DISCOVER FREE SOLO CLIMBING WITH ALEX HONNOLD
Emily Sexton-Brown, from Outdoor Enthusiast Magazine, talks to climber Alex Honnold to discover the lifestyle decisions that have made him a real pioneer in the free solo climbing world.
Alex Honnold originates from Sacramento in California. He has always had an affinity with climbing, beginning at the age of 10. Alex was gifted academically, achieving straight As, however he drifted out of school in his late teens and decided that he wanted to dedicate his life to climbing, which he has achieved – and then some.
Alex explains: “I’ve always loved the movement of climbing…I never really consciously chose it, I just never really wanted to do anything else. At no point did I decide that I wanted to make climbing my life, but day by day I’ve always wanted to just go out and climb things. Now pretty much my whole life revolves around it.”
Alex holds umpteen speed records, but he openly admits he isn’t really too focused on speed climbing. He continues: “It’s always been a fun hobby, something to do on the side for fun. Many of my speed records are only a by-product of the style I climbed the routes in. When you free solo it’s generally much faster since there’s no gear to mess around with.”
Alex specialises in free soloing, which is simply climbing without a rope or any safety gear. This is, as anyone would imagine, incredibly dangerous, but Alex describes it as: “Just you – alone, climbing a big rock face.”
“I did what normally would take a week or more for a competent party of two, by myself, in just one day.“
We swiftly move on to his achievements and what he regards as the pivotal moments of his career. Top of the list is the Yosemite Triple: “These are the three biggest faces in Yosemite; I did what normally would take a week or more for a competent party of two, by myself, in just one day. However I am always trying new challenges, so it’s hard to say what was the biggest.”
It seems Alex takes great pleasure in testing himself physically – last summer for instance he went on a three week bike tour: “It was in the fifteen tallest mountains in California. It was possibly the most exhausted I’ve ever been, largely because I have no experience biking; I’m all about trying new things and having new adventures. Last winter I did a National Geographic expedition to Oman where we lived on a catamaran for three weeks and climbed the routes out of the ocean. Also, several years ago, I did what was called my ‘tour of antiquity’ with my then girlfriend – a four month long sport climbing trip around Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Greece.”
It appears to take a certain type of individual to excel at solo climbing; Alex discusses why he is so passionate about it; “There are several climbers that I’ve always found very inspiring. Peter Croft was one of the greatest soloists of the last generation and he’s still motivated to get out and climb all the time.”
This lifestyle isn’t for the faint-hearted and takes years to perfect the techniques that ensure you are as safe as possible (in these circumstances at least).
When asked what he believes sets him apart from other climbers, he simply answers: “I think the main thing is that I’m super-inspired to solo huge faces. There are tons of other climbers who are much stronger than me and others who climb faster or higher routes, but no one else really seems motivated to solo huge.”
Surprisingly Alex doesn’t consider his life particularly extreme…he simply says: “I just go climbing a lot; I wouldn’t say my lifestyle is all that extreme. The important thing is to learn climbing skills, good foot work and good techniques.”
Alex is undoubtedly leading the way in the free solo field, and when asked what advice he would give to novice climbers, he responded: “If someone truly loves climbing and is motivated to pursue it then they probably ought to give it a shot. When I started travelling in my van and climbing all the time I was far from a great climber, but I didn’t want to do anything else and I worked hard.”
There is no doubt that Alex will continue his death-defying routes and his ascendancy within the climbing fraternity. But his dedication to the cause comes at a price: he doesn’t have a permanent address and lives out of his van so that he can remain right in the centre of the best climbing grounds. He lives frugally out of choice, and has no plans to lead a ‘normal’ life – but after experiencing Alex’s sheer joie de vivre perhaps it’s time to question the very meaning of normal?
Perhaps in contrast to his ‘dirtbag’ lifestyle, as an ambassador of the watch brand BALL, Alex is now in the prestigious BALL Explorer’s Club, though he admits to being worried about wearing equipment such as watches when climbing: “I don’t often wear a watch while I climb because I don’t want to destroy them. Though my signature model is being released soon and will be quite resilient, so I’m looking forward to giving it a concrete try.”
Emily Sexton-Brown From Outdoor Enthusiast Magazine
Outdoor Enthusiast is the UK’s leading outdoor pursuit’s magazine. Published bi-monthly Outdoor Enthusiast will inspire and motivate you to explore new parts of the world and try new activities. Our gear editors are qualified mountain leaders giving you informative and unbiased reviews in each issue.
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