Rock climber Alex Honnold looks ahead to 2014

, February 12, 2014

For many of us, just the thought of clambering around to grab something from above the kitchen cabinet is dizzying. But for rock climber Alex Honnold, who makes a living out of vertical opportunities, the picture is very different.

Originally from Sacramento, California, Honnold is best known for climbing some of the world’s most famous big walls with no ropes (free soloing). Honnold, 28, is now in the safe hands of a number of the industry’s top brands, and looks forward to a solo attempt of the 508-metre-tall Taipei 101 next year.

Earlier this year, Honnold and friend Cedar Wright took on a new challenge by routing through California on an epic ‘bike and hike’ trip. The pair of professional climbers fastened themselves to the saddle for up to sixteen hours a day before climbing some of the state’s famous fourteeners. Over three weeks, Honnold and Wright completed over 700 miles on the bike, 100 miles of hiking and over 100,000 feet of vertical climbing. Reflecting on the adventure, Honnold acknowledged just how tired he was, “The last eight months I’ve been keeping a training journal, very rough numbers of hours a week, just to get a sense of training. And for the bike tour we were doing almost seventy hours a week of exercise. Since it was all biking or hiking, it was pretty continuous and full-on.”

Since finishing the bike and hike trip, Honnold has been up to The Bugaboos in British Columbia and climbed in Southern Africa. Here’s an interview held in Emeryville, California in November 2013.

How was your trip to Southern Africa?

For me it was kind of like a vacation trip, like a five-week tour of all southern Africa. A lot of filming stuff, so half workish, half vacationy. Saw cool animals, sampled all the best areas.

And the food?

Food was a little grim. It was OK. Super meat orientated. I actually haven’t eaten meat in almost a year now so going back over there it was pretty tough. In Namibia I tried some game meat in this hotel we were at, just because I was so hungry.

Were away for the shutdown [of Yosemite]? What did you think of it?

It was ridiculous. Especially being overseas reading all the stuff from an outside perspective, I cannot believe that the government just stopped working. What a bunch of idiots. I was travelling with a British chick and I had to explain how it worked like four times. Apparently when enough retards get put into a building, they can manage to screw things up.

And the National Parks?

Mostly just an embarrassment with the government. There a bigger issues than the national parks. That the government doesn’t actually uphold its mandate to the people. Not being able to go to the park isn’t that much of a big deal, but the government not being able to function, that’s ridiculous.

How has your interest in the environment shifted your interest in food?

I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year now. The environment is what got me into it in the first place, thinking from that perspective.

How did you find life on the road?

This summer I did a mountain bike tour in California and we were living off gas station food, Americana-style kind of stuff. So I was eating veggie-scramble for breakfast and a veggie burger for dinner, like every night, you just can’t find good thai food or good Indian food, or any type of nice vegetarian fare. Gas station food, but kind of true in any rural anywhere.

With the bike tour, we took a lot of product, but you just can’t afford to carry 20lbs of product. Because each day we’re doing pretty big missions, like 16 hours in the mountains. You just can’t carry much. We need a trailer full or product.

How did you pick up the biking?  How much you could do in a day?

Well we didn’t really know how much we could do. We just went and adjusted depending on how our knees felt. We were constantly changing our seat position?

How did you get hold of gear? How did you get advice?

We used this thing called the internet, and purchased it. I was actually out in Alaska, my buddy did all the research. He even flew into Sacramento and swapped the pedals from the old bike to the new.

Did you bring books?

He didn’t. I brought one big fat book, but in retrospect I shouldn’t have even bothered. I was so tired all the time, it’s not like I just read.

Why were you so tired?

I was just exercising too much. The last eight months I’ve been keeping a training journal, very rough numbers of hours a week, just to get a sense of training. And for the bike tour we were doing almost seventy hours a week of exercise. Since it was all biking or hiking, it was pretty continuous, full-on. We were climbing when we got there. The eastern sierras so it’s all big granite faces so do this epic hike up to them then solo some 1000 foot wall. It’s pretty tiring.

Did you feel tired because you were exercising different parts of your body?

We were just tired. It was like 5.10 granite, so it’s pretty easy, but you’re just so tired.

Do you still cycle?

Yeh, a little bit. We’re talking of doing another trip next year actually. We’ll see.

Are you trying to read everyday?

No, when I’m travelling and on trips I read a lot, but when I’m in normal life like this, I don’t really read that much.

What are you reading right now?

The World Without Us

How do you value company in your climbing? You climb often with some of the best in the world.

Always nice to have your friends with you. I have learned most of what I know from all of my different partners so now I get to climb with some of the best in the world, there’s a lot to learn from that kind of stuff.

Taipei 101 – how are you learning to do that?

There aren’t that many people that do that. Arman Bere, I’ve emailed with a bit and I read his book and watched the stuff online. But honestly, you learn more by just going outside and playing. I was looking at the beams in here, it would be kindof fun. Two days ago I was in Sacramento visiting family and I went walking in the park with my aunts and climbed a handful of the biggest trees and got ontop of this play structure. Because as a kid, that’s all I had to climb on, but I’ve sort of moved away. I can climb on rocks, that’s normal, but to climb on other things, I’m like, why would I do that? It makes a weird scene, people think you’re a weirdo when I could just stick to my normal scene with rocks. But I’m trying to break back into climbing on whatever. It’s kind of logical. Climbing in cities, I’ve done a couple of mini tours where you just climb on some sculptures. It’s amazing how nobody notices you. You think that everyone is going to notice you and judge you, but hardly anyone looks up.

Are you doing it to promote awareness of what you are doing in the outdoors?

I love playing on the structures. If other people find that inspiring, then that’s good.

What are your plans for 2014?

That bike tour, we’re thinking of Desert Taos. The thing about the one we did, why it was so exhausting, it was all mountains, huge hills. Desert Taos stuff, none of the towers are more than 2000 feet of gain, which is pretty casual when the mountain stuff was 10,000 feet, which is kind of a lot. So we’ll be doing harder climbs but shorter bikes with this one. Less volume, but harder climbing. We’ll see how it all works out though.

How can normal people learn from what outdoors athletes do, how can they select certain parts of their lifestyle and learn by them?

To me that’s all wrapped up in the lifestyle. If your outside and you have tonnes of leisure time, you’re gna read, you’re gna just be hanging out in nature. For me, over the last year and a half, I’ve been on a non-fiction reading kick. All environmental style stuff. That lead me to the food things too. The beauty of expedition reading is I’ll read the books then pass them on to other people that you’re with. Like I read A People’s History of America – it changed the way I looked at US politics. Then when I was done, I passed it on to Conrad Anker, we were in the bugaboos at the time. He wanted to read it then give it to his son. I like reading with other people, you read something, talk about it a lot, then pass it on. The international book club.

Honnold’s variety of interests and updates punctuate his lively Faceook page.