Marathon Swimming and Rock Climbing

It's interesting to explore similarities and contrasts between marathon swimming and other endurance/adventure sports. Mountaineering is often discussed; and there was a popular thread here on the Barkley Marathons and ultrarunning.

Rock climbing is another spiritual cousin... and in the news lately after Alex Honnold's first "free solo" ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite. Some have asked what the marathon swimming equivalent of this would be.

Anyone interested in learning more about climbing - its culture & cast of characters - I highly recommend Valley Uprising:

Also available on Netflix.



  • timsroottimsroot Spring, TXCharter Member

    I've read articles that describe that climb as the "Moon Landing" of free-soloing. That puts the bar very very high.

    I don't know, a 100 mile swim? Although perhaps that's not far enough, given what @ssthomas pulled off last year

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    edited June 2017

    A marathon swimming equivalent of what Honnold did would have to be not just about the distance, but also degree of difficulty (e.g., water temp, conditions, currents) and iconic nature of the swim.

    The closest I can fathom would be Cuba-Florida unassisted, or something crazy at a northern/southern latitude like Shetland to Orkney.

    But I'm wondering if boat-escorted, boat-navigated marathon swimming even has a true equivalent to free-solo climbing, and if something totally stupid like a self-navigated EC would be closer to the mark.

    Great quote from Valley Uprising, re: Royal Robbins' Half Dome climb in 1957:

    This is one of the great acts of committing to the unknown. Just sort of lighting out into mystery.

  • rlmrlm Senior Member

    Check out John Muir's 1867 story/diary, Thousand Mile Walk To The Gulf. He was 26 and his passion for Botany fueled the hike! Definitely an example of "committing to the unknown" and "lighting out into mystery."

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    I've always thought there were noteworthy parallels to climbing and OW swimming.

    One is that there are traditional routes that We're established as "aid" climbs meaning the climber relies on equipment not only for protection in the event of a fall, but also for advancing on the route. Many of these routes established decades earlier have since been free climbed. The local crag "The Gunks" credits both FA (first ascent) and FFA (first free ascent) on routes that were first established using aid climbing techniques..... mostly back in the 40s and 50s.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • JaimieJaimie NYCMem​ber

    I really liked this article and think that freeclimbing is probably more akin to ice swimming or freediving than marathon swimming but this quote exactly summed up why I do marathon swims, personally:

    "Climbing is an intimate relationship with our world’s most dramatic landscapes, not a self-boasting fight against them."

    Randomly, I've been reading a lot of books about the "Golden Age" of Aviation in the early 20th century and had been drawing parallels to our sport marathon swimming. The amateur female pilots especially were amazing and colorful characters. I thought Amelia Earhart was interesting until I read about some of her contemporaries like Pancho Barnes, Ruth Elder, and Lady Mary Heath.

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MASenior Member

    I had a really interesting conversation with my mother this weekend - I was trying to explain the differences and I settled on this: in marathon swimming, we set up an elaborate safety net, and if we use it, we're done. In non-free climbing, they set up an actual safety net, and use it. In free climbing, they have nothing. So if you were looking to draw a parallel between rock climbing and marathon swimming, you'd have all the ropes and safety gear, but if you need it, you're done.

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