Alex Honnold El Capitan Free Solo: First Footage of Most Dangerous Climb Ever without a Rope

Alex Honnold El Capitan Free Solo: First Footage of Most Dangerous Climb Ever without a Rope

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outdoor Video
Published 29 June 2017

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Video by Jimmy Chin for National Geographic: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/170606-alex-honnold-el-capitan-vin-spd. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA—Renowned rock climber Alex Honnold on Saturday, June 3rd, 2017 became the first person to scale the iconic nearly 3,000-foot granite wall known as El Capitan without using ropes or other safety gear, completing what may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.

He ascended the peak in 3 hours, 56 minutes, taking the final moderate pitch at a near run. At 9:28 a.m. PDT, under a blue sky and few wisps of cloud, he pulled his body over the rocky lip of summit and stood on a sandy ledge the size of a child’s bedroom.

Honnold began his historic rope-less climb—a style known as “free soloing”—in the pink light of dawn at 5:32 a.m. He had spent the night in the customized van that serves as his mobile base camp, risen in the dark, dressed in his favorite red t-shirt and cutoff nylon pants, and eaten his standard breakfast of oats, flax, chia seeds, and blueberries, before driving to El Capitan Meadow.

For more than a year, Honnold has been training for the climb at locations in the United States, China, Europe, and Morocco. A small circle of friends and fellow climbers who knew about the project had been sworn to secrecy.

“This is the ‘moon landing’ of free soloing,” said Tommy Caldwell, who made his own history in 2015 with his ascent of the Dawn Wall, El Capitan’s most difficult climb, on which he and his partner Kevin Jorgeson used ropes and other equipment only for safety, not to aid their progress.

Climbers have been speculating for years about a possible free solo of El Capitan, but there have only been two other people who have publicly said they seriously considered it. One was Michael Reardon, a free soloist who drowned in 2007 after being swept from a ledge below a sea cliff in Ireland. The other was Dean Potter, who died in a base jumping accident in Yosemite in 2015.

John Bachar, the greatest free soloist of the 1970s, who died while climbing un-roped in 2009 at age 52, never considered it. When Bachar was in his prime, El Capitan had still never been free climbed. Peter Croft, 58, who completed the landmark free solo of the 1980s—Yosemite’s 1,000-foot Astroman—never seriously contemplated El Capitan, but he knew somebody would eventually do it.

With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way.
“It was always the obvious next step,” says Croft. “But after this, I really don’t see what’s next. This is the big classic jump.”

By the end of 2014, Honnold had achieved international fame for his exploits. He had been featured on the covers of National Geographic, New York Times Magazine, Outside, and 60 Minutes had profiled him. He had a slew of corporate sponsors, had co-written a best-selling memoir, and started a nonprofit foundation to improve the lives of needy communities around the world. But he felt like he had not yet made the mark he hoped to on climbing history.

In January 2015, when Caldwell and Jorgeson summited the Dawn Wall, a project they had spent years studying and training for, Honnold was there to meet them. Jorgeson told a reporter, “I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day.”

What’s my Dawn Wall? Honnold asked himself. But he already knew the answer. For years he’d been thinking about what it would take to free solo El Capitan.

A few days before this week’s climb, Honnold hiked to the top of El Capitan and rappelled Freerider to make sure that a recent rainstorm had not washed off the marks he had made with dabs of chalk to highlight the route’s key holds. He found it dry and in perfect condition. Now all that was left was to rest and prepare mentally for the climb of his life.

“Years ago, when I first mentally mapped out what it would mean to free solo Freerider, there were half a dozen of pitches where I was like, ‘Oh that’s a scary move and that’s a really scary sequence, and that little slab, and that traverse,’” Honnold said. “There were so many little sections where I thought ‘Ughh—cringe.’ But in the years since, I’ve pushed my comfort zone and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fell within the realm of the possible.”

On Saturday, the possible finally became reality. After trusting his skill and endurance over hundreds of handholds and footholds and controlling his fear for just under four hours, Honnold pulled his body over the last ledges. Chin and his assistant Cheyne Lempe had rappelled down with their cameras from the top to follow Honnold as he climbed the upper half of the wall, even using jumars—a type of mechanical winch—to hoist themselves up, the two had struggled to keep up with him.

Chin, panting and covered in sweat, raced ahead to film Alex Honnold on top of the world

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