular film was Honnold solo-climbing Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley. For those of you who don’t know, Half Dome is 2,000 feet of rock wall. There is a long and popular day hike up the softer side of Half Dome, but of course Honnold took it right up the sheer face, without any ropes.

The most interesting thing about the movie was not the climbing (which, for the record, had my heart racing), but instead Alex Honnold himself, and how he is during the climb. Perhaps I think too much in stereotypes, but if you asked me before this film what someone who does this sort of thing would be like, I would have guessed that he/she would be a daredevil loudmouth raving lunatic, but from the film, Alex seems like the most humble, kind of nerdy, soft-spoken young guy—someone I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

On the rock, he is still the same soft-spoken type, but with complete focus: his movements are so secure and smooth—you’d think he was just walking up a set of stairs. It’s really amazing—this, no doubt is what makes it possible for him to do this type of stuff (and live to tell about it). Other climbers in the movie commented several times that what really makes it possible for Honnold to do these amazing things is his mind—he’s able to have complete focus while he’s on the rock and not let fear get in the way.

{Half Dome is in the distance on the right in this photo}

For me, the best part of the whole film happened when Honnold did lose his cool on Half Dome. Yes, he does have doubting moments—not that many of them, but he does have them. He was standing on this tiny ledge looking down on 1500 feet of air when it hit him: “What am I doing here? What was I thinking?” he said to himself. He stood there for a few moments in complete panic. From the outside, he was just standing there, but inside his head, he said he was a mess. After a few minutes of this, somehow he was able to get a grip, he turned around and kept climbing, and soon summited Half Dome. His main comment about this episode was, “Thank god that’s over—that was scary.” And I thought, wow—-it’s not the rock that was scary—it’s what happened inside of his head that was scary. He said his brain was like a prison, and somehow, he was able to break out of it and get back to the rock.

This was one of those moments when I laughed to myself and shook my head—he didn’t know how profound he was being. Isn’t this the lesson we’re all trying to learn? Maybe it’s just me, but this is the lesson I’m trying to learn: thoughts=scary, doing=not scary, just doing. This is definitely one of those situations when the creative part of our brain is working against us—our brain can make some pretty hideous movies for us to watch—movies in which we’re failing miserably, everyone thinks we’re stupid, we totally mess up, or for Alex—we’re falling to our death down a 2,000 foot wall.

Also, to be honest, watching this film made me think—how could I ever feel afraid of my work (art)—what, am I afraid of—getting a papercut? Gosh, talk about taking a risk!

Before seeing this movie, I tended to think that solo climbers were a little too crazy—I mean, why do that? Why risk death at your every move? While I still do wonder these things, there was such beauty in what Honnold was doing—the grace in every move, the complete mental focus, and his giddiness when he got through the crux of a climb and said, “that was awesome.”

While I’m not suggesting that I want to (or that we all should) start taking risks like this, what a beautiful thing to do something that pushes you so far that you have to be in a state of complete focus to do it. Also what an amazing lesson to learn: that you are not your thoughts, and when you realize that: you can do anything.


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Hello there! My name is Nicole K. Docimo, and I am an artist and writer from the U.S.A. but currently residing in Zurich, Switzerand. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Some Thoughts

"Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring."

{from "Joy at Sudden Disappointment"
translated by C. Barks.}

~This Work ~

Unless otherwise noted, all images and writings on this blog were created by me, Nicole K. Docimo aka Blue Bicicletta. If you would like to share anything you see here for inspirational purposes online, I just ask that you kindly let folks know where you found it. If you are wanting to share/reproduce any of my work in any other way, or have any questions about how you will be sharing the work in relation to copyright, please contact me directly at nkdocimo {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks!

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