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(Photo: Renan Ozturk)

Alex Honnold’s About to Be a Dad. Will He Still Free-Solo?

The famous climber reflects on parenthood, risk, and how he plans to pursue future projects

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Michael Levy

from Climbing

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Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless are having a kid—a daughter, in fact! For the climbing world, this is the equivalent of a royal birth. I half expect that the guys over at Reel Rock are already working on a father-daughter concept for a film in 2030.

But as joyous as it is, I also found myself wondering if this major life event might give Honnold pause in how he approaches his climbing projects in coming years. Plenty of top alpinists and climbers have dialed back—or at least done some serious soul searching about—their most extreme behavior when they become parents. Will Honnold put it in cruise control once the little one arrives? I’m not suggesting he’d be top-roping 5.10’s for the rest of his days. But might he hang up the soloing shoes?

The hypotheticals related to Papa Honnold only get more complex from there. When star athletes become parents, it’s not surprising when their kids follow in their footsteps. But while following a mother into the WNBA or a dad into Major League Baseball is one thing, Alex Honnold’s daughter becoming a free soloist would be something else entirely. For obvious reasons.

So what if Honnold’s daughter did take a keen interest in free soloing? How would he feel about that? Would he support her? Be steadfastly opposed?

These are the types of questions we posed to Honnold in a recent interview. As he always does, he gave clear-eyed, thoughtful answers.

Even as he entertained my what-ifs, Honnold said there’s only one thing he and McCandless are concerned with right now: “First we need her to arrive healthy and whole.”

Check out the full interview, or read more about how pro climbers deal with parenthood, here.

Climbing: Tell me the emotions—how excited are you and Sanni to become parents?
Honnold: I’ve always wanted a family long-term, so I’m excited to be starting the journey, but so far I’m not actually feeling a ton. It’s slightly surreal, since I’m not the one actually carrying the baby. And I think that for Sanni so far it’s more about managing the physical challenge of pregnancy than reveling in the excitement. We’re both excited long-term, it’s just not quite thrilling yet.

Did you always figure you’d have kids one day?
Yeah, I always hoped to. I’ve always had a good relationship with my family and grandparents, and I’ve always assumed I would carry that on into the future. We’ll see how it goes!

How, if at all, might becoming a father change your calculus related to risk?
I’m totally prepared for it to rein in my risk-taking a little bit, though I could see it having no impact as well. I already try to manage and mitigate risk as much as possible—I certainly don’t think of myself as a big risk-taker. So it’s possible that not much will change. But I’m open to the possibility that I’ll just want to stay at home and play with my kid as well.

Related to that: Do you think you’ll continue to push your free soloing? Or will you dial it back?
I’m not sure either way. I have no huge soloing goals right now, but I have a few ideas on the back burner that may eventually come together. The biggest difference, I suspect, will have to do with how I spend my time. Having a small child seems more conducive to short bursts of intense training, which lends itself to bouldering and sport climbing. Generally, when I’m soloing a lot I’m spending tons of time outdoors on rock, which might be harder if I’m taking care of a kid. But I’m open to anything, we’ll just see. Seems like the kid will be the priority.

What would you tell your son or daughter about free soloing? Would you discourage or forbid it? Tacitly allow it? Actively teach them if they decided it was particularly important to them?
It’s a girl. The idea of her free-soloing seems so far away that I’m not too concerned. First we need her to arrive healthy and whole, then we’ll just see if she even enjoys climbing. But if she gets into climbing, I’m certain she’ll have a strong appreciation for the spectrum of risk, from hiking to scrambling to free soloing. Most of my rest-day hikes end with some kind of scramble. I’m sure she’ll grow up clambering around on rocks. But whether or not that ever turns into soloing will be a much bigger question. I’m not opposed, as long as it’s done carefully and intentionally by a mature adult.

Let’s say your daughter, years from now, decides she wants to solo the Freerider. What would go through your head?
Well, I’d probably be pretty concerned. But I have a lot of good beta for her. That seems very unlikely though. Hopefully it’s a bridge we never have to cross. But on the other hand, it’s only 12d/13a. In another generation, that’ll be truly easy.

I’m sure you’ll support your kid in whatever makes them happy, whether that’s climbing or something else entirely. But hypothetically, what would be a greater disappointment—if your kid is purely an aid climber, or if they exclusively use hand jammies?
Using hand jammies is still free climbing, so it’s still acceptable for any child of mine. Plus, I suppose I want her hands to wind up a little less ogreish than mine. Hand jammies might help.

Lead Photo: Renan Ozturk

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