I once asked Alex Honnold if he felt free. I had been thinking about Alex Lowther’s words in his profile of Honnold some issues back: “[W]hen he found the climbing gym at age twelve, learned that he could climb by himself and that he could ride his bike there on his own, he discovered his freedom, or rather something to do with his freedom” (“Less and Less Alone,” Alpinist 35). As he progressed as a climber, Honnold was continually drawn to hyper-simplified climbing, without a rack, rope or partner. But that same style of ascent also made him famous, and with that came the very complication he had tried to avoid. Increasingly, he was asked to coordinate with journalists, photographers and filmmakers who wanted to document his climbing.
So had that freedom he created by free soloing been diminished by others’ interest in his free soloing?
I was surprised to hear him say I’d been the first to ask the question, but much less surprised to hear the answer: yes, he said, it was becoming a bigger and bigger issue in his life.
But it’s the following footage, produced by Camp 4 Collective, from his recent El Potrero Chico solo that makes me believe, despite the logistics, Honnold does still find those moments of quiet solitude on a wall, surrounded by only rock and wind, when he feels truly free.
UPDATE: Camp 4 Collective has released a six-minute edit of Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright’s trip to El Potrero Chico. Watch it here:
[Why was El Sendero Luminoso the most technically demanding and involved big wall route he’s yet soloed? And why does Honnold say it was so easy? Read our January 20, 2014 interview with him to find out.–Ed.]