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Alex Honnold Has Solid Yosemite Season, Finishes With Big Free-Solo

At the end of June, he onsight free-soloed a 14-pitch 5.11

Alex Honnold is arguable the world’s most famous rock climber. After free-soloing El Capitan via Freerider, he went on to star in a stunning virtual reality film, is the co-host of a popular podcast and continues to push the limits of the sport.

Honnold lives in Las Vegas, but returned to Yosemite Valley at the start of May, a few months after he and his wife Sanni McCandless Honnold had their first child. Honnold wasted no time and jumped back on the big stone with Maury Birdwell. They climbed the first half of Zodiac on the right side of El Cap. Honnold said, “We wound up bailing because it was all a bit more extreme than I expected – it’s been eight years since I’d last climbed the Zodiac and it seems like there’s way less fixed gear and chalk than there used to be. It all felt pretty wild. And we didn’t have  hammer or pitons, and it was pretty wet, and basically we just didn’t have what it takes, which is really the only reason anyone ever bails, but it’s great to be back on El Cap, and it’s only day 1 of the season.”

A few days later, he and Josh McCoy repeated Mr. Midwest, a 14-pitch 5.13b on the west side of El Cap. The two hadn’t climbed El Cap together since 2006. “It was a fairly long hard day… but the climbing was amazing – really varied and featured, which is unusual for El Cap,” said Honnold.

Less than a week later, Honnold McCoy teamed up again for the North Ridge of Half Dome. In 2008, Honnold gained mainstream recognition after he free-soloed the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, an ascent featured in the film Alone on the Wall and in a 60 Minutes interview. About the North Ridge, he said, “It’s an old school route that I’d never done before and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s an incredible position up the side of Half Dome. Engaging climbing but never too crazy. 14 pitches up to 5.10d, though it’s pretty serious 5.10 climbing. Still quite alpine getting to the base, then we hiked down the Mist trail just to get a fun circumnavigation of the mountain.”

A few weeks later and Honnold was back on some technical terrain. With Sam Stroh, he made the first free ascent of Prime Directive, an 11-pitch 5.12+ on Fifi Buttress. It was established by Margaret Glover and Trevor Shumaker with a few points of aid. Honnold said, “I found it on Mountain Project and recruited Sam to check it out. It has a few incredible pitches and a few so-so pitches to get between different sections of the wall, but overall it’s another very worthy addition to the Fifi Buttress.”

Honnold then took to the trails and hiked/ran from Yosemite Valley to Red Peak and returned. About the loop, Honnold said, “It wound up being something like 48 miles and around 9k ft of vert. Really scenic. The high country was totally lovely, though still a bit too snowy for easy travel. I wound up eschewing the trail for maybe 5 miles and just cutting straight over the summit of the peak (rather than taking the pass which was really snowy still), which added a fun little rock climbing adventure to the day. Wound up taking me 14 hours bike to bike (I rode to the trailhead so the family wouldn’t have to get up too early). Really nice to see a whole new section of the park – never been so far south in Yosemite.”

To finish off his month in Yosemite, Honnold onsight free-soloed Centre of the Universe, a 14-pitch 5.11a on Fifi Buttress.