Alex Honnold’s Half Dome/El Cap Solo Link-up In His Own Words

Alex Honnold’s Half Dome/El Cap Solo Link-up In His Own Words

Back in June, Alex Honnold made headlines after he ran up both the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and The Nose on El Capitan in under 12 hours.

By himself.

Honnold’s feat raised a lot of questions about how someone manages to solo massive walls like El Cap or Half Dome.  Did he free solo the whole thing?  How much gear did he take with him?  Is there a method to Honnold’s madness or is he, as one commenter suggested, just an “insane beast man with gorilla strength arms and the endurance of a triathlon runner”.

I’m not sure about the last part, but this article Honnold wrote for Black Diamond does a good job shedding some light on his methods.  First he describes the rack he took with him for the Half Dome portion of the day:

I hiked up to Half Dome with a minimal rack, personal climbing gear, my bivy gear, and a 30-foot line that I use to tow my van that I figured could work for the Robbins Traverse—the only time I expected to use a rope.

And this is how the climbing went (keep in mind he has free soloed this route in the past):

The climbing itself was pretty uneventful. The climbing is mostly moderate, especially when I used the bolt ladders to avoid the hard free climbing. I climbed the chimneys with my pack hanging down below me on a daisy.
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The only time I really had to pay attention was on the Zig Zags, where I climbed with two pieces clipped to my daisies at all the hard parts

With his climb of Half Dome completed before most people get to work in the morning, Honnold set off for El Cap Meadow to prepare for the Nose.  For this climb he decided to go “a little heavy” on the gear bringing a fairly complete rack of cams and a “skinny rope that I’d borrowed from a friend”.  Once on the wall, he continued his mix of rope soloing, french freeing and outright free soloing:

I rope soloed the short aid section up to the Boot Flake, but then I took myself off again before I climbed the actual Boot itself. It’s simpler for me to not deal with a rope, especially on something secure like a hand crack. Still, it’s exciting to take yourself off belay on El Cap.

Exciting is one word for it I suppose.
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 Further along the route:

Putting my rope away at the base of the Pancake Flake was one of the more memorable moments of the day. As I unclipped my daisies from the anchor and started freesoloing the easy lieback above me I felt absolutely heroic. The sheer exposure of 23 pitches dropping off beneath me filled me with glee. I’d spent a lot of the season posing for photos on various routes for a couple of different projects. Now I found myself doing the most exposed climbing of my life all alone. It was invigorating.

Check out the full, very lengthy report here.  And oh, DON”T TRY THIS AT HOME KIDS…
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Posted In: Traditional Climbing


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4 Responses to Alex Honnold’s Half Dome/El Cap Solo Link-up In His Own Words

  1. Mic August 18, 2010 at 6:46 am #

    What does ‘french freeing’ mean?

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    • Philly Cheese August 18, 2010 at 7:18 am #

      Hey Mic,

      Here’s the definition: “French free, French freeing, or French free climbing is when a free climber ascends a rock face and uses occasional moves of aid, that is pieces of gear like bolts and cams placed in the rock, to bypass difficult sections that the climber either can’t free climb, can’t climb in the current weather conditions, or would need to work on the moves to be able to free climb them. A French free move then is simply a single move or couple moves of aid climbing on a free route.” – from’s dictionary of climbing

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    • Paul Campbell August 18, 2010 at 11:10 am #

      Just for clarification on the above definition, French Freeing is mostly when you are free climbing and pulling on pieces (such as using a CAM for a hand hold, or stepping on a piton), but when French Freeing you are not doing full aid (stepping on Aiders), you are just using unnatural holds in a free climbing style.

      It’s a bit confusing.

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  2. Mic August 19, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    Got it. Thanks!

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