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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

Critic Reviews

“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)

“Enthralling...gripping.... Much more than just an account of Honnold's mind-bending climb: it is a story of the complex friendship between the two men.... This compelling book reads like a thriller as it ranges over the rarefied world of extreme climbing. It is a portrait of fascinating people and of an extraordinary place, the Yosemite Valley.” (The Daily Mail)

“With the possible exception of the lunar landings, free-soloing El Capitan may rank as one of the most audacious - and terrifying - things a human being has ever done. Synnott’s narrative plasters you on a 3,000-foot granite cliff and doesn’t let you go until the climb is done. It is one of the most compelling accounts of a climb and the climbing ethos that I’ve ever read.” (Sebastian Junger, author of TribeWar, and The Perfect Storm)  

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

What listeners say about The Impossible Climb

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

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.

9 people found this helpful

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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.

8 people found this helpful

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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.

7 people found this helpful

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Title doesn't match the book.

I've listened to quite a bit of this book so far, however a lot of the book is about climbing history and then leads itself into Alex Honnold. The book title gave me a different impression.

4 people found this helpful

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  • G
  • 08-12-19

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.

2 people found this helpful

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Gives the context

Gives loads of leads to follow up. It’s not a bad starter book to this world.

1 person found this helpful

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great read for climbers and non-climbers alike

What I loved about this book is that it’s much more than the story of Honnold’s El Cap free solo. I thoroughly enjoyed Synnott’s robust exploration of the development of climbing in the latter half of the 20th c. and his telling of his own climbing story, both of which he interweaves very nicely with Honnold’s own story. The result is that Honnold’s feat — and his character as a climber — are much more richly portrayed because situated within the broader context of the climbing community and its history. Great stuff.

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history of climbing from the shadows of greatness

Mark has been through some interesting moments in climbing, but has a sort of bridesmaid, never a bride situation. while I expect he truly is as close to honnold as he states, it seems odd to leverage their friendship into this book. go see the movie, maybe read Alex or Tommy's books instead

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Gripped

Truly one of the greatest physical achievements in history... and so much more. 11/10 recommend

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very good

i like this audiobook. i think it is great for the new fans of climbing.