The majesty of Yosemite National Park has had humans in awe since Ansel Adams first revealed its beauty to the world in 1927. When the counterculture arrived in the 1960s, the quest to defy the odds of climbing its peaks set off a sporting revolution. Now in 2015, 29-year-old Alex Honnold is taking that sense of adventure to a whole new level as he scales mountains taller than the Empire State Building without a rope.
Known as “free solo climbing,” Alex embodies the most difficult and dangerous form of the sport and is recognized as the world’s #1 free solo climber. When climbing routes like the ones in Yosemite, a single mistake means death for even the most experienced of climbers. But having mastered his ascent on some of America’s biggest cliffs, this calm dare devil understands the importance of patience and perseverance when it comes to getting to the top.
MiLLENNiAL met up with Alex at Rockreation, a rock climbing training facility in Santa Monica, CA, where he showed us how he strategically positions himself to overcome any challenge.
Alex Honnold, From the backyard to the national park
Alex started his climbing career the same as almost every other active child: climbing trees. After scaling every possible kind of object, the young climber graduated onto bigger and better obstacles.
A California native, Alex grew up in Sacramento and was merely a few hours from the Yosemite Valley, a climber’s paradise. There, he was able to channel his love for climbing into a professional career, as he became the only free solo climber to tackle Half Dome.
Fellow climbing enthusiasts took notice of Alex’s incredible feats, which led to a featured report by 60 Minutes in 2011. But his determination pushed him to new heights. In 2012, he accomplished one of the biggest climbs in California; the “Yosemite Triple Crown” in just 18 hours, 50 minutes.
When talking to Alex, one would think that the mountains he has overcome weren’t that big of a deal, hence his nickname, Alex “No Big Deal” Honnold. The ever humble and often unassuming millennial does little to toot his own horn. Even signing with The North Face was something “that just sort of happened over time,” he tells us.
The slow discovery
Looking at his career, Alex explains he never had a defining moment of when he realized he could turn his passion for climbing into something that would pay the bills.
“I just have been climbing all the time and it gradually became more and more of a profession,” he says. “I never consciously chose ‘this is the time that I’m going to become a professional climber.’ It’s just something that I’ve always done.” However, there were people that noticed his abilities and thought Alex was someone special.
Sender Films, the production company behind the documentary Valley Uprising, a film about the history of Yosemite’s climbing culture, took notice of Alex’s abilities when sourcing talent and stories for the film.
Alex explains, “Those guys at Sender Films showed exactly what I was doing. In the film, they did a great job of showing the positions and really gave viewers the experience of climbing.”
Preparation and passion are key
The climbs Alex Honnold endures, especially as a free solo-er, are never attempted without the proper practice and conditioning. The actual percentage of his biggest solo climbs is extremely small compared to how many times he has done them during his training.
“When I’m doing these big solos, I never even set out for them unless I’m 100 percent sure that I can physically do them,” he explains. “I already have a very good sense of my level of fitness and everything with a rope on before these solo climbs.”
While attempting the climb without a rope may look audacious in itself, it is what goes into each climb that makes the journey that much more meaningful. The training and respect he has for both the mountain and himself, showcase a true heroism for the sport that lights the spirit with integrity.
Most millennials can look at Alex’s career, motivation, and conditioning as examples of how determination and perseverance can get you anywhere in life. His performance parallels what everyone goes through when trying to achieve the impossible. Some will doubt the ability to make it, but it is the innate trust in self that ultimately prevails.
When looking for success and motivation the most resonant answer still holds true, even for Alex– “follow your passion.” It is this passion that guides our destiny. And without it, motivation is almost impossible to come by.
New goals are something that everyone should be putting in front of himself or herself, but no matter how successful or big of a career someone like Alex might have there are times when a sense of direction is uncertain.
The ultimate generational example
When asked about what his next step will be and what has been pushing him towards new goals, Alex humbly answered, he wasn’t sure.
But even when there isn’t a set goal in front of him, he still has plenty of climbs to think about in the back of his mind.
Cerro Torre is a massive granite spire in Patagonia that looks like something straight out of a painting, and it is one of his unfinished climbs that he “would love to climb again.”
After getting 250 feet from the top this season, Alex and his team were forced to retreat after bad weather rolled in, and then walk 20 hours to find their way back to town. “I would love to go back and finish it, but the odds are next season I probably will finish it and then as soon as I do I’ll be like ‘well, maybe we should have done something bigger’.”
A lack of goals, or even motivation should never be something to stop an individual from setting out to find enlightenment. “Pretty much anything has merit if you put effort into doing it well,” he says.
Inspiration is something that every person will struggle with throughout their lives, and seeing that it is no different for someone who climbs the biggest obstacles, Alex proves to not only be a millennial hero, but also a generational muse.
To learn more about Alex Honnold visit his official website and follow him on Facebook. Be sure to catch the documentary, Valley Uprising, debuting Saturday, April 25 at 10pm ET/PT on Discovery Channel.