41 years, Australia

Daily Mountain

41 years, Australia

3 months ago

Rock Stars: A Day of Climbing With 'Free Solo' Star Alex Honnold and Jared Leto

The seemingly superhuman climber and the Oscar-winning actor-musician have struck an unlikely friendship, and they invited The Hollywood Reporter to join a recent wall session: "I'm getting my ass kicked, which is great."

Alex Honnold, star of the Oscar-contending doc Free Solo, is perched precariously halfway up an 85-foot wall. The seemingly superhuman climber who scaled a 3,000-foot sheer vertical wall in Yosemite National Park without any safety equipment is wearing a harness and tied into one end of a rope. In the unlikely event that he falls, the man on the other end, Jared Leto, will catch him. The wall arcs up and out at a steep angle — what rock climbers call overhanging — so a climber's body is nearly horizontal to the ground. When it's his turn to ascend the wall, Leto, breathing hard, is undeterred. "Nice, Jared, c'mon dude," Honnold, 33, shouts, doling out lengths of slack in the rope. "Stay with it, I'm with you." 

Rock Stars: A Day of Climbing With 'Free Solo' Star Alex Honnold and Jared Leto
From left: Honnold, filmmakers Vasarhelyi and husband Chin, and Leto. Photo credit: Shawn Corrigan

Unlike the many people in Hollywood who have reached out to Honnold since the release of Free Solo, Leto, who fronts the rock band 30 Seconds to Mars and won a best supporting actor Oscarfor 2013's Dallas Buyers Club, has been climbing with him since 2015. Leto was working on The Great Wide Open, a series of five short films about national parks and the men and women exploring them, including Honnold. Shortly after they met, the pro climber took Leto up a classic mountain route called Matthes Crest northeast of Yosemite Valley. It was one of Leto's first climbs, and they stayed out into the night. "We were just so psyched," says Honnold. Leto, 47, remembers scrambling along a thin blade of granite toward the summit and nearly falling off. "There was one part where I grabbed on the end of a rope during one really slabby section," he says. Leto continued to climb, and his friendship with Honnold grew. "I'm getting my ass kicked," the actor says, "which is great."

Leto makes a stealth appearance in Free Solo. Early on, filmmaker Jimmy Chin's camera lingers on an unidentified man's back as a disembodied voice (both belonging to Leto) asks Honnold if he would ever consider free-soloing the 3,000-foot granite monolith that is El Capitan, the mecca of the rock-climbing world. Honnold, of course, goes on to do just that, his ascent of El Capitan's Freerider route without ropes or harnesses ranking as a nearly unparalleled feat of physical achievement. On Feb. 24, the National Geographic-sponsored team that captured the epic journey on film, including Chin and his co-director and wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, might be going home with an Oscar statuette.

Rock Stars: A Day of Climbing With 'Free Solo' Star Alex Honnold and Jared Leto
Leto gets his turn at the overhang as Honnold anchors and yells encouragement from below. Photo credit: Jimmy Chin

Free Solo has brought a slew of opportunities to Honnold. "It's like a snowball going downhill," he says. "And the film hasn't even hit streaming yet." In November, Honnold struck a multiyear brand ambassador partnership with car company Rivian, which considers Honnold a "superuser" because he lived in a van for so long. Rivian, which markets itself as the manufacturer of the "world's first Electric Adventure Vehicles," consults with Honnold on design. On Oscar night, Honnold is expected to show up in a Rivian R1T All-Electric pickup truck — and sport a custom-made tuxedo that The North Face is having made just for the occasion. (Honnold still uses the van that appeared in Free Solo for overnight climbing trips with his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless.) He has another ambassadorship deal with Beyond Meat, a company that makes plant-based products that resemble meat. He also has shares in the company, which could yield dividends when it stages its IPO soon. His nonprofit, The Honnold Foundation, which works on solar energy and aid projects for impoverished communities in the U.S. and abroad, has seen an uptick in attention and partnerships as well.

Black Diamond and Maxim sponsor his climbing gear. A company called Stride provides him with health insurance. Italian climbing company La Sportiva offers shoes, and Utah-based Goal Zero works with him to market solar chargers for phones. He gets paid handsomely to speak to investors and corporations, often repurposing a Ted Talk he gave last year about "mastery." He'll soon become part-owner of a national chain of climbing gyms, a speculative bid on an expected uptick of interest in rock climbing. Though he's avoided the big-time exposure that comes with big-time sports brands, Honnold will almost certainly make seven figures this year and next. Says his manager at RXR Sports, Jonathan Retseck, "For rock climbing, that's pretty good."

***

One recent morning, before Leto arrived at the Sender One climbing gym in South L.A., Honnold reflected on this new phase as a half-dozen people snuck by to snap pictures of him. Hollywood, too, has shown intense interest: Honnold was game when Edward Norton's agent got in touch about the two going climbing. (They haven't yet.) He met Brie Larson, who also has climbed and was training for Captain Marvel, at an Antonio Banderas screening. "I loved Zorro as a kid, and [Banderas] was talking about one of the scenes where he was climbing on a beam and forgot to clip in, and he was like, 'It's like free soloing,' " recalls Honnold. "It was pretty classic!"

It may come as no surprise that the man who scaled El Cap without ropes is unfazed by the pressures of Hollywood. At the climbing gym, as Honnold completes a difficult boulder problem — just slightly harder than the famous karate-kick move shown in Free Solo — he says, "I don't think any of it is that surprising if you think about it rationally. The scheduled time, the interviews, the publicists, being handled and stuff — it doesn't feel like a healthy lifestyle, but that's fine."

Of the awards-season rush, "It's obviously not how I would choose to spend my life," he says, "and the idea that freakin' actors do this for their whole careers blows my mind because it's not that fun, you know? It's really cool to meet these people that you've been inspired by, but you don't actually hang out. It's not quality time." Leto, who walks into the gym wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and black pants, adds that he lent him a tux for the Producers Guild Awards. "He could barely move in the thing, and the shoes I think were probably too small as well," notes Leto.

Rock Stars: A Day of Climbing With 'Free Solo' Star Alex Honnold and Jared Leto
A shot of Honnold and Leto on a previous climb of Yosemite by Chin. Photo credit: Jimmy Chin

***

Since their first meeting in Yosemite, Honnold and Leto have climbed in Colorado, Nevada and in other places in California. "For the amount of time he's been doing it, he's actually phenomenal," Chin says, bestowing on the Oscar winner an even greater honor: "He's a climber."

Later, Leto, who has put on 10 pounds since playing Dallas Buyers Club's transgender drug addict, shares that the physical change is part of preparation for his role as the archvillain in Morbius, the Marvel spinoff about the vampiric character. "The world's most fearsome predator," Leto quips. Warming up on a few moderately easy routes that snake up alongside Sender One's imposing overhang, Leto adds that he hopes to pack on 10 more pounds: "It's great because I go from being very sick and very infirm to being strong and monstrous" in the movie. The friends have climbed at indoor gyms whenever the Las Vegas-based pro climber has been in town to promote Free Solo, and Honnold has been careful not to push Leto too far out of respect for his actorly obligations. "Jared's climbing is not the most important thing for him, obviously," he says, adding: "I think it would be cool to do stunts — I want to wind up as Tom Cruise's stunt double, to do climbing in a movie. Don't you think that'd be fun?" One of his early climbing heroes, a well-known Yosemite legend named Ron Kauk, climbed for Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger and for Cruise in Mission: Impossible II.

Understandably, most people still want to talk about Honnold's ascent of Freerider, even though his climbing career has moved on in some ways, including a record speed ascent of another route on El Cap and an expedition to Antarctica. "But then I spend all day, every day, talking about the Freerider climb, so in some ways I haven't moved past it at all," he says. "It's the first time in my life I've had that kind of weird disconnect between what I'm working on versus what I'm talking about."

He hadn't climbed outside in more than a month, and yet now, as he moves from bouldering to a few rounds on the hang bar to the overhanging wall, he seems content. "I feel surprisingly strong for the fact that I live in hotels now," he says. Honnold and a friend have been toying with the idea of attempting a route somewhere on the Trango Towers, a massif of 20,000-feet-high granite peaks in northern Pakistan that has attracted top climbers for years. "I just want to get to the top of some of the most striking towers in the world," he says. "Honestly though, we'll see if it even happens because of scheduling."

In other ways, Honnold's life post-Free Solo has mellowed. He's happily ensconced with McCandless at the Vegas home they purchased during filming of the movie. They climb together often. Co-director Vasarhelyi points out that Honnold has successfully managed to scale this emotional challenge. "They found love," she says. "It's a Shakespearean story, the little engine that could." Honnold says the emotional drama of the documentary belies a more serene domesticity that he thoroughly enjoys. "You only see a few minutes onscreen, so it doesn't show that you're living together in harmony," he says. "It only shows the moments of tension around this big challenge." Still, it seems evident that conquering the solo climb has freed up something deeper in Honnold. Whereas in the movie Honnold was demonstrably uncomfortable when hugging his friend Tommy Caldwell's kids, now he struts around the gym proudly holding Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi's daughter, Marina, in his arms. They call him "Uncle Alex."

Later, as he belays Leto, who scrambles up another route, a friend stops by to chat. Honnold asks about the friend's romantic relationship. "It's casual," the friend says. "Is it consistent?" Honnold asks, and the friend nods. Honnold thinks on this for half a second. "Consistently casual is still consistent," Honnold says, smiling. "After three great years with Sanni, I feel qualified to give relationship advice." He says he wants a family and kids of his own one day. "Are you going to let them climb?" the friend asks. Honnold doesn't hesitate. "I'm sure my kids will grow up underneath the moonboard in my home." For someone who has explored the most extreme corners of what's physically and psychologically possible, Honnold seems keen to resume a life of normal pleasures. "As soon as the Oscars are over, he's going to be itching to get in a van with Sanni and go on a climbing trip and life as usual," says Retseck. Leto reaches the top of the wall. Honnold brings him down, they laugh, and move on to the next route.

by Scott Johnson

This article first appeared on https://www.hollywoodreporter.com. The original can be read here.

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First Winter Ascent of Pik Pobeda in Siberia by Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger
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Sir Richard Branson 'seconds from death' on charity Mont Blanc climb
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Carlos Soria abandons his expedition on Mt Dhaulagiri
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Irish boy sets 'world record' by climbing highest North African peak in Morocco
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The Cholita Climbers of Bolivia Scale Mountains in Skirts
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Top-5 Climbing Books (Part One)
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Kim Hong-bin: without fingers onto Annapurna
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Season’s first summit on Mt Makalu: Chinese female climber scales the peak without oxygen
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7-Year-Old Becomes Youngest Girl to Hike Mount Kilimanjaro
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Search for top Bulgarian mountaineer missing in bid to reach Tibetan summit
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Summit route opens from Nepal side, 8 Sherpas scale Mt Everest
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Fingerless South Korean scales Mt Annapurna
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Meet The First All-Black US Group Set To Climb Mt Kilimanjaro
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A 10-year-old mountaineer scaled Mt Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak
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Eight-time Everest Summiter Pemba Sherpa Goes Missing in the Karakoram
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North Ridge of Latok I Finally Climbed After 40 Years
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Belongings recovered, Pemba Sherpa remains untraced
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Queen of Everest
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Mummified body of Russian climber found after 31 years on Mount Elbrus
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American climbers perform a record ski descent on Mt Lhotse
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Everest Climbing Permit: Expedition handling agency faces action for forgery
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Eiger’s Hardest Repeated by Zangerl and Larcher
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Carlos Soria Returns to Dhaulagiri for One More Try
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Freeride in Death Zone. Two Alpinist Will Ski From Annapurna
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Alex Honnold scales exterior of N.J.'s tallest apartment tower
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Kids Meet a Mountaineer
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200 foreigners to climb Mt Manaslu this autumn
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Foreign climbers stranded on Mt Manaslu
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France to impose daily cap of 214 climbers on Mont Blanc
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Dhaulagiri and Cho Oyu in one season
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Bold Attempt to Ski the Lhotse Couloir
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Climber Attacked With Crampon On Manaslu
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Team of blind climbers summit Mt Kilimanjaro
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Winter K2: Now or Never
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A Marine Vet Who Lost a Leg in a Helicopter Crash is About to Scale Everest
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Mugu Peaks in Nepal, new route climbed by Anna Torretta, Cecilia Buil, Ixchel Foord
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Tom Ballard Reaches Camp 1 on Nanga Parbat
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Polish Climber to Join K2 Expedition
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Maria Tolokonina and Nikolai Kuzovlev Win Combined Worlds in Moscow
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Mummified bodies of three climbers found in Mexico 59 years after they went missing
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Fabian Buhl, Alexander Huber Climb Choktoi Ri in Karakorum, Pakistan
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Nepali Climbers Scale Highest Peak in South America
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Mountaineers Carving New Route to Climb Nanga Parbat
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Urubko and Barnasse Target New Routes in Patagonia
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Sherpa Widows to Climb Everest to Inspire Single Women
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Colin O’Brady Becomes First Person to Cross Antarctica Solo
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Zabardast: Incredible Freeride Skiing in the Heart of the Karakorum
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Dueling Teams Ready to Attempt K2 in Winter
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Great Motivation: First Indoor Climb at 99!
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Interview: David Lama on His Lunag Ri Solo
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Big New Dolomites Winter Climb
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Winter 8000’ers: K2 Teams Unite
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Simone Moro to Put up a Surprise on Mt Manaslu this Winter
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Crossing Antarctica: How the Confusion Began and Where Do We Go From Here
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A New Film: Dreams of Himalaya
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Climber, 68, Rescued from Mount Hood after Whiteout
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Lonnie Dupre Aborts Mount Hunter Solo
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Sherpa Climbers Seek Social Security
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Climbers Shrug off Harsh Weather, Vow to Scale K2
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China To Cut Everest Climber Numbers To Clean Up World's Highest Peak
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Winter 2019: Simone Moro and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa Returned from 6400m
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Coedpoeth Mountaineer Leads Team to Summit of Himalayan Peak that Has Never Been Scaled Before
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Lonnie Dupre to Attempt First Solo Winter Ascent of Begguya (Mt. Hunter), Alaska
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David Lama Lunag Ri Solo Ascent Video
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Bodies of climbers found in Himalayas 30 years after they disappeared
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Ben Tibbetts Becomes Second Brit to Summit All 4,000m UIAA Alpine Peaks
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15-Year-Old Connor Herson Frees the Nose!
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Himjung in Nepal: Vitus Auer, Sebastian Fuchs, Stefan Larcher climb new route
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Adelaide Woman Could Become First in History to Complete Explorers' Grand Slam
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Everest North Side Goes Green
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Weather Wizards: High-Altitude Forecasting
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Latok I: Impossible Is Not Forever
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Graham Zimmerman and Chris Wright: First Ascent on Mount MacDonald
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'Warm' Ice in World's Highest Glacier
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Eight Climbs at 80 Years Old for Fundraising
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Incredible ‘Mountain Ghost’ Caught on Film Lurking at the Top of Irish Mountain
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Keita Kurakami Makes First All-Free Rope-Solo Ascent of the Nose
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Never-Seen Images from the First Ski Descent of Lhotse
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Gone but Not Forgotten: Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard
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Under Cyclone Fani Impact, 20 Tents Blown Off At Everest Camp
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Thousands raised for missing climbers
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Peruvian Climber Dies on Nepal's Mt Makalu
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Dodging Avalanches, Simone Moro Abandons Manaslu
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Mount Everest Weather Forecast Updates
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Melting Mount Everest glaciers reveal dead climbers' bodies: report
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Two Dead on Kangchenjunga
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Argentine Authorities Find Body Believed to be Spanish Climber Missing for 30 Years
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Bielecki and Berg Call Off Annapurna
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Climber Rescued After Breaking Leg in Avalanche on Mount Snowdon
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American Climber Dies from HAPE on Mt Ama Dablam
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Sixty Years Later, Russia Is Still Trying to Figure Out What Killed These Hikers
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Breaking: Weather Forecast Changes for the Worse on K2
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Breaking: Wrecked Tent and Avalanche Debris Spotted on Nanga Parbat
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Tom Ballard and Daniel Nardi Missing on Nanga Parbat; Rescue Operation Underway
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Updated: K2 and Nanga Parbat Action is On!
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Three killed, three injured in Lukla crash
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Snowstorm Kills Five Korean and Four Nepali Climbers
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‘Green Boots’: The Most Famous Body on Mt Everest
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Bodies of three mountain climbers recovered after last week's Banff avalanche
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Search called off for missing Himalayan climbers
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Malaysian Climber, Who Was Rescued Alive from Mt Annapurna, Dies in Singapore
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Malaysian climber missing on Mt Annapurna
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Hurricane Heading for Winter K2
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Everest 2019: New Route Attempt
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Winter K2 Wins Again: It’s Over for Pivtsov’s Team
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Bodies of Nardi and Ballard found on Pakistan's "Killer Mountain"
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Nanga Parbat: New Avalanche on Mummery Spur; Weather Hampers Rescue Effort
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Tributes to 'Incredible Mountaineer' Who Died During Ben Hope Climb
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Irish Professor Seamus Lawless Missing Near Balcony Area on Mt Everest
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