Alex Honnold just did something no one else has ever done. No one else has done it because, honestly, it should be impossible. In an act of what, to most people, seems to be pure madness, he climbed Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan with no ropes or safety gear.
National Geographic called it “the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.” In just under four hours, Honnold, who is inarguably one of the best climbers on earth, completed the monstrous climb. He first put skin to rock just after dawn, after spending the night in his van.
Before the sun came up, Honnold was up and preparing for his ascent. According to Nat Geo, he’s been planning this for more than a year, telling almost no one while training hard. At 5:32 am on Saturday, June 3rd, he began. By 9:28 am, he had pulled himself over the ledge of the summit and once again entered the history books.
His free-solo–the act of climbing without ropes–was exceedingly dangerous. It’s as pure as rock climbing can get. Just a man, the wall, and the summit. This wasn’t his first attempt, though. Back in November, Honnold, along with a team tasked with documenting his climb, attempted to free-solo El Cap. An hour into the attempt, he called it off, saying that something felt off.
Alex Honnold has been in climbing’s adoring eye for years now. Back in 2008, he stunned the world by climbing Yosemite’s Half Dome ropeless, then followed it up by conquering Moonlight Buttress in Utah.
“What Alex did on Moonlight Buttress defied everything that we are trained, and brought up and genetically engineered to think,” Peter Mortimer told Nat Geo. “It’s the most unnatural place for a human to be.”
In the climbing world, there is almost nothing that compares with Honnold’s recent achievement. “(Free-soloing El Capitan) was always the obvious next step,” said Peter Croft. “But after this, I really don’t see what’s next.” Croft, who is a legend in his own right and was the first to complete a free-solo of Yosemite’s Astroman, never seriously considered free soloing El Capitan.
At more than a half mile of vertical rock wall, El Capitan–and Yosemite–is one of the most revered climbing locations on Earth. No one else has attempted to free-solo it. With no ropes, any mistake would most likely prove fatal, but Honnold has an interesting take on death. Honnold, it seems, is scared of dying, just like everyone else. The difference is that he knows–in the very deepest sense of the word–that it is inevitable. “I have the same hope of survival as everybody else,” he said last year. “I just have more of an acceptance that I will die at some point.”
The route Honnold picked on El Capitan for his free solo was called Freerider. With 30 different pitches, it is one of the most difficult in climbing today. “[It] is so difficult that even in the last few years, it was newsworthy when a climber was able to summit using ropes for safety,” wrote Mark M. Synnott. “It is a zigzagging odyssey that traces several spidery networks of cracks and fissures, some gaping, others barely a knuckle wide. Along the way, Honnold squeezed his body into narrow chimneys, tiptoed across ledges the width of matchboxes, and in some places, dangled in the open air by his fingertips.”
A few weeks ago, in preparation for the climb that almost no one knew he would attempt, Honnold climbed Freerider with ropes, making chalk marks to denote key holds. Then, just a few days ago, he rappelled down to make sure they were all still there.
“Years ago, when I first mentally mapped out what it would mean to free solo Freerider, there were half a dozen of pitches where I was like, ‘Oh that’s a scary move and that’s a really scary sequence, and that little slab, and that traverse,’” Honnold said. “There were so many little sections where I thought ‘Ughh—cringe.’ But in the years since, I’ve pushed my comfort zone and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fell within the realm of the possible.”
This is an achievement that might not ever be matched. Honnold has, once again, cemented himself into the annals of climbing history.