A first: rock climber Alex Honnold free-solos El Capitan

Alex Honnold, perhaps the greatest pure rock climber in history, broke new ground Saturday when he free-soloed the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. That means he climbed the sheer granite face (3000 feet high) alone, and without any safety equipment. That has never been done before, as it’s extremely dangerous: one mistake and you’re dead.

National Geographic, who reported on the climb and will produce a documentary on it, gives some details:

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA—Renowned rock climber Alex Honnold on Saturday became the first person to scale the iconic nearly 3,000-foot granite wall known as El Capitan without using ropes or other safety gear, completing what may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.

He ascended the peak in 3 hours, 56 minutes, taking the final moderate pitch at a near run. At 9:28 a.m. PDT, under a blue sky and few wisps of cloud, he pulled his body over the rocky lip of summit and stood on a sandy ledge the size of a child’s bedroom.

Honnold began his historic rope-less climb—a style known as “free soloing”—in the pink light of dawn at 5:32 a.m. He had spent the night in the customized van that serves as his mobile base camp, risen in the dark, dressed in his favorite red t-shirt and cutoff nylon pants, and eaten his standard breakfast of oats, flax, chia seeds, and blueberries, before driving to El Capitan Meadow.

Photo by Jimmy Chin for National Geographic (as are all photos here)

It’s hard to overstate the physical and mental difficulties of a free solo ascent of the peak, which is considered by many to be the epicenter of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. From the meadow at the foot of El Capitan, climbers on the peak’s upper reaches are practically invisible to the naked eye.

“This is the ‘moon landing’ of free soloing,” said Tommy Caldwell, who made his own history in 2015 with his ascent of the Dawn Wall, El Capitan’s most difficult climb, on which he and his partner Kevin Jorgeson used ropes and other equipment only for safety, not to aid their progress.


Honnold after the climb:

And the route, also from National Geographic:




  1. Mark Reaume
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Nope, lots of nope.

    I have a lot of respect for people that can do these obviously insane feats.

    • Posted June 5, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I, on the other hand, have no respect at all.

      • Mike
        Posted June 6, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        There’s only one way Feats like this will end eventually.

  2. Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Now he’ll have to graduate to base jumping and wing-suiting. Woohoo.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      graduate to base jumping and wing-suiting.

      And then cave-diving.
      Of course, there are sites (at least one) where you can base jump while wearing your full diving kit and (with careful steering) land face down in the start of an 8-hour dive, with some up-climbing through “hanging death” to get to the digging front and start the exploration work. But that would be unnecessarily showy, as you can walk to the dive entrance.

      it’s extremely dangerous: one mistake and you’re dead.

      So, don’t make that mistake. Simples!
      TFA doesn’t say if he’d climbed the route before. Almost certainly he had ; otherwise he’d be claiming an “on-sight, free-solo” ascent, which is significantly more committing (If you reach a move you don’t know, then you have to down-climb back to jump-off level).
      I’ve not followed the weaving on Yosemite for decades, but I’m interpreting the route name of “Freerider” as being the aid-free parallel to one of the earlier “aid” climbs on “El Cap”. (“Aid” is when you put a device into or onto the rock, then let the device carry your weight while you position the next device.) If you look at the first picture, you’ll see correlated “pinch-swell” and “white-grey” structures to the crack shape he’s climbing. These are (almost certainly) scars from the original route where the “devices” used for “aid” (see above) were pitons (metal spikes) hammered into the rock. Then hammered out, for use further up the climb. Which widened the crack, and shattered the edges to white powder. Hence the correlation. The route would literally change from one climb to the next.
      Which is why financially-tight Britons and environmentally-aware Californians (well, CA-residents) led the move away from pitons to less damaging “devices” through the late 1960s and 1970s. These days, it’s hard to find a piton.
      But the route today is not as originally climbed – and has these artificially-spaced scars through many of the hard bits. Which is what offended the sensibilities of the afore-mentioned Californians, and is why they stopped using that technology. (No, I’m not digging at Trump. He’s good enough at digging his own grave.) But it still leaves scars in the rock at humanly-spaced intervals. When the route was originally climbed, no-one in the world had the skill – or confidence in the stopping power of “gear” – to climb the route without aid, let alone solo or on-sight solo, but people who were damned good climbers then and on later events say that the aid routes are very different climbs today compared to first ascent.
      (Who took the photos? Some would consider that a “bail-out” option. Rock climbers subdivide their “game”, as Tejada-Flores would put it, very finely.)
      If you want to get big props, try an on-sight solo of Asgard, which is about the same height as El Cap, but a touch less accessible. (Summer pic) ((Plumb line) There’s a substantial overhang in the top few hundred feet. And the winter changes the route, every year.
      None of which takes away from this being a huge achievement by the guy. Once he got much above 30m (~1% of the route), then the only difference about landing would be whether he made a small crater or an Pollock-esque pattern (big splattering starts above ~60m, mopping-up tells me). Before you make that realisation, height matters ; afterwards, you know you’re dead if you fall, so you Do Not Fall, regardless of the amount of thin air under your heels. That’s a challenge to anyone’s self-confidence.
      I’ve never met anyone who met “God” while rock climbing. Plenty of people who have discovered the inefficacy of prayer, the cushioning effect of friends bodies, and the limits of self confidence. But people “saved by god” … nope.

      • John Conoboy
        Posted June 5, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        Good review of the climbing history. Back in the late 60s and early 70s I would go to Yosemite and climb, but no one thought about climbing without ropes and protection. If you were gutsy, you might solo a climb, but always with ropes and a good supply of pitons. My real forte was hanging out in Camp IV and drinking Red Mountain wine.

        Climbing without ropes was limited to bouldering, i.e. practicing on some of the large boulders in Yosemite Valley. If you missed a move, the drop was only a few feet. I am amazed by Honnold’s feat. He is truly amazing.

      • thompjs
        Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        There are sections of Free Rider that were done post piton scars, plus some traverses etc. with no cracks.

  3. somer
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Mind Blowing. Incredible guts and stamina and a super human feat.

  4. ploubere
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, that means that others will now attempt it, and some will die.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Darwin +1
      Homo sapiens+1 (fewer people to support)
      +~2*~1 (cost of most-likely family)
      -something (family upset ; but they knew this was going to happen, so it’s less thn surprising.)
      So, yeah, it’s a net plus. Probably BUT, few people get far enough off the grond to die without getting some pretty painful lessons in the universality of the law of gravity before-hand. It’s not something people do by accident, beyond a trivial level.

    • Eli
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      That’s why I was surprised the NPS granted a permit for this climb.

  5. darrelle
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Incredible. And nuts. I’ve been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but I’ve never contemplated anything nearly as dangerous as this. No interest at all in that level of danger.

  6. Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Side note: This guy was also featured in Chris Johnson’s book A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World Without God. https://www.theatheistbook.com/

  7. thompjs
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    He didn’t just wake up one morning and try this. He has rehearsed every move multiple times. Still pretty scary, slab pitches with no hand holds!

    This climb has harder rated pitches that he free soloed in 2014.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      He didn’t just wake up one morning and try this. He has rehearsed every move multiple times.

      Exactly the point I was making up-thread. Thank you for adding specific detail.

      • thompjs
        Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        I think we were typing at same time

    • rickflick
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I get nauseous just thinking about it. Watching drives my blood pressure to dangerous levels. I guess I was born to hug the Earth. I think I’ll go walk the d*g.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I think if anyone thought he did this without specific training and preparation that they haven’t thought very well.

      I’ve never climbed anything remotely like this before, but I’ve spent some time repelling off of tall buildings in the past. I recall that, as with other dangerous things I’ve done, I would often become so comfortable doing whatever it is I was doing that I’d forget about the danger that one simple mistake was likely to mean a permanent end of game. Then I’d remember and make a conscious effort to maintain that awareness.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if part of Honnold’s preparation for climbs like this is practicing not losing awareness of the danger.

  8. Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Every once in a while someone posts a video of Dan Osman flying up a climb. At times literally jumping to new locations.

    Those videos never mention the 12-year-old daughter he left behind when he went “one more time”.

    I recognize that I am completely incapable of understanding his actual level of risk, and will most certainly overestimate it. It still seems only degrees of separation from playing Russian Roulette.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      It still seems only degrees of separation from playing Russian Roulette.

      It is. Only degrees separated from Russian Roulette.
      And how many degrees is that separated from sharing a planet with human beings in large numbers?

    • gscott
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      Dan Osman actually died when his rope broke while ‘rope jumping’ or ‘rope free-flying’, whatever you want to call it, not while climbing.

      In the distant past, I’ve free-soloed a couple of multi-pitch climbs in the 5.3-5.5 range, but quickly realized that there was no future in it. OTOH, it’s a continuum – what I now call scrambling might be free-soloing to someone who’s uncomfortable on 4th class. So Alex Honnold is just doing what I do, only many orders of magnitude harder.

  9. DrBrydon
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Because it was there?

  10. Gamall
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Nonononono. Nope.

    I get sweaty, shaky hands merely from playing Tekken. Hell, I get sweaty hands from watching the video. I can scarcely imagine why someone would want to actually do something like this.

    It’s good that every move was rehearsed beforehand with safety equipment, though.

    Still fairly crazy. Humans are weird.

  11. Ken Phelps
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I changed a lightbulb yesterday. Stood on the very, very top of the step ladder.

    I was probably more frightened.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      You didn’t read – or understand and act on – the instructions printed on the safety equipment (step ladder). Quite rightly, this earns you a reprimand.
      You’re only meant to go up to about belly-button height on the topmost hand bar of the step ladder.
      I’m not sure if I prefer that you didn’t read the supplied instructions, or you choose to not follow them, or you didn’t understand them. Any route has bad outcomes. As your choice of words suggests.

  12. Veroxitatis
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I have followed Honnold’s career for some years. He is not only a magnificent climber but as seen in his interviews an incredibly modest guy, even humble. He shares these traits with another great free soloer from the previous generation, a Frenchhwoman, Catherine Destivelle.

  13. Martin X
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    If this were my son, I’d be furious that he was prepared to throw his life away so carelessly.

  14. Adam M.
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    An amazing feat. He’ll probably die doing this one day, and that’s okay. Better to die doing what you love than to refrain out of fear. I’m reminded of the people who say that Harrison Ford should stop flying WW2 fighter planes. One did quit on him and he crash-landed, but he’s back at it. I can’t think of a better way to go. Certainly beats dying in a bed!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      One did quit on him and he crash-landed,

      Unless there is new news, he and all POB walked away from the landing.By definition, this is a good landing.
      I hold commercial pilots to higher standards. I want to be able to walk awy without a laundry bill to submit to the company.

      • Adam M.
        Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Well, he broke his pelvis and ankle so he didn’t exactly walk away, but he survived and recovered. 🙂

  15. Glenda
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I greatly admire people who do extremely risky things for heroic reasons. I believe people who do extremely risky things for no good reason are kinda stupid. Then, I am not aware his background or of what drives him – suppose I don’t know a lot about human nature.

    • Posted June 5, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      “for no good reason”

      This would be the key phrase.

      Why do young men like to do risky things? (Besides evolution, I mean.)

      Life is pretty dull if you never leave the bunny slope.

      It certainly wouldn’t be for me, even if I ever in my life had the strength and skill. But I can understand why they do it.

  16. Posted June 5, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink


  17. Posted June 5, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    But, but, but, gravity is just a theory…

  18. Merilee
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    My brother led some younger black kids part way up in the early 70s. They all had equipment but the kids had huge Afros and insisted on being cool with their helmets all on the sides of their heads the way kids wore hats in those days. Thankfully there were no “incidents”.

    • Adam M.
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      A bit foolish I suppose, but I’m sure it was a good experience for them. This is off-topic, but one thing I’ve noticed is that whites and blacks tend to have very different hobbies. That’s no problem in itself, of course, but maybe if there was more willingness to share experiences there’d be less animosity between the races…

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    “Top of the Woo-hoo, Ma!”

  20. loren russell
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    there are old X

    there are bold X

    there are no old and bold X

    Solo, unprotected rock climbing is a species of X

  21. Robert Neely
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Let’s also remember Ueli Steck “famous for solo climbing the north face of the Eiger in under 3 hours”

    https://www.the guardian.com/world/2017/may/01/ueli-steck-obituary

  22. tombesson
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    This event reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s definition of mythology where “myths are organizations of symbols, images and narratives that are metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience and fulfillment in a given society at a given time.” The climb was truly mythological in that it showed that humans have everything necessary to do amazing things. We don’t need anything more than ourselves to succeed in life.

  23. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I have picked up this fear of height as I get older. Otherwise I would jump right on it, in your dreams. I can believe how strong the guy must be.

  24. Mark R.
    Posted June 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink


    How’d he get down?

    • John Conoboy
      Posted June 5, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      There are trails from up top back to the valley.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted June 6, 2017 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        Correct, however this was Honnold’s second attempt. On the first attempt he gave up after one hour. I guess he was a few hundred feet up. Does anyone know how he got down?

  25. ToddP
    Posted June 6, 2017 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I recall seeing a feature about Alex some time ago, perhaps on 60 Minutes? He’s an incredibly gifted climber, just absolute nerves of steel with laser-like focus.

    And he lives in a van down by the river!

  26. Posted June 6, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Easy going up – but like a cat, I bet he cannot get down after! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: