Alex Honnold has announced he will solo one of the world’s biggest skyscrapers, the details are yet released. A two-hour, live National Geographic special will air the climb this fall. Climbers are faced with choosing a side, because like all ‘big’ climbing news, everyone has an opinion.
Should Honnold be soloing a building on live television?
Internet forums have been active with climbers on both sides of the fence, for and against the climb. “Come on, who wouldn’t do this if they had the chance? He gets to climb a freakin’ skyscraper, without risking arrest. I would do that even if I wasn’t getting paid. Hell, I’d probably pay to do it! The dude’s just another climber, and a nice guy at that, who happened to get some more widespread fame and money out of his impressive skills than climbers normally receive. Good for him,” said Abram Herman. “I can’t stand these show-offs, when they get in trouble, a brave soul with a real job, must risk their life to rescue them,” said Ralph Mitchell.
Similar to other media grabbing stunts such as Nik Wallenda’s tight-rope walk over the Grand Canyon or Felix Baumgarner’s Red Bull jump from space, this will be a hyped-up event that is already grabbing headlines. Does Honnold defy the ‘spirit’ of climbing? What does Messner or Huber think? What would Harrer or Bachar say? Does Honnold care what his peers think, or does he care, at all, about anyone’s opinion?
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He is not the first climber to take to the buildings; there is a long line of soloist who tempted fate on rock, then structure. In 1895, alpinist Geoffrey Winthrop Young climbed the roofs of Cambridge University, England. Students had been scrambling up the university architecture for years, but Young was the first to document it. He wrote and published a buildering guide to Trinity College. In 1937, The Night Climbers of Cambridge was written by Noël Howard Symington, aka Whipplesnaith, it was a guidebook that was in high demand.
In 1905, Harry H. Gardiner began buildering. He successfully climbed over 700 buildings in Europe and North America, usually wearing ordinary street clothes and using no special equipment. In 1910, George Polley started his climbing career when the owner of a clothing store promised him a suit if he would climb to the roof of the building. He succeeded, and went on to climb over 2,000 buildings. From 1915 to 1920, buildering in New York City reached took off. By 1920, the city authorities had outlawed buildering. During this golden era, a number of daredevils climbed the tall buildings, but several of them fell to their deaths in the attempt. James A Dearing, who scaled the Rutherford County Courthouse in 1923, but fell to his death after completing the climb. His stage name was Roy Royce. Harry F Young, who was hired in 1923 to climb the Hotel Martinique in New York City, to promote the silent movie Safety Last, lost his grip on the ascent, and fell nine-stories to his death. In 1947, John Ciampa scaled the exterior of the Astor Hotel in New York City. In 1977, George Willig climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center. In the 1980s, Dan Goodman scaled many of the world’s tallest buildings. In the 1990s and the following decade, Alain Robert became the world’s most famous builderer by free-soloing high buildings all over the globe, including the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, the New York Times building and the Sears Tower. Before he soloed any buildings, he soloed a 5.14. Robert says his worst fall occurred when an anchor broke, while roped up on a rock climb.
Not long ago there was a magazine dedicated to buildering, Urban Climber. Climbers often stare up at buildings, looking for weaknesses, eyeing up possible lines, asking themselves, “Dare I try it?”
Would you solo a building on live-television? One thing is definitive; Honnold is going to do it. Will you watch it?