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Alex Honnold

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Alex Honnold
Honnold in 2023
Personal information
Born (1985-08-17) August 17, 1985 (age 38)[1]
Sacramento, California, U.S.
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley
OccupationRock climber
Sanni McCandless
(m. 2020)
Climbing career
Type of climber
Highest grade
Known for
  • Free solo climbs of big wall routes
  • The first person to free solo a route on El Capitan
  • Speed record holder on The Nose of El Capitan

Alex Honnold (born August 17, 1985) is an American rock climber best known for his free solo ascents of big walls. Honnold rose to worldwide fame in June 2017 when he became the first person to free solo a route on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (via the 2,900-foot route Freerider at 5.13a, the first-ever at that grade),[3] a climb described in The New York Times as "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever".[4][5] Honnold also holds the record for the fastest ascent of the "Yosemite Triple Crown", an 18-hour, 50-minute link-up of Mount Watkins, The Nose, and the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome.[6] In 2015, he won a Piolet d'Or in alpine climbing with Tommy Caldwell for their completion of the enchainment (known as the Fitz Traverse) of the Cerro Chaltén Group (or Fitzroy Group) in Patagonia over 5 days.

Honnold is the author (with David Roberts) of the memoir Alone on the Wall (2015) and the subject of the 2018 biographical documentary Free Solo,[7] which won a BAFTA and an Academy Award.

Early life and education[edit]

Honnold was born in Sacramento, California, the son of community college professor Dierdre Wolownick (b. 1951)[8] and Charles Honnold (1949–2004).[9][10] His paternal roots are German, and his maternal roots are Polish.[11] He started climbing in a climbing gym at the age of 5 and was climbing "many times a week" by age 10.[12] He participated in many national and international youth climbing championships as a teenager.

"I was never, like, a bad climber [as a kid], but I had never been a great climber, either," he says. "There were a lot of other climbers who were much, much stronger than me, who started as kids and were, like, instantly freakishly strong – like they just have a natural gift. And that was never me. I just loved climbing, and I've been climbing all the time ever since, so I've naturally gotten better at it, but I've never been gifted."[13]

After graduating from Mira Loma High School as part of the International Baccalaureate Programme in 2003, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, to study civil engineering. His maternal grandfather died, his parents divorced during his first year of college, and Honnold skipped many of his classes to boulder by himself at Indian Rock.

Climbing career[edit]

Honnold dropped out of Berkeley and spent time living at home and driving around California to go climbing. "I'd wound up with my mom's old minivan, and that was my base," he said. "I'd use it to drive to Joshua Tree to climb or I'd drive to LA to see my girlfriend. I destroyed that van fairly quickly; it died on me one day, and for the next year, I lived just on my bicycle and in a tent."[14]

In 2007, he bought a 2002 Ford Econoline E150 van, which allowed him to focus on climbing and following the weather.[15][16]

According to a 2011 Alpinist profile:[15]

In the mind of the climbing world, Honnold emerged from the goo fully formed. In 2006 nobody had heard of him. In 2007 he free soloed Yosemite's Astroman and the Rostrum in a day, matching Peter Croft's legendary 1987 feat, and suddenly Honnold was pretty well-known. A year later, he free soloed the 1,200-foot (366m), 5.12d finger crack that splits Zion's Moonlight Buttress. The ascent was reported on April 1. For days, people thought the news was a joke. Five months afterward, Honnold took the unprecedented step of free soloing the 2,000-foot (610m), glacially bulldozed Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Croft called this climb the most impressive ropeless ascent ever done.

He gained mainstream recognition after his 2008 free solo of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome was featured in the film Alone on the Wall[17] and a subsequent 60 Minutes interview.[18]

In November 2011, Honnold and Hans Florine missed setting the speed climbing record on the famous Nose big wall climbing route on Yosemite's El Capitan by 45 seconds.[19] At the time the record stood at 2:36:45, as set by Dean Potter & Sean Leary in November 2010.[20] On June 17, 2012, Honnold and Florine set a new record of 2:23:46 (or 2:23:51[21]) on that same route.[22][23]

Honnold at the Trento Film Festival in 2014

In November 2014, Clif Bar announced that they would no longer sponsor Honnold, along with Dean Potter, Steph Davis, Timmy O'Neill and Cedar Wright. "We concluded that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go," the company wrote in an open letter.[12][24]

In 2016, he was subjected to functional magnetic resonance imaging scans that revealed that, unlike other high sensation seekers,[25] his amygdala barely activates when watching disturbing images. He however confesses feeling fear occasionally. Through imagination and practice, he has desensitized himself to most fearful situations.[26]

On June 3, 2017, he made the first-ever free solo ascent of El Capitan by completing Alex Huber's 2,900-foot (884m) big wall route, Freerider (5.13a VI), in 3 hours and 56 minutes.[27] The climb, described as "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever,"[5] was documented by climber and photographer Jimmy Chin and documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi, as the subject of the documentary Free Solo.[28] Among other awards, the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (2018).[29][30]

On June 6, 2018, Honnold teamed up with Tommy Caldwell to break the Nose on El Capitan speed record in Yosemite. They completed the approximately 3,000-foot (914m) route in 1:58:07, becoming the first climbers to complete it in under two hours.[31]

In 2021, National Geographic signed Honnold for an original docuseries about his quest to climb across the peaks of Greenland.[32] Also in 2021, Honnold started a podcast about climbing called Climbing Gold.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Honnold in 2022

Honnold lived in a van for over a decade. "I don't think 'van life' is particularly appealing," he says. "It's not like I love living in a car, but I love living in all these places. I love being in Yosemite; I love being basically wherever the weather is good; I love being able to follow good conditions all over. And be relatively comfortable as I do it. And so that pretty much necessitates living in a car ... If I could, like, miraculously teleport a house from place to place, I'd prefer to live in a nice comfortable house. Though, honestly, the van is kind of nice. I like having everything within arm's reach. When I stay in a hotel room – like, sometimes you get put up in a really classy hotel room, and it's really big, and you have to walk quite a ways to the bathroom, and you're like, 'Man, I wish I had my [pee] bottle.' Who wants to walk all the ways to the bathroom in the middle of the night when you could just lean over and grab your bottle and go?"[34] The van he lived in was custom-outfitted with a kitchenette and cabinets.[12]

In 2017, Honnold bought a home in the Las Vegas area. "I didn't have any furniture at first, so I lived in the van in the driveway for the first couple weeks. It felt more like home than an empty house did."[14] Around the same time, he replaced the Ford Econoline van he had lived in since 2007 and put 200,000 miles on with a new 2016 Ram ProMaster, which he still lives and travels in for most of the year.[34]

Honnold is a vegetarian, and he does not drink alcohol or use drugs.[13] Between climbs, he runs or hikes to maintain fitness.[1] He is an avid reader with interests in classic literature, environmentalism, and economics, and he describes himself as an anti-religion atheist[35][36] and a feminist.[37]

Honnold met Sanni McCandless at a book signing in 2015; they became a couple soon after.[38] Sanni and her relationship with Honnold feature prominently in Free Solo. On December 25, 2019, Honnold announced, via social media, that he and McCandless were engaged. On September 13, 2020, Honnold announced via Instagram that he and McCandless had married.[39] Honnold's and McCandless daughter, June, was born on February 17, 2022.[40] Their second daughter, Alice, was born on February 6, 2024.[41]

Dierdre Wolownick, Alex Honnold's mother, started climbing at age 60 and is the oldest woman to climb El Capitan (first at the age of 66 and then, breaking her record, again at age 70).[42][43]


In 2012, Honnold began giving away one-third of his income to solar projects that increased energy access worldwide. Soon, this idea expanded to form the Honnold Foundation. The Honnold Foundation's mission is "promoting solar energy for a more equitable world".[44]


  • Alone on the Wall: Alex Honnold and the Ultimate Limits of Adventure. London: Pan, 2015. Co-authored with David Roberts. ISBN 978-1447282730.


While Honnold is best known for his starring role in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, he has also appeared in several other films and television episodes.[45][46][47]

  • The Sharp End (2007)[48]
  • Alone on the Wall (2008)[49]
  • Progression (2009)[50]
  • Honnold 3.0 (2012)
  • Valley Uprising (2014)[51]
  • A Line Across the Sky (2015)
  • Showdown at Horseshoe Hell (2015)
  • Africa Fusion (2016)[52]
  • Queen Maud Land (2018)
  • Free Solo (2018)
  • The Nose Speed Record (reel rock 14) (2019)
  • Fine Lines (2019) [53]
  • Duncanville (2020) (TV)
  • The Alpinist (2021)
  • Explorer: The Last Tepui (2022)[54]
  • Edge of the Unknown with Jimmy Chin (2022)
  • Arctic Ascent with Alex Honnold (2024)


Selected climbs[edit]

Big wall climbing[edit]


Single pitch (sport and traditional) climbing[edit]

Alpine climbing[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]