While rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson take a rest day on their attempt to make the first free ascent of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall route on El Capitan (they are now in day 16 on 3,000-foot granite monolith), here’s a look at a completely different and spectacular adventure recently completed by Tommy and fellow ace climber Alex Honnold—the first traverse of Patagonia’s iconic Fitz Roy Massif. This feat made Tommy one of our 2015 Adventurers of the Year (Alex had previously been honored).
Five kilometers of granite teeth and seven distinct summits define the iconic Fitz Roy massif. Located in southern Patagonia on the Chile-Argentina border, this skyline has been inspiring climbers since the 1940s, yet an enchainment of all the summits eluded some of the world’s best climbers for decades. In 2014, Tommy and Alex brought their big-wall tactics to this revered alpine traverse and completed it—leaving both the rock climbing and mountaineering communities in awe. Stay tuned for the full film coming out on the Reel Rock tour this fall.
While Tommy finishes up his big dream of the Dawn Wall—we hope—Alex shares with us some insights on the adventure.
Adventure: Why were you drawn to the Fity Roy massif? Did it take much convincing to give the traverse a try?
Alex Honnold: I didn’t know anything about Patagonia until we went down there, so really it was Tommy’s idea. But it made sense to do the Fitz since it’s more rock and less ice, which suits our strengths.
It didn’t take much convincing on my part. If Tommy says “jump,” I say “how high?”
A: Did the fact that Rolando Garibotti and Colin Haley, both seasoned Patagonia climbers, were also trying for the traverse that had denied so many at the same time make it more interesting? Did that bring out a healthy competition?
AH: I kinda like healthy competition. It just makes things more sporty! But honestly, it had no bearing on our preparation or strategy, we were just psyched to see them along the way.
A: You and Tommy approached the traverse like big-wall climbers, as opposed to alpinists. How was that an advantage?
AH: Well in this case it was really helpful since the climbing is basically just big granite walls with very little ice and snow. Being able to move quickly on walls was really important.
A: Patagonia has miserable weather. Did the snow and ice and cold get to you?
AH: Actually, while we were climbing the weather was surprisingly good. We could have been in a t-shirt at times. But there was definitely a lot of ice and snow on the route, which made things a little harder for me. But it was a good way to learn, and obviously there wasn’t too much ice since we managed to climb it.
A: Did you enjoy the cultural aspects of being in Patagonia?
AH: I really enjoyed town life, though it’s hard to call it characteristically Argentinian since it’s so touristy. So it was really nice hanging out and enjoying town, even if it probably doesn’t represent typical life down there.
A: Do you see more alpinism in your future, with all its gear and suffering?
AH: Maybe one trip a year or something. Alpinism definitely builds character, so it’s good to get it in from time to time. And the mountains are beautiful of course, so that’s always a plus.
A: Do you and Tommy have a project in mind for 2015?
AH: We have a huge list of potential ideas for Patagonia this year, but it always depends on the weather more than anything. And now that he’s sending the Dawn Wall, we might be able to climb other routes in Yosemite! Which will be exciting.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
A: What strikes you as most interesting about what Tommy and Kevin are dealing with on this epic push?
AH: I actually haven’t climbed on the Dawn Wall at all, I’ve only ascended ropes up to go visit those guys. But I think the most interesting thing about their push is just how hard and sustained it is. They have to do so much hard climbing in a row—it’s amazing how they have to recover while living on the wall.
A: What’s next for the Honnold Foundation?
AH: We’re continuing to support the same projects, and I’m hoping to find a hands-on project in Africa this year. We’ll see how it all goes, but basically we’ll keep trying to do something useful in the world.
A: What are you most looking forward to about 2015?
AH: I’m going to Australia in March which I’m really excited about. I’ve always wanted to climb there.