Alex Honnold is known far and wide as someone who doesn’t experience a basic human instinct most of us do: fear. Just watching Honnold cling to a wall during any free solo climb he takes on will trigger anxiety or vertigo for common folks. For Honnold it’s just everyday stuff. And the world’s become so enamored with his superhuman aversion to fear that cognitive neuroscientists have made efforts to study his brain.
All this makes a recent conversation with Joe Rogan pretty amusing.
Earlier this year, Honnold had been on a three-week streak of climbing daily. Around the twentieth day there was a winter storm warning near Las Vegas where Honnold lives, so like most of us would do, he decided that’d be a good time to sneak in a rest day.
“I’d wanted to use the storm day to hike this one section of the traverse I’d been trying to do of all these peaks,” he tells Rogan.
It seems like a pretty smart use of an off day, gathering intel and even testing out new cold-weather gear. Only the six inches of snow that day turned into more of a hassle than Honnold had bargained for. He chewed off a large section of the terrain he’d planned to see on his hike and learned pretty quickly that even a little bit of snow would throw a wrench in things…halfway through his planned hike.
“I’d sort of taken it for granted but in Red Rock, you walk on these exposed sandstone slabs all the time. But when you cover them in like six inches of snow it’s really kind of horrifying. You can’t just walk up the slabs anymore. It’s a total toboggan death trap where you’re gonna slide down.”
Now 2,500 feet up a mountainside, he’s stepping onto loose terrain under just a few inches of snow and can’t even find his tracks. He’s over it. He’s wet. His hands are numb and every time he puts them down to break his fall, he’s collecting cactus thorns in his palms.
“It’s just easy living in the desert, ” he tells Rogan. “You’re like ‘It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine.’ And no, it was not fine.”
“I was just deeply uncomfortable and sort of on edge for a while.”
It turns out even Alex Honnold gets a slice of humble pie from time to time, and he doesn’t need to be thousands of feet up the side of a cliff face sans rope to have it served up.