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The Impossible Climb

Alex Honnold, El Capitan, and the Climbing Life
Written by: Mark Synnott
Narrated by: Mark Deakins
Length: 12 hrs and 59 mins
5 out of 5 stars (12 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Instant National Best Seller

New York Times Monthly Best Seller

One of the 10 Best Books of March - Paste Magazine

A deeply reported insider perspective of Alex Honnold’s historic achievement and the culture and history of climbing.

“One of the most compelling accounts of a climb and the climbing ethos that I've ever read.” (Sebastian Junger)

In Mark Synnott’s unique window on the ethos of climbing, his friend Alex Honnold’s astonishing “free solo” ascent of El Capitan’s 3,000 feet of sheer granite is the central act. When Honnold topped out at 9:28 a.m. on June 3, 2017, having spent fewer than four hours on his historic ascent, the world gave a collective gasp. The New York Times described it as “one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever.” 

Synnott’s personal history of his own obsession with climbing since he was a teenager - through professional climbing triumphs and defeats and the dilemmas they render - makes this a  deeply reported, enchanting revelation about living life to the fullest. What are we doing if not an impossible climb?

Synnott delves into a raggedy culture that emerged decades earlier during Yosemite’s Golden Age, when pioneering climbers like Royal Robbins and Warren Harding invented the sport that Honnold would turn on its ear. Painting an authentic, wry portrait of climbing history and profiling Yosemite heroes and the harlequin tribes of climbers known as the Stonemasters and the Stone Monkeys, Synnott weaves in his own experiences with poignant insight and wit: Tensions burst on the mile-high northwest face of Pakistan’s Great Trango Tower; fellow climber Jimmy Chin miraculously persuades an official in the Borneo jungle to allow Honnold’s first foreign expedition, led by Synnott, to continue; armed bandits accost the same trio at the foot of a tower in the Chad desert....

The Impossible Climb is an emotional drama driven by people exploring the limits of human potential and seeking a perfect, choreographed dance with nature. Honnold dared far beyond the ordinary, beyond any climber in history. But this story of sublime heights is really about all of us. Who doesn’t need to face down fear and make the most of the time we have?

©2019 Mark Synnott (P)2019 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

“A thrills-and-chills - and occasional spills - view of the mad heroes of free climbing.... Fans of mountaineering will find this a winner.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Readers will pick up this for Honnold but will be equally engrossed by Synnott’s own adventures and writing.” (Library Journal)

“Yes, The Impossible Climb is the gripping story of the most perilous rock ascent of all time - but it’s much more than that. In seamlessly fusing memoir, reporting, social history, climbing lore, technical expertise, and intimate glimpses of his tribe, Mark Synnott has given us a kind of epic of life on the edge. Even readers who have never set toe to rock are going to find themselves glued to this insanely brilliant account of extreme athletic ambition and endurance.” (David Laskin, author of The Children’s Blizzard)

“Bracing...brings Honnold’s epic, rope-free ascent to vivid life.” (Harper's Bazaar)

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Ned
  • 2019-03-14

great listen

I really enjoyed listening to this book. The narrator was good enough and the story was great. This book really puts honnolds free solo of el cap into context by providing a very entertaining and deeper history of modern rock climbing told first hand through the authors stories and personal experiences. There are details in this book that helps the reader to understand Honnold and his climbs without them being sensationalized. For example, the details about the whole amygdala thing are explained much better than in the movie Free Solo.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-03-26

Missed opportunity...

This book could have been better if it contained more about Alex Honnold and less about the author. Alex Honnold was preparing for and performing one of the most significant climbs in history, a climb that seems to have transcended the sport itself. To chronicle this, Mr. Synnott fills a large portion of his book with a conglomeration of articles and talks from his past, as well as common rock climbing history already detailed in many other books and videos. Although Mr. Synnott has pre-knowledge of the climb months in advance, and he has access to Alex before and after the climb, his writing about the climb in the last chapter seems shallow and adds little insight, especially if you have already seen the film. It really feels like a missed opportunity by the author, and it left me as a reader wanting more.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Matthew
  • 2019-04-06

The book should be called "Climbing Life"

The book is ok, but the title is misleading and simply clickbait. Mark Synnott writes more about other events in his life and the life of other climbers than he does Alex Honnold. Feels like the author is just trying to capitalize on Alex's current mainstream popularity. If this book was called "A climbers life" and looked at the lives of people who became world-class climbers it could have been a better book.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • G
  • 2019-08-12

Good book but ....

Good book and good story. However Mark spends too much time accounting for his own adventures in the Trango towers that have very little to do with El Cap. The book seems an excuse to write about those experiences in Pakistan. Why not writing a full book dedicated to that? After all the story of Trango and Alex Lowe is extremely interesting in its own right.

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  • Anthony
  • 2019-07-12

great listening

cool history and back stories of many climbing names, some you know, some are little known
great back story about Alex h and some information on what drives him

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  • Colby Szatva
  • 2019-07-10

Story is mostly about the author, not Alex H.

Such a large % of this book is devoted to the life story of author Mark Synnott that it seems like he’s just (parasitically) using Alex Honnold’s achievement as a means to tell the world “the Mark Synnott story”. Very disappointed reader.

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  • Tom
  • 2019-06-23

Cool stories, definitely not lame

Insightful telling of Mark’s experience with this climb. As a newb climber and aspiring alpinist I appreciated the use of the lingo. I could see not enjoying this book as hard as I did if you weren’t into this kind of thing. That said the last hour of this audiobook had me hangboarding in my basement. Loved it, nice work Mark.

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  • ian
  • 2019-06-16

A great listen

Mark Synnott is a great writer and was perfectly positioned and qualified to write this book. If you’ve seen the movie Free Solo, and you should, you will want to read / listen to this. It is gripping and informative whether or not you are a climber. Well read as well. Highly recommended.

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  • Wesley Cline
  • 2019-06-15

Best climbing book I have read

This book had a lot of great stories about climbing, and I really enjoyed it. It is very well written. The author is not only a great climber, but a great writer as well. Highly recommended!

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  • John F McCauley
  • 2019-06-02

John McCauley

Wow, That was fun. A legendary tale written by a great storyteller. Mark Synott’s experience as a climber and first hand perspective on Alex Honnold’s free solo makes for a great listen. The history of climbing & description of the climbing ethos were really helpful in setting the stage for a first hand account of Mountain climbing’s moon landing. Nice performance by Mark Dawkins as well.

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  • Sarah Parmer Vickers
  • 2019-05-29

Really a great climbing book

Definitely one of the better climbing books out there inline with The Push and Alone on a wall. Very cool inside look at not only Alex Honnold but a bunch of different climbers. Very well done.