Some people are challenged to write novels, experiment with new painting techniques, or climb mountains. But few go to the limit of rock climbing free solo (without ropes or safety gear). That’s the phenomenal feat that is depicted in National Geographic Film’s documentary, “Free Solo,” coming to Harbor Theater Nov. 15-22.
On Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m., Harbor Theater will host a special screening of “Free Solo” with guest speaker Henry Barber, a legendary rock climber who, in the 1970s, tested his own limits by free solo climbing Sentinel Rock in Yosemite near where the movie was shot. Barber has graciously agreed to introduce the film, explaining a few of the technical aspects of free solo climbing so that we will better understand it, and stay afterwards to answer questions (of which there should be many!) Cider, coffee and donuts will be served starting at 1:30 p.m. The film is rated PG-13, and runs 97 minutes.
“Free Solo,” with staggering camera work by world-renowned photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin, focuses on Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite's 3,000-foot high El Capitan, completing one of the greatest feats in rock climbing history. The documentary is both an edge-of-your seat thriller and an inspiring portrait of an athlete.
Henry Barber was rock climbing more than 300 days a year during the early 1970s. In a retrospective article in 2008, Mark Synnott of Climbing Magazine said that in the 1970s, Barber was “perhaps the world’s best free climber, period.”
Barber says, “when you climb free solo you are on edge mentally and physically, and nothing enters your head except complete focus…it’s an exhilarating feeling at that moment, and then euphoria sets in when it’s all over.”
Why did he do it? Barber says he always wanted to be challenged….to go where nobody else wanted to go, to push himself to the limit, to see what he could accomplish, to find the edge of what is possible.
And that he did….in an article in California’s Adventure Sports Journal, Chris Van Leuven says that Barber’s 1973 free solo climb of Steck-Salanthe route on 1600-foot Sentinel Rock [Yosemite] was one of the earliest and most difficult feats in free solo rock climbing.
Barber and his partner, Sally Walbridge, live in Boothbay Harbor six months of the year and near North Conway, New Hampshire in winter. While he travels often as a motivational speaker, he still does rock climbing near his home in New Hampshire, and this year, tackling new ascents in Cuba, Italy, Bermuda, Iceland and Scotland.