Alex Honnold burst onto the climbing scene in Fall 2007 with a splash of headlines. He drew attention from the press by his audacious one-day free solo link-up of The Rostrum followed by Astro Man – two demanding multi-pitch Yosemite 5.11+ free routes. He made news again in spring 2008, with a first-ever ropeless free ascent of the long Moonlight Buttress, 5.12, in Zion National Park. He was just 21.
But now, looking back on those impressive feats, he eschews the attention those climbs have gotten him. He’d rather tout the less-headlined free ascent he made of El Capitan’s Salathe Wall, a seldom-free-climbed 5.13 testpiece requiring 3,000 feet of climbing. He and his partner did it in three days. To Alex, that’s more noteworthy.
The Rostrum and Astroman were “leisurely,” he says in his sincere, understated tone. “I climbed the Rostrum, then came down and ate lunch. Then I went over and soloed Astroman. Each one took an hour.”
As for the tougher Moonlight Buttress, with its soaring finger-width cracks and dizzying 2,000 feet of relief, he modestly passes that off by explaining that he’d rehearsed the moves on prior ascents.
“Exposure doesn’t bother me,” he says when addressing the reality that on a free solo ascent, if you fall you die. “It’s easy not to be scared if you know you won’t fall.”
The Sacramento, California born climber took to the sport at age eleven, when his parents introduced him to a local climbing gym. “They figured that since I was always climbing trees, I would like the gym,” he recalls. “Soon I was going there five days a week, and riding my bike seven miles to get there. I would traverse back and forth across the walls for two hours at a time, never stepping down.”
On a student field trip to Yosemite, one look at El Capitan firmly planted the climbing bug in his head, though he’d be diverted by a year of engineering at UC Berkeley before committing himself to full-time climbing. Now, with 2011 before him, he’s a professional climber and North Face athlete, recently profiled in Climbing Magazine. At 25 he’s already accomplished a lifetime’s worth of vertical feats, but with an appetite for rock and raw talent like his, he’s certain to push the frontiers of adventure even further.