Alex Honnold achieves the ‘moon landing’ of free solo climbing, successfully climbing the big walls of El Capitan without a rope or safety equipment
American rock climber Alex Honnold has been making waves for some time in the climbing community, with a series of audacious ‘free solo’ (no ropes or protection) ascents. He first burst onto the scene in 2008 with rope-free ascents of Half Dome in Yosemite and Utah’s Moonlight Buttress.
However El Capitan, or El Cap, is in another league – or another world entirely, according to legendary climber Tommy Caldwell, who described it as “the moon landing of free-soloing.” If anyone is qualified to make such a statement it’s Caldwell, who himself has pioneered a number of the toughest free climbs (using ropes and equipment only for protection in case of a fall, not to assist ascent) like the famous Dawn Wall (also on El Cap).
Honnold’s climb was filmed for a National Geographic documentary by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and the first clips are simply mesmerising.
Honnold chose to ascend a route known as Freerider, which snakes almost 840 metres vertically up El Capitan’s sheer rock face from the meadows below (for comparison, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is 830m tall). He completed the climb in just 3 hours 56 minutes; normally it takes around 14 hours.
This was Honnold’s second attempt, having backed off a few hundred feet up the route in November 2016 when conditions “didn’t feel right.” It’s been a goal of his for years, and he put a lot of preparation into it, learning not just the route and the holds, but every single movement off by heart (during roped climbs). His physical preparation and training is also beyond dedicated: he spends up to an hour every other day hanging from special boards by just his fingertips.
Jimmy Chin commented on Honnold’s feat on Facebook:
“Alex’s process to prepare for his dream of free soloing El Cap has been an incredible, and sometimes stressful, journey to witness and be a part of over the last two years all the while filming him for a feature documentary (co-directed by @mochinyc). In some ways I expected (and prayed for) nothing less on his big day but it was still mind bending to see how relaxed he was in the final days leading up to the climb and of course during the climb – as seen here locked off reaching full extension high on the wall with mere finger tips in contact to granite, feet smeared on nothing. What I’ve learned over the last 10 years about Alex is he isn’t the kid that shows up to do well on the exam. If it counts, he’s there to ace it, take the extra credit points and finish early. I’d say he aced his final exam yesterday with extra credit for style and composure. When he got to the top, he looked at me and said “I’m pretty sure I could go back to the bottom and do it again right now.” Congrats bud. You crushed. It was historic, it was moving, it was brilliant.”
Alex Honnold free-solos the sheer rock face of El Capitan | Photo: Jimmy Chin
In his first interview with National Geographic since the climb, Honnold commented on his future plans, and his intention to “step away from adventure for a little while” and focus instead on sport climbing (with ropes and other safety gear) at the hardest physical rather than mental level, and possibly start a family.
The documentary is scheduled for release in 2018.