Alex Honnold on free-soloing El Capitan: ‘I was having a good time’

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A year and a half ago, Alex Honnold told KCRW that making it to the top of Yosemite’s El Capitan would be the “holy grail” of free-soloing.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever do that,” he said. “Basically every time I think about it seriously I’m just kind of filled with dread.”

But over the weekend, as he scaled the last stretch of the 3,000 foot granite monolith, he was whistling.

“I was having a good time, he said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

With that climb, Honnold became the first person in the world to “free solo” this part of El Capitan, meaning he climbed it with his bare hands – no ropes, no safety gear, no climbing partner. The only things with him were his shoes and a bag of chalk.

National Geographic called it “the greatest pure feat of rock climbing in history.”

“I pretty much sprinted to the top.” he said.

He made it sound easy, but the climb includes a 600-foot stretch of smooth granite with no hand-holds. Experts say the surface is as smooth as glass. The only way to scale it is to basically walk vertically while leaning into the rock face. Even the slightest miscalculation of body angle or foot placement could be fatal.

It took Hannold a year of intensive planning that involved climbing the same route on ropes from bottom to top over and over again, and repelling down the wall repeatedly until he had every detail of the rock memorized.

“I think at this point, I pretty much know every hand and foot hold on the entire mountain, which is kind of outrageous,” he said.

Two days after achieving the epic climb, Hannold was euphoric.

“Just thinking about it right now, I’m totally delighted,” he said. “There’s no what’s next for me in terms of free soloing. I just can’t imagine anything bigger or more inspiring. You know, this is the one thing I have always dreamt of.”

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(Photo: Jimmy Chin for National Geographic)