El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California, is favorite for many rock climbers.
Alex Honnold doesn’t like to watch his friends “free solo” on big rock formations like El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
“Free solo” means that the climber uses only his or her body to climb: There are no ropes, no partner, no bolts drilled into rock for stability and support. There’s also no room for error: One mistake and the climber falls and dies.
When it’s Honnold himself on the wall, though, it’s another story: He thrives on each challenge and is, at age 30, the world’s most prominent solo climber. In a Nov. 25 phone interview, Honnold, in California, told me:
“I think it’s much scarier to watch free solo. I know that if I am free soloing I feel fine; when you’re doing it, you know the margin, the degree of safety, how far you are within your comfort zone.”
Honnold blows wide open any conventional understanding of the term “comfort zone.” In Alone on the Wall, his new book written with David Roberts, he engagingly conveys his love of climbing (“I can’t do without it,” he says bluntly.) and his confidence that his actions are high-consequence but low-risk.
“I’ve walked away from more climbs than I can count,” he writes, “just because I sensed that things were not quite right.”
Captivated by watching film of the history of climbing in and videos of Honnold’s own climbing, I enjoyed hearing for myself during our conversation why he does what he does:
“I love the feeling of touching the rock, the feeling of my body going up the rock. With free soloing, I love the combination of feeling really insignificant on the wall, tiny before nature, but combined with feeling totally bad ass with doing something difficult and doing that well. Insignificant and pretty heroic.”