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Free Soloist Alex Honnold Will Climb Live on the National Geographic Channel

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Alex Honnold (left) and Pete Mortimer; Photograph courtesy of Pete Mortimer

Today news broke that Alex Honnold will be climbing an undisclosed building live on the National Geographic Channel this fall. Honnold will be working with Pete Mortimer and the Sender Films team, whose previous collaborations resulted in the classic adventure film Alone on the Wall and the follow-up Honnold 3.0. Though their Emmy Award-nominated 60 Minutes profile made Honnold the most well-known and admired rock climber ever, he hasn’t changed a bit, except perhaps for moving out of his van and into a house.

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Pete Mortimer and Alex Honnold all cleaned up for the Emmy Awards in New York City; Photograph courtesy Pete Mortimer

Honnold and Mortimer have been working together for more than six years. “When we started filming with Alex, he was well known in the underground climbing scene in Yosemite as a hot, young talent, but he was not known beyond the valley,” says Mortimer, the mastermind behind the Reel Rock Film Tour. “I think we definitely helped introduced him to the climbing world and beyond.”

Free soloing—Honnold’s specialty of climbing without ropes—requires a serious mental game. To document his climbs, the 27-year-old’s rock climbing buddies scale the walls with him, cameras in tow. This will be true of the live climb this fall. We asked Honnold, who was an Adventurer of the Year in 2011, to share a few details about the upcoming event.

Adventure: Alex, have you ever climbed a building before?
Alex Honnold: As a kid I scrambled on a lot of the local schools and things, but I haven’t climbed any real buildings as an adult.

A: Why climb a building for the show and not something natural?
AH: Honestly it’s sort of all the same to me. The movement is pretty similar, and I still get to climb an inspiring and aesthetic feature. The building thing is just what TV people are psyched on, though it’s a cool opportunity for me since I’d never be allowed to climb something like this otherwise.

A: You usually climb in places where very few people are. This event inevitably will have a lot of spectators involved. Do you think that will affect your mental game?
AH: I don’t think so, at least not once I get started. Once I’m up and climbing it doesn’t really matter what’s around. I’ll be totally focused on the movement. We’ll see, but I don’t think it will affect me much.

A: How will the camera team work? Will your buddies be climbing with you? Will you be wearing a Go Pro?
AH: The camera men should be hanging on ropes on the side of the building. It should be basically the same as shooting on a cliff outdoors: I’ll be climbing and they’ll be dangling nearby. I won’t wear a Go Pro. I don’t really like having things on my head, plus the footage is always kinda silly from the climbing point of view.

A: Do you think mainstream media gets overly excited about climbing without ropes?
AH: I don’t really know if they’re excited about it, but I am. It’s gonna be awesome.

A: How will being live change the experience for you?
AH: I don’t think it will change anything. For me it’s all about climbing the building and doing it well. Whether the footage gets shown live or a month later I’ll still just be totally focused on what I’m doing. In some ways it’s nicer because then the whole project is done all at once.