Today we’re going to look at an incredible TED Talk by Alex Hannold, a man who is famous around the world for his death-defying climbs. In this new TED Talk, he describes climbing two mountains – one of which he found to be unsatisfying, and the other turned out to be the best day of his life.

I’d like to use this video to teach you some useful vocabulary, as well as to practice your listening skills, and also take it as an opportunity for a little speaking practice as well.


The following is a list of words and phrases that appear in Alex Hannold’s talk. Look up their meanings in a dictionary, and then do the vocabulary exercise beneath by filling in the blanks. Not all the words need to be used.

  • culmination
  • overcame my fear
  • allure
  • rattled
  • my mind was racing
  • intimidating
  • mindset
  • precision
  • mundane
  1. Climbing requires a high degree of ________ and a determined _________
  2. At first I was afraid of the ________ climb ahead of me, but then I _________ and continued.
  3. Most of us lead __________ lives but some of us cannot resist the __________ of an exciting existence.
  4. The climb was supposed to be the ___________ of many years’ practice.

The Video

Now watch the video. Pay attention to how the key vocabulary is used.


Now we’re going to do some listening work.

Multiple Choice

I would like you to listen to the section from 01:55-03:12 and answer the following questions.

  1. How many years has Alex been climbing?

a) more than 10

b) more than 20

c) more than 30

d) more than 40

2. What was the problem with climbing Half Dome?

a) it was too easy

b) it was too big

c) it was too alluring

d) it was too far away

3. When Alex came back to climb without a rope, what happened?

a) he was too afraid to climb

b) he did exactly as he did the first time

c) he changed his mind about which way to climb

d) the weather was bad, so he quit


Look at the passage below and listen to the recording from 06:31-07:20. Fill in the blanks with the words you hear by using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBER.

The thing that makes El Cap so ____1____  is the sheer scale of the wall. Most climbers take three to five days to ascend the ____2___ of vertical granite. The idea of setting out up a wall of that size with nothing but shoes and a chalk bag seemed _____3_____. 3,000 feet of climbing represents thousands of _____4_____ hand and foot movements, which is a lot to remember. Many of the moves I knew through ______5_______. I’d climbed El Cap maybe 50 times over the previous decade with a _____6_____. But this photo shows my preferred method of rehearsing the moves. I’m on the summit, about to rappel down the face with _____7______ feet of rope to spend the day practicing. Once I found sequences that felt ______8_____, I had to memorize them. I had to make sure that they were so deeply ingrained within me that there was no ______9_____. I didn’t want to be wondering if I was going the right way or using the best holds. I needed everything to feel _____10_____.


I think that this video is actually quite useful for IELTS students looking to practice their speaking skills. This is because here we see Alex talking a lot about experiences. Now this is something that pops up in parts one and two of the IELTS speaking exam, but especially in part two.

Imagine you were given this cue card:

Describe something difficult you have done.


Describe an experience that made you feel afraid.


Describe an important moment in your life.

Now look at Alex’s speech from around 08:06:

The most difficult part of the whole route was called the Boulder Problem. It was about 2,000 feet off the ground and consisted of the hardest physical moves on the whole route: long pulls between poor handholds with very small, slippery feet. This is what I mean by a poor handhold: an edge smaller than the width of a pencil but facing downward that I had to press up into with my thumb. But that wasn’t even the hardest part. The crux culminated in a karate kick with my left foot over to the inside of an adjacent corner, a maneuver that required a high degree of precision and flexibility, enough so that I’d been doing a nightly stretching routine for a full year ahead of time to make sure that I could comfortably make the reach with my leg.

His description is very detailed and vivid. If you understand all the words, it really puts a picture into your head. Pay attention to the use of careful verbs to describe his movements, as well as adjectives to describe the places:

long pulls between poor handholds with very small, slippery feet

an edge smaller than the width of a pencil but facing downward that I had to press up into with my thumb

a karate kick with my left foot over to the inside of an adjacent corner

These little details make up an impressive overall description.

I have also highlighted in bold some more generally useful phrases that you can incorporate into your own descriptions for part two.

More About Speaking Part 2

Here’s a video I made a few weeks ago about IELTS speaking part two. I’m sure it can help you to understand the basics of this part of the speaking exam:


Vocab gap-fill

  1. precision/mindset
  2. intimidating/overcame my fear
  3. mundane/allure
  4. culmination

Multiple Choice

  1. b
  2. b
  3. c


  1. intimidating
  2. 3,000/three thousand feet
  3. impossible
  4. distinct
  5. sheer repetition
  6. rope
  7. over a thousand
  8. secure and repeatable
  9. possibility of error
  10. automatic