Alex Honnold: An Extraordinary Free Soloist & Climber


Alex Honnold is an American rock climber who was catapulted into the main stream media by his 2017 free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. He climbed the 3,200-foot rock face with no ropes or gear and he has been hailed as one of the most amazing athletes of all time.

Beyond this famous accomplishment, Alex has been participating in the climbing world since he first started frequenting his local climbing gym before he was 10 years old. He was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up there, graduating from Mira Loma High School before enrolling at UC Berkeley.

He dropped out of college and focused on his climbing full time, at first living at his parent’s house before moving into van life in 2007. Camping and living in his vehicle full time allowed him to grow into his climbing career even more, and his van frequently showed up in photographs and videos at the peak of his stardom in 2018.



Height: 5’11”
DOB: 8/17/1985
Ape Index: 1.04 / +3.1″
Started Climbing: 2000
Favorite climbing area: Yosemite
Ascents: 992 routes + 171 boulders
Average Grade: 8a

He is a prominent figure in the climbing world and is known as an exceptional climber and free soloist, first making climbing news in 2007 when he free soloed Astroman and Rostrum in one day, which hadn’t been done since 1987. He quickly grew in fame even more when he free soloed Zion’s Moonlilght Buttress a year later, followed up by a free solo of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. As you can see, he was well known for his free solo ascents years before his free solo of El Capitan

He continued to make news in the years to come, and during this time, top roping had become ‘practice climbing’ for his free solo ventures on high boulders. Even with a rope, he hardly fell, and he onsighted many of the 5.13’s he’d logged. While he is known for his big wall free solos, he estimates that no more than two percent of his routes are actually free solo. You can read more about his most notable climbs below.

He’s received the Piolet d’Or or Golden Ice Axe (one of the most prestigious awards in mountain sports) for the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia and has ticked several peaks in the Andes with best friend Tommy Caldwell.

A beautiful reflection of El Capitan, the 3,200-foot wall that was the climb for the Free Solo movie with Alex Honnold.

Alex is more than just a climber. He embodies the idea that we have a limited amount of time on this earth, and to spend it living intentionally with a focus on the things and people you care about the most. He has said “everybody dies eventually in life, it’s more a matter of how you lead your life to get there.” He lives beyond his limits, and leads an extraordinary life because of it. Part of this outlook is that he is a vegetarian and atheist, and he refrains from drug and alcohol use.

In September of 2020, he married fellow climber Sanni McCandless at a small ceremony in Tahoe and took a “home-eymoon” where they explored their local area as best they could despite COVID closures and National Forest closures due to wildfires. A year later in September of 2021, the couple announced that they were pregnant with their first child. She was born on February 17th, 2022, and is named June. By the end of March in the same year, they were taking family climbing trips with close friends Tommy and Becca Caldwell, bringing along June for her first few days at the crag.

Most Notable Climbs

Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12c) 2008

Located in Zion National Park, Moonlight Buttress is a nine-pitch 1,200-foot climb and Alex holds the first free solo. He completed the climb in only 83 minutes after climbing it solo four times as practice. Because this climb was completed on April 1st, the climbing community thought it was an April Fool’s joke for several days. They had a hard time believing Alex went from being relatively unknown to accomplishing such a feat, but he was the real deal. A few days later, he would pair up with friend Christ Weidner and link multiple free climbs: Space Spot (IV 5.13a) and then Moonlight again.

Half Dome (V 5.12) 2008

Again in 2008, Alex made the news for the first free-solo of the 22-pitch 2,200-foot Regular Northwest Face on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Years later, he would return for the speed record of 1 hour and 22 minutes. This climb, along with Moonlight Buttress, would catapult Alex into a household name in the climbing world.

2nd Ascent of Ambrosia (V11) 2010

In the Buttermilks near Bishop, California, Alex Honnold pulled off the second ascent of Ambrosia (V11), a line on the east wall of the impressive Grandpa Peabody Boulder (firsts ascent by Kevin Jorgeson). Although considered a boulder, Grandpa Peabody’s height leads many people to see it as a free solo, leaving this route to blur the line between the two. On 2/17/2010, Alex figured out a method for tackling the lower crux, and he was able to continue a sustained and relatively easy climb the rest of the way to the summit.

The Phoenix (5.13a) 2011

The Phoenix (5.13a) is a thin-hands crack in Yosemite that Alex free-soloed in 2011. It involves rappelling down to an immediate no-fall zone, where Alex slowly worked his way up the 130-foot crack. This line was first climbed in 1977 by Ray Jardine and on-sighted by Jerry Moffatt in 1984, and it was the first 5.13a on American soil.

At the time of Alex’s solo, The Phoenix was the hardest climbing route ever soloed in Yosemite and Alex climbed it in only eight minutes. Years later, some footage was released from archive in a really cool behind the scenes look with filmmaker Peter Mortimer. There’s also a really cool interview with Alex by Planet Mountain that’s worth the read.

Sends Cobra Crack (5.14a) 2011

Located in Squamish, British Columbia, Cobra Crack (5.14a) was considered one of the hardest crack routes in the world. It’s a single seam that’s barely wide enough for fingers and Alex claimed the seventh ascent behind six very talented climbers including Sonnie Trotter, Ethan Pringle, and others. In an interview with Gripped in 2006, Sonnie said Cobrainvolves huge dynamic throws between one-and two-finger locks; pain is ever-present, and the mental crux is overlooking the pain move after move.”

El Capitan “Nose” Speed Ascent Record 2012

On 6/17/2012, Alex Honnold and Hans Florine set the speed record for the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California. They climbed 2,900 feet in 2:23:46. To give some perspective, the first climbers George Whitmore, Warren Harding, and Wayne Merry took 45 days in 1958 and most ‘normal’ climbers nowadays take three to five days. Fast forward to 2017 when Jim Reynolds and Brad Gobright up’ed the time to 2:19:44, which inspired Alex Honnold to break the time again (this time with Tommy Caldwell in 2018) in under two hours with 1:58:07.

Too Big To Flail (V10) – 2012

In late 2012, Alex set up shop in the Buttermilks again and steadily worked through the classic lines and added some routes of his own. At Luminance Rock, Alex was exploring a new hard line that climbed upwards of 50 above a huge pile of 34 crash pads that were used to cover a dangerous pit between a few large boulders (these pads were graciously lent to him from friends and acquaintances and the second ascent would require 30 pads). Alex had the first ascent for this line and was quoted saying “I was shaking a bit up there. It’s f***ing scary!” He estimated the grade to be a V10 and named the route Too Big to Flail, a reference to his commercial for Citibank, which had received a 45 billion dollar government bailout because they were too big to fail.

Alex climbing Too Big To Flail with 34 crash pads under him. Photo from

University Wall Squamish (5.12) 2014

Outside of Squamish, B.C., is University Wall, or U-Wall for short (5.12). It has 12 long pitches and Alex made the first free ascent in only two hours in 2014. Here’s an old video on Vimeo that has an interview between Tim Emmett and Alex about Alex’s time in Squamish and the University Wall.

Freerider (VI 5.13a) 2017

Freerider is the route on El Capitan that’s seen in the award-winning film Free Solo. Alex is the first and only person to free solo El Capitan, but more on that below. Alex also holds the first free ascent in one day from 2007 with fellow climber Brian Kimball.

H.U.R.T. in 2022

In more recent times, Alex established HURT, which stands for Honnold’s Ultimate Red Rock Traverse. In fall 2022, Alex said “it was a pretty remarkable day in the canyons.” – his route included 14 Red Rock multi-pitch climbing routes, hiking, camping, and scrambling over the course of 32 hours. With 35 miles and 23,000 feet of vertical gain, Alex said he was trying to combine as many classic climbing routes and summits as possible in “as uncontrived a way as” he could find.

Other Notable Climbs

  • 2007: Astroman (5.11) and Rostrum (5.11) in one day in Yosemite.
  • 2011: Heaven and Cosmic Debris (both 5.13) in Yosemite.
  • 2012: Yosemite Triple Crown in 18:50 (Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, Half Dome)
  • 2014: El Senero Luminoso (5.12d) in Chico, Mexico.
  • 2014: The Mandala (V12) Bishop, CA
  • 2014: Muir Wall – Shaft Variation speed record of 12 hours.
  • 2019: Arrested Development (5.14d) Mount Charleston, NV – his first 5.14d.
  • 2020: Epinephrine (5.9) in Red Rock in only 34 minutes.

Free Solo Freerider (5.12d) – 2017

In 2017, Alex fulfilled his lifelong dream of free soloing the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The documentary titled Free Solo was released in 2018 and won an Academy Award/Oscar, a British Academy Film Award, and numerous other honors. It was made by renowned filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin and they beautifully captured the free solo event with amazing camera work and an intriguing look into Alex’s extraordinary life.

It took Alex Honnold 3 hours and 56 minutes to climb the Freerider (VI 5.13a) route on the the huge rock face. The 30-pitch 5.12d was established in the 1990s by the Huber brothers. He had toproped this route for years and had memorized every single move and hand hold many times over. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, he said that he could still recount each “step” and it was ingrained in his memory.

Outside called this event “the moon landing of free soloing…one of the pinnacle sporting moments of all time.” National Geographic said it was “the greatest feat of pure rocking climbing in the history of the sport” and New York Times said it was “one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever.”

Keep Up With Alex

Want to learn more and/or keep up with Alex on his current endeavors? Here are some ways you can follow him.

  • Climbing Gold Podcast – Alex and co-host Fitz Cahall share stories “from the people who define the sport of climbing by pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo..” You can listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
  • Watch the trailer for Free Solo and the full documentary film.
  • has some amazing videos, photos, and information about his books, movies, and his foundation.
  • Speaking of his foundation, The Honnold Foundation is working to expand solar energy to marginalized communities.
  • Read Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold, a biography about his most astonishing achievements and his life.
  • Watch Alex’s Ted Talk about how he overcame his fears and climbed El Capitan (YouTube below).
  • You can follow Alex’s socials on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.


Is Alex Honnold still climbing?

While the focus of Alex’s life has shifted with his new family, he still climbs multiple days a week and can be spotted climbing outside with his wife and new baby there for support. For recent updates of what Alex is up to, check out his Facebook and Instagram pages.

Are Sanni And Alex still together?

Sanni McCandless and Alex Honnold are still together as of 2023. They got married in 2020 and have since welcomed their first child together, June, in 2022.

Did Alex Honnold stop free soloing?

After the birth of his first child in 2022, Alex has stepped away from big cliffs free soloing, but still frequently solos smaller problems and climbs regularly.

Is Alex Honnold the only person to free solo El Capitan?

As of early 2023, Alex Honnold is still the first and only person to have free soloed El Capitan. You can learn more about this amazing adventure by watching the film Free Solo.