In June of last year, Alex Honnold became arguably the most famous rock climber in the world. In less than 19 hours, he climbed the “Triple Crown,” a trio of classic routes in Yosemite Valley, breaking speed records along the way. What’s more, he did it with no ropes to catch him if he fell. In the weeks following, the climbing world—and the world at large (thanks to his Fall 2011 '60 Minutes' interview)—was abuzz with talk of rock climbing's newest golden boy.
How did he harness such razor-sharp focus? Didn’t death cross his mind? Is he crazy? But, perhaps, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was: What’s next?
Then, nearly as fast as he'd appeared, Honnold receded from the limelight. Instead of putting up another major route, he lost himself in the boulder fields of Colorado, where he strengthened his bouldering technique while staying significantly (and, perhaps, disappointingly) closer to terra firma.
But last month, in Utah's Zion National Park, Honnold tackled what he says was his hardest free-soloing efforts to date. In a single day, he linked Monkeyfinger (5.12 b), Moonlight Buttress (5.12d) and Shune’s Buttress (5.11+). In less than 12 hours, he climbed almost 30 pitches of the toughest soloing of his life, with most of that time eaten up by the exhausting hikes between the three routes. And practically no one made a peep (yep, we admit it…we’re guilty too).
In a recent La Sportiva blog post, Honnold reflected on his toughest ascent:
I could write several different essays about the day; it’s given me a ton to think about. One would be how funny it is that climbing media didn’t even touch the story and that no one seems to care about it. Soloing Astroman and the Rostrum in 2007 generated all kinds of news and video bits. This Zion link up, which is infinitely harder and more cutting edge, doesn’t get mentioned. That’s what I get for soloing too much.
Perhaps Honnold's uncanny ability to scale thousands of feet without a rope is old hat by now. But, more likely, it’s that the world at large doesn’t understand the numbers that accompany Honnold’s gargantuan feats. Sure, the climbing world may appreciate the grades and numbers of pitches and conditions he faced that day. But maybe the average viewer just sees some crazy climber scaling cliffs that make them wobbly, even when they're looking through a TV screen.
With the dauntingly high bar that Honnold set with his famed Yosemite link-up, it begs the question: What will it take for the next brave rock-crawler to recapture the public eye?
To read Honnold's fascinating account of his big day in Zion, click through to his post on La Sportiva.