Over the weekend Alex Honnold surprised us with a totally free solo of El Cap, taking on the route Freerider at 5.12d.
Didn't he already do this on El Cap? No, he had previously rope soloed the nose but used aid gear and/or rope pendulums in places. This ascent was done entirely on his own, no gear, no ropes at all.
Why is this significant? Because it pushed the limits of free soloing to a level never before realized. Honnold's previous free solo achievements, not to mention those done by any other climber in history, were not as bold both in terms of difficulty of the route and the overall length.With each increment in difficulty, the chance of him failing on a move increases. With each added pitch, his fatigue increases and there are more places where he could make a mistake or find an unexpected anything that would deny any further progress or cause a slip and fall.
Some people are calling this the greatest achievement in climbing history, others are calling it the greatest sporting feat of a generation, if not more. The former is certainly a strong argument. The latter forces us to decide what climbing is and how it compares to other human activities. It's certainly an athletic endeavor but is it a sport? I'm sure the coming films, photo galleries, books and speaking tours will help us better decide where we personally stand.