Sheer fortitude

Atheist Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan without ropes or aid

It takes a lot of faith to do what Alex Honnold did.

Faith in himself, that is.

On June 30, Honnold became the first person to climb the sheer “Freerider” face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes, safety harnesses or assistance.

National Geographic claims that Honnold’s accomplishment “may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.” The Washington Post said it was the “moon landing” of solo climbing.

Honnold, besides being incredible climber, is also an “out” atheist.

“I’m an atheist rock climber,” he told Chris Johnson, author of the book A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God.

“I was taken to church for maybe five or six years as a kid and at no point did I ever think there was ever anything going on with church,” Honnold tells Johnson during filming for “A Better Life in Yosemite with Alex Honnold.” “I always saw it as a bunch of old people eating stale wafers, and that’s totally weird to me.”

It took Honnold just 3 hours and 56 minutes to “free solo” climb the nearly 3,000-foot granite wall. Free soloing is when a climber is alone and uses no ropes or any other equipment that aids or protects him or her, leaving no margin for error.

“What Alex did defied everything that we are trained, and brought up and genetically engineered to think,” climber Peter Mortimer told National Geographic.

Scaling El Capitan’s sheer wall was literally a death-defying feat for Honnold. The Washington Post says that the mountain “features rock faces smoothed out by ancient glaciers that left the cliff with the texture of a kitchen counter.” Any misstep or slip would send him plummeting to the rocky park floor with little to no chance of survival.

“With free-soloing, obviously I know wthat I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” Honnold told National Geographic. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”

Being an atheist has perhaps pushed Honnold to try things he might not otherwise attempt.

“By not believing in an afterlife, it just sort of forces you to make the most of this life, to get the most out of the time you have,” Honnold tells Johnson during filming. “It probably has affected the way I live my life, by accepting the fact that I’m just another animal on the Earth and I will die in my time, and I only have a limited amount of time and I have to use it.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation