Alex Honnold on Free Soloing Mexico’s 2,500-Foot El Sendero Luminoso
We just heard back from Alex Honnold, who has been busy in Patagonia pulling off an epic feat of alpinism with Tommy Caldwell—a complete traverse of the Fitzroy Massif in five days. The Internet connection in Patagonia is so slow that Alex has not actually seen the video everyone is talking about of his ropeless climb of a 2,500-foot wall in Mexico, El Sendero Luminoso, this past January. Here Alex tells us a bit about El Sendero Luminoso, which is in Potrero Chico, Mexico, a great climbing spot even if you aren’t soloing big walls. We’ll be back with more from Alex on the Fitzroy traverse.
Adventure: Some people are calling this the hardest free solo climb ever. Is that a fair comment?
Alex Honnold: I don’t think this is close to the hardest thing ever. Several people (Alain Robert, Alex Huber, many more) have soloed harder single pitches. As have I. And Hansjorg Auer had soloed a wall in the Dolomites that’s a similar difficulty and even taller. It’s not like soloing is a competition, it’s more about aesthetics and inspiration.
But for me personally it was a new challenge just because it’s a different style if climbing. Maybe not my hardest ever, but very satisfying either way.
A: What do you think about while free soloing? Do you ever think about falling?
AH: I don’t think about much while actually climbing. But I do think about that beforehand normally. I think it’s important to fully think things through—to really understand the consequences of my choices.
A: It’s really cool to see you prepping and practicing the route. Is it experience that helps you now know when you are ready to start the free solo climb?
AH: I suppose so. I know I’m ready when it seems exciting and fun as opposed to hard and scary. The prepping process is what transforms it from scary to awesome. There’s no special formula though, I just put in the work and wait to feel inspired.
A: Do the helicopters and helicopter cameras distract you at all? Were there climbers with cameras on the wall with you?
AH: I’m not sure what the video shows, but my true solo was all alone with no photogs or helis. We then went back and filmed on big portions of it. In my mind there’s a clear difference between personal climbing—the actual solo—and work days—the filming afterward.
But the work days are still super fun. It is still climbing after all, and everyone up there shooting is a good friend. So it’s easy, I have a good time.
A: Why did you smile at that moment on the wall?
AH: I have no idea since I haven’t seen the film, but I’d assume because I was happy.
It’s great climbing in an amazing position, what’s not to be happy about?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
A: Is this a nice part of Mexico to visit? Is it a popular climbing area?
AH: For sure, Potrero Chico is a super nice winter vacation climbing area. It’s really convenient to fly into Monterrey, one of the nicer cities in Mex, and get a taxi to Potero. Then you can just live in the camping area and walk everywhere. It’s muy tranquilo, as they say there.
A: What are you up to in Patagonia right now? How’s the weather?
AH: Actually, Tommy (Caldwell) and I just did the Fitz Traverse. All the peaks along the Fitzroy massif. The weather had been bad all season and then we got lucky with a perfect five-day window so we went in and did entirely too much climbing.
Now thankfully the weather is bad again so we’re recovering in town. Alpinism sure is tiring.