Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright Are Friendship Goals
Despite their differences, climbing’s most famous besties get along because they share the same convictions, support each other’s harebrained schemes, and, of course, engage in some good-natured smack talk
At first glance, Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright are a strange pair. Honnold is 35, doesn’t drink, and trains constantly. He looks as if he were chiseled from marble by Michelangelo. Wright, 46, calls to mind a different Michelangelo—the Ninja Turtle. He’s the life of the party, he caps off training days with pizza and whiskey, and he has passions other than rock climbing, including paragliding and filmmaking. They’re both opinionated, stubborn, and contrarian.
They’re also from different generations. When the two met in Yosemite in 2007, a couple thousand feet up the side of El Capitan, Wright had been on the North Face team for nearly five years, and Honnold was just getting noticed, quietly repeating some of Peter Croft’s free solos from back in the eighties. And yet theirs has become one of the climbing world’s most beloved friendships.
We interviewed each man separately, asking them the same questions about the other. They explained what makes their partnership work so well and unknowingly riffed off each other—as soul mates tend to do.
“There’s no replacement for spending time on real rock.”
Alex Honnold: Cedar really represents a previous generation who were all about big outings. You know, the climbers who grew up adventuring in the outdoors, without access to a climbing gym. I represent the first generation of climbers who grew up in a gym. But I personally enjoy that old-school style of climbing.
Cedar Wright: One of my first big free ascents was Uncertainty Principle, on Sentinel Rock—this really beautiful formation in Yosemite Valley. I remember being frustrated by a 5.13 pitch and asking a friend, climber Jose Pereyra, what I could do to get stronger. He said, “The universe will train you.” I’m not sure if I think the universe trains me, but I do believe there’s no replacement for spending time on real rock, a philosophy Honnold and I share. In this day and age, the concept of training has become extremely gym focused, about pure performance. For us it’s about heading out and being unsure if what we want to do is going to be possible.
AH: Even though we prefer outdoor epics, we both value the strength that only focused gym training can bring. He’s always motivated to do basic fitness with me. Even after he started paragliding a lot, he’s still hang boarding and staying relatively fit.
Good-Natured Smack Talk
“Honnold is a terrible partner for a lot of people, for sure.”
AH: If I’m being mean, I’d call him the world’s weakest professional climber. I’m thinking specifically about a few of the bike-touring trips we’ve done together [including riding to and summiting all 15 of California’s fourteeners in 2013]. There were certain routes that he’d see and say, “I won’t climb that, it’s too hard.” I’d be like, “It’s the classic line. It looks great.” Instead, he’d want to climb the overhanging 5.11 off-widths [cracks that are too big to fist or finger-jam, but too small for legs and upper bodies to fit inside], because he knew he could get up those rather than the beautiful, clean 5.13 corners.
CW: Honnold can be really matter-of-fact in a way that hurts your feelings. He’ll say something like “I don’t understand why you keep falling there, it’s not hard.” His way of interacting with people doesn’t come from an emotional place but from an analytical or intellectual place. Honnold is a terrible partner for a lot of people, for sure.
AH: I think he has a stronger personality than I do. I mean, he’s burned more bridges in life than I have.
CW: But I appreciate the brutal honesty. I like to confront my flaws and inadequacies head-on. I go through cycles of extreme laziness, then extreme self-loathing, then extreme motivation. Honnold has pushed me to be a better climber through his discipline and consistency, and I think I’ve pushed him as a person.
AH: I’d say my wife played a bigger role in that department than Cedar.
CW: I’m definitely a much more emotional, naturally gregarious person. Over time, Honnold has probably adopted some of my personality traits, and that’s probably been a godsend for his climbing career, because it doesn’t matter how hard you climb if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool asshole. He’s become more empathetic and willing to work with people.
Compatible Levels of Mellow (or Lack Thereof)
“We’re both deeply impatient people who just want to fucking get it done.”
AH: We were climbing together in Antarctica in 2017 on a bad-weather day. We skied across a glacier to look at an objective we thought might be manageable in those conditions. We got to the base of a little tower and I was like, I don’t want to do this. This is just too grim. I was slightly resentful of the fact that I often get roped into expeditions and then, because I’m typically the stronger leader, wind up having to do all these things I don’t want to do. I said to Cedar, “If you want to climb it, you lead it.” And he was like, “No problem.” He led the whole thing, scraping snow off the ledges, getting all gripped, and being, you know, super scared as he was trying to climb this frozen tower. Because I was on top rope, I stayed in my ski boots and wore his extra jacket the whole time, completely comfortable, totally warm.
CW: He also wanted to climb as fast as possible. Honnold can egg you on to do shit that’s a little at the limit. He’ll be like, “Dude, what’s your problem?” And you’re like, “Well, my problem is that I want to put in a piece before I do what looks like some really hard overhanging climbing.” And he’s like, “Whatever, put in the piece then.” And I’m like, “Dude, take a chill pill.” But I appreciate somebody who’s impatient. That’s maybe one of the reasons we have a good relationship. We’re both deeply impatient people who just want to fucking get it done.
AH: It was one of those times when I thought, wow, we got to sneak in this extra-cool climb on a day that otherwise would’ve just been a bad-weather day, because Cedar was willing to make it happen. To me that’s a good partner.
CW: It felt like we’d sort of gotten away with something.
AH: When you go through really intense experiences together, it either destroys or solidifies the friendship. And in this case, I think it solidified ours.
“Where’s my thank-you at the Oscars, fuck face?”
AH: I think Cedar’s biggest impact on my climbing has probably been facilitating certain sorts of adventures that I never would have done otherwise. Climbing California’s fourteeners and our expedition to Antarctica were some of the more formative moments in my career. And they wouldn’t have been possible without a motivated partner pushing just as hard to make those trips happen.
CW: Sometimes it’s about creating space for adventure. Just being like, “We should try to do all the fourteeners by bike, it’ll be awesome.” That’s the best thing you could ask for out of a training partner—someone who has a crazy idea and wants to try it. Even if I’m going to maybe be a little bit slower on the bike on certain days or a little bit slower on the rock on certain days, I’m there with him, with the motivation to keep going.
AH: I’m typically pushing for the harder routes and the more challenging lines. I think that’s probably helped Cedar stay strong as a rock climber. On the trips we’ve done together, there was always a little bit of tension. But I’d constantly acknowledge it, like, “Oh yeah, you’re gonna have to rest a little bit more than me because you’re like 11 years older.”
CW: I think Honnold probably owes most of his climbing career to me. I was like, “Where’s my thank-you at the Oscars, fuck face?” I should have at least gotten an “I owe it all to Cedar Wright, a middle-of-the-road climber who loves to get out there and suffer.”