Climber Punches His Man Card for Life by Free Soloing El Capitan

Rock climber Alex Honnold was already an accomplished climber. He was already a well-respected climber who had conquered rock faces all over the world. He was sponsored by numerous companies such as The North Face and Black Diamond. Basically, he was on top of the world of his sport.

Yet, Honnold exhibited the most quintessential of American traits. He wanted to do more.

That led him to the 3,000-foot wall of El Capitan in California.

Trained in a climbing gym in Sacramento, Honnold, 31, burst onto the international scene in 2008 with two high-risk, rope-free ascents—the northwest face of Yosemite’s Half Dome and the Moonlight Buttress in Utah’s Zion National Park. Those free solos astonished the climbing world and set new benchmarks in much the same way that Roger Bannister redefined distance running when he broke the four-minute mile in 1954.

“What Alex did on Moonlight Buttress defied everything that we are trained, and brought up and genetically engineered to think,” said Peter Mortimer, a climber who has made numerous films with Honnold. “It’s the most unnatural place for a human to be.”

But those pioneering climbs pale in comparison to El Capitan. 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.

Caldwell and Jorgeson did something called “free climbing,” which uses ropes for safety, but not for the ascent.

Honnold decided to forgo all that and just climb up a sheer rock face with nothing but his own muscles to hold him.

The climbing world is understandably abuzz with Honnold’s climb, especially since so few of the great climbers of the past even considered it. Only two, apparently, and both died before making any attempt at the Yosemite rock.

That puts Honnold on a whole new plane of existence when it comes to free soloing.

All I can do is salute his fortitude.