Alex Honnold at the Trento Film Festival (2014)
|Born||August 17, 1985|
|Education||UC Berkeley (dropped out)|
|Type of climber|
|Known for||Big wall free soloing|
First and only to free solo El Capitan
He is the only person to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and holds 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. Honnold says he likes tall, long routes and that he tries to do them quickly. He is the author (with David Roberts) of the memoir Alone on the Wall (2017) and the subject of the 2018 biographical documentary Free Solo, which won a BAFTA and an Academy Award.
Life and work
Honnold was born in Sacramento, California, the son of community college professors Dierdre Wolownick and Charles Forrest Honnold. He is of Polish descent. He started climbing in a climbing gym at the age of 5 and was climbing "many times a week" by age 10. 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."
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 and his parents got divorced during his first year of college, and Honnold skipped many of his classes to boulder by himself at Indian Rock. He described the experience as "heinous. ... I didn't live in a dorm. We had a family friend who let me sublet his two-bedroom apartment in town. In my one year at Berkeley, I never met anybody. I never spoke to anybody."
He 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. My orbit was tiny and really cheap. 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."
According to a 2011 Alpinist profile:
In the mind of the climbing world, Honnold emerged from the go 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, 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, glacially bulldozed Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Croft called this climb the most impressive ropeless ascent ever done.
In November 2011, Honnold and Hans Florine missed setting the record time on the Nose route on Yosemite's El Capitan by 45 seconds with a time of 2:37. On June 17, 2012, the two set a new record of 2:23:46 (or 2:23:51) on that same route.
In November 2014, Clif Bar announced that they would no longer sponsor Honnold, along with four other climbers, mostly free soloists. "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.
On June 3, 2017, he made the first free solo ascent of El Capitan, completing the 2,900-foot Freerider route in 3 hours and 56 minutes. The feat, described as "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever," was documented by climber and photographer Jimmy Chin and documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi, as the subject of the documentary Free Solo. Among other awards it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (2018).
On June 6, 2018, Honnold teamed up with Tommy Caldwell to break the speed record for the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite. They completed the approximately 3,000-foot route in 1:58:07, becoming the first climbers to complete the route in under two hours.
Honnold has 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?" The van he lives in is custom-outfitted with a kitchenette and cabinets.
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." 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.
Honnold is a vegetarian, and he does not drink alcohol or use other drugs. He is an avid reader with interests in classic literature, environmentalism, and economics, and he describes himself as a militant atheist and a feminist.
Between climbs, he runs or hikes to maintain fitness.
- Alone on the Wall: Alex Honnold and the Ultimate Limits of Adventure. London: Pan, 2017. Co-authored with David Roberts. ISBN 978-1447282730.
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- The Sharp End (2007) - At twenty-two years old, Alex Honnold was largely unknown outside the confines of Yosemite’s climbing community. But Alex’s free solo climbs of legendary Yosemite routes Astroman and the Rostrum caught the attention of the adventure film production house Sender Films, who invited Alex to join other top American climbers on a trip to the Adrspach, an infamously dangerous climbing area in the Czech Republic. This trip later formed the basis for a chapter in The Sharp End film. In a brief but climactic scene, the team gathers below a notoriously scary route, debating whether to give it a try. When the other climbers decide against an attempt, it only seems to motivate Alex. In the film he declares, “We’ve been here for an hour, talking about how hard and how scary this is. We should just go do it.” Alex quitely ties into the rope. A short while later, he is safely on top.
- Alone on the Wall (2008) - Alex Honnold re-enacts his two most notable free solo climbs in Alone on the Wall. This short film introduced Honnold to climbing fans worldwide. Sportswriter, David Roberts, called the movie “a minor masterpiece”. In Utah, Alex scales the 2000 ft sandstone wall of Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park. While on the wall, the camera team was extraordinarily cautious not to do anything to distract Honnold. Yet in the midst of free soloing the elite grade of 5.12 Honnold was relaxed and chatty, at one point saying “do you want me to make this look like it’s hard for me?” The Sender team later filmed Honnold on his solo of the Regular Route on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
- Progression (2009) - Honnold continued his work in front of the lens with Big UP Productions in the documentary film, Progression. Progression explores all forms of climbing: bouldering, big wall climbing, and competition climbing. Alex Honnold climbs alongside Kevin Jorgeson and Matt Segal on some of England’s most difficult grit routes. In addition, the film follows elite climbers Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Daniel Woods, and Adam Ondra on their various projects around the globe.
- Honnold 3.0 (2012) - Following Honnold’s appearance on the American news magazine show 60 Minutes, he wrestles with his sudden status as a minor celebrity. Honnold 3.0 documents Honnold soloing Yosemite’s Triple Crown-- climbing El Capitan, Half Dome and Mount Watkins -- as it happened. While the film crew was still on edge about filming free soloing, Honnold writes “yes, the logistics of filming my Triple solo for the Sender guys were super complicated. But their presence actually made it easier and more pleasant for me...it’s nice to have friends around when you’re climbing through the night”. Honnold 3.0 follows Honnold on his astonishing accomplishments: completing highball boulder first ascents up to v10 (5.13+) in the Bishop, CA; capturing the speed record on The Nose route on El Capitan, and finishing Yosemite’s Triple Crown in less than 19 hours. Sender Films released Honnold 3.0 as part of the REEL ROCK 7 film tour.
- A Line Across the Sky (2015) - Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell became the first climbers to complete the Fitz Roy traverse in Patagonia. The Fitz Roy traverse mixes big wall climbing and mountaineering across seven beautiful summits, totaling 13,000 feet of vertical rock.As a part of REEL ROCK 10, A Line Across the Sky highlights the epic, hilarious journey of Caldwell and Honnold as they self-document the whole journey using a small handheld camera and their iPhones.
- Showdown at Horseshoe Hell (2015) - The 2015 REEL ROCK 10 Film Tour premiered Showdown at Horseshoe Hell, a comedy featuring Alex Honnold competing against Nik Berry and Mason Earle, along with other passionate climbers, in the annual 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell event in Arkansas. The event, which has been called the “Burning Man of climbing, is a zany, fun-loving romp where climbers attempt to complete as many routes as they can in one day. While the event is light-hearted for most climbers, Honnold comes in ready to crush the competition. Berry and Earle, along with their manager, strategically outlined their approach to beat Honnold— a game plan that resulted in success.
- Africa Fusion (2016) - Professional free-climbers Alex Honnold and Hazel Findlay travel to Africa to send some of the most challenging routes Namibia and South Africa have to offer. Directed by Nic Good and produced by Robert Breyer, Africa Fusion explores the incredible granite and sandstone walls from Breyer’s hometown. Together they tackled thrilling routes in Spitzkoppe, Blouberg, Limpopo, Waterval Boven, Mpumalanga, Cape Town, and Yellowwood.
- Queen Maud Land (2018) - Alex Honnold joined forces with Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, Cedar Wright, Anna Pfaff, and Savannah Cummins on an expedition to the Queen Maud Land mountains in Antarctica. The group of world-class climbers broke into teams of two in order to summit 15 mountains in 17 days. Queen Maud Land was presented as part of REEL ROCK 13.
- Free Solo (2018) - Thirty two year old Alex Honnold takes free soloing to the next level, pursuing a childhood dream—free solo climb the 3,000-foot wall of El Capitan. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi were able to capture the process and discipline of Honnold’s free solo climb. The film emphasizes the 5 most mentally and physically challenging sections of the route: the Freeblast Slab, Hollow Flake, Monster Offwidth, the Boulder Problem (the crux), and the Enduro Corner. Free Solo dives deep into Honnold’s world, exploring his personal life and approach to his exceptional free solo climbs. Free Solo won Best Documentary Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards as well as the Award for Best Documentary at the 2019 BAFTA Awards.
- 2010: Golden Piton award from Climbing magazine, for endurance climbing.
- 2015: Honnold together with Tommy Caldwell was awarded the Piolets d'Or, for the first full traverse of the Fitz Roy Range in Patagonia, Argentina.
- 2018: Robert and Miriam Underhill Award from American Alpine Club, for excellence in various fields of climbing.
- 2018: Special mention of Piolets d'Or for his outstanding contribution to climbing during 2017.
Selected notable climbs
- 2007, Freerider (VI 5.12d, 37 pitches), Yosemite, California - One day free ascent with Brian Kimball
- 2007, Astroman (5.11c, 10 pitches) and The Rostrum (5.11c, 8 pitches), Yosemite, California - Second person after Peter Croft (1987) to free solo both in a day
- 2007, Salathe Wall (VI 5.13b/c), Yosemite, California - Eleventh free ascent
- 2008, Bushido (5.13+) and Hong Kong Phooey (5.13b-5.14), Utah - In the space of 3 days
- 2008, The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, California - First free solo
- 2008, Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12d, 1200ft), Zion, Utah - Free solo.
- 2012, The Nose (5.14a/b), Yosemite, California - Former speed record of 2:23:46 with Hans Florine
- 2012, The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, California - Speed solo in 1:22
- 2012, Yosemite Triple Crown – Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome, Yosemite, California - Solo in 18:50, free soloing 90% of the link-up
- 2014, El Sendero Luminoso (5.12d V, 1,750ft, 15 pitch), El Potrero Chico, Mexico - First free solo ascent, in a little over 3 hours
- 2014, University Wall (5.12a C2, 8 pitch), Squamish, British Columbia, Canada - First free solo.
- 2016, Complete Scream (E8 6b), Northern Ireland, United Kingdom- Free solo
- 2017, Freerider (5.12d VI), Yosemite, California - First and only free solo on El Capitan
- 2018, The Nose (VI 5.8 A2), Yosemite, California - Speed record of 1:58:07 with Tommy Caldwell
- 2011, The Mandala 8A+(V12), Bishop, California - A repeat of Chris Sharma's classic boulder
- 2010, Ambrosia 8A(V11), Bishop, California - Second ascent of Kevin Jorgeson's highball problem
- 2012, Too Big to Flail 7C+(V10) or 8b(5.13d), Bishop, California - First ascent of a 45-foot highball.
- 2008, Repeats of Parthian Shot, New Statesman, Meshuga (solo), an on-sight of Gaia (and subsequently repeated it solo), and an on-sight solo of London Wall during a trip to England at the end of 2008.
- 2010, The Green Mile 8c+(5.14c), Jailhouse crag, San Francisco - Alex Honnold's most difficult sport climb on a rope
- 2010, Rainbow Arch (5.12+, top-roped), Ennedi Desert, Chad - First ascent
- 2011, Heaven (5.12d) and Cosmic Debris (5.13b), Yosemite National Park - Free solo'd
- 2011, The Phoenix (5.13a), Yosemite National Park - Free solo'd. The Phoenix was the first 5.13a of the United States.
- 2009, Unnamed (VI 5.12 A2) Low's Gully, Borneo - Attempted first free ascent
- 2014, The Fitz Roy Traverse (5.11d C1 65 degrees, 5000m), Fitz Roy massif, Patagonia - Completed over five days with Tommy Caldwell
- 2016, Torre Traverse, Patagonia - Second ascent. A north-to-south traverse of Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre. Completed in under 21 hours with Colin Haley
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Honnold could afford to buy a decent home, if that interested him. But living in a van – a custom-outfitted van, in his case, with a kitchenette and cabinets full of energy bars and climbing equipment – represents freedom.
- Legendary Rock Climber Alex Honnold's Vegetarian Diet (video). Munchies. December 7, 2015. Event occurs at 4:20–4:35. Retrieved October 16, 2018 – via YouTube.
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- Alex Honnold [@alexhonnold] (February 24, 2017). "I'm a feminist!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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- "BANFF MOUNTAIN FILM COMPETITION — 2015 AWARD WINNERS" (PDF). BANFF Centre for Arts and Creativity. Banff Centre. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
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- "2010 Golden Piton Awards". Climbing. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
- "ABD Awards". The American Alpine Club. 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
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