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with Stefan Nestler

Honnold: “The biggest inspiration in my whole life”

Alex Honnold

At the latest since today, Alex Honnold knows what is the opposite of free solo: The “Press Walk” of the International Mountain Summit. The 32-year-old can neither move freely nor is he alone. On the Plose, the home mountain of Bressanone in South Tyrol, about sixty reporters, camera men and photographers are bustling around the American top climber. “Crazy,” says the 32-year-old with a smile in his face. Since 3 June, his name resounds not only throughout insiders of the climbing scene but worldwide. On that day he pushed into a new dimension. Alex succeeded the first free solo – means climbing alone and without any rope – through the legendary 900-meter-high granite wall of El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley. He climbed via the route “Freerider”, which had been opened by Alexander Huber in 1995 and had been free climbed for the first time by Alexander and his brother Thomas in 1998. For comparison, the ascent with ropes for belaying had taken the Huber brothers more than 15 hours.

Modern nomad

Up for every fun

Alex Honnold does not correspond to the stereotype of an extreme climber. He wears his hair short, does not drink alcohol, does not smoke and is a vegetarian. For many years he has been living as a modern nomad, quite modest in a mobile home which he uses to drive from rock wall to rock wall. For five years, he has been supporting with his foundation environmental projects around the world. Despite his coup on the El Capitan, he does not show any airs and graces.

Already during the ascent to the mountain restaurant Rossalm, where the organizers of the IMS have scheduled a press conference with Honnold, I manage to ask Alex some questions – according to the motto “walk and talk”. 😉

Alexander and Thomas Huber as well as Tommy Caldwell compared your free solo on El Capitan with the first moon landing. How did you personally feel after having completed your project?

I found it similar. As a younger person I dreamt that would be the craziest thing I’ve ever done. But then, as I actually did it, I felt relatively normal because I spent so much time preparing that it felt like reasonable. I mean it was really special to me, but did feel like relatively normal. Anyway it’s complicated. I wouldn’t have been able to do something like that if I didn’t make it feel normal. But at the same time climbing El Cap without rope feels pretty crazy.

Alex Honnold: Pretty crazy

Was there any moment of doubt during your climb?

No, I was just 100 percent climbing. I wouldn’t have started without being totally committed. I spent a lot of time working on it. I spent nine years actually dreaming about it.

Many people wonder whether free solo climbs are responsible, especially this one in a 900-meter-high, extremely steep wall. What do yo answer them?

I thought it was responsible. I was going to make good decisions, doing my best. I think I’m pretty intentional about the risks that I’m going to take.

Alex Honnold: Intentional about the risks

Was it for you a kind of life project?

For me, it was very much like a life dream, definitely the biggest inspiration in my whole life.

Climbers on El Capitan

After having fulfilled this long dream, did you have to go through a mental valley?

I don’t know. If so, I am in the valley right now, because it was only a couple of months ago and I am still a sort of processing and looking for my next inspiration, what my next project is. There is a film about it coming next year. I am still talking about El Cap all the time. It doesn’t feel like the past.

You did a lot of amazing climbs before this free solo, for example the Fitz Traverse along with Tommy Caldwell. For this climb in Patagonia in February 2014, you were later awarded the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of the climbers”. How do you value the free solo on El Capitan if you compare it with the Fitz Traverse.

I mean, the Fitz Traverse was an amazing climbing experience, because it was with Tommy. He is a great friend, a great partner. The Fitz Traverse has never been like my big lifetime dream whereas freerider was something I was thinking about for years and years. Freerider was my personal private dream, the Fitz Traverse was more Tommy’s idea, because I had never been in Patagonia so I didn’t have any special agenda. Tommy said, we should do this. Then we did and it was an amazing experience, but I hadn’t built it up ahead that time.

What exactly did you to prepare for your free solo on El Capitan?

For many years beforehand it was more the mental, the imagining, the dreaming, the thinking about whether it was possible. And the last year beforehand, it was more the physical preparation, memorizing the moves, the rehearsal, and the actual training to get fit.

So you had every step of this climb in your mind before you started into the wall?

I had definitely every step that matters. Not the easy stuff, but the hard stuff I had fully memorized.

What was mentally the most difficult part of the climb?

Probably the biggest step was just believing that it’s possible. Because for years I thought how amazing it would be to do it but never really thought that I could. So I think the biggest mental step was like believing that I actually could and then starting the actual work.

Alex Honnold: The biggest step

And when you set off into the wall, you left everything behind?

I wouldn’t have started unless I was ready. By the time I got into the wall everything was in order.

“Compared with El Cap, the Dolomites look like pieces of garbage”, says Alex

Why did you choose “Freerider” and not another route?

It’s the easiest route on El Cap. (laughs) It’s not that easy but the other ones would have been harder.

Thomas Huber told me, he hoped that you would now stop free soloing because you probably die if you continue to push your limits.

I agree, if you constantly push, it gets more and more dangerous. But Alex (Huber), for example, was constantly pushing himself in different ways but staying safe. I think it’s possible to continue the challenge yourself without going to far.

Alex Honnold: Not going too far

So it was not your last free solo?

No, I did some in the Dolomites a couple of days ago, (laughs) but very easy ones. I think in my mind the free solo on El Cap was the hardest thing ever, because I can’t really think about anything more inspiring. But in the past, like in the last ten years, when I thought of things that were hard and I was proud of, I always had six months or a year between things that I was excited on. So we’ll see.


14. October 2017 | 18:07