The Anxiety of Watching Risk Takers Clash Over Life-or-Death Decisions

Spoilers follow.

About halfway through the new National Geographic three-part docuseries “Arctic Ascent With Alex Honnold,” a vibe shift starts to creep in.

Honnold is one of the greatest living big-wall climbers, whose fame ballooned after his historic ascent of El Capitan, a 3,000-foot climb in Yosemite National Park that was chronicled in the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo.” Here, he is outnumbered by his five adventure-mates as they cross the Renland ice cap, a vast sheet of ice in Greenland, the first known time it has been traversed by foot.

They are in the thick of a harsh 100-mile, six-week trek to Ingmikortilaq, an untouched sea wall that measures nearly 4,000 feet — about the height of three Empire State Buildings. Honnold and two of the team members, Hazel Findlay and Mikey Schaefer — both superstar big-wall climbers themselves — are planning to scale it. For any elite mountaineer, it would be a daunting, perilous and most likely inadvisable undertaking. Honnold told CNN that he had “never done a first ascent of that magnitude, of a wall of that size.”

About 90 minutes into the day’s march across the ice cap, whiteout conditions and howling winds bear down on them, zapping all visibility and prompting a pointed back-and-forth.

Honnold wants to continue even as they approach the center of a crevasse field, where giant cracks in the surface, some hundreds of feet deep, are hard to spot until they’re nearly underfoot. “My goal for the day is to get all the way across the ice cap,” Honnold says. When Schaefer suggests the group set up camp until the weather clears, Honnold can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Are you kidding?” he asks.

The team crosses the Edward Bailey Glacier in Greenland. They would soon encounter a blizzard and have to decide whether to wait it out or continue. “I don’t like stopping if I don’t have to,” Honnold says. “I’d much rather keep moving.”Credit…Pablo Durana/National Geographic
Back to top button