After Oscar win, what’s next for Las Vegas climbing couple?
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Aquaman star Jason Momoa stands on the Dolby Theatre stage in Los Angeles, holding that famous red envelope. At stake is the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
“And the Oscar goes to .”
Among the nominees is “Free Solo,” a dizzyingly compelling film about Las Vegas rock climber Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of the sheer El Capitan rock formation at Yosemite National Park.
The film is also about the anxieties of people who love Honnold, namely girlfriend Sanni McCandless, who struggles with the risks of such an endeavor.
If he falls, he will certainly die.
Her fear acts as a bridge between the audience and the rarefied world of elite climbing.
(Spoiler alert: Honnold succeeds, and the resulting film has been a runaway success.)
Onstage, Momoa opens the envelope, smiles and announces: “Free Solo!”
Honnold and McCandless make their way to the stage and take their place in cinematic history with filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.
So what’s it like for a “dirtbag climber” to receive the Hollywood treatment?
After six months touring to promote the film, Honnold is back home in Las Vegas and still making sense of it all.
“It was pretty exciting,” he tells the Las Vegas Sun by telephone as he packs his car for some short scrambling at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas. “Honestly, I don’t know if it’s sunk in. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.”
As for any newfound fame, Honnold says, “There’s been a lot of spillover to the Honnold Foundation, which is good to see.”
The Honnold Foundation supports solar energy initiatives with the goal of creating a more equal and sustainable world.
McCandless says, “It felt totally amazing. We were all just blown away by the success of the film. It was very validating of all the hard work the entire team put into the film.”
On the Oscars red carpet, the outdoorsy life coach looked as glamorous as any movie star, thanks to a beauty regimen that included makeup sponsored by Clé de Peau Beauté.
For his red carpet look, Honnold hit the gym and then took a shower.
Meeting British royalty — Prince William and Princess Kate — was a peak experience of the film tour, according to McCandless.
“We were just totally amazed by how poised and regal they both were,” McCandless says. “They’d seen the film. They were very genuine, excited and kind. It’s something we’ll never forget, because it’s so different from our normal lives.”
Life is now, more or less, back to normal.
“We came home to reality,” McCandless says, laughing. “I did my taxes yesterday. Today we cleaned out the van. Stardom is over.”
Both are excited to get back to their regular lives of outdoor adventuring.
McCandless is busy running her business, Sanni McCandless Coaching, and she’s preparing for the 2019 Outwild festival, which she co-founded.
Honnold is looking forward to climbing plans he put on hold until the end of the film tour.
As for what big goals might lie ahead? “You can’t plan big climbs until you’ve done tons of little climbs,” Honnold says. “I’m looking forward to little climbs.”
Inevitably, the film’s success will boost the sport of climbing itself, which has been growing from a niche endeavor to a popular pastime in recent decades.
“It’s one of the latest, and perhaps most dramatic, demonstrations of the ‘mainstreaming’ of climbing,” longtime climber Bill Ramsey says of Free Solo’s big award.
A University of Nevada, Las Vegas, philosophy professor and vice president of the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition, Ramsey first met Honnold and started climbing with him in 2005, when the now-star was just 19.
“It is not just an appreciation of the technical challenges involved in making a brilliant climbing movie,” he says, “but it is also, to some degree, an acknowledgement of the special values and virtues of the climbing community in general and certainly exhibited by Alex in particular.”
Longtime climber Stephanie Forte predicts that the film’s success will bring more newcomers to the sport in the same way that gymnastics gets a popularity bump following the Olympics.
But unlike gymnastics, much of climbing happens outdoors rather than in gyms.
An influx of newbies poses both a challenge and an opportunity for areas like Red Rock.
“This isn’t a new issue, and in recent years, climbing gym owners, brands and groups like the Access Fund have been working together to develop programs to educate new climbers about outdoor ethics and stewardship,” says Forte, who runs a Las Vegas-based public relations firm.
“As a community, what we can hope is that people watch Free Solo, are inspired by Alex and the wild landscape of Yosemite and gain an understanding of why we must protect our public lands,” he says.
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com