Updated: Honnold Free Solos Half Dome 5.12

Posted on: September 9, 2008

Alex Honnold on Romantic Warrior (V 5.12), the Needles, California, last week. Honnold recently arrived in Yosemite Valley and, on September 6, made the first free-solo ascent of the Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.12a, 23 pitches) on Half Dome. [Photo] Andre Kiryanov

Alex Honnold, the young climber whose accomplishments in Yosemite last year (read the October 30, 2007 NewsWire for more information) gained him international climbing renown, made his mark in the Valley again on September 6, 2008 with the first free solo of the Regular Northwest Face (VI 5.12a, 23 pitches) on Half Dome. Perhaps Honnold's greatest achievement prior was his landmark free solo of Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12+, 9 pitches), Zion National Park, Utah this past April (more information in the April 7, 2008 NewsWire). While his Half Dome accomplishment is easier in technical difficulty than Moonlight and certainly less sustained (one short pitch of 12a and four pitches of 11+), it is about twice as long, and Honnold found it more difficult, physically and psychologically, to free solo. "All the hard stuff is at the very top... it's uncertain till the very end."

"[The Regular Northwest Face] is less secure and way harder than Moonlight," Honnold said. "Moonlight is pumpy, and that's all—if you don't get pumped, it's no issue. Moonlight I had totally dialed, but this was more of an adventure."


Over the past few years Honnold had climbed the Regular Northwest Face three times as an aid route; last year in the Valley he climbed it once totally free. And after a single, final preparatory free ascent with Brad Barlage two days prior, he scaled the route with no rope, protection or gear of any kind besides climbing shoes and chalk. He also had three bars and a third of a liter of water stuffed into his pocket.

Honnold hiked up to the climb at 6:30 a.m. and began climbing after 8. He took one sustained break, for four minutes on Big Sandy, the ledge below the crux pitches, allowing him to complete the route in 2 hours, 50 minutes.

Notable features that Honnold selected to climb are the Higbee Dihedral (5.12a) and a 5.11c-ish variation that goes around the last corner in the Zig Zags. He also thought about doing the 5.12 sport pitch that goes around the Robbins Traverse; at the last minute he chose to take a 5.10 variation instead. That wound a significant loop—that he had never climbed before—around a fairly blank section of wall before returning to the route. His assessment of that decision was "a huge mistake, because it was loose, chossy, not that fun. It had bushes. No chalk. It just sucked. And the 12c way is actually super good climbing."

"It's an awesome route... it's bigger and more involved," Honnold said. "And just doing the almost two-hour hike up a hill looking at the huge looming wall is a little intimidating. It's rad."

"To me it's just another step. It's a little harder mentally but not as hard physically. Just another way to learn."

Honnold's free solo philosophy is available in the June 25, 2008 Weekly Feature.

Sources: Alex Honnold, Chris Weidner

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Nice work, Alex. It is a beautiful expression of the soul of one person, and an expression of an aspect of human potential. But, it is also an expression of the utter selfishness that can go along with our self-expression as climbers. I love, and have loved free soloing at times during my climbing career, but along the way I have worked to gain perspective on what my life means to others. I wonder if Honnold does that or if he is just looking for a kick-ass ride no matter the consequences? Believe it or not, his life probably means something to someone out there outside of how hard he free solos. It has always been the case that the climbers pushing the envelope of expression in the mountains/cliffs have a myopic view of their purpose on the planet or the importance of human relationships. It is not our place to judge, but these awesome accomplishments in the realm where to fall is to die beg the question of purpose. I think we all hope that Honnold keeps climbing and sending in the long term...

2009-11-06 05:04:17

Way past my skill and I think it is great regardless,well done and keep it up. Cominco

2008-09-18 16:49:12

I'm scared.

2008-09-12 21:32:36

I remember reading that Alex Huber said the NWFHD was a real sandbag at 12a and that it was more like 12+. Any comments on the grade of the route?

2008-09-10 11:12:48

Incredible achievement but NWFHD is about 1800' not 2600'

2008-09-09 19:39:35
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