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Solo, Part I: Alex Honnold
Honnold free soloing the boulder problem section of Astroman (5.11c, 300m) on the day he returned for a photo shoot. [Photo] Alex Honnold collection
11. When free soloing, what goes on in your head?
Normally it takes me a few pitches to quiet down my head, which is one of the reasons I prefer multipitch routes.
12. You listen to your iPod while free soloing. Is that distracting?
I only listened to it on Moonlight. I used it there for two reasons.
A. I'd listened the whole time I was minitraxioning and was used to it. It was like a Moonlight soundtrack (and the fact that I'd rehearsed it meant I knew there were no loose holds or shifting blocks or anything—one of the things I'd normally want to be able to hear for).
B. I wanted a time piece and didn't have a watch. This might sound lame but I was pretty sure I would set a speed record and that's a first for me. [Check out Alex's post in the Readers' Blog to see his twenty-five-song Moonlight soundtrack. —Ed.]
13. Have you experienced fear or doubts at cruxes on free solos? How do you manage these sensations and push through?
Never. That's sort of the whole point.
But that answer is limited to Moonlight, Astroman and other major solos. In a more general perspective, if I reach a point where I'm unsure, I just hang out until I decide what to do. I suss out beta, consider, just think. I've hung out under the crux of things in Joshua Tree until tourists on the trail below would get bored and walk away just so I could consider in peace. I'm always happy to downclimb if it comes to that.
14. When free soloing, in what state are your body and mind?
It depends. The first time I soloed Astroman I was "in the zone." I was super focused but at the same time nervous and excited that I was finally doing something I'd thought about for a long time. It was a nice state. When I went back and soloed Astroboy for pictures I wasn't in any kind of zone. I was just having a good time climbing and chatting with the photographer (Cory Richards, a friend). In a lot of ways it was a lot more relaxed. Certainly more pure fun. But less of a "zone."
Whatever it is I'm experiencing it's definitely more intense than when I'm roped up.
15. How do you prepare mentally? Do you practice any mental training?
I wouldn't say I have any "mental training." I've done a million pitches of easier climbing so I have a solid base and a lot of confidence on any kind of terrain. I think about a route lots before hand, like day dreaming. Sports psychologists call it "positive visualization," but I prefer to think of it as just getting psyched. The two days before Moonlight I had a ton of time to just hang out and think about sequences and how it'd feel. I just think.
16. What do you like more about free soloing than roped climbing?
Well I like being able to go out by myself... I like the quicker pace, not waiting for anything. But I wouldn't say I like it more in general. If I had to choose one I'd take ropes, just because I like pushing myself. Soloing is a special occasion. A holiday.
Honnold atop a tower in the Elbsandstein, Germany. [Photo] Alex Honnold collection
17. Do you see yourself free soloing in ten years from now?
Probably. Maybe not trying to push myself the same way, but I can't imagine not soloing some easy routes. It's just a waste of time to put on a rope and carry all that shit around.
18. Who inspires you in the soloing community? Why?
Peter Croft. For being completely rock solid. And a nice, mellow man.
Not that there is much of a "soloing community."
19. What grade do you see yourself pushing in free solo climbing? Does Alex Huber's solo of Kommunist inspire you?
No, that doesn't inspire me much. I mean I'm super impressed by it but I can't imagine ever doing something like that so it's not really "inspiring." I'll climb any grade that I think feels solid.
20. How do you think free soloing in the alpine setting over free soloing multipitch hard routes differ?
I don't know. I haven't soloed in the alpine setting really. I'd be happy to though.
21. What recognition are you getting from the climbing community for your free solo climbs? From your non-climbing friends?
Way too much. I think of it like this: any person who has freed Moonlight without falls might as well have soloed it. It's about the same, physically—which means that if they were psyched enough they could solo it too. I just happen to be psyched enough. My non-climbing friends (the few and the proud) don't really know or care.
22. Do you think that lot free soloists aim primarily for recognition or for a personal quest?
It'd be hard to be psyched enough if you were doing it for other folks. It'd be scary. It's all about the personal quest to know exactly what you can do.
23. Does your family understand what free soloing entails?
I solo for myself. I don't know how they feel about it, but it certainly doesn't affect my decisions.
24. What was your best free soloing moment?
Jamming the last four glorious pitches of Moonlight. Nothing but air, super exposed. Totally amazing position. I love finger cracks.