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Alex Honnold’s “Fear” Diagnosed by Neurologists

In an article on Nautil.us titled ‘The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber –
Alex Honnold doesn’t experience fear like the rest of us’, we get a glimpse into the mind of the world’s top solo climber. Written by J.B. Mackinnon, doctors examine Honnold’s brain using machines, as they try to understand how he copes with fear. To other climbers, Honnold’s soloing is a result of his experience, strength and control, but brain scans reveal much more. The following is an excerpt from the 5,000 word article you can read here:

Honnold could, in that sense, be “addicted to climbing,” Joseph says, and the hunger for sensation could push him ever closer to his limits as a free soloist. At the same time, a defining quality of his ropeless climbing has been the conscientiousness and premeditation that he brings to it. The greatest risk for Honnold, Joseph says, may lie in the tension between those opposing compulsions.

Climbing in the Bugaboos two summers ago. #tbt @jimmy_chin photo.

A photo posted by Alex Honnold (@alexhonnold) on

Joseph had expected Honnold to survey low in impulsivity traits, such as urgency and disinhibition, associated with rash decisions and actions taken without much thought to the consequences, particularly when a person is feeling down. In fact, he scored on the high end. This helps explain what might be called, using Honnold’s own terminology, his “fuck it” ascents, in which composure gives way to depression and angst, and planning to, well, impulsivity.

Here’s one: While “emotionally unhinged,” as he put it, by a faltering relationship in 2010, he soloed a 1,000-foot wall in the Nevada desert that he had climbed with a rope only once before, several years earlier. Honnold considers that climb an example of how he has learned to harness both positive and negative moods to achieve his goals. Obviously, it worked out fine—he is still around to tell the tale. But when I ask Joseph if she has any warning to offer Honnold based on the scan and survey results, she replies, “Don’t let the impulsivity win out over the conscientiousness.”

Listen to an interview with Honnold by Gripped editor Brandon Pullan on Basecamp Podcast: