Returning from climibng in England I had a chance to catch up with the notorious Alex Honnold. With Acsents of Gaia, The Promise, and Parthian Shot, all known to be scary, bold and well respected. Alex had to say this....
Do you feel you have a strong head or do you feel stronger physically?
I have a much stronger head than body. You should see me try to climb in a gym. Embarrassing.
Why are you always soloing?
I don't solo all that much. Just for special occasions. I enjoy it.
What happens if you die?
Nothing happens. You're dead. And then you rot. And that's it. Just like when animals die.
Does living out of a van affect your self-esteem? OR does it help you get the ladies?
I like living in the van a lot, I wouldn't say it affects my self esteem one way or another. But it certainly hasn't been helping with the lady scene. Pretty grim there. But it's probably more my lack of social skills than my van. . .
Do you make a living from rock climbing? Who supports you?
I don't think I make a living from climbing but I'm ever optimistic. I have stuff saved away that allows me to climb full time.
Why are many people turned off by the game of hard trad climbing?
I didn't think people were turned off by it. There just aren't that many hard trad climbs [relative to hard sport climbs].
Top three people you respect most in Rock Climbing:
I'll leave it at two because I can't think of anyone else in the same league off the top of my head.
Write me a brief story about epicing while soloing or trad-climbing.
I tried to link the last two pitches of this route The Nautilus, 5.12b/c, in the Needles CA. I couldn't figure out where the anchor was so I kept going. The rock turned a lot worse and I passed two very scary detached looking blocks. I started running out of rack and rope and then got to a really hard section and didn't know what to do. Turns out my topo was wrong and rather than 5.10 to the top it was really 11+. Anyway, I spent a long, long time trying to figure out how to go up or down. I had crippling rope drag and no more gear. I was gripped. But eventually it worked out, like it always does. I sacked up and made the moves. I topped out with only my Gri-gri left on me. Written out that sounds sort of retarded. But it was probably the most gripped I've ever been with a rope on. It took a long time.
Why does your family think you look like a cow?
I think it's the big brown eyes. Or it could be the vacant, unintelligent gaze.
Talk to me about climbing in England. Tell me about differences in the UK climbing style and attitude when compared to USA.
I wouldn't say there's that much of a difference. They go out climbing the same as we do. The scene was a little different since everyone sort of knows the same climbing history. They know the routes a lot better and have a better idea of climbing lore.
What’s the connection between sport-climbing and trad-climbing for you?
I really like sport climbing. It's super fun and I like pushing myself physically. But I think I find walls more fulfilling overall. I just like really long routes. If there were more multipitch sport routes in the US I would probably spend less time trad climbing.
Are you confused by the English grades anymore? Can you explain it for those who don’t know?
I'm definitely less confused now [though far from proficient]. Basically, the E grade comes from the total experience of the route. It depends on both the danger and the difficulty, so a hard but safe route can be the same grade as an easy solo. It's not like the YDS, it doesn't tell how "hard" a route will be. But it does give a good idea of what the experience will be like. It's hard to describe, but it seemed like the more routes I did the more everything fit into place. What was the scariest head point or solo you made in UK? This sounds retarded, but I think the most gripped I got was on Kalusa Klein, an E7. It was maybe a 5 move 5.12 slab. You had to trust some miserable smears and stand up. It's not really dangerous or anything but I was trying to flash it and didn't really know what to expect. I don't know why, I was just nervous. Other routes felt more dialed in.
Why would the Promise be suggested E10? Were you guys scared to suggest an easier grade, knowing this was one of the hardest?
To be fair to James, all the BS about the grading of the Promise took place before we'd really done anything. Later in the trip we did End of the Affair and Gaia, both considered benchmark E8 and both miles easier and safer [well similarly safe at least, hard to compare]. So if we take those as E8 then the Promise has to be at least E9. And Kevin and I both used crash pads at the base, which makes it a lot less scary. James had chosen to not use pads when he does routes as a way of differentiating trad climbs from boulder problems. It definitely makes routes more committing and scarier. I think it's retarded. I don't want to get hurt and I'll do whatever I can to make routes as safe as possible. But, if he wants to play that way then power to him. So I can see why he found the route a lot more intimidating. [For those who don't know, the route is maybe 25+ ft tall, protected by what seems like a good slider nut (though none of us ever whipped on it, and we didn't want to try) at about mid-height. So it's like a big highball. It'd be a bummer to fall on just the pads, but they would definitely help a lot]
What is next on the plate for you? Sport climbing for the winter.
Have some fun, clip some bolts, get in shape. And then the Valley in the spring. Psyched.