My Heroes, by Climber Alex Honnold

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Note: This is the first in a series of occasional stories in which our heroes share their heroes. Enjoy! — Ed.

At age 27, Alex Honnold is the most celebrated and accomplished climber of his generation, record holder for the fastest time up the Nose on El Cap, owner of scores of amazing free solos, and the only person to have soloed the Yosemite Triple crown, for which he also holds the speed record — 18 hour 50 minutes linking up of Mt. Watkins, the Nose, and the Northwest Face of Half Dome.

Normally, we’d give you a few paragraphs on Alex and then let him tell you about his heroes, but the missive he sent back does a much better job of hinting at his personality and life. Here’s what he filed:

Sorry I never got back to your last email sooner, it got sort of lost in an internet maze. For whatever reason, my phone, different email accounts, and mail on my Mac aren’t all syncing right, and combined with the fact that I have limited internet that sort of pops in and out I’m never quite sure what’s going on, I’ve been seeing messages on one thing but not on the others, and then stuff slips through the cracks.

And the bigger excuse is that I’ve been sailing around the coast of Oman for the last few weeks as part of a National Geographic/North Face expedition. So connectivity has been extra cruxy. I’m typing this as a draft in Mail right now while reading the original email off my phone, even though we’re sailing and wont have internet for who knows how long. It’s all a bit ridiculous. But I suppose not much else to do to pass time on a boat.

Normally I would say it’s easiest just to do this kind of thing by phone, but I won’t be back in the States for a while (Bulgaria next!), so it’s probably easiest just to email.

Here are my heroes:

Peter Croft, climber, legendary soloist. I dreamed of doing all his big solos when I was a kid [Astroman and the Rostrum, his big linkups in Yosemite]. I also really admired his style. He’s a super-solid climber who just loves to climb a lot, which means a lot of big scrambles in the mountains. And now I know him through the TNF team and he’s what I always dreamed, but possibly even more mellow than I imagined. He still has a childlike enthusiasm for climbing.

Tommy Caldwell, climber. All-around hardman and probably one of the hardest working climbers alive. He’s the embodiment of all those cliche quotes about talent plus hard work, etc., etc. He’s arguably the most accomplished big wall free climber in the world, a style that is really inspiring to me. And he does it by just going up there and putting in the work. It’s really impressive. And he’s super nice and fun to climb with.

John Bachar, climber. Unfortunately deceased now, but when I was a kid he represented the rad hardman climber I hoped to be. He defined climbing standards in the U.S. for more than a decade and his soloing set a world standard. And he always just seemed so handsome and cool. He wasn’t as big an influence on me as Peter, but I just always found him so…cool.

Yvon Chouinard, climber, businessman. I’ve always known and respected the name for what he did in Yosemite, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to respect his post-climbing accomplishments more. It’s inspiring how he took the connection he gained to the natural world through climbing and mountaineering and translated it into his environmental work. It would be amazing to contribute as much to the world as he has.

Elon Musk, entrepreneur. I’m out of climbing heros, so…Musk. Though I don’t know much about him I think it’s impressive that he founded Tesla, which is particularly forward-thinking, and SpaceX, and is the chairman of SolarCity. All the businesses he’s in are pushing humanity forward, and I find that inspiring. And he has a wife and kids, hard to see where he finds the time. If I didn’t climb I would aim for a life like that. He’s impacting the world in a positive way..

If I had real internet I would factcheck this better, but instead it’s all off the top of my head. Use at your peril.

alex

Photo by Tim Kemple, courtesy The North Face

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{ 9 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Arthur

    I’m increasingly impressed by Alex. A thoughtful list from a guy who does stuff most of us struggle to think about.

    The intro “most accomplished and celebrated climber of his generation” is interesting. I certainly can’t argue with it, but it certainly caught my eye. Given his media exposure there is no arguing that he is among the most celebrated climbers in the world of his generation, certainly in the US.

    This raises the question of what a generation is in climbing. He’s seems to not be the same generation as Ondra and Steck, being younger and older respectively. Caldwell is older, and maybe by virtue of being a hero to Honnold he becomes “of another generation,” having been established already in Honnold’s formative years. But lets raise the question of Chris Sharma – definitely of the same generation. I can’t make the case that Sharma is more celebrated than Honnold, but the comparison certainly raises the question of what accomplished means. They are certainly very different. While Sharma has been redefining what is possible to climb in terms of difficulty, Honnold has been redefining or even defining a type of endurance climbing (I think this may be more interesting though less mind blowing than his soloing, though they are deeply intertwined) as well as the mental side of the sport through his solo ascents.

    To me these are interesting terms to use, and they, I think, reflect as much on the perspective and imagination of the person using them as the person they refer to. I can’t argue with using them for Alex and along with the rest of the folks who enjoy this site I’ll continue to enjoy the perspective of the “Ed.” that put them all together.

  • Michael

    Nice article!

    A minor correction: He didn’t “free solo” the Triple Crown but he did “solo” the Trip Crown. A free solo of the Nose would be… insane. But so was Moonlight. So one day, it might go down.

  • Cyrus

    One clarification for Alex.. Elon Musk is the man.. but he is divorced.. so he has a little more time than you think (and without being presumptive all his humane ventures might be why the marriage didn’t work out)

  • Paul

    @Cyrus – Ah.. Ok sorry my mistake!

    Anyhow, thanks for this article Alex! I’ll definitely be checking out some of your climbing heroes.

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