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22nd Sep 2021

Alex Honnold: How becoming a dad might finally harness the daredevil behind Free Solo climb

Legendary climber Alex Honnold says becoming a dad could alter his perspective on attempting future ascents of the world's highest peaks

Alex Roberts

“It’s really difficult to judge how close the climber is to their limits.”

Alex Honnold has mastered some of the most death-defying climbs ever attempted – without any supportive gear.

But life has finally caught up with the 36-year-old who became a household name after scaling El Capitan in 2018 – a feat so epic the documentary feature capturing it, Free Solo, won an Oscar.

Honnold is now set to become a dad for the first time and it seems parenthood may finally harness the daredevil within.

Well, it will at least give him pause for thought before he attempts another climb that would send shivers down the spine of even the bravest of men.

“I would say it’s certainly possible,” he said, when asked if becoming a dad would make him think twice before attempting daring climbs, “I’m totally open to it changing my perspective on that kind of thing.”

“I know a lot of friends, professional climbers, who are on both sides of that spectrum. Some of them it hasn’t really affected them that much, others feel it’s redefined the path of their life.

“I’m open to either. We’ll just see. I’ve always wanted a family; we’ll just see how it affects climbing,” he said, speaking to JOE ahead of the release of The Alpinist, a feature-length documentary focussing on the late Marc-André Leclerc.

Alex Honnold successfully free soloing Heaven in Yosemite National Park in 2014.

An enigmatic figure who escaped the limelight until his death in 2018, Leclerc was a budding free soloist much like Honnold.

To ‘free solo’ is to climb without any ropes, harnesses or supportive equipment. It is essentially just the climber and a small bag of chalk versus the world’s highest peaks.

Despite the celebrity status Alex Honnold gained in the wake of Free Solo, Leclerc’s exploits largely went unnoticed outside the climbing fraternity during his lifetime.

His ascent of the colossal Cerro Torre in South America has been described as one of the greatest solo climbs ever, “by far the hardest route ever soloed on Cerro Torre and only the seventh solo overall.”

Honnold regards Leclerc as his favourite climber. His eyes lit up when recalling Leclerc’s summit of Cerro Torre.

“When he [Leclerc] is climbing Cerro Torre by himself, in places that’s like a 5,000 foot wall.

“It’s one of the biggest walls on Earth.”

Marc-André Leclerc mid-solo. (Photo: NBC / Universal)

Leclerc died in relative obscurity in Alaska in 2018, when he and his climbing partner went missing after successfully scaling the Mendenhall Towers.

The Alpinist sheds much-needed light on his life, his eccentric persona and the epic solo ascents that even the world’s most recognised climber marvels at.

You’d be forgiven for shuddering at the prospect of climbing without any supportive gear, but it would be wrong to assume climbers are “daredevils”, Honnold said.

“A lot of people watch a movie or YouTube video and they think that climbers just walk up to the base of some random piece of rock and then climb it.

Leclerc’s ascent of Cerro Torre’s infamous Corkscrew route, as documented in The Alpinist, has been described as one of the greatest solo climbs in history. (Photo: Davide Brighenti)

“They don’t really see the long-term context, you know, the years that climber has spent chatting with other climbers about particular objectives and all these different walls, faces and different aspects of those faces.”

Despite the intrinsic dangers involved in free solo climbing, this meticulous level of planning and detail reduces the risk of plunging to your death, Honnold said.

“That’s the thing about solo alpinism in general. It’s really difficult to judge how close the climber is to their limits.”

THE ALPINIST is in UK and Irish cinemas on September 24th

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