YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — An elite rock climber became the first to climb alone to the top of the massive granite wall known as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without using ropes or safety gear.
Alex Honnold completed the “free solo” climb Saturday in nearly four hours, according to National Geographic, which documented the historic ascent. A photo posted on the magazine’s website shows the grinning 31-year-old wearing just a pair of black pants after reaching the summit.
Honnold, who grew up in Sacramento and now lives in Las Vegas, said he’s been dreaming about the feat for at least eight years.
“Each year I’d come (to Yosemite) and look up at the wall,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in a telephone interview. “And I’d think, ‘Oh my God, how can I do it?’”
He said he started rehearsing the route, climbing it with partners and a rope, and occasionally hiking up to the summit to propel himself down.
Observers said his climb has pushed the limits in a sport that requires a high level of athleticism, risk-taking and mental focus.
“This has never been done before … and it’s hard to imagine anybody ever coming close to what he’s done,” said Daniel Duane, author of “El Capitan: Historic Feats and Radical Routes.” ”He is totally alone at the top of his game.”
The climb up 3,000-foot (914-meter) El Capitan used to take days to complete with the aid of ropes, safety gear and a partner.
In the past few decades, speed climbers working in tandem and using ropes have set records in reaching the top of the steep cliff.
In January 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to “free climb” the Dawn Wall — a particularly steep route to the top of El Capitan — by grabbing just the rock and using ropes only to catch them if they fell. They did it in 19 days.
Honnold is first to climb the iconic rock alone without protection in mere hours.
“To climb without ropes where the slightest slip is literally fatal in that arena requires enormous self-control and focus,” Duane said. “It requires this intense cognitive effort to keep fear at bay and focus on the task in front of you.”
He said Honnold has a rare ability to control fear and his body for a long period of time.
“He’s shown awesome grace under pressure,” said Hans Florine, a fellow climber who with Honnold holds the speed record for climbing the Nose route of El Capitan in about two hours and 23 minutes.