In the last half a dozen years or so, Alex Honnold has gone from one of the biggest names in rock climbing to a bonafide household name, and for good reason. On top of an already incredibly impressive climbing resume, including historic free solo ascents of big walls like the Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, on June 3, 2017 Alex completed perhaps his crowning achievement, a mind-bending free solo climb of the infamous El Capitan, a 3,200 foot granite monolith in Yosemite.
For any listeners out there that aren’t familiar with climbing, free solo means climbing without a rope, a
partner, or any protective gear at all. In short, the stakes couldn’t be higher: if you fall you die.
While I was preparing for this episode I stumbled across a YouTube video of Alex on the Jimmy Kimmel show, and as I scrolled down through the comments a bit I saw one comment from a fellow climber I thought put things in perspective and summed up this climb pretty nicely. The climber says, "A message to the un-initiated who may stumble upon this video: Free soloing El Cap is perhaps the single most incredible feat of skill, strength, mental toughness and endurance ever accomplished by a human being... in the history of human beings.” It turns out, many agree with this sentiment, including the New York Times who says the climb “should be celebrated as one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever.” How’s that for some gravitas.
Alex’s climbing has garnered a lot of other international media attention, landing him on the cover of National Geographic and on a feature story on the CBS news show 60 Minutes. - just to name a few.
The cherry atop that list of ubiquity in pop culture also happens to be the latest development. Alex and his historic El Cap climb are the subject of a new documentary called FREE SOLO. The film is directed by National Geographic photographer and fellow North Face athlete Jimmy Chin and his wife Chai Vasarhelyi (like gas). The world premiere of FREE SOLO took place earlier this month at the Telluride Film Festival, where they had to add more screenings because the film was so popular, and as recent as earlier this week, the film won the audience choice award at the coveted Toronto Film Festival, which is a pretty big deal. FREE SOLO will be released to mainstream theaters all over the United States and Canada on September 28 - oh my god get psyched!
UPDATE: In case you’re living under a rock 😉 FREE SOLO won an Academy Award for Best Documentary of the Year.
I caught up with Alex in Boulder, Colorado in late July just as he was getting ready to go on tour for the film. In a lot of ways it was really good timing. He was on the back end of some much needed down time, which I think gave us the opportunity for a blank slate of sorts to explore a broad range of conversation topics, which will become apparent in our chat.
On top of that, the film madness hadn’t started yet and talking about the film was still ultra fresh. I really enjoyed hearing about the behind the scenes of the movie and all that went into it’s production. More than that though, my favorite part of the interview was just having a really engaging discussion and hearing Alex’s view on a smorgasbord of issues. I found Alex to be very intelligent, well-spoken, and insightful. We talked about AI, the latest solar energy harnessing technologies, food tech, ultimate human performance, and his foundation. Oh yeah, and a little climbing too.
As a little bonus to this conversation with Alex, I also talked with Sanni McCandless - Alex’s longtime girlfriend. Sanni is awesome, and over the last year I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her pretty well, but I had never heard her side of the story around El Cap. I was curious, as I’m sure many of you are, about what she felt and what her perspective was on the whole thing. Sanni also plays a major part in the movie, so we discussed what it’s like to be on tour and having her relationship on display for the whole world to see. Anyway, be sure to stay tuned in to hear that as well.
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