Episodes

RunOut #11: Connor Herson Frees the Nose.

On November 19th, Connor Herson, a 15-year-old high school freshman from Emerald Hills, California became the 6th human to free-climb the Nose, only missing the 5th ascent to Keita Kurakami’s extraordinary free rope solo by a few days.

Supported by his father Jim, a longtime valley climber, Connor freed the famous climb in a three-day push, only falling on, then redpointing, the Changing Corners pitch rated 5.14a.

Connor has been surrounded his whole life by a climbing family including his dad, his mother Anne, and his badass older sister Kara, who, incidentally, climbed Half Dome in winter and the Nose in a Day sans jumars as a mere tween.

On today’s RunOut, Andrew Bisharat and I – two climbers well past their prime – grill Connor Herson – a climber only on the cusp of his vast potential – about what makes him tick.

RunOut #10: Adam Ondra’s Near Onsight of the Salathe Wall

What do you consider to be a casual, non-serious climbing trip? Maybe it’s bouldering with your homies. Maybe it’s a few weeks of sport climbing on some Mediterranean island where the you end up spending as much time cragging as you do at the beach, drinking ouzo and snacking on roasted goat meat.

For Adam Ondra—who is between comp seasons, which apparently demand much more serious attention and focus—a casual climbing trip means going to the United States to try to onsight a few moderates …

Only in this case, “moderate” means the Salathé Wall on El Cap. 32 pitches, 5.13b. A crack-climber’s dream.

Had any other Euro showed up in Yosemite with a goal of onsighting the Salathe, we Americans would’ve scoffed and laughed. But Ondra earned mad street cred two years ago when he swooped in and completed the second ascent of the Dawn Wall in less time than it takes me to get through a single issue of Alpinist.

On November 3, Ondra enlisted the belay and simul-climbing skills of Belgian badass Nico Favresse to join him in a single-push, sub-24-hour onsight attempt of the greatest crack climb on earth.

Leading everything, Ondra just cruised … He onsighted the Boulder problem pitch, the 12c roof, the monster off width—he got himself all the way up to the famous Headwall crux without a fall. However, his dream came up short. By then, there was no gas left in the tank, and he came away empty handed in some respects, but seemed to be just as happy and fulfilled to have gotten the opportunity to climb an amazing route like the Salathe. Who could argue with that?

This is Andrew Bisharat and I’m here with my co-host Chris Kalous, and we caught up with the Ondrasaurus himself to hear more about his magnificent failure on the Salathe.

RunOut #9: Breaking the Fourth Wall in Free Solo with DP Mikey Schaefer

To free solo or not to free solo, is not the question of today’s podcast—but whether it is ethical to film it.

Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary film Free Solo remains just about the biggest thing happening in climbing right now. It’s something that has haunted me and co-host Chris Kalous since we saw it a few weeks ago. To be honest, we haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

And you can hear our initial discussion in episode 7. That episode is merely an attempt to dry out our sweaty palms in the aftermath of watching this film.

However, now, with clearer heads, we wanted to dig in and go a little deeper. Free Solo is not just a spectacle of Alex Honnold’s obscene tolerance for risk, it also dances dangerously close to discussing the ethics of filming a guy risking his life.

This film breaks the fourth wall—the behind the scenes story of struggling to shoot Honnold is as much a part of the story as Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan.

We invited our friend Mikey Schaeffer to speak to us for today’s episode. Mikey is a longtime climber and just one of the true, authentic energies of our sport. He was also a DP, a director of photography, on Free Solo. Honnold selected him as one of the few guys he could trust to be hanging on a rope beside him and have confidence that Mikey wouldn’t drop a lens on him or cause some other horrific outcome.

Mikey also has one of the more interesting roles in Free Solo. Of all the camera operators, he was the one who seemed to be most genuinely distraught by what he was witnessing. If you’ve seen the film, Mikey is the one whose face they cut to repeatedly during the climactic montage of Honnold’s big climb.

He’s grimacing. He literally can’t bring himself to watch—and yet, like we in the audience, he also can’t look away.

I recognized this as a device often utilized in horror and suspense films—Hitchcock was perhaps the original master of this technique. In this regard, Free Solo isn’t just a documentary; it fully fits in the genre of suspense and thriller.

And yet, the thrills aren’t moot or for mere casual entertainment. The consequences are horrifyingly real.

We spoke to Mikey to hear more about what it was really like to have worked on this film for the past two years. I personally really enjoyed this interview. Mikey shared some really surprising details and insights into his own experience. He also gave some really fascinating insights into the black box that is Alex Honnold’s mind.

RunOut #8: Caves, Plato, and the future of adventure

In the Republic, Plato presents an allegory of a cave in which prisoners have been shackled their whole lives, and their only understanding of reality derives from the shadows that are cast on the bleak cavern wall before them. It’s a way to tackle the philosophical problem of how our own subjective experiences limit our understanding of reality, keeping us imprisoned in our own heads.

I don’t need to ever become a caver to know that the idea of plunging into the bowels of the earth sounds like an absolutely dreadful idea. I’m a climber. I like being out in the open, not closed in. I like to go up, not down. Is there anything worse than rappelling?

In my job as a full-time writer, part-time journalist, I’ve been covering various caving expeditions for National Geographic. I started out knowing nothing about caving, and while my understanding of the sport still places me very much at a gumby level, I’ve been fascinated, dare I say, impressed, by the commitment and adventure of some of the today’s leading caving explorers.

I’ve always viewed caving as a low-grade cousin to our sacred sport of rock climbing. There are similarities to be sure. We both use ropes and harness and we both love to indiscriminately place bolts in virgin rock. And yet, caving just seems so dreadful, so claustrophobic. Do they even need to train?

And yet, cavers seem to be just scratching the surface of exploration of the world’s biggest, deepest and most impressive caves. The state of caving right now seems to be where climbing was in the 1800s—a blank map ripe for the pickin’. And as I scroll through the latest news feeds of climbing as a sport, filled with the latest spray about the newest climber to do some route or mountain that was actually first done before they were even born, I can’t help but find myself drawn in, wondering what is real, or if everything I know about climbing is just a bunch of shadows on the wall.

Before I do something crazy like trade in my Scarpa Dragos and kneepads for a waterproof onesie and an 12mm static line, I wanted to talk to my show co-host Chris Kalous, who actually has some experience plundering the depths of the earth, to talk me out of it.

Here’s my story about the Rainier fumarole ice caves.

And here’s my story about the Veryovkina flood survival epic.

Kalous in Groaning Cave, Colorado. c. 1991

Climber Larry Coats in Groaning Cave, CO. c. 1991

Kalous inside Groaning Cave, Colorado. c. 1991

The mouth of Groaning Cave, Colorado. c. 1991

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Fixin to Die Cave, Colorado. c. 1991

Magic Mushrooms, Groaning Cave, Colorado.

Climber Jim Erickson reads the map of Groaning Cave. c. 1991

Scott Fitzgerald and Kalous, Honkers Cave, Colorado. c. 1991

RunOut #7: Free Solo Film and the Sweaty Palm.

It was only a few weeks ago that the Dawn Wall seized the Mylar Throne as best climbing movie ever and thrust a misunderstood Kevin Jorgeson deeply into our hearts.   Incidentally, the Mylar Throne is made from melted down Masters of Stone VCR cassettes.

But like a resplendent child emperor, the Dawn Wall, though magnificent, has been cleanly eviscerated after its very brief reign by this week’s release of Free Solo.  Jimmy Chin, Chai Vasarhelyi, and Alex Honnold’s film of Honnold’s incredible free solo of the Free Rider on El Cap has delivered an awesome portrait of obsession, dedication, and accomplishment. And simply put, the most astounding climbing footage ever filmed.

Andrew Bisharat and I finally gave up on receiving our invitations to any of the premiers and bought tickets for a showing in Aspen, Colorado at the historic Wheeler Opera House. The raucous crowd (often too raucous for our tastes) was comprised mostly of outdoor enthusiasts likely very familiar with Alex Honnold and Jimmy Chin, and no doubt, the entire local climbing community was there.

On today’s show, we give you our thoughts on Free Solo, the climbing film that crushes all other climbing films like Alex crushed the Free Rider. And of course, spoiler alert. We all know that Alex free soloed the Free Rider without plummeting to his death, but we also reveal a few other twists and turns of the film, like the fact that Alex Honnold is the only one alive, and we’ve all been dead the whole time.

RunOut #6: Olympic Dreaming

The old adage “sport climbing is neither” is now a sad relic of atavistic time in climbing—a time before there were gyms, before there were World Cups, and before there were climbers capable of onsighting 9a+ but who instead choose to spend 30 hours a week training indoors, six to eight months a year, all in preparation for a single event when they are finally released by their coaches onto a competition stage, like animals out of a cage.

It was a time that most climbers today will not even remember.

Climbing is making its big debut in the 2020 Olympics. When this news was jointly announced by the International Federation of Sport Climbing and the International Olympic Committee two years ago, no one, it seemed, was very happy about it. Grizzled old chuckleheads read the news as yet another omen that climbing had been utterly yuppified, while the most hardcore competition climbers were seemingly united in their disappointment with the proposed format of combing lead, bouldering, and speed.

This September, during the biennial World Championships, the IFSC got its first chance to show the climbing world not only why this combined format would be great, fair and just and even exciting to watch—but also that this format would translate to a successful event in the forthcoming Olympics.

So, did the IFSC win over the naysayers? Was the World Championships everything world-class comp climbers had hoped for and deserve? And what does this all mean for our sport, the outdoor industry, and the future of climbing?

Since neither Chris nor I know squat about comp climbing, we invited our mutual friend and colleague Chris Parker to be our guest for this episode. Chris is a former editor at Rock and Ice magazine and now he works as a content creator for Black Diamond. He got to travel to Innsbruck to witness and report on the entire World Championships. You can check out Black Diamond’s website for his report. It explains the format, what works, and where some serious and legitimate concerns remain.

One quick show note. I referenced an Iranian speed climber, whose name I didn’t know at the time. His name is Reza Alipour, and he is a total major beast.

RunOut #4: Wales, not Whales.

We all know about whales. Sperm whales. Humpback whales. Blue whales. Killer whales. Just kidding, those are dolphins. But what about Wales the country? What’s going on there? The Run Out had to go find out for itself.

 

 

RunOut #3: The Tradition of Truth.

In 2013, two French alpinists, who you’ve probably never heard of, climbed a central pillar on Annapurna in pure alpine style. They hung it out there so far, that their ascent very nearly cost them their lives. In any other year, their ascent would’ve landed them a Piolet d’Or award, if not global acclaim and sponsorships galore.

The only problem, the late Ueli Steck had soloed the exact same line a few days before the French climbers left basecamp. Steck claimed to have soloed the 10,000 foot futuristic face in 28 hours round trip, an utterly astonishing feat that landed him a Piolet d’Or the next year.

Ultimately, Steck offered no concrete evidence for his ascent of Annapurna as he didn’t bring a GPS, had no camera, and his altimeter failed during the ascent.

Steck, of course, died in 2017 on Nuptse while acclimatizing for a link-up on Everest. He was soloing when he fell from near the top of the 6,000-meter mountain, but the reasons why he fell, like the details of some of his more controversial ascents such as Annapurna, remain unknown.

That year on Everest, Kilian Jornet, the Spanish ultra-runner and endurance mountain athlete, claimed to have climbed Everest twice within a period of 5 days, each time climbing solo and logging a speed that would nearly break the fastest known time on Everest. Like Steck, Jornet was also solo during his speed ascent. And like Steck, he was unable to offer much more than his word. His GPS failed. His camera failed. All that he had was his word.

But is that enough?

RunOut #2: A Speed Climbing Paradox.

On June 2, Tim Klein and Jason Wells, two highly experienced Yosemite rock climbers, fell during a speed ascent of El Capitan.

Four days later, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, also two highly experienced rock climbers, set a new speed record on the Nose of El Capitan, climbing the 3,000-foot route in 1 hour 58 minutes and 7 seconds, breaking the fabled 2 hour mark and besting their own previous record, which had been set two days earlier, by 3 minutes.

The question of speed climbing in Yosemite, a tradition dating back to the first in-a-day ascent of the Nose in 1975 by John Long, Jim Bridwell, and Billy Westbay—were turning to questions about whether it was getting too dangerous. Outside Magazine posted an article entitled: Has Speed Climbing Gotten Too Deadly?

In that story, the author says, “Honnold told me that one of the reasons he wanted to climb with Caldwell was that he “can really trust him. Tommy cares about safety. He’s a family man and won’t do anything crazy up there.”

Is speed climbing a sport only reserved for those who won’t do anything, quote, crazy up there? And what is crazy, really?

I sat down with my good friend Chris Kalous, of the Enormocast fame, who either enjoyed or endured his own latest ascent of El Cap and discuss the uncanniness of how these events unfolded. On one flank of El Capitan, triumphant success, lauded across all mainstream news platforms. Just around the corner, a horror story that shocked the community into questioning the very thing it’s so quick to celebrate.

RunOut #1: What’s Your Dawn Wall (Movie)?

Today’s topic is The Dawn Wall Movie.

The film premiered way back in March at the SXSW festival in Austin Texas. By most accounts, those folks lucky enough to be in attendance were awestruck.

But then the movie just disappeared.

Its almost feels like yesterday, but its been over three years since Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the FFA of the Dawn Wall route on El Capitan in Yosemite. The ascent was as famous among climbers for its audacity and difficulty as it was infamous for the media circus that surrounded the climb. The mainstream media interest in the final ascent was unprecedented, but the climbing community had been witnessing a struggle lasting 7 years.

In the intervening 3 years since the climb, the mainstream media has largely moved on from the story, while in the climbing community, “What’s your dawn wall” became something of a meme – first inspirational and now solidly satirical, though no love has been lost for Tommy and Kevin. Tommy, in particular, has stayed in the spotlight and recently cracked the 2 hour barrier on the Nose with Alex Honnold.

Also, the Dawn Wall saw a relatively drama-free and quick 2nd ascent by Czech phenom Adam Ondra. Something the mainstream media completely ignored. In fact, the US climbing media seemed somewhat nonplussed despite the fact that Ondra deigned to even practice much in Yosemite before dispatching the route in what amounts to much better style than the 1st ascent. Go figure.

So what happened to the Dawn wall movie after its premier in March? It traveled to couple festivals we’ve never heard of on the two coasts and then a screening for industry insiders at Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Denver, Colorado. Not a peep otherwise.

Josh Lowell and collaborators are keeping their cards close to their chests about its wider release, though rumor has it, the public might see it this fall. Nevertheless, our own industry insider, Andrew Bisharat, was at the premier in Austin and feels its hot time for a review of the film.