Sunday 16 June 2019

Climber Alex Honnold: I thought about bouncing down mountain to my death

The star of Free Solo is the only person to climb El Capitan without ropes.

Alex Honnold free solo climbing on El Capitan’s Freerider in Yosemite National Park (National Geographic/Jimmy Chin)
Alex Honnold free solo climbing on El Capitan’s Freerider in Yosemite National Park (National Geographic/Jimmy Chin)

By Laura Harding, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

The only climber to scale the 3,000ft sheer granite wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes has said he thought about what it would like to “bounce down as you fall off the mountain”.

Alex Honnold, 33, who is one of the world’s most renowned climbers, said he knew it would not be shocking to people if he died in an accident.

His successful ascent up the sheer rock face is documented in the new film Free Solo, named after the form of free climbing where the climber performs alone and without using any ropes, harnesses or other protective equipment.

He told the Press Association: “I think that I probably thought about all the potential negative outcomes much more than you might think from seeing the film, just because I have been dreaming about free soloing El Cap for maybe six years before we even started filming.

“In those years I had always wanted to free solo it and then I would look at it and think ‘that is horrifying, there is no way I can do that’ and so I thought about what it would be like to bounce down El Cap as you fall off the mountain and what it would be like to blow a foot and slip off something and go tumbling down the wall.”

He completed the climb shortly after the death of his friend Ueli Steck, who died in a fall in Nepal while preparing to climb Mount Everest, and Honnold said rather than put him off, it motivated him to prepare even more.

He said: “I put a lot of time thinking about El Cap and it’s not that that would throw you off, that further motivated me to prepare and be ready.

“For something like Ueli’s accident, that doesn’t throw me off because I have already spent so much time thinking about those kinds of things and those kinds of things potentially happening to me and those kinds of things happening on El Cap.

“Having it actually happen doesn’t really change how much you thought about it in the past and the fact that you know it could happen.”

After learning about Steck’s death, he can be seen in the film discussing his widow, saying: “What did she expect to happen?”

Asked if that means that is what he expects to happen to him too, he said: “If I were to die in an accident climbing, not necessarily falling free soloing but in any kind of climbing accident, it wouldn’t be that shocking as a professional climber who is doing things at the edge of climbing.

“I do my very best to limit the risk I take and I try to do things carefully and intentionally but if I made a mistake and somehow died in an accident, I’m sure most people would look at that and be like ‘well yeah, no kidding’.

“That seems obvious to anybody looking at it from the outside.”

Honnold said he thinks that film shows how much preparation he put into the climb to make it as safe as possible, adding: “For a lot of people, their vision of free soloing is people just walking up to a cliff and then climbing it.

“Then when you see years of work spent on the side of the cliff preparing it suddenly seems a lot less crazy.”

Director Chai Vasarhelyi added: “The premise of the film is based on that it’s always been oversimplified, people think about free soloing and they think about death but the whole film is constructed in a way to accurately reflect his process.”

Free Solo is released in UK cinemas on December 14.

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