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“Wow, I’m surprisingly tired,” thought rock climber Alex Honnold, 26, at this point while speed climbing the Nose on El Capitan with Hans Florine, now 48, to set a new record on June 17, 2012. “This was actually the hardest move on the final bolt ladder, a really long pull over a slight bulge, and my one arm was kind of wilting,” says the 2011 Adventurer of the Year, seen in the shade on this 90-degree day. Florine and Honnold set a new record of two hours, 23 minutes, and 46 seconds, shaving almost 13 minutes off the previous record set by Dean Potter and Sean Leary in November 2010.
“Hans was an awesome climbing partner. We both climb in a similar style, so it was easy to work together,” says Honnold, who had just completed a solo triple linkup on El Capitan, Mount Watkins, and Half Dome in less than 19 hours a week before starting on the Nose. “And to be fair, I learned most of what I know about speed climbing from his book on the subject.” Florine has held the Nose speed-climbing record eight times over the past 22 years.
Here Alex tells us a bit more about the climb.
Adventure: What were you thinking in this moment?
Alex Honnold: This is actually the hardest move on the final bolt ladder, a really long pull over a slight bulge. I was actually thinking something along the lines of, “Wow, I’m surprisingly tired” because my one arm was kinda wilting. I had a hard time holding that lock off.
A: Was the shade an important factor in this climb, and maybe any climb?
A.H.: Yeah, temperature conditions are super important on any climb. In this case especially since it was 90 degrees that day in the valley.
A: What was it like climbing with Hans, who is very much your senior but with lots of experience on the Nose?
A.H.: Hans is an awesome partner. He’s super safe and fun to climb with. We both climb in a similar style so it was easy to work well together. And to be fair, I learned most of what I know about speed climbing from his book on the subject.
A: Were there any funny moments during the climb?
A.H.: Not really, I was too busy climbing smoothly. I joked around a little with two guys we passed half way, but it was just pleasantries and I huffed and puffed my way onward.
A: What did you do when you made it to the top? Did you celebrate?
A.H.: Well, when I made it to the top I just pulled on the rope as hard as I could to help Hans go as fast as possible, since the timer doesn’t stop till we’re both on top. Once he made it we both just sat and smiled for a while. No real celebration, but some pretty deep contentment. Hans partied with his family the rest of the day, it was Father’s Day after all.
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A: What style climbing was this? How many pitches was it?
A.H.: This was basically just normal rock climbing, though we simul-climbed the whole route. This was the Nose, which is the nicest line up the middle of El Cap. 31 pitches? Some thing like that. We did it in 2 blocks, Hans led from the ground to the middle and I lead from the middle to the top.
A: Have you heard from the previous speed-record holders? Will there be a rematch?
A.H.: The previous record holders, Sean Leary and Dean Potter, are both friends of mine. I’m not sure if they will motivate again for this kind of thing, but they might. They’re certainly capable of a similar time, but I’m not sure if they’ll want to play the game again.
A: You mentioned at Mountainfilm in Telluride that you are interested in using ropes to climb harder things. How’s that going? I suppose that’s what made the triple linkup possible?
A.H.: Well I just finished the Valley season, so now I’m turning my attention to climbing short and hard things. I think next season in the Valley I’ll try to climb harder routes with a rope. Being able to climb hard routes with a rope is what makes the high-end soloing possible. And now that I’ve done most of the big linkups, and things like that, I want to change focuses for a while. But we’ll see, it all depends on what inspires me.
A: What’s next?
A.H.: I’m going to Boulder, Colorado, for a month to boulder and train a bit. Then probably South Africa to keep bouldering. . .
Basically just building a good base of strength again. We’ll see how it goes.