On Alex Honnold and Inspiration

Alex Honnold did something recently that, its pretty safe to say, none of us will ever do. Freeing cruxes at 5.12d, especially on a granite bigwall, is the stuff of life goals for many a respectable climber. As the world knows well by now, Honnold did it without a rope.

In an interview after the climb with Mark Synnott, Honnold explained that it felt pretty casual—that he felt like he could probably lace up for another lap of the three thousand foot Freeblast, calling it four hours of “light exercise.” He also noted that he had been keeping to a workout schedule, “trying to hang board every other day, and [today’s] the other day.” Its clear that a climber has achieved next-level abilities when, after casually sending the baddest free solo in history, he wasn't ready to skip a scheduled hangboard session.

For many young climbers and doubtless some veterans too, Honnold’s most recent achievement is simply his greatest and most recent in a long line of paradigm-shifting achievements in the sport of rock climbing. It may even be safe to say that Honnold’s climbing has helped to inspire an entire generation of climbers. Beyond his physical abilities, Alex Honnold has set himself apart from other climbers with his ability to overcome natural responses to fear. His cool composure thousands of feet off the deck and seemingly permanent state of calm, in fact, are so beyond the scope of what many of us know to be the standard fare of climbing put him somewhere as a climber that I find wholly unrelatable.

It’s been said that the progression of soloists has been generational, each pushing the limits set by the previous generation’s boldest climber. Honnold, as the story goes, seems to have skipped a generation, comfortably soloing into territory that was never previously even considered. As the sport of climbing grows in popularity and accessibility, the trend of young climbers starting earlier and earlier and developing physiology that allows for otherworldly strength and ability, the norms and standards of the sport will continue to push into ground previously thought impossible. But as Honnold leaves behind all conventional wisdom on climbing’s limitations, he enters a realm so far from what many of us know and aspire to that his climbing seems to defy the bounds of a collective imagination—Honnold’s climbing seems so far ahead of its time that not only can’t I relate to what drives and sustains him as a climber, I fail to find inspiration in his seemingly superhuman accomplishments.

While Alex Honnold’s free soloing has handily set him apart from the rest of the climbing communty, another aspect of his behavior seems to be leaving behind his peers and raising the bar in a new direction. More than one critic, and maybe only ones who fail to appreciate the finesse of Honnold’s art, are unable to see soloing as something other than selfish. The same can hardly be said for the way that Honnold seems to understand the civic responsibilities that might come with having a famous name.

Alex Honnold continues to leave behind his peers, as well as so many others whose names make headlines, with the work that he does to the benefit of the greater community. Having started the Honnold Foundation, Alex has taken a genuine and motivated interest in applying an ethos of sustainability to the aid of communities in need, bringing small scale renewable technologies to benefit rural communities in Africa as well as the Navajo nation here in the United States, among others, and taking a stand on environmental sustainability that so many people these days only wish they had the courage to take.

When asked in his post-climb interview if the world needed something cool like this to inspire or distract from the gloomy backdrop of the rest of the headlines, Honnold responded that “What the world needs is for the U.S. to stay in the Paris Accords,” using a platform he’s created for himself as a climber to take a stand on what may well be the most pressing issues of our generation. No, Honnold’s ability to send hard bigwalls ropeless doesn't light a fire inside me—its too far from my reality. But for a premier athlete to take a stand and make himself outspoken on issues of environmental politics, to put his own money toward making substantive changes to help people less privileged than himself to live better lives, I can’t think of anything that could possibly be more inspiring, and I hope this to be a powerful legacy and inspiration he brings to our community.