Alexander Honnold (born August 17, 1985) is an American rock climber best known for his free solo ascents of big walls. Honnold rose to general fame in June 2017 when he became the first person to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, a feat that was described in the New York Times as "one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever." Honnold also holds the record for 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. In 2015, he won a Piolet d'Or for the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia with Tommy Caldwell.
|Born||August 17, 1985|
Sacramento, California, U.S.
|Education||University of California, Berkeley|
|Type of climber|
|Known for||Big wall free soloing|
The first person to free solo El Capitan
Honnold is the author (with David Roberts) of the memoir Alone on the Wall (2015) and the subject of the 2018 biographical documentary Free Solo, which won a BAFTA and an Academy Award.
Life and workEdit
Honnold was born in Sacramento, California, the son of community college professor Dierdre Wolownick (b. 1953) and Charles Honnold (1949–2004). 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, his parents divorced during his first year of college, and Honnold skipped many of his classes to boulder by himself at Indian Rock.
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. 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, which allowed him to focus on climbing and following the weather.
According to a 2011 Alpinist profile:
In the mind of the climbing world, Honnold emerged from the goo 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 (366m), 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 (610m), 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 2008 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. At the time the record stood at 2:36:45, as set by Dean Potter & Sean Leary in November 2010. On June 17, 2012, Honnold and Florine 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 Dean Potter, Steph Davis, Timmy O'Neill and Cedar Wright. "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.
In 2016, he was subjected to functional magnetic resonance imaging scans that revealed that, unlike other high sensation seekers, his amygdala barely activates when watching disturbing images. He however confesses feeling fear occasionally. Through imagination and practice, he has desensitized himself to most fearful situations.
On June 3, 2017, he made the first free solo ascent of El Capitan, completing the 2,900-foot (884m) Freerider route (5.12d VI) 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 Nose on El Capitan speed record in Yosemite. They completed the approximately 3,000-foot (914m) route in 1:58:07, becoming the first climbers to complete it in under two hours.
In 2021, National Geographic signed Honnold for an original docuseries about his quest to climb across the peaks of Greenland. Also in 2021, Honnold started a podcast about climbing called Climbing Gold.
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 lived in was 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 drugs. Between climbs, he runs or hikes to maintain fitness. He is an avid reader with interests in classic literature, environmentalism, and economics, and he describes himself as an anti-religion atheist and a feminist.
Honnold met Sanni McCandless at a book signing in 2015; they became a couple soon after. Sanni and her relationship with Honnold feature prominently in Free Solo. On December 25, 2019, Honnold announced, via social media, that he and McCandless were engaged. On September 13, 2020, Honnold announced via Instagram that he and McCandless had married. Honnold's and McCandless daughter was born on February 17, 2022.
Dierdre Wolownick, Alex Honnold's mother, started climbing at age 60 and is the oldest woman to climb El Capitan (first at the age of 66 and then breaking her record, again at age 70).
In 2012, Honnold began giving away one-third of his income to solar projects that increased energy access worldwide. Soon, this idea expanded to form the Honnold Foundation. The Honnold Foundation's mission is "promoting solar energy for a more equitable world".
- Alone on the Wall: Alex Honnold and the Ultimate Limits of Adventure. London: Pan, 2015. 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 several other films.
- The Sharp End (2007)
- Alone on the Wall (2008)
- Progression (2009)
- Honnold 3.0 (2012)
- Valley Uprising (2014)
- A Line Across the Sky (2015)
- Showdown at Horseshoe Hell (2015)
- Africa Fusion (2016)
- Queen Maud Land (2018)
- Free Solo (2018)
- The Nose Speed Record (reel rock 14) (2019)
- Fine Lines (2019) 
- Duncanville (2020) (TV)
- The Alpinist (2021)
- Explorer: The Last Tepui (2022)
- Edge of the Unknown with Jimmy Chin (2022)
- 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
- 2007, Freerider (VI 5.13a, 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
- 2008, Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12d, 1200 ft), Zion, Utah – First Free solo
- 2008, The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, California – First free solo
- 2012, The Nose (VI 5.8 A2), Yosemite, California, El Capitan, – 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
- 2014, Muir Wall – Shaft Variation (V 5.13b/c) – Speed record of 12 hours
- 2014, El Corazon (V 5.13b) – Speed record of 15:30
- 2014, El Sendero Luminoso (V 5.12d, 1,750 ft, 15 pitch), El Potrero Chico, Mexico – First free solo ascent, ~ 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 (5.13a VI), Yosemite, California, El Capitan, – First Free solo
- 2018, The Nose (VI 5.8 A2), Yosemite, California, El Capitan, – Speed record of 1:58:07 with Tommy Caldwell
- 2019, El Niño (VI 5.13c), Yosemite, California, El Capitan, – Second entirely free ascent via Pineapple Express variation with Brad Gobright
- 2019, Passage to Freedom (VI 5.13d), Yosemite, California, El Capitan, – First free ascent with Tommy Caldwell
- 2011, The Mandala 8A+ (V12), Bishop, California
- 2010, Ambrosia 8A (V11), Bishop, California – second ascent
- 2012, Too Big to Flail 7C+ (V10) or 8b (5.13d), Bishop, California – first ascent
- 2008, Parthian Shot, New Statesman, Meshuga (solo), flash of Gaia (subsequently repeated it solo), London Wall, on-sight solo
- 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
- 2011, The Phoenix (5.13a), Yosemite National Park – Free solo. The Phoenix was the first 5.13a of the United States.
- 2011, Cobra Crack (5.14b), Squamish, British Columbia ascent is etched in a board between that of Will Stanhope and Pete Whittaker
- 2019, Arrested Development 9a (5.14d) Mount Charleston, Nevada, second ascent after Jonathan Siegrist.
- 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.
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Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless are having a kid—a daughter
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Honnold could afford to buy a decent home, if that interested him. But living in a custom-outfitted van, in his case, with a kitchenette and cabinets full of energy bars and climbing equipment – represents freedom.
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- Official website
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- Alex Honnold 3.0 on YouTube (video)