Nat Geo Explains How Jimmy Chin Filmed Free Solo

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We’re nearing the release of the new climbing film Free Solo, which documents Alex Honnold’s climb up El Capitan without using ropes. That was a herculean display of skill and strength that perhaps no one else in the world could have pulled off. But in order to make a film of that historic ascent, there had to be other climbers on the rock face. So just how exactly did a team of cameramen, directed by none other than Jimmy Chin, capture all of the impressive footage?

In a new article that appeared in National Geographic magazine and has now been posted online, writer Peter Gwin sits down with Chin and Honnold to find out how this groundbreaking documentary was made. Needless to say, in order to capture the footage he would need, Chin –– who is a world class climber in his own right –– would bring on an entire team of amazing climbers to assist with the project. But those climbers needed more skills than just being able to ascend El Cap quickly and safely. They also needed to know how to handle a camera and have a keen eye for cinematography too.

When setting out to film the project, Chin established a set of rules for capturing Honnold’s daring climb. In the article he talks about those rules and how they set the film up for success. A big part of establishing those guidelines was to help separate the fact that Honnold was the filmmaker’s good friend, which made this potentially disastrous climb up El Cap all the more difficult. One misplaced hand or foot on the part of Alex, and Jimmy could be filming his friend plummeting to his death.

Fortunately that didn’t happen, and instead we’ve been given what some are calling one of the greatest climbing films of all time. I have yet to see it myself, but judging from the trailer below, it looks like it is going to be quite a compelling piece of cinema.

To learn more about how this entire project came together, and how Chin and Honnold worked as a team to make it happen, read the full Nat Geo article here. Then get ready to head out to a theater and watch Free Solo for yourself.

Kraig Becker