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Climber Alex Honnold on Fear, Fame, and What’s Next

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Photo courtesy of the Reel Rock 7 Tour

Last June, Alex Honnold made headlines, again, when he soloed three of the highest walls in Yosemite (Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome) in just under 19 hours, which included driving time in between the formations. Honnold’s feat totalled 7,000 vertical feet of climbing, with 95 percent of it was free soloing (in a few sections he utilized bolts for aid). What’s more, much of the climbing was done in the dark of night, including the entirety of El Capitan.

As news of the “Triple” spread, footage hit the internet a few days later that quickly went viral (the video was a teaser for the Reel Rock Film Tour): Honnold, the master free-soloist, slips on camera, then recovers.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Honnold recently, and he spoke candidly about his thoughts on fear, fame, what’s next, and even hiking.

On fear:
“I do get scared while soloing. Something will happen and you have that little jolt of fear, excitement, or whatever you want to call it. Those kinds of feelings can compound themselves. I get a little jolt like that, but then I nip it in the bud, and then return to an even keel.”

On “the slip”:
“In a big link up like the Triple, in 18 hours of climbing, you have tons of little moments like that. That just happened to be a very dramatic looking foot slip because the guy filming it was five feet away from me. That was just well captured. There were probably 20 different things like that on the Triple that just weren’t captured, or that nobody saw. That kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s not always a foot slip, sometimes it might be a hold crumbling a little bit, or stepping on a but. It’s just random unexpected stuff.”

On being filmed during his climbs:
“On something like the Triple it was actually kind of nice to have people filming, just because otherwise I would have been totally by myself for 20 hours, which is all lonely and sad. And the thing is, everybody filming is a good friend of mine. Half of them are people I normally climb with when they’re not working. And logistically it made the whole thing easier. Had it not been filmed I just would’ve had to do more logistic work, like stashing food and water and everything.”

On looking down when he’s thousands of feet up:
“I think it’s amazing, and I think that’s part of why I do [what I do]. I love the position. I love being up there. I think it’s awesome.”

On celebrity:
“It definitely is satisfying to be recognized for the things that you do. But if there wasn’t any recognition, I’d probably still be doing the same stuff.”

On the most beautiful places he’s seen:
“Maybe Greece. It’s kind of cliche, but I went climbing in Kalymnos, and I gotta say, the Greek islands really lived up to their reputation for epic sunsets and just striking beauty. Actually, as we’ve been talking I’ve been sitting in my passenger seat looking up at Half Dome, overlooking this meadow, and I watched the sunset.”

On hiking:
“I used to hike all the time, and then I sort of phased it out as I’ve been climbing more, because it does cut into real climbing time. But I like hiking, and I think when I’m old I’ll probably hike more.”

On his next milestone:
“I haven’t even thought of anything bigger yet, you know what I mean? Nothing obvious comes to mind. I just started working on a free-climbing project, just some hard rock climbing as opposed to big linkup [climbs]. I got myself a drill, I’m placing some bolts.”