The Top Adventure Stories of 2012: Alex Honnold Climbs the Triple

The world’s most famous climber pushes the limits in Yosemite

Jan 4, 2013
Outside Magazine

In less than a month, during the spring climbing season in Yosemite, Alex Honnold notched more impressive, big wall speed feats than most elite climbers will capture in their careers. On May 19, he and Tommy Caldwell finished the first free ascent of Yosemite’s three biggest walls in less than 24 hours. On June 6, he soloed the park’s three biggest walls in less than 24 hours—climbing mostly without a rope. On Sunday June 17, he paired up with Hans Florine to set a new speed record up the Nose of El Capitan, scaling the famous 2,900-foot face in 2:23:51, breaking the previous record by roughly 13 minutes.

The solo was Honnold’s biggest moment. He linked up Mount Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome, roughly 7,000 feet of climbing, in 18 hours and 50 minutes. Expert climbers might take several days to copy the feat in teams. Dean Potter and Timmy O’Neill first completed the route in 2001, but as Outside’s Adam Roy wrote earlier in the year, they aided their way through difficult sections, using gear to support their weight rather than pulling on holds. The route had been dubbed The Triple Crown, but Honnold preferred another name. “I’ve always just called it the Triple,” he said.

Honnold began his climb around 4 p.m. on June 5. About halfway up the roughly 2000-foot Mount Watkins, wingless insects called silverfish swarmed his ears, mouth, and neck while he held on to the rock with his fingertips. “It was heinous,” he told The New York Times. “At any given point I had dozens of them on me. But what are you going to do?”

He free-soloed—climbing alone without a rope—roughly 95 percent of the time, continuing up through the night. “Not scary, just lonely,” he said.

He finished around 11 a.m. on June 6. On the way down from the climb, on a path toward pizza, he took some time for reflection. “It was kind of hardcore,” he told an interviewer from The North Face. “It was probably more hardcore than the other one.” He was referring to the Triple he had completed with Tommy Caldwell roughly two weeks earlier. The interviewer asked him to explain what he meant by hardcore. “Well, just the fact that if you fall off most of it, you will die,” he said. “It makes it more exciting.”

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