Tilson: There Is Exactly A 59% Chance Of Me Dying Rockclimbing

Whitney Tilson‘s email to investors discussing his analogy to what Alex Honnold did free soloing El Cap.

Alex Honnold free soloing el cap
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

I was thinking last night of an analogy to what Alex Honnold did free soloing El Cap, which partly explains why I think it’s the greatest athletic achievement of all time:

Know more about Russia than your friends:

Get our free ebook on how the Soviet Union became Putin's Russia.

Q3 hedge fund letters, conference, scoops etc

It would be as if Stef Curry had to make two layups every minute for four hours – 480 in a row, equivalent to the routine moves Honnold had to make on the climb – PLUS had to make one free throw per hour (equivalent to the four hardest moves he had to make).

But here’s the catch: hovering over the court is a huge stab of concrete which, if Curry misses any of those 484 shots, crashes down, crushing him instantly – so he has to perform flawlessly for four hours, with the unimaginable pressure of imminent death literally hanging over him.

Here are his odds of survival:

Let’s say Curry makes 99.9% of his layups – only misses 1 in 1,000. Do 0.999 to the 480th power and you get 0.619 – meaning there’s a 38% chance that he misses one of those 480 layups.

As for the four free throws, he’s a lifetime 90% free throw shooter (3rd highest all time). Do 0.9 raised to the 4th power and you get 0.656 – meaning there’s a 34% chance he misses one of those four free throws.

Total odds of failure: 0.619 x 0.656 = 0.406 – a 59% chance of dying.

This is the hard math of free soloing – and why virtually everyone who’s ever done it is dead. The laws of large numbers and randomness are almost certain to catch up with you eventually, which is why I hope Honnold stops doing it.