A great article on Alex Honnold, the man considered to be the world’s greatest free-solo climber (no ropes or protective gear) and how he manages to climb without giving in to the natural instinct of fear.
Recently a group of scientists took MRI scans of Honnold’s brain while he viewed images intended to stimulate the amygdala, the part of the brain that is related to our fear response. What they found was that Honnold’s amygdala was largely inactive due to repeated exposure to and suppression of his sense of fear.
One by one, acts that had seemed outrageous to him began to seem not so crazy: soloing moves in which he hangs only by his fingers, for example, with his feet swinging in the open air, or, as he did in June on a notorious route called The Complete Scream, climbing ropeless up a pitch that he had never ascended before. In 12 years of free solos, Honnold has broken holds, had his feet slip, gotten off-route into unknown terrain, been surprised by animals like birds and ants, or just suffered “that fraying at the edges, you know, where you’ve just been up in the void too long.” But because he managed to deal with these problems, he gradually dampened his anxieties about them.
This is an interesting read about a remarkable person, especially the fact he was willing to be a guinea pig for these scientists to gain a better understanding of how our brains process and retain information.
UPDATE: The first 30 seconds of this video is a perfect example of why people are curious about his lack of fear.