El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is a towering, completely vertical slab of granite measuring 900 metres in height from toe to tip – that’s only 78 metres shorter than the highest mountain in England. It’s a monster of a wall that’s regarded throughout the climbing world as the sport’s pinnacle, its Holy Grail.
That Holy Grail is currently firmly in the hands of Alex Honnold, a 32-year-old from Sacramento, California, and he’s been sipping from it since the morning of June 3, 2017 when he climbed the iconic wall, not only in a phenomenally quick time of just three hours 56 minutes but by a method of climbing called free soloing. That is climbing without a single rope and completely unaided. It means if you slip, you fall, more often than not to your death.
Freerider, as Alex dubbed it, was an unprecedented achievement that suddenly brought freesolo climbing to mainstream media. Alex made headlines throughout the world and was even invited onto late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live as part of an eclectic line-up of guests that also included 50 Cent… of all people.
Tommy Caldwell, a highly distinguished climber himself, called Alex’s feat “generation defining” and equated it to the “moon-landing’” of free soloing, while climber and filmmaker Jimmy Chin who was there to witness it, called it “one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time”. It has elevated Alex to the very top echelon of climbing, putting his name right up there with the greats.