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What Is Open Water’s Equal To El Capitan’s Free Solo?

Courtesy of Jimmy Chin, National Geographic, Yosemite, California.

This week in California, American Alex Honnold climbed up Yosemite’s 3000-foot El Capitan alone and without ropes or safety equipment in what is called the greatest free solo ascent of all time by Alpinist Magazine.

Any wrong move on the sheer granite wall – that is taller than any building on Earth – would have spelled certain death.

The 31-year-old marvel explained to National Geographic how he faced the possibility of this fatal risk on his unprecedented ascent [his interview is posted here], “Years ago, when I first mentally mapped out what it would mean to free solo Freerider [on El Capitan], there were half a dozen of pitches where I was like, ‘Oh that’s a scary move and that’s a really scary sequence, and that little slab, and that traverse. There were so many little sections where I thought ‘Ughh—cringe.’ But in the years since, I’ve pushed my comfort zone and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fell within the realm of the possible.”

So what would be the open water swimming equivalent of Honnold’s free solo ascent of El Capitan?

That is a good theoretical question without a good answer,” pondered Steven Munatones. “Perhaps it is crossing the English Channel or Catalina Channel solo – but even that might not equal the risk that Honnold faced for the experienced channel swimmer. Perhaps it would require crossing the English Channel without GPS solo and without an escort boat or crew?

The threat of death on Honnold’s climb is so evident and so overwhelming as to not really have an equivalent in the open water, except if you possibly try a solo unassisted unescorted non-stop crossing of the North Channel or Molokai Channel without a boat, crew, food or GPS. In the North Channel, the additional threat of hyperthermia and jellyfish might possibly equal what Honnold did up on El Capitan.

What modern-day adventurers are doing nowadays on land and in the water is mind-boggling incredible and inspirational.”

Ned Denison who solo swam 20 miles across the Great White Shark-filled False Bay in South Africa in 11 hours 5 minutes in 2012 theorized. “The equivalent would be to cross False Bay without an escort boat and instead of vaseline, use fish paste under arms for lubrication.”

2017 World’s Most Adventurous Open Water Women

* 2017 World’s 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Men

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