The greatest rock climber in the world is climbing the greatest rock in the world. Alex Honnold is on El Capitan, free-soloing it – meaning no rope, no one else, just a man alone on a wall. He is at the crux, the most difficult section, known as the boulder problem, the main problem being that it is really, really hard. But he moves gracefully, balletically even: drive up off the left foot into the thumb press, roll two fingers over the thumb, switch feet, left foot out to a bad sloping foothold, switch thumbs, reach out left to a grainy rounded hold before launching into the karate kick … And that is where he slips and falls.
Not 700 metres to his death, though, which is what would have happened if he was on the real El Cap, in Yosemite, California. He is actually in Vauxhall, south London, at a climbing centre where they have tried to recreate the hardest section of the route that Honnold really did climb, alone and without a rope. So this time he has fallen about two and a half metres on to a crash mat, nothing hurt except a little pride. “I’m dead,” he laughs. Hahaha.
Alex - Honnold - Legend - Sport - While
Alex Honnold, now 33, has been a legend in the sport for a while, with a rack of insane firsts and nobody-will-evers hanging from his harness (except he doesn’t usually wear one of those). With a goofy grin and a bad haircut, he has been fighting a single-handed battle against gravity, and winning. When, on 3 June 2017, he free-soloed the freerider route on El Capitan, the New York Times described it as “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever”.
Then the film about that climb – Free Solo – came out, and the world outside the...
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