An Atheist Rock Climber Who Doesn’t Use a Harness

I’ve done a few posts on this site about Chris Johnson and his forthcoming multimedia book about atheists and what gives them joy and meaning in life.

When I met Chris a couple of months ago, we were talking about some of his upcoming subjects and he told me he was particularly excited to meet a rock climber who didn’t use a harness (a.k.a. “Free soloing“).

I think my response was something like, “AHHH! You mean that AMAZING guy who was profiled by Lara Logan on 60 Minutes?!” (I insert URLs in my speech now.)

Yep, that was him. Alex Honnold. Turned out he was on the cover of National Geographic, too (May, 2011):

In the segment below, Honnold talks about going to church as a child (“just a bunch of old people eating stale wafers”) and the non-religious “sublime bliss” he feels when he’s climbing a beautiful mountain. It’s an incredibly inspiring clip:

(via The Atheist Book)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Mark H

    From the Wikipedia page you linked to on Free Solo Climbing:
    “Some high-profile climbers have been killed free soloing, including John Bachar, Derek Hersey, Michael Reardon, Vik Hendrickson, Robert Steele, Dwight Bishop, Jimmy Ray Forrester, Jimmy Jewell, Tony Wilmott, John Taylor”

    If any professional sport had that many deaths, you can bet it would be outlawed.

    • HughInAz

      How would you outlaw it? Plant guards at the base of every rock face? You’d also have to cover tall buildings, antennas, pylons etc.

    • Up Above the Clouds

      I am a former professional mountaineer and climber. It is not outlawed and has never been close to being outlawed. And for you who never dare to challenge yet seek to draw unfounded conclusions, you have no idea what it is to be on the face of a cliff, the apex of the climb or the top of the mountain.

      And yes, professional mountaineer means I made my living and made money as a climber. I spent 18 seasons on Denali, eight seasons on Mt. Elbrus and have summited three 8000+ meter Himalayan peaks.

      • The Other Weirdo

         So, you’re a free soloist, then?

        • Up Above the Clouds

          I appreciate your question, but unless you are “in the rock” you are only asking a regurgitated question based on limited understanding.

          I do not use such labels. I have lived in a vertical world and that world is still a part of me. Asking whether one is “such and such” means nothing and is just base sophistry in question form.

          Volumes have been written about life up above and none will ever get it, regardless of the writer. To be in the mountains, on the mountain is nothing you could appreciate until you have been there. And hiking a trail or two to a mild mountain summit simply is not the same thing.

    • Artor

      How many deaths have there been in pro football? NASCAR? Horse racing? I don’t think your statement holds water.

      • Thegoodman

        “If any professional sport* had that many deaths, you can bet it would be outlawed.”

        *That generates so little revenue.

  • The Other Weirdo

    That National Geographic cover page is gorgeous, but it makes me ill just looking at it. Heights, man. They creep me out.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      I’m ok with heights on a fear level. However, my ongoing vertigo issues make me loathe anything much higher than a standard ladder.

    • Sailor

       I am with you. That picture gives me the willies.

    • Helanna

      I’m NOT afraid of heights and looking at that picture is making me sick. O.o

      I think free soloists are completely crazy, but they have my utmost respect. 

  • Up Above the Clouds

    As a former professional mountaineer and an atheist, this makes me happy. And I present to you my former stomping grounds….

  • TnkAgn

    Being an atheist does not disqualify you from being a dumbshit.

    • Up Above the Clouds

      You are the prime example.

      You who live below the mountains and never experience what it is to risk everything to summit will never understand anything beyond your malls, franchise restaurants, obesity rates and mundane jobs that mean absolutely nothing. You die in vain. 

      We live. We truly live. And for a simpleton and gutless member of the LCD to call a mountaineer a “dumbs hit”….well sir, you are simply beyond hope. You just will never understand that we are better. We live. You simply take up space and oxygen.

      • Roger

        Perhaps we should give a salute to all the people who experience adventure and do use safety equipment. This man may be brave, he may be skilled, but he is also not smart to let his sense of adventure take priority over safeguards.

        I’d like to see a follow up story on this in 5 years, to see if he’s still alive. Then people like you can look back and say “At least he lived his life to the fullest while you stay alive with your experience-killing safety equipment!”
        (BTW, I am not the person you replied to.)

      • TnkAgn

         You may be just the dumbshit kind of atheist I was thinking of.

  • Sunny Day

    I hope he’s an organ donor.

    • Artor

      I don’t think his organs will be much use if they have to be collected with a spatula.

      • coyotenose

         I hope he’s a pancake donor.

  • Roger

    No harness? So he’s an atheist, and he’s an idiot.

    • ImRike

       It’s his life, isn’t it? If he wants to live this way, it’s his decision. If he wants to die this way, it’s his decision. It’s not what I would want to do, but I am convinced that what he does is much more exciting and fulfilling than calling somebody an idiot!

      • TnkAgn

         No. If he’s this self-absorbed, and is in his life for only his own jollies, he is an idiot. And a dumb-shit, and frankly, irresponsible to his fellow humans.


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