Alex Honnold defied the odds on Saturday, June 3 as he surmounted the lip of El Capitan. He is the first climber to ever free solo the 3,000-foot granite face, which means to climb without a rope or safety equipment.
Honnold is a California-based climber renowned for his many free solo ascents of big walls and speed records, especially within Yosemite Valley. He ascended the face of El Capitan via ‘Freerider, a 3,000-foot route rated 5.13a on the Yosemite Decimal Rating System comprising 33 pitches, which are individual sections of climbing. Freerider was first climbed by Alex Huber in 1998.
Honnold trained for the climb for many months, performing a final practice run over Memorial Day weekend. He started up the route at 5:32 a.m. last Saturday and finished in just under four hours. The event was documented by National Geographic and will be featured in an upcoming film and magazine story.
While the sport of high-level climbing is the province of an elite few, the art of soloing belongs to even fewer. Although there are climbers who can match his physical abilities, Honnold stands alone in regard to the mastery of fear. His uncanny ability to remain calm in the most dangerous situations is his most unique attribute.
Honnold stated to National Geographic, “With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way. It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”
The most difficult part of the climb came at about 600 feet off the ground and comprised two pitches of polished rock bereft of holds for hands and feet. Honnold was forced to utilize a technique called smearing which involves relying on friction and precariously walking the sticky rubber of his climbing shoes up the granite face.
The event was captured on camera by Honnold’s climbing partner Jimmy Chin and filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, marking the most perilous rope-free ascent in history.