Renowned rock climber ascends 3,000-foot granite wall in under four hours … with no ropes

By Michele Charboneau

Photo: Jimmy Chin

On Saturday, June 3, 2017, legendary rock climber Alex Honnold made history by being the first person ever to free solo a major climbing route on El Capitan, the iconic 3,000-foot granite wall in Yosemite Valley.

California native Honnold made his ascent of Freerider in just 3 hours, 56 minutes, starting at dawn and finishing at 9:28am PDT. The renowned big wall climb – rated a 5.13a on the Yosemite Decimal System and boasting 30 pitches – is difficult enough to complete with ropes and safety gear, let alone without aids of any kind as Honnold astoundingly ventured to do.

The Freerider route is a variation of the Salathé Wall, which climbing legends Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, and Tom Frost made the first ascent of in 1961. Salathé was subsequently free climbed for the first time in 1988 by Todd Skinner and Paul Piana. A decade later, Alex and Thomas Huber established Freerider, which – with Honnold’s recent feat – is the only major route on El Capitan to be ascended rope-free.

Freerider is known for challenging a climber’s strength, endurance and flexibility. The route puts a climber’s skill to the test with fissures and cracks of varying widths, narrow chimneys and ledges, and an extraordinary crux that demands nothing short of a superpower. Considering how sun, wind, and inclement weather can factor into a climb, and it’s hard to get one’s mind around the sheer magnitude of this endeavor.

So how did Honnold successfully complete this mind-blowing feat? Although his physical ability is obviously extraordinary – he obsessively trains by perfecting sequences and practicing holds – it’s his phenomenal mental ability to control fear that allows the analytical 31-year old to take on extraordinarily dangerous situations with marked poise. 3,000 vertical feet of marked poise …  on a cliff face where the slightest misstep in an intricate climbing move could mean certain death … yeah, that’s some poise. What a feat!