In Mark Synnott’s unique window on the ethos of climbing, his friend Alex Honnold’s astonishing 'free solo' ascent of El Capitan’s 3,000 feet of sheer granite, is the central act. Synnott delves into a raggedy culture that emerged decades earlier during Yosemite’s Golden Age when pioneering climbers like Royal Robbins and Warren Harding invented the sport that Honnold would turn on its ear.
Coinciding with the wide-release documentary, Free Solo, about Honnold's historic climb. Readers will pick this up for Honnold but will be equally engrossed by Synnott's own adventures and writing. A worthy companion to Honnold's memoir Alone on the Wall and Tommy Caldwell's The Push.
The Impossible Climb is an accomplished portrait of two remarkable lives — but its major weakness, of both style and imagination, lies in Synnott’s depictions of women. Professional climbing is largely a man’s world, but rather than examine this dynamic as he does countless others, Synnott uses descriptions that further diminish and objectify the women he encounters ... Like a jazz record or a dog-eared book by Dostoyevsky, the women here are simply another tool for characterizing the men around them — as well as vehicles for Synnott’s fascination with the younger Honnold’s sex life. This fascination is shameless and enduring, fitting into themes of aging that build throughout the book.
Synnott’s admiration for the subject matter results in a lot of plodding backstory between the climbs themselves; the book works best when exploring the psychological challenges of such harrowing endeavors. The 2018 documentary Free Solo captures Honnold’s story and his sweaty-palm-inducing feat in a more concise and visceral way, but those looking to know more about the people and culture of climbing’s past and present will be roped in by this sporting memoir-biography hybrid.