Alexander Honnold (born August 17, 1985) is an American rock climber best known for his free solo ascents of big walls.
Honnold is the only person to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and holds the fastest ascent of the Yosemite triple crown, an 18-hour, 50-minute link-up of Mount Watkins, The Nose, and the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Honnold says he likes tall, long routes and that he tries to do them quickly. He is the author (with David Roberts) of the memoir Alone on the Wall (2017) and the subject of the 2018 biographical documentary Free Solo, which won a BAFTA and an Academy Award.
Life and work
Honnold was born in Sacramento, California, the son of community college professors Dierdre Wolownick and Charles Forrest Honnold. His paternal roots are German and his maternal roots are Polish. He started climbing in a climbing gym at the age of 5 and was climbing "many times a week" by age 10. He participated in many national and international youth climbing championships as a teenager.
"I was never, like, a bad climber [as a kid], but I had never been a great climber, either," he says. "There were a lot of other climbers who were much, much stronger than me, who started as kids and were, like, instantly freakishly strong – like they just have a natural gift. And that was never me. I just loved climbing, and I've been climbing all the time ever since, so I've naturally gotten better at it, but I've never been gifted."
After graduating from Mira Loma High School as part of the International Baccalaureate Programme in 2003, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, to study civil engineering. His maternal grandfather died and his parents got divorced during his first year of college, and Honnold skipped many of his classes to boulder by himself at Indian Rock. He described the experience as "heinous. ... I didn't live in a dorm. We had a family friend who let me sublet his two-bedroom apartment in town. In my one year at Berkeley, I never met anybody. I never spoke to anybody."
He dropped out of Berkeley and spent time living at home and driving around California to go climbing. "I'd wound up with my mom's old minivan, and that was my base," he said. "I'd use it to drive to Joshua Tree to climb or I'd drive to LA to see my girlfriend. My orbit was tiny and really cheap. I destroyed that van fairly quickly; it died on me one day, and for the next year I lived just on my bicycle and in a tent."
In 2007, he bought a 2002 Ford Econoline E150 van, allowing him to focus on climbing and follow the weather.
According to a 2011 Alpinist profile:
In the mind of the climbing world, Honnold emerged from the go fully formed. In 2006 nobody had heard of him. In 2007 he free soloed Yosemite's Astroman and the Rostrum in a day, matching Peter Croft's legendary 1987 feat, and suddenly Honnold was pretty well-known. A year later, he free soloed the 1,200-foot, 5.12d finger crack that splits Zion's Moonlight Buttress. The ascent was reported on April 1. For days, people thought the news was a joke. Five months afterward, Honnold took the unprecedented step of free soloing the 2,000-foot, glacially bulldozed Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Croft called this climb the most impressive ropeless ascent ever done.
He gained mainstream recognition after his 2012 solo of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome was featured in the film Alone on the Wall and a subsequent 60 Minutes interview.
In November 2011, Honnold and Hans Florine missed setting the record time on the Nose route on Yosemite's El Capitan by 45 seconds with a time of 2:37. On June 17, 2012, the two set a new record of 2:23:46 (or 2:23:51) on that same route.
In November 2014, Clif Bar announced that they would no longer sponsor Honnold, along with four other climbers, mostly free soloists. "We concluded that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go," the company wrote in an open letter.
On June 3, 2017, he made the first free solo ascent of El Capitan, completing the 2,900-foot Freerider route in 3 hours and 56 minutes. The feat, described as "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever", was documented by climber and photographer Jimmy Chin and documentary filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi, as the subject of the documentary Free Solo. Among other awards, the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (2018).
On June 6, 2018, Honnold teamed up with Tommy Caldwell to break the speed record for the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite. They completed the approximately 3,000-foot route in 1:58:07, becoming the first climbers to complete the route in under two hours.
Honnold lived in a van for over a decade. "I don't think 'van life' is particularly appealing," he says. "It's not like I love living in a car, but I love living in all these places. I love being in Yosemite; I love being basically wherever the weather is good; I love being able to follow good conditions all over. And be relatively comfortable as I do it. And so that pretty much necessitates living in a car ... If I could, like, miraculously teleport a house from place to place, I'd prefer to live in a nice comfortable house. Though, honestly, the van is kind of nice. I like having everything within arm's reach. When I stay in a hotel room – like, sometimes you get put up in a really classy hotel room, and it's really big, and you have to walk quite a ways to the bathroom, and you're like, 'Man, I wish I had my [pee] bottle.' Who wants to walk all the ways to the bathroom in the middle of the night when you could just lean over and grab your bottle and go?" The van he lives in is custom-outfitted with a kitchenette and cabinets.
In 2017, Honnold bought a home in the Las Vegas area. "I didn't have any furniture at first, so I lived in the van in the driveway for the first couple weeks. It felt more like home than an empty house did." Around the same time, he replaced the Ford Econoline van he had lived in since 2007 and put 200,000 miles on with a new 2016 Ram ProMaster, which he still lives and travels in for most of the year.
Honnold is a vegetarian, and he does not drink alcohol or use other drugs. He is an avid reader with interests in classic literature, environmentalism, and economics, and he describes himself as a militant atheist and a feminist.
Between climbs, he runs or hikes to maintain fitness.
Honnold met Sanni McCandless at a book signing in 2015; they became a couple soon after. Sanni and her relationship with Honnold are a prominent part of Free Solo. On December 25, 2019, Honnold announced, via social media, that he and McCandless are engaged.
In 2012, he started the Honnold Foundation, which "seeks simple, sustainable ways to improve lives worldwide", and is currently focused on promoting solar energy in the developing world.
- Alone on the Wall: Alex Honnold and the Ultimate Limits of Adventure. London: Pan, 2017. Co-authored with David Roberts. ISBN 978-1447282730.
While Honnold is best known for his starring role in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, he has also appeared in a number of other films.
- The Sharp End (2007)
- Alone on the Wall (2008)
- Progression (2009)
- Honnold 3.0 (2012)
- A Line Across the Sky (2015)
- Showdown at Horseshoe Hell (2015)
- Africa Fusion (2016)
- Queen Maud Land (2018)
- Free Solo (2018)
- reel rock 14 (2019)
- 2010: Golden Piton award from Climbing magazine, for endurance climbing.
- 2015: Honnold together with Tommy Caldwell was awarded the Piolets d'Or, for the first full traverse of the Fitz Roy Range in Patagonia, Argentina.
- 2018: Robert and Miriam Underhill Award from American Alpine Club, for excellence in various fields of climbing.
- 2018: Special mention of Piolets d'Or for his outstanding contribution to climbing during 2017.
Selected notable climbs
- 2007, Freerider (VI 5.12d, 37 pitches), Yosemite, California – One day free ascent with Brian Kimball
- 2007, Astroman (5.11c, 10 pitches) and The Rostrum (5.11c, 8 pitches), Yosemite, California – Second person after Peter Croft (1987) to free solo both in a day
- 2007, Salathe Wall (VI 5.13b/c), Yosemite, California – Eleventh free ascent
- 2008, Bushido (5.13+) and Hong Kong Phooey (5.13b–5.14), Utah – In the space of 3 days
- 2008, The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, California – First free solo
- 2008, Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12d, 1200 ft), Zion, Utah – Free solo
- 2012, The Nose (5.14a/b), Yosemite, California – Former speed record of 2:23:46 with Hans Florine
- 2012, The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, California – Speed solo in 1:22
- 2012, Yosemite Triple Crown – Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome, Yosemite, California – Solo in 18:50, free soloing 90% of the link-up
- 2014, El Sendero Luminoso (5.12d V, 1,750 ft, 15 pitch), El Potrero Chico, Mexico – First free solo ascent, in a little over 3 hours
- 2014, University Wall (5.12a C2, 8 pitch), Squamish, British Columbia, Canada – First free solo.
- 2016, Complete Scream (E8 6b), Northern Ireland, United Kingdom – Free solo
- 2017, Freerider (5.12d VI), Yosemite, California – First and only free solo on El Capitan
- 2018, The Nose (VI 5.8 A2), Yosemite, California – Speed record of 1:58:07 with Tommy Caldwell
- 2011, The Mandala 8A+(V12), Bishop, California – A repeat of Chris Sharma's classic boulder
- 2010, Ambrosia 8A(V11), Bishop, California – Second ascent of Kevin Jorgeson's highball problem
- 2012, Too Big to Flail 7C+(V10) or 8b(5.13d), Bishop, California – First ascent of a 45-foot highball.
- 2008, Repeats of Parthian Shot, New Statesman, Meshuga (solo), an on-sight of Gaia (and subsequently repeated it solo), and an on-sight solo of London Wall during a trip to England at the end of 2008.
- 2010, The Green Mile 8c+(5.14c), Jailhouse crag, San Francisco –
- 2010, Rainbow Arch (5.12+, top-roped), Ennedi Desert, Chad – First ascent
- 2011, Heaven (5.12d) and Cosmic Debris (5.13b), Yosemite National Park – Free solo'd
- 2011, The Phoenix (5.13a), Yosemite National Park – Free solo'd. The Phoenix was the first 5.13a of the United States.
- 2019, Arrested Development 9a (5.14d) Mount Charleston, Nevada, second ascent after Jonathan Siegrist. His hardest sport climb to date.
- 2009, Unnamed (VI 5.12 A2) Low's Gully, Borneo – Attempted first free ascent
- 2014, The Fitz Roy Traverse (5.11d C1 65 degrees, 5000m), Fitz Roy massif, Patagonia – Completed over five days with Tommy Caldwell
- 2016, Torre Traverse, Patagonia – Second ascent. A north-to-south traverse of Cerro Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger, and Cerro Torre. Completed in under 21 hours with Colin Haley