Perhaps the most impressive detail buried in 25-year-old Alex Honnold's ridiculously large adventure in Yosemite this July was the eight-hour drive the Californian made to Los Angeles at the very end. At that point, he’d been up for 36 hours straight—spending a day first doing interviews and shooting a climbing video. And then, at 8 p.m., he and partner Shawn Leary climbed 3,000-foot El Capitan for 24 hours straight, summitting three times and breaking the speed record for consecutive ascents.
All told, Honnold and Leary had scaled more than 8,000 vertical feet, and hiked down another 9,000 for trips back to the valley. Honnold then scarfed dinner, took a shower, and hit the road, driving south to see his girlfriend. He’d been up 42 hours all told. “I didn’t even know I could do something like that,” he says of that two-day stretch. “I really pushed some limits that time.” That time.
Just a week earlier, Honnold had managed to scale the walls of both iconic Half Dome and El Cap, solo, in just over 11 hours, crushing the speed records for El Cap and the two routes consecutively—what’s known as the solo linkup. That outing, which left the climbing world slack-jawed with its audacity, was, as Honnold puts it, “just kind of fun.” Which begs the question: What can this kid climb if he really works at something? Probably anything.
—By Ryan Bradley
IN MY OWN WORDS
By Alex Honnold
“Oh, I Could Do That”
I was out climbing with a friend of mine and we got to talking about this old film we both love, Masters of Stone V. In it, there's footage of Dean Potter doing the solo linkup, and it was, like, the coolest thing I'd ever seen when I was 15. I got to thinking, Oh, I could probably do that this season. I didn't exactly know how, but I figured it couldn't be that bad.
I hiked up to Half Dome the night before, slept at the base, chatted with these two Swedish dudes who'd done it that day, then went to sleep. I woke up at 4:45 a.m., got up ten minutes before light and just started climbing. I was up there romping. I don't know how quickly I did it. Two hours and nine minutes? Yeah. Pretty fast.
“Nothing About This Was Super Extreme”
By the time I hiked down Half Dome, my friends were just getting out of bed. It was maybe 8 a.m. I had stashed a mountain bike at Muir Lake, which saved me a little bit of effort. I biked back to my van, made myself breakfast, and drove to El Cap. Nothing about this was super extreme. I took a pack and food and headlamp and jacket because I really had no idea how long it would take. I'd never soloed El Cap before.
Some Final Cramming
It's 3,000 feet. In my life I'd done three or four pitches, but this is 30. I'd read in books how to rope solo, but I wasn't totally sure what I'd be getting into.
I sort of realized an hour into it that I was just going to crush the speed record. I checked my timer and was like, Oh man, that is pretty quick. So I stopped to eat. I wasn't really gunning for speed, I was just hoping to do the linkup because I thought it would be so cool.
The Pancake Flake above the Great Roof was this long involved process. At the end I was like, Man, that's enough of that. It’s super exposed, 2,300 feet off the ground, and a really clean, sheer part of the wall. Up there I was like, This is crazy. You get through it with a layback, where, with counter-pressure, you’re pulling back against the side of the crack and your body is open—it's a very exposed style of climbing. If your foot slips you could fall off the wall. I’m up there, facing outward, the Valley 2,300 feet below and thinking, This is heroic.
A Quick Snack and Chat
In the last couple hundred feet I ran into some climbing parties. I'm sure they were like, What the f***!? They'd been up there for four or five days. I stopped and chatted with them for a bit. Also, honestly, my arms were getting a little tired. So I shared some of my Goldfish with this chick on belay.
A Bigger Climb
The solo linkup I came up with spur the moment, but the triple was monumental. Three times. Twenty-three hours. We were going speed route—actually moving continuously for a full 16 hours, which is kind of tiring, you know? That actually kind of pushed us. And having to hike down El Cap three times is sort of a lot of work.
Step Aside, Dean
I rewatched Masters of Stone recently and, I don't know. Some of the magic is gone.