Talking with author/climber Mark Synnott earlier this week about his new book, “The Impossible Climb: Alex Honnold, El Capitan and the Climbing Life,” I was touched by something vaguely familiar. Vaguely, and weirdly, because the book is about one of the most audacious physical and psychological feats of our time: Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan, a 3,000-foot near-sheer rockface in Yosemite National Park — without any form of protection to save him should he slip from one of the wall’s precarious microscopic holds. What could possibly be familiar about that?
It wasn’t hard to figure out why the 250 or so Broughton High School International Baccalaureate students were so taken with elite climber Mark Synnott’s message earlier this afternoon.
One, he was talking about the remote and curious nooks of the world his “job” as a professional climber has taken him. And there was his stint as founder and president of the Crazy Kids Club of America.
Synnott was giving the Broughton students a preview of the talk he’ll give this evening at 6:30 p.m. at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.
Synnott has been part of The North Face’s elite climbing team for 17 of his 43 years. At first, he was primarily motivated by the climbing. But he quickly discovered something interesting about every place he went, no matter how remote it was.
“There were people there,” says Synnott, whose home base is in Jackson, N.H. “Everywhere I went, there were people.”
He quickly became just as intrigued by the people as the climbing.
In the Musandam Peninsula at the Straight of Hormuz, for instance. Accessible only by boat — and then a challenge considering the peninsula is notable for its 2,000-foot rock faces that jut out of the straight — the inhabitants speak a unique language based on Persian and Hindi but that borrows from Spanish, French, English and other languages. No one, not even the residents themselves, know how they got there.
“In one village, everyone had the same last name,” Synnott said.
Then there were the two gentlemen they encountered on camels in the Sahara desert of northern Chad. The pair were returning from a salt run to Libya. When the pair saw the strangers in the four-wheel drive vehicles, one quickly dismounted and began milking his camel.
“It’s a custom in many of these areas to give your guest something,” Synnott explained. As the man presented the climbers with a tin of fresh camel milk, Synnott quickly thumbed through his Lonely Planet Guide to see what it had to say about drinking unpasteurized camel milk.
The recommendation? “Not advisable.”
“It was a bad scene,” Synnott said of the aftermath. “Nobody died, but we wished we had.”
Then there was the Crazy Kids Club of America. The club, of which boyhood friend and Tour de France cyclist Tyler Hamilton was also a member, involved crazy stunts that Synnott would dream up. Complete the stunt and and you’d get a cardboard Burger King crown bearing the image of a kid jumping off a cliff.
“We were really into pole vaulting,” Synnott said by way of example. “Only not for height, for distance. We’d pole vault over these icy rivers in the winter. The bigger kids, we’d just barely make it,” he said, a smile beginning to creep across his face. “The little kids wouldn’t make it.”
Synnott will share more stories from the remote corners of the globe tonight at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, 111 W. Jones St., Raleigh . General admission is free, reserved seats at $10, all tickets must be reserved online by going here.
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Read more about Mark Synnott’s adventures here.