When news broke that Alex Honnold successfully free soloed Yosemite’s El Capitan in under four hours, the world collectively gasped. It was a monumental feat, probably one of the greatest achievements in sport. But, how crazy do you have to be to climb thousands of feet without a rope knowing that one misstep could send you hurtling to the valley floor?
The question is a fair one, but what news of Honnold’s historic climb failed to capture when it broke was the years of diligent, careful preparation he undertook to memorize each and every move he needed to perform the morning of June 3, 2017. What the general public saw was simply the payoff, only Honnold and those close to him understood the intense training.
In a recent TED Talk in front of an audience in Vancouver, Honnold broke down two equally ambitious free solos he’s achieved in his life that both occupy a different space in his memory bank. First, is his 2011 free solo of Half Dome. Honnold details an experience where he diverged from the route he’d only climbed for the first time two days before he went sans rope. He quickly felt lost, questioned the strength of a foothold, and slightly panicked. He overcame, and ultimately reached the summit, but it wasn’t the experience he wanted.
When he decided he wanted to free solo El Cap, Honnold knew it had to be different. And over seven years, he trained relentlessly. On the day of, Honnold knew every move he was going to make well before he made it. It’s what made the climb feel like, as Honnold puts it, “a walk in the park.”
Alex Honnold’s candid assessment of both feats is an incredible look at how a top athlete mitigates fear and doubt to achieve greatness.