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Climber Comedian: Alex Honnold on Being Funny, Filmming His Own Climbs, What’s Next

Who would’ve guessed that Alex Honnold was so funny?

Yet it’s this celebrated California free soloist, known his daring ropeless ascents in Yosemite and elsewhere, who is responsible for making REEL ROCK 10, the annual worldwide tour of climbing films from Sender Films and Big Up Productions, perhaps the funniest year yet.

“This year’s program has probably 50 big laughs,” says Josh Lowell, REEL ROCK cofounder, “which is really rare in the outdoor-film genre.”

Honnold stars in two of the five films headlining REEL ROCK 10: A Line Across the Sky, a 40-minute film about Honnold and Tommy Caldwell’s traverse of the Fitz Roy massif in Patagonia, Argentina—an ascent, by the way, that earned the duo recognition as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year—and Horseshoe Hell, a documentary about 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, a gonzo climbing competition in Arkansas in which participants climb all day and all night and try to rack up as many routes as possible.

Whereas past REEL ROCK films, such as Honnold 3.0, have focused more on Honnold’s world-class athleticism and uncanny ability to turn fear off while free soloing, this year Honnold plays a comedic foil to the plot lines of the two films in which he appears. Many of those 50 big laughs in REEL ROCK 10 are thanks to Alex Honnold.

We caught up with Honnold to hear his thoughts on REEL ROCK, and what’s next.

Over the years, the Reel Rock Tour has shown us many sides of you: the bold free soloist; the pathologically aloof guy; the dude who lives in a van down by the river. This year, in both of the films that you’re in, you mostly serve as the comedy relief. Did you know that you’re so funny?

How I’m portrayed in films has more to do with the filmmaking and what they need in the story than anything else. I’m the same person I’ve always been, I just get used in different ways according to the filmmakers’ needs—which is fine with me, it makes for great films.

Realistically, anyone who spends tons of hours recording someone will get plenty of everything. They can edit it seriously or comedically or whatever else they need. Everyone has different dimensions to their personality.

You shot a lot of the footage in A Line Across the Sky. Does bringing a camera detract from the adventure, does it make it more fun, or is it just a pain in the ass?

Filming typically takes a bit away from the climbing experience since you have to stop all the time and shoot. But in this case we only took out the camera when we stopped to rest at camp, so it was actually quite fun. We both had a good time goofing around and chatting in the evenings while we cooked or set up camp. Also, we only shot about 15 minutes of footage over five days of climbing, so it’s not like we were using the camera a whole lot.

But overall it was pretty fun. And I’m definitely glad we filmed a little now that I’ve seen the final piece. It’s cool to be able to share the adventure so well.

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Alex Honnold on the Fitz Traverse, Patagonia, Argentina; Photograph by Austin Siadak

Climbing is rapidly growing, and you’ve certainly played a significant role in helping the sport go from fringe to mainstream. Do you think the core climbing world is being diluted, or is climbing as a sport heading in the right direction?

I’ve never really worried about the “direction of the sport.” I think it’s great that so many people are enjoying climbing. I’ve always loved climbing, I don’t see why other people wouldn’t enjoy it just as much. As long as everyone does their best to respect the areas in which they’re climbing I don’t see how the growth of the sport could be a bad thing. And really, I think that more people getting outside and recreating is probably good for the environment overall since those people care more about protecting wild places.

All that to say, I think it’s good that lots of people like climbing.

Many criticize climbing (and especially free soloing) for being inherently selfish. But A Line Across the Sky does a great job of capturing a spirit of camaraderie between climbers. Is climbing actually selfless?

I would’t make any sweeping statements about the true spirit of climbing, but I would say that partnerships and friendships are a very important part of why I climb. I’ve never really understood the criticism that climbing is inherently selfish since it could equally be argued about virtually any other hobby or sport. Is gardening selfish?!

Being with my friends is a big part of why I love climbing; it’s nice that the film was able to show that well.

It’s been a bit of time since your last big solo: Sendero Luminoso (5.12d; 1,700 feet) in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. Are you moving away from pushing your limits as a free soloist? What’s next?

Last summer I soloed the University Wall (5.12; 900 feet) in Squamish and then Romantic Warrior (5.12b; 800 feet) in the Needles, both of which I considered just as hard for me as Sendero Luminoso. There was just no film, so those ascents went pretty under the radar.

I’ve often alternated a year on, year off, for soloing. We’ll see if I get motivated next year. But this year has been more about traveling and adventuring and doing other kinds of things. We’ll see where it all goes.