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.
The author occupies a solid position from which to tell this story, and his characterizations of Mr. Honnold are convincing ... Although Mr. Synnott’s writing is fast-paced and enjoyable, episodes from his own climbing history make the book an odd hybrid—equal parts memoir, climbing journalism and authorized celebrity biography. The author struggles to contain disparate story lines, find a consistent channel through which to let the narrative flow, and keep the sequence of events easy to follow although not strictly chronological ... Either he is too much in awe of Mr. Honnold to pepper him with precise, persistent questioning, or Mr. Honnold couldn’t be bothered to answer ... Mr. Honnold’s impatience with what must be constant questioning is understandable, but such a thoughtful and literate person (he read Dostoevsky in a midcliff camp in Borneo) ought to challenge himself to better articulate the feelings, sensations, visions and lessons gleaned from his singular achievement. In that respect, Mr. Honnold has failed to fulfill the mythic hero’s final obligation: to bring back a story from the underworld. Or, more likely, Mr. Synnott has failed the interviewer’s task to force it out of him.