Photos of Alex Honnold’s Most Epic Climbs

Skill, training, and focus led the climber to his historic free solo of El Capitan and moniker as greatest free solo climber in the world.

Alex Honnold didn’t wake up one morning and decide to make the first historic rope-free ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan. For more than a decade, he’s trained and climbed around the world, notching major milestones in free climbing (using ropes and equipment only for safety) and free soloing (not using any ropes or safety equipment).

HALF DOME, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA Honnold’s first-ever free solo of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome astonished the climbing world in 2009 and helped bring him to international attention.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

EL CAPITAN, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA Alex Honnold makes his way up Freerider on El Capitan during one of the numerous training climbs he’s made over the years in preparation for his historic rope-free climb.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

GREAT ARCH, GETU VALLEY, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA Last summer Honnold made the third free climb of an eight-pitch route along the underside of the arch, named Corazon de Ensueno.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

THE ROSTRUM, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA Honnold free solos the Rostrum, a Yosemite route known for its long vertical cracks.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

SEA CLIFFS, MUSANDAM PENINSULA, OMAN Alex Honnold free solos a cliff rising from the Gulf of Oman. Climbing over water offers some safety, but a fall at the wrong moment can still be deadly.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

SEA CLIFFS, MUSANDAM PENINSULA, OMAN Alex Honnold free solos an overhanging route 20 feet above the water during a climbing expedition for National Geographic.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

TAGHIA GORGE, MOROCCO Honnold and partner Tommy Caldwell eat, hydrate, coil the rope, and pack their gear during an expedition to climb in the Taghia Gorge in 2016.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN

In 2008, Honnold burst onto the climbing world scene with his speedy 83-minute free solo of the Moonlight Buttress, a sheer 1,200-foot sandstone wall in Zion National Park.

Five months later, he free soloed the north-west face of Half Dome, a 2,000-foot granite wall, an ascent featured in the short film “Alone on the Wall.” At the time it was the most challenging free solo ever attempted. It took Honnold two hours and 15 minutes to reach the top, including several minutes spent in a rare “mini nervous breakdown” along an eight-inch-wide ledge. “Doubt is the biggest danger in soloing,” Honnold said in the film.

In 2010, Honnold free climbed the walls of Half Dome and El Capitan in slightly more than 11 hours, crushing the speed records for El Cap and the two routes consecutively. Honnold and climbing partner Sean Leary also climbed 3,000-foot El Cap for 24 hours straight, summiting three times for a total of more than 8,000 vertical feet climbed. They also set a new record for consecutive ascents. Also in 2010, Honnold was honoured as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.

In June 2012 Honnold free climbed the “triple” in Yosemite: a back-to-back climb of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Mount Watkins, the park’s three tallest formations. They totalled about 7,000 feet of vertical rock, which Honnold scaled in less than 19 hours, breaking his and Tommy Caldwell’s climb record by two hours. Honnold free soloed all but 500 feet of the record-setting climb.

Less than a week after the triple, Honnold and renowned speed climber Hans Florine attempted to break the record for the fasted climb up the Nose route, “which is the nicest line up the middle of El Cap,” Honnold told National Geographic Adventure that year. The pair set a new record of 2 hours, 23 minutes, and 46 seconds—13 minutes faster than the previous record set in 2010 by Dean Potter and Sean Leary.

In January 2014, Honnold free soloed the intimidating 2,500-foot El Sendero Luminoso (“The Shining Path”) in El Portrero Chico, Mexico. Before attempting the ropeless ascent, Honnold and climber Cedar Wright cleaned the route, and Honnold climbed sections attached to a rope to assess the conditions. “For me personally, it was a new challenge just because it’s a different style of climbing. Maybe not my hardest ever, but very satisfying either way,” Honnold told National Geographic Adventure a month after the feat.

Tommy Caldwell (right) sets up a rappel on the way to Aguja Saint Exupery, one of the seven peaks of the Fitz Roy Traverse. Honnold and Caldwell completed the first ascent of this massive traverse over five days in February 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AUSTIN SIADAK

With Tommy Caldwell, Honnold completed a first ascent of the Fitz Roy Traverse in 2014, which links seven peaks in five days along Patagonia’s Cerro Fitz Roy (also known as Chaltén) ridge line. Compared to free soloing, which Honnold has said is as simple as “walk up with your shorts, a t-shirt, and a bag of chalk and climb,” the Fitz Roy traverse was a far more complicated undertaking. They were loaded down with cold weather gear in their packs, endured icy conditions and high winds, and had just one sleeping bag between them. “Alpinism is all about carrying lots of stuff and being all encumbered,” Honnold observed.

In February 2016, Honnold and mountaineer Colin Haley set a new speed record on the Torre Traverse. In 20 hours and 40 minutes, the two climbers achieved the second ascent of the four Patagonian peaks: Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre. With the hike to and from the peaks, their car-to-car time totaled 32 hours.

Header Image: EL CAPITAN, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA - Alex Honnold climbs without a rope 2,000 feet above the ground, on a pitch called Enduro, during his historic free solo of the 30-pitch Freerider route up the iconic El Capitan wall. PHOTOGRAPH BY JIMMY CHIN, NAITONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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