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When I asked when he had last fallen while rehearsing the route, he replied that he had slipped off the crux just two days before his free solo.He’d been distracted, he said, and climbing too casually.“I certainly thought about falling from the crux—I thought about what that would mean,” he said.“Because there are a couple of little ledges under it, so I thought maybe you’d stick the ledge.

A soloist clinging to such holds is pulled by gravity toward the ground, but also outward, like a barn door that swings open on its own weight. The crux is located about eighteen hundred feet above the ground.“I think ninety-nine per cent of climbers get terrified up there, even when they’re on a rope,” Trotter said. It’s the mental strength of feeling secure when you know that some of those footholds are _notoriously _slippery.

The most serious sections are usually described with a word of dude-speak: “sketchy.” Honnold had to climb steep sheets of glassy rock, on holds that would appear nonexistent to the untrained eye.

As unglamorous as such climbing is, it represents a new level of rigor for the free soloist.

Yet even the easiest route up El Cap, called Freerider, involves difficulties far more sustained than those Honnold encountered on Half Dome: there are long cracks, leaning out over the void, that are relentlessly exhausting to climb and that provided the most striking images of the ascent.

(A National Geographic team documented his solo.) But the cracks are not the worst.

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