Alex Honnold is thought to be the world’s greatest climber, ever. He is a master of his sport.
He has climbed some of the most daunting rock faces in the world, without a rope. This is called free solo climbing.
On June 3rd 2017, Alex summited Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3,000 foot vertical slab of granite, without a rope or harness. He is the first person to ever accomplish this, and it’s thought to be the greatest climb ever.
A crucial part of his success has been learning to harness and control his fear. The way he controls his fear is through preparation and deliberate practice.
El Capitan is the crown jewel of solos. The most striking wall in the world.
He wanted to test himself against El Cap because it represented true mastery.
3,000 feet of climbing represents thousands of distinct hand and foot movements.
He climbed El Cap 50 times over the previous ten years with a rope.
But the real work were the days he descended by himself and practiced different ways of scaling the granite wall. He would do this hundreds of times. He would practice scenarios if something went wrong, and where he could find grip. He practiced every negative scenario until his reactions were second nature to him.
He would practice thousands of different hand and foot movements until he found a sequence that felt the most secure and repeatable.
“I then had to memorize them. I had to make sure that they were so deeply engrained within me that there was no possibility of error. I needed everything to be automatic.”
Climbing with a rope is mostly a physical effort, but climbing without a rope becomes more of a mental effort.
“But staying calm and performing at your best when any mistake can mean death requires a different mindset.”
The way Alex did this was through visualization. He would imagine the entire experience of soloing the wall. He would memorize every one of the thousands of hand and foot movements. He would visualize it so deeply that he could feel the texture of each hold or crevice of rock in his hand.
He compared it to a choreographed dance.
It took him several years to prepare.
He felt confident the day of the climb. He perfectly executed his routine and it felt effortless.
Most climbers take 3-5 days to ascend El Capitan. And those climbers are using ropes and harnesses.
Alex Honnold summited the mountain in 3 hours and 56 minutes without a rope.
His climb represented true mastery.
“The whole pursuit of this dream has allowed me to live my best life, that makes me hopefully the best version of me.” – Alex Honnold
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