Rock Climber Alex Honnold Reveals the Best Way to Fight Fear

Alex Honnold
The legendary climber reveals a few tips for facing fear.
Courtesy of The North Face

Renowned rock climber Alex Honnold, who last month became the first person to scale Yosemite National Park’s 3,000-foot wall known as El Capitan without any rope or safety gear, trained for the accomplishment for more than a year.

Now the 31-year-old free soloist is enjoying far easier — and safer — daily tasks like casual climbs with his girlfriend and penning a new chapter for his book.

Honnold, an ambassador for The North Face (apparel) and La Sportiva (footwear), consistently captures the climbing world’s fascination with each ambitious undertaking.

Alex Honnold The North Face ambassador became the first person to free-solo Yosemite’s 3,000-foot peak El Capitan. Courtesy Alexhonnold.com/Renan Ozturk.

But to take on the world’s most vertical surfaces, he relies on more than just chalk and precise finger placement.

“Footwear is super-important for climbing,” said Honnold, who wore La Sportiva throughout his climbing career and has been sponsored by the company for a decade. “In some ways, it’s the most important. The only things attached to the rock are your hands and feet — your hands you can work on through training, but for your feet, it basically comes down to your footwear choice.”

Honnold’s next project includes reviewing footage of his ascent, shot by climbing partner and filmmaker Jimmy Chin, for a National Geographic documentary due out next year.

Do you ever get afraid when you’re climbing these huge walls without any safety precautions?

“Yeah, of course, particularly if something unexpected happens — like if you break a hole in the wall or if an animal comes out of a hole. If something surprising happens, you experience fear the same as everybody else.”

What’s your personal fear-facing trick?

“You have to understand the nuances of fear. Just because you feel afraid doesn’t justify acting that way. Everybody feels fear. That’s a normal physiological response, but being able to understand how and why you’re afraid, and then act on it in the right way, that’s the trick.”

Do you think people should power through their fears?

“If you’re in danger, then maybe you shouldn’t just overcome your fear and push through it. You don’t necessarily want to do something super-dangerous. But if your fear is unjustified, if it’s psychological and you’re afraid for no real reason, you should push past it and do what you’re supposed to be doing.”

You’re not scared on the wall …

“because it’s a choice. If I was super-afraid, I just wouldn’t go up there.”

You’ve climbed all over the world. What’s the best place to climb?

“Yosemite National Park. El Cap is the best wall within it.”

What’s one of the worst places to climb?

“There are so many scrappy little walls around the world. But I’m always stoked to climb. There aren’t any places where you’re like, ‘This is just bad.’ I went to this wall in Ecuador that was overgrown with vines and stuff, but the thing is, for what it is, you’re like, ‘At least it’s climbing.’”

What’s your favorite climbing movie?

“‘The Eiger Sanction,’ an old Clint Eastwood movie. It has the best climbing footage ever shot for Hollywood, but it’s a terrible movie overall.”

Any advice for what someone should never do when free-soloing?

“Umm, fall.”

What are you excited about next?”

“The El Cap climb will be a documentary in movie theaters next year. I think it’s going to be really good. I haven’t seen any of the footage yet. In the meantime, I’m going to be doing some casual climbing just to enjoy myself.”