Alex Honnold vs Chris Sharma

Chris Sharma is a widely famous rock climber and known to be one of the best. He started when he was little kid and has been dominating the climbing field since. But there is a new man that has drawing a lot of attention lately. This man is Alex Honnold, a free-soloist who is climbing some insane climbs without a rope or any protection to catch him. Sounds sketchy, right? Except it’s not compared to Alex Honnold as he does these climbs being completely calm. Sharma has been dominating the climbing field for years, but Honnold is coming out with these insane climbs so who is actually the better climber?

Chris Sharma started climbing when he was 11 and immediately started to become the legend he is today. Less than a decade later, all the 5.12s, 5.13s, and 5.14s anywhere on Earth became too easy (Noble 2016). So, as a result, he decided to go find the first ever 5.15. No one in the entire world had ever completed a 5.15 when Sharma decided to go find one. He traveled out to France where he found his challenge finally. This climb was called Biographie, but after he completed the climb and clipped through the chains at the top, he renamed it to Realization as he had just become the first ever person to complete a 5.15a climb in the world (Noble 2016). By completing this climb, he became a huge inspiration to all climbers showing that the impossible can be done, and it didn’t stop there. Now he will still go and complete harder climbs up to 5.15c.

However, he doesn’t just stick with ropes. Sharma climbs in almost all the different styles there are, and still dominates in every single one. One of his favorites is deep water soloing. “Coming from Santa Cruz, I grew up in the ocean, but once I discovered climbing I was always running to the mountains. So finding a way of climbing above the sea brought my two worlds together once more” (Sharma 2016). This type of climbing allows the climber to be free, without any gear, complete climbs higher than bouldering can, but without the fear of free solo climbing. Sharma even set up yet another 5.15 named Es Pontas in Mallorca that’s set above water (Noble 2016). This way, it can be a free solo climb that pushes physical strength, but it still doesn’t hold much fear to it. Along with setting deep water routes, Chris Sharma has also competed in Piscobloc competitions, a comp specifically for deep water solo climbs. His first time competing, he won with a breeze completing the route twice while his competitor only made it up 2/3 of the way (“Chris Sharma”). He loved this sport so much that he brought the competition into the U.S. in Park City, Utah. Chris Sharma puts so much heart and soul into his sport, yet seems to do it with incredible ease at the same time.

But then there is Alex Honnold. A free solo climber who appears to have “nerves of steel, infused with Kevlar, and then mixed with cast iron for good measure” according to writer, Nicholas McDonald. Honnold climbs walls that are thousands of feet tall without any sort of protection. Instead of bringing a rope, he will simply just bring his shoes and sometimes his chalk bag if he remembers it (McDonald 2016). The climbs he completes aren’t on any levels qualified as “easy” climbs either. One of the recent climbs he had completed was El Capitan in Yosemite. This climb is nearly three thousand feet high and rated as a 5.13, yet he managed to solo climb the behemoth in just four hours (McDonald 2016 & Synnot 2017). Nicholas McDonald finds Alex Honnold as a strong inspiration because as we are all just sitting here reading this paper, Honnold is out finding the next big project that’s hard enough with ropes, yet he is completing them without that aid.

Most people would just assume that Alex Honnold is probably crazy because of his hobby of tempting death all the time, but an article written by J.B. Mackinnon, The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber, shows what’s really going on inside his head. A cognitive neurologist, Jane Joseph, would proceed to perform a MRI on Honnold to see how his brain reacts to different things. What they were looking at was the amygdala which will sometimes be referenced as “the brain’s fear center” (Mackinnon 2016). They set him into the machine and showed pictures that should cause high arousal such as “corpses with their facial features bloodily reorganized; a toilet choked with feces; a woman shaving herself, Brazilian style; and two invigorating mountain-climbing scenes (Mackinnon 2016). For a control, they picked a high-thrill seeker that was about the same age as Alex Honnold and did the same test on him. The result came out to be quite interesting. The control high-thrill seeker displayed an active amygdala when the pictures were being shown, but the same could not be said about Honnold. His amygdala remained gray with no activity going on at all. All the scans show is that he is awake when he saw the pictures, but there was no reaction to them at all (Mackinnon 2016). Now Joseph says that no person is just born naturally with an amygdala like his, it has to be developed and trained to ignore responses like the pictures. This means, that Alex Honnold has trained himself to not fear his climbing and makes it possible for him to stand on the wall, thousands of feet tall, and feel completely calm.

Noble’s interview with Chris Sharma shows that he has completely some amazing feats in his time as a climber. He ascended the first ever 5.15, brought deep water solo climbing back to us, and does all of this with relative ease. Sharma says that he never trains like many athletes do today. He simply enjoys climbing and will go out when he can to conquer a new problem. Yet even when he takes a month or two off, he can still manage to come back and win competitions, again, quite easily (Noble 2016). This is where Chris Sharma starts to drift away from just being a world star climber, to a living legend. The only thing he doesn’t have is the nerves of steel that Honnold has. Sharma stated that he could never take the risk of free solo climbing, which is exactly why he got so into deep water solo climbing. It gives the freedom of free soloing but takes out the fear factor.

In the end, both of these climbers are extremely skilled but Chris Sharma is, in the end, the better climber. He has been able to do some insane climbs that Honnold could not be able to do which means, all the climbs Alex Honnold has done, Chris Sharma could do them too. He won’t do them because of the risk of death if he fails in which Honnold has the advantage, but if Sharma really wanted to, he could do them. He will go out to climb and warm up on a 5.13 then proceed to complete a 5.15 later that day (Noble 2016). Just a reminder, the three-thousand-foot wall that Honnold climbed, El Capitan, was also just a 5.13. This could just be Sharma’s warm up for the day. Alex Honnold has his fear under lock and key for sure, but Chris Sharma has the superior skill which is the final decider for climbing.