VIDEO + INTERVIEW: Alex Honnold - Triple Soloby Jack Geldard - Consulting Editor Jun/2012
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Alex linked an almost unbelievable amount of climbing; three routes that would normally take several days EACH, and he linked them solo, mainly 'free solo', in a day. He soloed The Nose on El Capitan through the night. And he even forgot his chalkbag.
Alex Honnold, I am sorry, but this ascent can not categorised as 'no big deal'. Congratulations.
We caught up with Alex a few days after his 'Triple'. He was at home watching movies and eating ice cream. Here's what he had to say:
Jack: So this 'Triple' link up. What it is?
Alex: It's climbing the 3 biggest faces in Yosemite in a day. Mt Watkins, El Cap, and Half Dome. They're each really tall.
Jack: Has it been done before?
Alex: The 3 mountains were first climbed in a day by Dean Potter and Timmy O'Neil something like a decade ago, then Tommy Caldwell and I freed them in a day 2 weeks ago, and now I'm the first to do the three by myself.
Jack: And what routes did you do up each face?
Alex: I basically did the easiest up each, the South Face of Watkins, the Nose of El Cap, and the Regular Route on HD.
Jack: And what grade are those routes? And how long are they?
Alex: SFW is 19 pitch 12d, though it has hundreds of feet of semi technical scrambling to get to the base [including a mirror polished 5.8 offwidth which is particularly hard in approach shoes]. The Nose is a 31 pitch 14a. The Reg Route is a 23 pitch 12a
Though I did all three of them as 10+ C1, or something like that. Maybe a little soloing up to easy 11, then aid climbing. It's a confusing style.
Jack: How long did it take you then?
Alex: 2:20 on Watkins, 6 hours on the Nose, 2:50 something on HD.
The climbing link up took about 19 hours. When you include the hike in and out of the first and last mountain it was something like a 25 hour day.
Jack: And what was the hardest part of the whole adventure?
Alex: Probably soloing the Nose through the night. It was a bit wet on the bottom [from a big storm the day before], I forgot my chalk bag, and it's basically just big and scary. It's hard to switch back and forth from rope soloing to free soloing. And the night time is basically just dark and lonely and scary.
Jack: And what was the coolest part?
Alex: I romped up Watkins, which was really a pleasure. It's just nice to move fast over a big wall.
And topping out HD was obviously very satisfying. I caught two of my friends who were doing the double [HD + El Cap] on the last pitch so we basically topped out together. Pretty cool.
Jack: And what was the worst part?
Alex: Hiking up to Half Dome was brutal. Something like 2.5k ft of gain, super early morning, after all that climbing. And I don't think I'd eaten enough. I was bonking a little bit. It felt rough.
Jack: And, what was your motivation for it? Why on earth did you do it!
Alex: Well I'd done the double in 2010 and had a lot of time left over, so it was an obvious challenge. And it's just cool to be able to climb the three best faces in Yosemite by yourself in a day.
Jack: How is it possible to do that much climbing that quickly?
Alex: I wasn't actually climbing very fast, and it's not like I ran on any of the hikes or anything. I just moved at a steady pace the whole time. That's the beauty of soloing, you can just move steadily forever.
Jack: Gear question - what were your self belay techniques? Exactly what did you do to protect yourself?
Alex: Hard to explain since it was all improvised as I went, but basically I would occasionally pull on gear and occasionally clip myself into gear or bolts with 2 daisy chains I had.
On the Nose I actually rope soloed a few short sections, pieces that I didn't feel comfortable daisy soloing.
Jack: In the video above you look pretty sketchy Alex.... make us all feel better. You weren't really that sketchy, right?
Alex: That video is not as sketchy as it looks, though obviously the position is totally badass. I just had a foot on for balance. It blew. If Ben Ditto [the photog] hadn't been right next to me I probably wouldn't have tried to be so static, so I wouldn't have had the foot on anyway.
Jack: Ok.... hmm. So, what E Grade would you give this achievement? :-)
Alex: Ha! The climbing probably never exceeded E3 or so, but overall I would call it E11 just for the sheer volume of climbing.
Jack: When you came over to the UK a few years ago, you did some Hard Grit, and soloed London Wall. Spell it out, how does this 'Triple' or some of the other things you've been doing compare to that?
Alex: The triple is incomparable to anything in England [at least anything I know]. It's like a different sport. 7000ft of climbing is an awful lot. . .
Obviously all the stuff we did on the Grit is much harder climbing, but the triple is a whole different order of magnitude.
Jack: How was the experience of free soloing on a big wall at night?
Alex: It's dark and lonely, like I already said.
It was a bit more hardcore than I expected. Or at least a little more psychologically demanding. I was glad that two of my friends were on different parts to film so I at least had some company in places. It made it a lot more fun.
Jack: What are your plans for the next few months?
Alex: Not sure. I think the basic idea is to start from scratch and go bouldering. Rebuild my base and try to get strong again. Maybe go to Rocklands in August.
Jack: Cheers Alex, great to talk to you. Enjoy your ice cream. Good luck with the bouldering.
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