How Alex Honnold made ‘the ultimate climb’—without a rope

His stunning scramble up the 3,000-foot granite wall known as El Capitan, in less than 4 hours, came after meticulous planning and training.

With California’s Yosemite Valley far beneath him, Alex Honnold free solos— which means climbing without ropes or safety gear—up a crack on the 3,000-foot southwest face of El Capitan. Before he accomplished the feat on June 3, 2017, Honnold spent nearly a decade thinking about the climb and more than a year and a half plan- ning and training for it

It’s 4:54 a.m. on a chilly November morning in 2016 in Yosemite National Park.

A full moon casts an eerie glow onto the southwest face of El Capitan, where Alex Honnold clings to the side of the granite wall with nothing more than the tips of his fingers and two thin edges of shoe rubber. He’s attempting to do something that professional rock climbers have long thought was impossible—a “free solo” ascent of the world’s most iconic cliff. That means he is alone and climbing without a rope as he inches his way up more than half a mile of sheer rock.

A light breeze rustles his hair as he shines his headlamp on the cold, smooth patch of granite where he must next place his foot. Above him, for several feet, the stone is blank, devoid of any holds. Unlike parts of the climb higher up, which feature shallow divots, pebble-size nubs, and tiny cracks that Alex can claw himself up with his freakishly strong fingers, this part—a barely less than vertical slab on a section called the Freeblast—must be mastered with a delicate balance of finesse and poise. Climbers call it friction climbing. “It’s like walking up glass,” Alex once said.

Read This Next

Deported migrants struggle to start over in a place that doesn’t feel like home

A fire lookout shares the view from her mountaintop perch

Delta variant prompts venues to rethink how we stand in line

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet