Everyone gape in completely acceptable awe over Alex Honnold, a man who recently completed the most dangerous rope-free ascension in history when he climbed the Freerider route of El Capitan. This geological formation (often erroneously referred to as a mountain) sits in Yosemite National Park, and is well-known to climbers around the world–but fellow nerds probably know it best as the mountain that Captain Kirk tries to scale at the start of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Kirk’s free-solo ascent in Trek V is not a choice that his companions take lightly. On a camping trip with Doctor McCoy and a newly-restored Mr. Spock (who is still recovering memories from that time that McCoy carried his soul around post-Wrath of Khan), Captain Kirk decides that he will climb El Capitan. McCoy waits below, viewing the scene through binoculars and nervously talking to himself about how his irresponsible BFF is “playing games with life.” Eventually, Spock rockets up to Kirk’s level wearing a pair of levitation boots to ask him about the purpose of the risky feat. Kirk tells him that he climbs the mountain because it’s there.
He then slips and falls, and it is only Spock’s speedy use of the boots that saves Kirk’s life.
Alex Honnold, on the other hand, spent a solid year training for his historic moment. According to National Geographic, Honnold did the climb once with ropes to make certain of every twist and turn, and marked the thing out with chalk. He had a special ledge installed above the door of his van in order to practice hanging by his fingers. He is an expert at keeping his fears at bay, so much so that scientists have studied his brain to learn more about fear:
“With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” [Honnold] said. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”
He completed the ascent in just under four hours. Nearly three-thousand meters in four freaking hours.
Which is to say, when Kirk decided to climb El Capitan for the heck of it, as a guy who clearly did not train every day of the week for said challenge, it’s really no wonder a Vulcan had to rescue him from certain death. Perhaps Kirk would have done well not to “challenge the rock… challenge death”—as William Shatner himself so succinctly put it in an interview on the set of Star Trek V. (Please recall that Shatner directed The Final Frontier and also helped to develop the story for its screenplay.) Then again, Shatner also believes that people who climb mountains are attempting to have passionate affairs with said mountains. According to the interview, at least.
On that note… you can all assume that if I ever stop dropping this video into posts without warning, I am most certainly dead:
But wait… Kirk isn’t actually climbing a mountain. El Capitan is not a mountain.