015: Alex Honnold/Free Rider

Alex on Freerider. Picture by Jimmy Chin

“As soon as I finished the crux I was like ‘I am crushing this route!’”

Before June 2017, Alex Honnold, my guest for episode 015, was already renowned as one of the world’s greatest climbers thanks to achievements such as the Fitzroy Traverse, his free solo ascents of Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park and on Half Dome, or his solo ascent of Yosemite’s Triple Crown.

Then he ‘sent the project’ he’d been working on for years – a free solo ascent (where the climber ascends without ropes or protection) of the 3000-plus feet Freerider on El Capitan in California’s Yosemite Valley.

Alex in London, August 2017

It was immediately hailed as one of the greatest climbing accomplishments in history, both among his incredulous peers and the wider public at large. And it immediately catapulted Alex into a new stratosphere of fame and notoriety.

Another view of Alex on Freerider. Photo: Jimmy Chin

So when I was invited along to interview Alex during a flying visit to London, a scant two months after this historic achievement, I headed on up to town to get a first-hand account from the man himself.

Listen out for:

  • Alex on Freerider – how he prepared, how he knew he was ready, and how he felt once he knew he was going to make it.
  • His experiences back in the day climbing some of the UK’s classic grit routes.
  • The work of the Honnold Foundation, and what Alex hopes to achieve with his eponymous charity.
  • His relationship with Alpinism – and how he enjoys being a beginner.

It was a real privilege to hear a man at the top of his game talk me through his greatest achievement. Thanks Alex. Great to talk to you, and thanks for taking the time to come on the show.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Alex on when he started to conceive the idea of free-soloing El Cap

Connect With Alex

Show Notes

  • The North Face ‘Walls Are Made For Climbing’ campaign
  • Earlier visits to the UK.
  • Six weeks in Sheffield repeating all the classic grit routes
  • Watching Hard Grit on loop as a kid
  • Growing up in Sacramento and climbing in an indoor gym
  • Being inspired by free soloing – ‘it was just cool’.
  • First significant free-solo ascents – Knapsack Crack and Corrugation Corner
  • Arriving in Yosemite
  • The early years – and the early Yosemite routine.
  • Being a climbing geek
  • The long years of apprenticeship in Yosemite – ‘it was all about volume’
  • Climbing The Nose in 24 hours
  • His career as one set of challenges after another.
  • Half Dome and Moonlight Buttress – the first time Alex broke new ground.
  • Why free-soloing is such a niche avenue of climbing.
  • The first time Alex considered soloing El Capitan
  • How Alex physically and mentally prepared for Freerider
  • Knowing he was ready for the climb
  • Breaking the task down into smaller tasks and goals.
  • The importance of visualisation and memory
  • Negotiating Freeblast
  • ‘As soon as I finished the crux I was like, “I am crushing this route!”’
  • How previous projects have been unfulfilling.
  • ‘By the time I got there it felt totally normal and natural to do it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have felt able to do it’.
  • The El Cap ticklist
  • Alex’s relationship with risk.
  • The elemental part of climbing and other action sports such as big wave surfing
  • Rationalising fear – and the definition of courage.
  • ‘Typically I work on something until it’s not scary and I’m prepared to do it’.
  • Alex’s last experiences with fear
  • His future in Alpinism – and how he enjoys being a beginner
  • Forthcoming trip to Antarctica
  • Alex’s schedule until the end of 2017.
  • Still living in the van
  • Future travel ambitions
  • The Honnold Foundation, and how it works
  • Alex’s role with the Honnold Foundation
  • One of the Foundation’s current solar projects
  • ‘I like nice solutions’
  • How climbing is about finding elegant solutions.
  • Being invited to deliver a TED Talk.

Places Mentioned

Routes/Climbs Mentioned