Dirtbag Gourmet: Alex Honnold is the World’s Best Climber, World’s Worst Chef

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Alex Honnold is most known for being an astounding climber. He’s the record holder on the Nose of El Cap: five hours and 49 minutes. He climbs 5.14c with regularity and he solos 5.13.

But what you may not know is that the 26-year-old Sacramento native is a classic dirtbag gourmet. Well, more dirtbag than gourmet, although even that deserves some qualification. We caught up to Honnold on his cell as he was huffing his dad’s old Trek hardtail around Sacramento and he told us about his life on the road, how he eats, and why soloing a 5.13 is safer than mountain biking.

UH, WAIT JUST A SEC. CLIMBING WITHOUT A ROPE IS SAFER THAN RAILING SINGLETRACK?
I borrowed a mountain bike when I was climbing up in Squamish and these dudes were just bombing stuff I couldn’t even scramble down. I have no idea how they do it but yeah, it’s dangerous. Another time I borrowed a bike in Moab and I have no idea how anyone rides that stuff either. I just took the bike for a walk.

OKAY, GLAD TO KNOW YOU HAVE SOME WEAKNESSES. SPEAKING OF SQUAMISH, WHAT’S YOU’RE ON-THE-ROAD M.O.? AND DO YOU DIG THE PERMANENT ROAD TRIP?
I have a 2002 Ford Econoline van that I live out of. And no, it’s not glamorous at all. Sorry, but camping is not cool when you’re a homeless person. When you’re doing it all year, well it’s just not romantic. There’s a reason people live in cities. Do you know how I often I say to myself, “I could really use a shower!”?

YOU SLEEP IN THE VAN, NOT IN A TENT?
I have a Franklin Mondo Crash Pad that’s basically no good as a crash pad any more. But it’s six feet across and it’s perfect for sleeping on. I’m 5’11” and sleep horizontally across the back of the van.

WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU DONE TO THE VAN TO MAKE IT LIVABLE?
Some stuff. Some mistakes. At first I had all the insulation out of it so it was just bare metal. I slept in it one cold night and the condensation froze. Then I was driving and it was thawing and it was raining inside the van.

FUN. WHAT ABOUT COOKING AND EATING?
I pretty much eat the same thing every day. I have mac cheese and tuna every night. And three eggs every morning. I used to have four eggs. Now it’s three. I never even wash my dishes, because I’m just making the same thing the next day.

OKAY…SO MINIMAL DISHES?
No dishes. I have my pot, my fork, and my pan. I eat out of the pan with my spatula. No dishes. No cups. I think there’s a second pot and a couple of random grapefruit spoons floating around somewhere. I think I have another fork? Oh, and strainer.

DOESN’T THAT DIET GET STALE?
I try to eat out whenever I can to break it up. But when you’re cooking for one it’s not worth cooking something nice. I could saute a vegetable or I could just eat a pepper raw. I eat vegetables, I just eat them raw.

DO YOU EVEN HAVE A WAY TO KEEP FOOD COLD?
Nope. Eggs last forever at room temperature, and I don’t drink anything but water. No coffee, no alcohol. We [a team of climbers and photographers from The North Face] were just up in Nova Scotia to do a shoot and we humped in all this gear and it turned out I was hauling this 70 pound duffel. And I was thinking, “What’s in this?” And it was the beer duffel, and I don’t even drink beer!

SO YOUR DIET IS VERY HEALTHY, IF A LITTLE DULL?
No! I have a mega sweet tooth. In Squamish there’s a great bakery with these off-the-hook cookies, and last summer I’d do these twice a week cookie dinners where I’d pop in a DVD and watch a movie and have six cookies. And I was sending everything! And before I had been in Europe and had cut all the sugar out of my diet for three months and I didn’t notice any difference in my performance. So I figured, why shouldn’t I just eat cookies every day? I’d be nothing without my eggs for breakfast and my cookies!

CLEARLY YOU PREFER CIVILIZED DIGS — AND FOOD.
Yes! This past winter we did this Tour of Antiquities series [throughout the Middle East, Greece and Turkey] and at one point we stayed in these bungalows and were eating at restaurants every night and the light bulb came on. I suddenly knew why people have real jobs. Who wants to spend four months in a tent when you can live like a real human being? I guess I’m kind of a pansy.

Photography courtesy Andrew Burr.

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{ 9 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Amy C

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who often ends up taking my bike for a walk! Especially in British Columbia. :) It’s also refreshing to know that others feel the same re: camping and living on the road (and how very unglamorous it can be)! Thanks for a great interview and insight into the day-to-day life of a pro climber.

  • @ginabegin

    First of all Hi Amy! ^ Nice to see you here too!

    I am also living out of a car (as is Amy) and have discovered much of the same things Alex has mentioned: no need to refrigerate eggs, we don’t need to do dishes when we cook the same thing over and over and we almost always need a shower. One tip though, Alex, to cut down on your utensil needs: I eat grapefruit constantly and you can actually peel and eat a grapefruit just like a giant orange. Voila- no need for special grapefruit spoons!

  • Zach Wahrer

    Very interesting read! I can’t see living on that type of diet, but it’s obviously working for him. I guess I used to live off ramen and mac and cheese, so maybe I could do it… :-)

  • Irritated

    “I guess I’m kind of a pansy.”

    That’s both a really disappointing quote, and a really annoying way to end the interview. Are we supposed to laugh along with him or be charmed by his homophobia? Or yours, for not remonstrating with him?

    • DMT

      I don’t think it was homophobic at all. Seems to me like he was commenting on societal norms of what it means to be manly. Having a steady job/career, home, family, nice car etc. are all things that many Americans strive for. He’s poking fun at himself for not being “man enough” to settle down and start a 9-5 job and screw away his real dreams and goals.

      This reply is two years late, but I couldn’t go without putting in my two cents.

      • ayahuasca

        2 cents appreciated. you get a lot farther when you try to understand why someone said what they said rather than taking offence. regardless of whether or not “irritated” approves of alex’s sentiment, that sentiment exists and the societal norms that he’s reacting to exist. even the most sociologically enlightened people have similar thoughts as a result of the world we live in; should we really “remonstrate” people that voice these thoughts? i see no need to react with such contempt. perhaps alex could have phrased it in a more respectful way, but in doing so he would have been saying something entirely different. i’m sure the interviewer could have further probed about the intention behind his statement to better understand if he was commenting on societal norms in the way DMT described or just flippantly categorizing fear of doing hard work as a homosexual characteristic. i doubt the latter is the case, and you would have to make some unfair assumptions to come to that conclusion. regardless, i think starting that discussion would be out of place in this interview.

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