Another Alex Honnold climb

Alex Honnold, whom I’ve featured on this site before, is probably the best rock climber on Earth, and here’s a slo-mo video showing part of his recent free solo climb of a huge wall in Mexico. The YouTube notes say this:

On January 15th, 2014, Alex Honnold made the first free solo ascent of El Sendero Luminoso (5.12d), a 15 pitch big wall near Monterrey, Mexico. This is footage from pitch 7 (5.12a), filmed by Cedar Wright, Renan Ozturk, and SkySight RC for Camp 4 Collective. The full film is coming soon to The North Face’s YouTube Channel.

Honnold did the 1750-foot (533 m) climb in three hours.

I simply can’t imagine doing this without safety equipment. You have to have immense confidence in your ability to overcome any obstacle on that wall, and if you screw up, you’re dead.


  1. Greg Esres
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    “You have to have immense confidence in your ability to overcome any obstacle on that wall, and if you screw up, you’re dead.”

    I expect he’s an adrenaline junkie, like the guys that do the wing suit thing. Obviously they both require some amount of confidence, but not too much, or else they’d have to find something riskier. Not sure what that would be. Publishing pictures of Mohammed?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to see how these guy’s brains differ from say my brain which would refuse to issue commands to my limbs to move at all.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        I am reminded of a time scuba diving when I got myself into a very dangerous situation, and I was barely able to control my panic as I got myself out of it. I sucked down the majority of my air in the meantime. I still occasionally relive the episode while trying to go to sleep. Never again.

        I can imagine the same thing occurring on the side of the cliff.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          It’s scary watching that content’s gauge going down, isn’t it?
          These days, I don’t cave dive any more. But I still feel the darkness beckon from time to time.

      • darrelle
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        It is surprising what you can rather quickly become acclimated to. The very risky becomes “normal” and you continue to push it without being aware of it. Your on autopilot, in the zone. And then suddenly there is a moment where you snap back to awareness and you say to yourself, “okay, maybe I shouldn’t be quite so blasé about this.”

        You do typically perform much better when you are “in the zone,” but you have to remember to keep tabs on when it is, and is not, appropriate.

    • frank43
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      If he’s free climbing that face even with rope and nuts, and screws up, he’s probably still dead.

      • cremnomaniac
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        Not likely. It’s a clean fall, no ledges, blocks, or loose debris to hit. On top of that a Bigwall is most often equipped with bolted anchors that are more than bomb proof, capable of holding thousands of pounds.

        How do I know? I’ve climbed them. Not Free-solo however.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      If you’d like to learn more, rather than just speculating about this man’s state of mind from a position of ignorance, there’s a 13-minute 60 Minutes special where he specifically addresses the “adrenaline junkie” label.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Like a moron, I tried free climbing once up a wall leading out of a cave, instead of using the ropes as everyone else in my party did. It was all of 30 feet tall, and I got stuck. I barely got myself unstuck. Everyone said I looked white as a ghost afterward. The sheer panic at the moment I realized I was in real trouble is something that I will never forget, and I can’t imagine getting into this situation hundreds of feet up into the air.

    • ivarhusa
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps “adrenaline junkie” is more a figure of speech, but he cannot perform as he does “on adrenaline”. His work requires quite the opposite, to survive long at it. I don’t want to be like Alex, but I admire that he accomplishes very challenging tasks (albeit without humanitarian purpose).

    • Jeffrey Hatley
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      Quite the contrary. Alex has been asked about this before, and he has responded that if he ever feels a rush of adrenaline while climbing, that means something is going terribly wrong. As a climber myself (though not a free-soloer!), I can attest to this. Alex may have many reasons for doing this, but adrenaline rushes are not among them.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      I expect he’s an adrenaline junkie,

      Having known more than a few devotees of high-hazard sports over the years, this is extremely unlikely. The overwhelming emotion is one of control, not of risk. You’re controlling the risk down to a manageable level by tour training ; you’re controlling your responses to the environment ; you’re controlling your own internal state. As “darelle” says below, you get into the zone and there you are.
      It is possibly hitting the same mental circuits as a “religious experience”. It is very weird and hard to describe. But it’s not adrenaline. We know adrenaline. Nasty stuff ; clouds your thinking, turns up your air consumption, burns your energy. Very definitely not “the zone”.

  2. gbjames
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I am not going to watch. In high school I did some climbing in the Suisse and French Alps. I could handle it (almost) as an older teen. But somewhere in my more adult years even thinking about such things makes me unstable.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      I had a similar experience – as a teenager and early twenties person in was an accomplished rock-climber in the Lake District in England &
      in the Dolomites in Italy- the latter during my military service in Trieste. While in university I gradually lost my nerve and by the time I graduated I could not believe that I had ever done that – Later in life I developed vertigo and fortunately that kept me on the straight and narrow and away from the vertical.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        I have a similar though more mundane experience. As a kid, heights didn’t phase me. I’d climb trees that were really high & I’d balance on the edge of roofs (my parents didn’t know that). Now, I don’t really want climb even 6 feet of the ground & if I have to, I get the frozen limbs.

        I wonder what’s going on in our brains as we age.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          I like to think of it as “wisdom”.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      It was extremely hard to watch!

  3. Stephen Barnard
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Watching this makes me queasy.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      None of that is right for human consumption. I want to hurl all my lunch, sit in a corner, shake violently, and weep like a baby after watching that. I have what might be called supreme vertigo.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Ditto – I found it very hard to watch. But then I don’t get close to the windows in the high floors of hotels. I am however happy to look out of airplane windows at any level – which always strikes me as irrational

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:49 am | Permalink

        That’s an odd phenomenon. I share your fear of heights – I can get that ‘vertigo’ feeling at 20 feet up a ladder. But in a plane – even a Tiger Moth (open cockpit) that I once went up in – I’m fine.

        I think possibly it’s because in the plane you’ve severed your connection to the ground. It’s a different category of experience, sufficiently different that the “ooh, this is high” sensation doesn’t kick in.

        • Posted February 13, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          In my opinion it stems from the fact that in airplanes one is seated, which is a position of safety, and when standing up in an open cockpit, one has a protection from the height of the side of the plane which is similar to a guard-rail. I have no problem looking down from high up if there is a guard-rail – I can even lean over it without having vertigo – but if there is nothing between me and the edge my head spins and I get nausea, i.e. vertigo.

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 13, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

            If there is nothing, I have trouble getting within 10 feet of the edge!

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

              I can creep up on my belly. It’s the freak gust of wind that concerns me.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

                OH, yeah!

                And what if there were a freak earthquake just then?!


            • Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

              Then I don’t advise you to walk across the top of the Pont du Gard – that’s how I first experienced vertigo and it was awful…


              • Diane G.
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

                But that looks as if it does have a guard rail?

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                No, it doesn’t have one, and in several places there are holes into the aqueduct itself so one has but a few feet from the edge on either side of the holes that one has to negotiate. Those were the worst parts for me.

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

                Here is another picture of the top of the Pont du Gard. As you can see, there is no guard-rail there. The “tunnel” part is where the water used to flow.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                So you mean the very top there, eh? NO THANKS! 😉

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 14, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

                You just know some jerk will horse around on there & knock you off. I’m not worried about walking there, it’s the others that worry me. I walked across this bridge and you are told not to carry kids at waist level (a lady dropped her baby over there once) and not to shake the bridge. I think they have put up bigger barricades now. Anyway, some jerk thought it would be funny to annoy his mother so he shook the bridge as I was walking across and it was so bad I almost lost my footing. I would have been very angry if I had fallen – I wouldn’t have fallen off the bridge (then I’d be dead, not angry) but I could have tripped. People are so stupid sometimes. They live in their little “me” bubbles.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

                So you’re talking about being on top of the “roof” over those people??

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

                Yes, and the holes along the way are just about as wide as the interior of the tunnel. I made it, but I’ll never, ever try again!

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

                Well, now that I know it’s possible, I won’t have to do it myself.


          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted February 14, 2014 at 12:59 am | Permalink

            @ vierotchka

            Yes that is probably a factor (I’ll call it the ‘enclosure’ effect, the opposite of ‘exposure’). There’s a one-lane bridge at Utiku across a knife-edge gorge about 100 feet deep, and it has sturdy hand rails each side. I can drive across it quite happily in the safety of my car, but walking across it, I want to stay in the middle of the road, as far as I can get from the edges of the bridge. And I walk delicately so as not to risk disturbing it (this is a reinforced concrete bridge!) Really somewhat illogical.

            The Pont du Gard, by the way, would leave me a quivering wreck.

          • Posted February 14, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

            For me, and I suspect for you and for most others, the fear isn’t of heights, but of falling. All that matters is my perception of the chances of falling.

            I can lean against a guard rail at the edge of the Grand Canyon without much fear, but only if my center of mass is below the top of the rail (and if the rail is obviously secure). That’s true even in gale-force gusting winds. Without the rail…well, that same center-of-mass principle seems to apply. Standing up, I’m not going to be comfortable closer than safe tripping distance. Depending on the slope and how secure the ground is, I could lay down with my head hanging over the edge and be okay.

            I’ve only done a very little bit of climbing, but I have no mental trouble whatsoever if I’m securely harnessed. Free climbing even in a gym would scare the shit out of me…but maybe not if I was confident in my climbing abilities. I wouldn’t get that kind of confidence, though, without many hours spent climbing with that harness strapped tight.

            I wouldn’t have any problem at all opening the cockpit door in a small plane while in flight, so long as my seatbelt was securely fastened. I’ve never been parachuting, but my comfort would be proportional to my confidence in the equipment.



            • Posted February 14, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

              What is uncanny and frightening about vertigo is that awful impression that one is being literally pulled towards and into the void.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 15, 2014 at 2:07 am | Permalink

              It’s definitely the (apparent) height for me. For example, I was following my boss out along a big sewer pipe across a bay – the pipe was 8 feet wide, but the flat bit on top was just 30 inches across, then it sloped off at 45 degrees before the sides got vertical. No handrails or anything. It was only 20 feet above the mud but it was the highest thing around, and there was no ‘safe’ side. I tried arguing with myself and being rational – what’s the worst that could happen? – I get dizzy and fall over. But then I probably fall off and break something when I hit the mud. ‘Rational’ didn’t work very well.

              The odd thing was, when we turned round and I could see the hills at the shore above us 300 yards away, I felt much safer. We were no longer the highest thing in sight, even though the shore was physically irrelevant. I’ve noticed the same walking on tracks along ridgetops – I feel far less insecure if there are higher hills around to ‘shelter’ us. Weird.

              Oh, and kids used to ride bikes (!) across that sewer pipe…

  4. Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m too old for this kind of thing. I thought checking the mail during rush hour was bad enough.

  5. Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Amazing stuff. This guy scares me.

  6. Barry Lyons
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Name any horror movie you can think of. Go ahead. Got one in mind? Yeah, well, this clip is more terrifying.

    It also doesn’t help that I’m just getting over a stomach virus.

  7. thompjs
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    He climbed it roped several times to “wire” all the moves and clean any loose holds or blocks.

    Still a very “thin” climb in places.

  8. Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Could he make a living doing this? I doubt that he could get life insurance 😉

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Can I buy him life insurance with myself as the beneficiary? :>D

      How does a person who does this know when it is time to stop? Are there any old solo climbers?

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Catherine Destiville (b. 1960) retired some time ago.

      • Mike in Barcelona
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:37 am | Permalink

        John Bachar was an old school soloist, and unfortunately he died that way(2009). Dan Osborne was a soloist who died base jumping in the 90s. Peter Croft is the oldest accomplished free soloist still alive. No idea if he still solos.

        • Mike in Barcelona
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          Sorry, Dan Osman

      • Bob Kaspar
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        Most soloists become recognizant of age and probability and scale things back accordingly. John Bachar, age 53?, was killed free soloing on a short, easy route that he had done many times, possibly due to rockfall. There are many soloists from the 70’s and 80’s still around. They seem pretty normal until they speak. 🙂

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Maybe he could get life insurance but just at a really, really high cost!

  9. Occam
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    May I posit that great rock climbers are all equally brave, or equally nuts, depending on your perspective, but if ranking and accolades must be, my candidate for the title of best rock climber would be [Ueli Steck](
    I mean, the Heckmair Route on the Eiger North Face in 2:47:33.

    To my eternal embarrassment, I once bumped into the guy and had no idea who he was.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Don’t be embarrassed. The rule is that it’s okay to bump into a famous rock climber and fail to recognize who it is as long as you did not knock them down very far.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Most climbers (including, I suspect, Ueli himself) would classify him as more of an alpinist than a rock climber. His ascents are less technical, more about endurance, altitude, exposure, etc.

      • Occam
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the clarification, but look: I just tripped up between Markdown and HTML, so esoteric nuances of alpinism vs climbing must clearly lie beyond my ken.

        One afternoon in Grindelwald, alternately watching climbers — or maybe alpinists — on the Eiger North Face and glancing at the Jungfraubahn timetable, I decided that trying to beat even a century-old rack-and-pinion railway with one’s bare hands was better left to another species altogether.

        Then guys like Honnold and Steck almost manage to beat the machine. I’m amazed, awed, and painfully punched in the ribs by my alpine-minded ladyfriend when I point out that helicopters were invented for precisely this kind of vertical excursion.

        • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

          I forgive you entirely based on the articulate response and your tangential John Henry reference. You know how atheists quibble about nuances of certainty and stridency and so on? Climbers are like that when it comes to discipline. Forgive my pedantry.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      I mean, the Heckmair Route on the Eiger North Face in 2:47:33.

      Going up or going down?

  10. Bob Kaspar
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Soloing at a 5.12+ standard is pretty impressive. However, after the first 50ft or so the height above the ground is irrelevant. Also, solo climbers are not “Adrenalin Junkies” (generally stunt fetishists). Adrenalin jitters are the absolute last thing you want. If anything, soloing is for discipline junkies.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Although they may seem strange bedfellows, the two often coexist. I would be fairly surprised if excitement wasn’t a major motivation for most solo climbers. That you have to be so disciplined is just another difficulty to over come that makes it all that much more exciting. Actually most “extreme” physical activities are that way.

      There may be some that aren’t, but right off hand I can’t think of any that don’t require a certain amount of discipline if you want to survive for very long.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Bungee jumping

        • Bob Kaspar
          Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          Perfect Example. Bungee Jumping,an “extreme sport” that requires nothing but the ticket fee. Actually, you don’t even have to be alive to bungee jump.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            I believe you are referring to a “bungee push”.

            • Bob Kaspar
              Posted February 11, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

              I guess you’re right. But if you think about it (if you really want to) a slight electrical jolt might produce a little “jump”.

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:17 pm | Permalink


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                (Bouncing On Elastic Band, Laughing Insanely)
                I’m told that the “ground rush” that you experience as a base jumper who’s chute has collapsed / tangled etc is … rather intense. And people have survived it.
                To quote one of my friends from rock and ice climbing in my youth, “It may not stop you, but it sure as hell slows you down!”

        • darrelle
          Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          True dat.

          But if you are doing it yourself instead of relying on some experts (hopefully!) to have competently set everything up for you, then it still requires some discipline to figure it all out and rig it properly and safely, and maintain the gear, and check the gear regularly, and so on.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

            And this is not the time to lie about your weight – also don’t lie when they seat you in a helicopter.

    • Mike in Barcelona
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:41 am | Permalink

      No, the distance above the ground definitely matters above 50 ft. Wind and cold become factors. Being 100 ft off the deck is not nearly as intimidating as being 1000 ft. Exposure can always get worse!

      • Bob Kaspar
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        You’re right about wind (sometimes). However, a fall from 1000ft is no more fatal than a fall from 100ft and what is intimidating are the immediate moves before you and not your distance off the deck. When you climb at this difficulty level you pay little or no attention to your distance off the deck. In roped lead climbing you are actually safer when you get up a pitch or so because of the decreased possibility of a leader ground fall.

        • Posted February 13, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          But you have more time to realize you’re going to die when you’re falling from a thousand feet than when you’re falling from a hundred feet, don’t you think?

          • Bob Kaspar
            Posted February 13, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            Falls aren’t nearly as clean as portrayed in the popular media. You usually hit all sorts of stuff, real hard, on the way down. Also, I’ve never heard anybody scream while falling.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

              That’s a comfort.

          • Posted February 14, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            Not really. Free fall from 100 feet is about three seconds; from 1000 feet, it’s still only about eight seconds. Neither is enough time to realize much of anything in a panic situation, beyond the generic, “Oh, shit!” And it’s certainly not enough time to scream.


        • Mike in Barcelona
          Posted February 14, 2014 at 5:17 am | Permalink

          Winds can become strong enough to pull you off the wall when you get high enough, or at the least make you lose your balance at a critical moment, leading to a fall. Climbing with frozen fingers royally sucks, and that tends to happen at altitude. And lots of climbers have survived a fall from 100 ft, albeit with serious injuries. At 1000 ft, survival rates are way lower (sorry I can’t cite you specific stats here). I agree that one’s concentration is on the moves while climbing, not the ground below, but exposure grips everyone. Solid 5.12 moves 50 feet off the deck would definitely feel easier than the same moves at 1000 ft. That’s why Huber’s ascent of Eternal Flame on the Nameless Tower is such an amazing accomplishment. Is it just another 5.13a sport route or something more? But perhaps such an extreme alpine example is getting away from your point. It is still hard for me to imagine that exposure plays no role for a soloist as elevation is gained.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 14, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

            Also, don’t you have to pee if you’ve been up there that long?

            • Bob Kaspar
              Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              Yes, but it’s more of problem when the camera guy has to pee.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                Ha ha!

              • Posted February 14, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

                The cameraman’s hands are holding his camera, he might be able to hold it with just one hand which would make it complicated to use just the other hand to, well, you know, unzip or unbutton and the rest.

                What if it is not a cameraman but a camerawoman in trousers?

              • Bob Kaspar
                Posted February 14, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                Methinks you may miss the point. (The camera person is above the climber. :0

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted February 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                Diapers for both of them? It works for astronauts.

          • Bob Kaspar
            Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

            Are we suggesting that a soloist facing a crux move at 100ft is thinking “I’m sure glad I don’t need to be as careful here because there’s only a 99% chance of death whereas at 1000ft it would be 100%”?

            It’s true that temperature can be a problem. However you’re confusing elevation with exposure and alpine climbing with rock climbing. The natural temperature decrease is about 3 degrees per 1000ft of elevation gain. So for all practical purposes the temperature at the bottom of a 1000 cliff is the same as at the top. In fact if you’re climbing out of a cold air pool, like Yosemite Valley, it’s usually the case that it gets considerably warmer higher up.

  11. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Alex Honnold is utterly amazing. I would mention in the same breath Catherine Destiville, perhaps the most agile if free rock climbers.

  12. Posted February 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    If your palms didn’t sweat enough watching Alex, check out Steph Davis free-soloing Castleton Tower and Long’s Peak,
    Pervertical Sanctuary: Diamond Free Solo.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      True, but I’ve climbed both the routes Steph does in that video, with a rope to protect me. Yet I have never climbed a 5.12, even with a rope on. So I consider Alex’s feat much crazier, if that makes any sense. His foot is on the tiniest of footholds!!

      It makes a huge difference if you have done a certain route 10 times with a rope on. Then when free soloing you know exactly what to expect, and you are just doing the same moves with greatly increased consequences. To “on-sight” free solo something, never having seen it before, is totally crazy in my view. I wonder of Alex had done that route before?

      • JT
        Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        From what I understand, Alex first climbs the route with protection. In other videos I’ve seen him do this. Of course, like all trad climbers, he usually makes fun of it by calling it sport climbing (even though it is trad climbing).

        • Mike in Barcelona
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:46 am | Permalink

          No, it is sport climbing. This route is fully equipped with bolts like most routes at El Portreo Chico. There are few lines that permit placement of natural protection, so the developers basically bolted everything.

    • Bob J.
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      There was a movie from the 1970s of Chouinard climbing the Three Sisters. I wish that was on youtube.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

      Hell. That video of Step Davis, when she got to the hand-jam crack, I couldn’t watch. Even though I knew she must have made it OK.

      My laptop was giving me vertigo.

      • Bob Kaspar
        Posted February 13, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        Viewing Suggestion:

        Turn your laptop around and view from the top down. That’s how it actually looks when you’re climbing. Still the same distance from the ground of course but the vertigo sensation is enhanced by the cameraman shooting down between his legs with the camera still held normally. This gives an (intended) inverted, dizzying feeling.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

          You’re just trying to make it worse, aren’t you? 😉

  13. Sastra
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I am very, very, very, very glad that I am not Alex Honnold’s mother.

    Or his wife.

    Or him.

  14. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    After just watching that video, I think I need therapy.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      I suppose guided imagery and immersion therapy wouldn’t help much for acrophobia.

  15. Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Not even remotely sane.

  16. David Duncan
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Amazing, though I won’t be watching the clip. I’d have a heart attack just watching.

    He’s not wearing gloves?

    And the Wikipedia article says he has a GPA of 4.7. I thought the maximum was 4.0.

    • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      I’m no climber, but I wouldn’t even think to wear gloves doing that sort of thing. You need much more sense and control than gloves would allow. The only thing gloves would give you would be a negligible amount of grip and protection from cuts.

      I’d suspect that there’re probably some serious climbers who prefer going barefoot, as well, though I could see how it’d be harder to control sweat on the feet than it is to control it on the hands. Shoes provide a bit of a platform and shift a bit of the weight from your toes to the rest of the foot, but I’m not sure that that would make up for the bulk, loss of flexibility and sensitivity, and the rest. Obviously shoes are popular amongst climbers, but, again, I suspect that has more to do with sweat than anything else.



      • Mike in Barcelona
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 2:55 am | Permalink


        You’re right about the gloves. Climbers don’t wear them because it makes you slip off. Only direct contact with your skin allows you to stick to the smallest holds, usually with the help of chalk to eliminate water. However, above a certain grade, all climbers wear shoes. It’s necessary to have climbing shoes with sticky rubber because the technical feet at higher grades are so unimaginably bad and hard to use that bare feet would be useless. And it would cut you up badly and be very painful. And small falls could become ankle-breakers. With rare exceptions, climbers like shoes.

        • Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          Thanks for that!


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

          I have to agree. Not that I’m a climber, but I’m addicted to doing everything I can in bare feet, including walking. I feel more sure-footed on steep tracks that way, too. But I can confirm that when rock-hopping at the beach – where the rocks are covered with barnacles and stuff – I would feel more sure-footed in tennis shoes (even though, of course, there’s a good reason for being barefoot there), simply because there’s less risk of hurting or cutting my feet.

  17. Bob J.
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Odd how they still measure the distance in pitches – yet no rope.

    • cremnomaniac
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      If the climb has been done, which it has with rope. A pitch is usually designated as from one belay to the next. It could 200ft or 50ft. On average a pitch is approximately 100-150ft. The use of longer ropes (60, 65, now 70 meter) has allowed climbers to establish longer pitches.

      • Bob J.
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:42 am | Permalink

        True. But this assumes a standard route with standard belay points. And yes he has done this route before roped. Still for youtube and a general audience the concept of pitch gives little useful information.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:47 am | Permalink

          Would you care to explain it? 🙂

          • Mike in Barcelona
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:07 am | Permalink

            I’ll give it a try.

            A multi-pitch route is broken up into individual pitches that are marked by anchors or belay points. They usually coincide with natural features like ledges so you have something to stand on while belaying your buddies. Sometimes the natural features of a route like a roof or a corner require the placement of an anchor to reduce rope drag. Sometimes an anchor is placed in an awkward spot simply because it’s been a long distance since the last anchor. The relevant point here is that each pitch on a multi-pitch sport route is assigned a grade which tells you how difficult you will probably find it, roped or not. So when Alex is free soloing a long route like this, it is still useful to know if he is on a 5.10 pitch, which would be easy for him, or a thin, airy 5.12, which is going to be hard for some people to watch. He has soloed harder technical grades than what is found on this route, but the exposure in ‘Sendero’ is a major factor in why this is a such a big acomplishment.

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

              Thank you, very clear and informative.

              And good to have some idea of the, uh, amplitude (?) of the grading scale–one wouldn’t normally expect that great a difference from a change of 2/hundredths of a scale unit.

            • Mike in Barcelona
              Posted February 13, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

              Yes, the grading system. A source of endless debate among climbers, I assure you. The US system was originally called the Yosemite decimal system and the “5” meant technical climbing requiring safety gear. What comes after the “5.” is an integer, not a fraction, that tells you the difficulty, but it originally went only to “5.10” which was believed at the time to be the maximum difficulty a human was capable of.

              Generations of climbers since have blown that theory to smithereens, so we have a non-linear grading system that goes something like 5.8, 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, etc. up to about 5.15c now. Some mutant gym rat will eventually push it to 5.16a. Climbing is interesting in that we still don’t know what humans are capable of climbing and every year our ideas are revised by newer, harder ascents!

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                Thank you! That was a big piece of the puzzle I was missing.

                Guess I could have Googled it–but it’s much easier to rely on our diversely-talented WEIT-ians.

  18. cremnomaniac
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Adrenaline Junkie, pFFT!

    As a climber of more than 20 years and an acquaintance of Alex, I can tell you it has nothing to do with being an “adrenaline junkie.”

    Until you have been smitten by climbing you really can’t understand. So let me try to enlighten those not inclined to take my suggestion.

    Climbing is sport that is often said to be 10% physical and 90% mental. Focus and attention, athleticism, flexibility, knowledge of rock types, planning moves way ahead of you, and confidence, are all attributes that make great climbers. Alex has these in spades.

    If you have never hung on a wall at 800 feet with swallows, Peregrines, frogs, lizards, Eagles, just an arms reach away, you can’t know how special climbing is. It is a perspective that few see, like going into space, but the rewards are indescribable. It has nothing to do with adrenaline.

    Quoting my own website-
    “Climbing courses through the veins of a climber. It is sustenance as necessary as the air we breathe. Even in the midst of long absences, climbing remains a preoccupation of our thoughts. It’s more than memories of past events or simply plans for the next opportunity. It is who we are. No prouder words do I speak, “I am a climber.””

    Free soloist have always been a part of the sport. John Bacar may have been the greatest, his exploits are legend. Peter Croft’s solos of Astroman (7x) and the Rostrum in Yosemite were astounding. Alex is in that class, no doubt. Alex’s first notable free solo was Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park. It is also rated 5.12+, 9 pitches, and 1,200ft.
    Pont is he’s been doing this a while, and this climb is an easy one for him. He’s done harder.

    And I should point out that the name I use cremno- : (Latin) bluff, crag, escarpment,face, precipice, rock face, rocky height, scar, scarp, steep rock, wall.

    maniac : A person who has an excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm for something.
    The name is also the title of my blog. A blog about climbing. Look it up.

    • cremnomaniac
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      I am remiss not to mention Dan Osman’s free-solo of Atlantis in the Needles. You wanna see astounding find that video. He “Flags” half way up the route, and he did it with a cracked rib.
      An awesome route too.

    • David Duncan
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Just some of the little things would make this really hard for me, like worrying about a voluntary or involuntary swat at an insect, or where my next mouthful of water was coming from and how I’d get it safely into my mouth.

      I’ll bet that a desperate need to go to the loo isn’t desirable while climbing.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      cremno, isn’t getting down equally as hard? Or do climbers arrange for helicopter pickup or what?

      • Mike in Barcelona
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        Most of the routes at El Portrero Chico have walk-offs down through the gullies.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          Aha! I expected as much. Probably how the camera guy/gal gets there too. 😀

      • Mike in Barcelona
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        Otherwise, they rappel off long routes there, and if that was the case he probably had rap gear and supplies waiting for him at the top.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Well, even I should have thought of that. I’ve used rock techniques to climb old-growth trees before, and rappelled down…(Hey, these trees [I]were[/I] 225-250′ tall…)

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            And just after I hit “post” I remember I’m on WEIT, and not my BBC forum…

  19. Mike in Barcelona
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    “Alex Honnold…is probably the best rock climber on Earth…”

    Sorry, Jerry, but a Czech climber named Adam Ondra currently owns that distinction. While he isn’t a soloist, he has climbed the hardest routes in the world and completed first ascents of even harder ones that have not been repeated (despite world-class climbers trying). He has several first ascents now graded 9b+ on the international scale (5.15c by the US scale), the only routes in the world of that grade. He is also one of the best on-sight climbers in the world, and passed up the honor to be the first to claim a 9a (5.14d) on-sight by humbly downgrading a 9a route he had onsighted to 8c+ (5.14c). Ondra also competes in climbing world cups, practically without preparation aside from his climbing on rock, and is usually at or near the top of the podium. Ask any active climber. Adam Ondra is widely acknowledged as currently the world’s best climber. If your interest in climbing keeps up, you could feature one of the many videos of him doing routes like The Change or La Dura Dura.

    However, when it come to bold free solos, Alex is properly recognized as the current best and perhaps most accomplished ever. It should also be mentioned that Alex is one of the world’s top trad climbers and has also ticked extremely hard sport routes using a rope and harness. But nothing compares to his accomplishments soloing long routes: bold, committing, and demaning on a physical and psychological level few of us are equipped to appreciate.

  20. Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    If you have never hung on a wall at 800 feet with swallows, Peregrines, frogs, lizards, Eagles, just an arms reach away, you can’t know how special climbing is. It is a perspective that few see, like going into space, but the rewards are indescribable. It has nothing to do with adrenaline.

    And this perspective is not available if you are using a rope?

    The incremental improvement of the climbing experience between using a rope and not using a rope is worth the difference between relative safety and complete annihilation – but this difference is not about adrenaline?

    That is really difficult for this reader to understand. In fact, I would argue that perhaps my viewpoint is more objective than a solo practitioner, who is experiencing something he finds mystical, transcendent, and addictive.

    If I was the father of a solo climber, I would wonder why the idea of using a rope, but putting a substantial wager on whether it would be needed, would not be a satisfactory alternative to a solo climber.

    But of course, it would not be a satisfactory alternative, would it? Because solo climbing is not a rational pursuit, it is an addiction. It may not be about adrenaline – but I bet it is about dopamine or endorphins.

    • Jeffrey Hatley
      Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Free soloing is a very different experience from using a rope (which, as others have pointed out, Alex did many times before attempting the ropeless ascent).

      For instance: Using ropes, Alex would need another climber involved to belay him. The route is so long that it would involve several pitches. At each pitch, Alex would have to stop climbing, build an anchor, and belay his partner to the anchor point before continuing with his climb.

      While fee soloing, Alex was able to climb continuously, stopping only when he wanted to rest. He finished the route in three hours. Climbing on ropes with a partner, this climb takes days, and rather than being one long, continuous climb, it is fragmented into several smaller climbs with long periods of non-climbing thrown in.

      I’m not making any sort of value judgement on whether free soloing is “better”, “purer”, or anything-er than climbing with ropes. But it is objectively a different experience, and that experience seems to be what Alex is chasing, not adrenaline.

      • Jeffrey Hatley
        Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Correction: I didn’t mean to say that with ropes the route takes days, but rather that it takes a full day.

    • Mike in Barcelona
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      Free solo climbing is extremely rare and requires massive amounts of preparation time, especially if it is being filmed (one usually doesn’t climb with a camera crew).

      I think all the great experiences in the paragraph you cite are understood to take place when using normal safety gear, which is what climbers do 99.99% of the time. Preparing for a solo is tedious, time consuming, and requires intense discipline. A typical dedicated climber wants to tick route after route and get home safely, always trying new ones, so there is never a moment in the parking lot where you decide whether to leave your ropes behind that day. A big solo climb like this is a huge production, and while admirable, it is pretty different than what most climbers do, which is climb with a rope, calculate manageable risks, and enjoy nature (without cheating death every weekend).

  21. Posted February 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I am so very glad that neither my son, my husband nor my brothers are into mountaineering – if they were, my heart would have stopped for good a long time ago…

    Meanwhile, there is some serious competition that has begun training early – watch out, Alex!

  22. Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    One of the recent National Geographics (in the last three months) had an article on free climbing on cliffs no one had ever done before. It was somewhere in the seas around the Middle East. There were no lines but, because they were sea cliffs, you could apparently just let go when you were done. I think that might have been overstating it though.

    • Jeffrey Hatley
      Posted February 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      What you describe is called Deep Water Soloing, and is much more common than what Alex Honnold is doing!

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