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Adventure Travel

Jun 05, 2017

Alex Honnold Free Solos El Capitan

Alex “No Big Deal” Honnold has just completed a climb that is probably the biggest deal the climbing world has ever seen: On Saturday, June 4, at 9:28 am, the 31-year-old topped out the 33 pitch Freerider, becoming the first person ever to free solo a major route on El Capitan.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

In a National Geographic interview, Honnold said of free soloing El Capitan, “This has been my biggest life goal for years.”

Freerider’s hardest individual pitch is 5.13a (7c+), but contains numerous other famously insecure and difficult sections, with several in the 5.12 range. The climb, a variation to the free Salathe Wall that avoids the latter’s even harder pitches at the top, was first freed by German brothers Alex and Thomas Huber in 1998.

The 5.13a crux pitch that Honnold climbed is known as the “Boulder Problem” pitch and involves an improbable sequence on a razor-thin hold. Even before getting to that pitch, however, Honnold did battle with wide cracks known as the “Hollow Flake” and the “Monster Offwidth.”

Up on the wall, he was preternaturally calm considering he was adrift in a 3,000-foot tall sea of granite. “Not any real moments of doubt,” Alex said in the National Geographic interview. “The Freeblast [the first section of the route] was still engaging for sure. And the first roof (at the start of the third pitch), I’m always a little bit tense there because you’re just starting up the route.”

In an email to The Outdoor Journal several hours after Honnold’s climb, Maury Birdwell, longtime friend of Alex’s, Executive Director of the Honnold Foundation and TOJ Advisor, wrote, “Just talked to him, he’s so stoked, I’m so relieved (and I think he is too a bit).” Birdwell added, “People will try to understand Alex and what he experienced up there, but ultimately it’s for him and him alone. It was dangerous, risky, and incomprehensible—like all things wild and beautiful.”

“People will be talking about this for as long as we live,” Brad Gobright—an American climber and himself a leading free soloist—told The Outdoor Journal about Honnold’s climb. “I think it’s one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time.”

Honnold had been preparing himself for soloing El Capitan for years. As one of climbing’s biggest unclaimed prizes, the solo became his ultimate climbing aspiration. He pushed himself on big climbs—both roped and unroped—around the world, from the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia to El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico; from the big walls of Morocco’s Taghia Gorge to Mount Kenya and Mount Poi in Kenya.

“All of Honnold’s major solos before this were done almost casually without much rehearsal,” Gobright said. “Barely anyone knew he was planning to do them until they were already done. [His solo of] Freerider has been more than five years of preparation and anticipation by the entire climbing community. I think the headline of this achievement will make it the most publicised rock climb of all time.”

And, of course, Honnold put in dozens of laps on Freerider and Yosemite’s other glacier-polished walls. Yosemite’s granite faces are slick and glassy, just one more detail that makes the prospect of soloing El Capitan so hair-raising. At times, Honnold was padding up near-featureless slabs, trusting his life to the delicate friction created between his rubber soles and the gray-white stone.

Matt Bush, a South African free soloist who himself is no stranger to technical granite slab climbing, told The Outdoor Journal, “This may be the boldest and most daring freesolo ascent of all time. It’s a phenomenal achievement that exemplifies the power of dreams and the human spirit. It’s been inspiring for me to watch Alex’s seemingly impossible feats. He’s taking freesolo to great levels.”

 

Over the past decade, Honnold has made a name for himself as arguably the greatest free soloist of all time. 2008 was a breakout year for the Sacramento native when he completed the first free solo ascents of the 1,200-foot Moonlight Buttress (5.12+) in Zion, Utah and the 2,000 foot Regular Northwest Face (5.12) of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, California. He cemented his reputation as the king of Yosemite by becoming the first person to ever complete the Triple Crowna link up of Yosemite’s three largest walls insolo in under 24 hours.

His most sustained big-wall free-solo prior to Freerider was in El Potrero Chico, Mexico in 2014, when he climbed El Sendero Luminosoa 1,600-foot route with 11 pitches of 5.12 climbing and a 5.12d crux pitch.

In 2014 Honnold also completed the first traverse of the entire Fitz Roy skyline with fellow climbing superstar Tommy Caldwell. For that climb, the pair was awarded alpinism’s highest honour, the Piolet D’Or.

Even though he has blown the collective mind of the climbing world, Honnold remains focused on his goals, one of which is to eventually climb a 5.14d (9a) sports route. In the National Geographic interview, he said, “The whole pursuit of this dream has allowed me to live my best life, that makes me hopefully the best version of me. Just because I’ve achieved a dream doesn’t mean that I just give up on the best version of me. I want to be the guy that trains stays fit and motivated. Just because you finish a big route doesn’t mean that you just quit.”

Featured Image: Rock climber Alex Honnold completes a 3,000-foot rope-free climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on June 3, 2017. The historic event was documented for an upcoming National Geographic feature film and magazine story. Photo credit: Jimmy Chin/ National Geographic

Update: Ted Hesser provided The Outdoor Journal with exclusive shots of Alex Honnold training and working for his foundation, the Honnold Foundation

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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

 

“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”

 

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

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