Hanging by your fingertips: Alex Honnold – “The man who conquered the impossible”

Half Dome as viewed from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California, United States. - Author: Diliff - CC BY-SA 3.0

California-native Alex Honnold may not be a household name for your family yet, but he should be. With an impressive number of free solo climbs of big walls under his belt, Honnold’s track record with rock climbing is something about which to rave. Let’s take a look at this living legend.

His Beginning

Alex Honnold – Author: Niccolò Caranti – CC BY-SA 3.0
Alex Honnold – Author: Niccolò Caranti – CC BY-SA 3.0

Born in Sacramento, Honnold began climbing at the age of 11 and was hooked. He has been solely dedicated to climbing since he was 19 years old, even stopping his studies at UC Berkeley to ensure he could use his time for what he loved most.

His devotion is to any kind of climb that packs a lot of risks and a lot of commitment to training — climbs that give him a real challenge.

While today he is best known for his wall climbs, he has not limited himself to only that type of climb, instead, trying out challenging climbs around the world.

The Climbs

Before his record-shattering ascent of El Capitan, Honnold has been free soloing many different walls. These include:

  • Complete Scream, Ireland
  • Squamish, British Columbia
  • El Potrero Chico, Mexico
  • Zion, Utah
  • Astroman and Rostrum, Yosemite Valley, California

Outside of wall climbing, Honnold has done mountain climbing, single pitch, and bouldering, performing impressive feats of strength at each occurrence.

Breaking the Record

Most recently, Honnold grabbed the world’s attention with his free solo ascent on El Capitan on June 3, 2017. In only 3 hours and 56 minutes, Honnold scaled the wall of the vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.

Bryan Kennedy Soloing – Author: Stefan Karpiniec – CC BY 2.0
Bryan Kennedy Soloing – Author: Stefan Karpiniec – CC BY 2.0

This monolith is an impressive 3,000 feet from the base to the summit and has been a favorite challenge among climbers and BASE jumpers alike. You can hike up the formation following the Yosemite Valley trail, which will still give you an amazing view of the park but does not provide the challenge for which the rock is known.

While climbers have been attempting to climb different facets of El Capitan over the years, Honnold was the first free solo climb of Freerider, which he did in mere hours, where other free climbers have taken days to get to the summit.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed a free climb in 19 days of the Dawn Wall, which is considered to be one of the hardest climbs in the world. Regardless, 19 days compared to less than 4 hours really shows the skillset that Honnold has. He practically ran up the side of the rock, without any ropes or aids, only with the tips of his fingers and strength of his limbs.

Honnold trained for the record-breaking climb by working on different climbs in the United States, China, Europe, and even Morocco, but kept the purpose of his training secret until he actually succeeded.

How He Does It

While no one should go out and attempt free solo climbing without training and knowledge, it is interesting to note what Honnold has done to prepare. To begin with, he has been practicing climbing the majority of his life.

View from Glacier Point on Half Dome and Eastern Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. – Author: Thomas Wolf – CC BY-SA 3.0
View from Glacier Point on Half Dome and Eastern Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. – Author: Thomas Wolf – CC BY-SA 3.0

For people who would like to get into climbing, you will need to work your way up through practice. Part of this practice is having training and climbing partners with you for encouragement and safety.

Honnold may have done his impressive free solo alone, but he did not train alone. Also to note is his diet. He fueled up with oats, flax, chia seeds, and blueberries before he set out on his climb, providing himself with adequate food for energy.

Diet and exercise are essential to any athlete, climbers included.

No one knows what is next for Alex Honnold, but we can be sure that he is not done impressing us yet.

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marion-fernandez is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival