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Alex Honnold - Interview for Mountain Portal

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Alex, welcome to Poland. Is this your first visit here?

No, to be honest, this is my second visit in Poland. But, it might be interesting that I have some roots in your country. My grandparents were both Poles and my mother speaks a little bit of Polish too. I, on the other hand, don’t know many words in your language, it’s very difficult, so I only know: na zdrowie and some nasty word which I can’t use right now. And how to say: “come on!” in your language? Is there anything similar? Is it like: “Dawaj, dawaj!”?

Yes it is! You can translate it that way! What places in Poland have you already visited? How do you like our country? And have you already had a chance to visit any of the Polish climbing spots?

Unfortunately, it’s always been raining during my visits here. The last time I was here I was tourning from Cracow to Gdańsk and Gdynia and then to a festival in Łódź. I don’t think I actually visited any climbing regions in Poland as I haven’t had an opportunity to see any rocks or mountains here. And now I am here only for one day really, and it’s raining again!

Alex Honnold

Polish weather is not always like that, you have to believe me. Have you heard about any interesting Polish places good for climbing?

Yes, I’ve heard about the Tatras, of course, but I feel that climbing spots that could accomplish my criteria are more like in Germany or Italy than here.

Do you agree with the statement that you are the bravest man in the world?

No, definitely not. It surely depends how you define bravery, it depends what you mean. I consider myself as a normal climber who is sometimes scared. I am aware of the fact that things I do seem crazy, but believe me with 20 years of practice it’s not that crazy any more. For me, what I do in my life makes sense, for other people maybe not this much. It’s only dangerous if you fall off, but it’s more likely to happen if you don’t practice enough.

When did it all start in your life? Who showed you climbing?

I’ve always loved climbing. As a kid I was climbing everything! Form trees to different constructions. Then my parents, seeing what was going on took me to a climbing gym (a wall). I was about 11 years old and from then on I’ve been climbing all the time.

How much time do you spend climbing? What do you do when you don’t climb?

I spend about 25 to 30 hours a week climbing or training. It’s like 7 hours 5 days a week including time spent on travelling to the spots, resting and so on. Here, for example I can only practice my hanging.

Have you got any other hobbies or interests?

Not really. I read, that’s what I like. And as a professional climber I am obliged to do other things connected to this activity, like coming to events of this type, e-mailing, preparing speeches. It also takes a lot of my time. 

You climbed Freerider on El Capitan which was a huge success. I wonder how you coped with your emotions at that time? What did you feel?

Mostly I felt great. I had put a lot of time and effort preparing so when I finally achieved my goal I felt smooth and really good. It was all very pleasant and at the top I was superhappy!

Alex Honnold

You are a very fast climber. Aren’t you afraid that this speed can be too risky for you?

No, actually I don’t move that fast. It seems fast because I don’t stop or use a rope. It’s all about my  strategy but I climb really slowly comparing to, for example, Adam Ondra. If you watch a video it also looks, objectively as a slow climbing, yet very efficient and steady.

You live in a van. Don’t you feel lonely there, spending time just observing weather and climbing conditions?

Well, I have my girlfriend with me, and I’ve lived in a van for the last 10 years so for me it’s something very ordinary. It really makes sense, especially in the States. There is a changeable weather and climbing regions are far away from one another. It’s more convenient to have a possibility to move about and travel from place to place in search for the best conditions. It’s also cheap, easy and comfortable.

This summer, for example I settled myself in the Yosemite for about 2 moths and hadn’t travelled for about 3 weeks. I was only cycling around the park and climbing, of course. It’s awesome to live in such place and be able to ride a bike there! Especially, that I don’t have any problems with the park’s authorities, climbing is fully allowed there.

In 2010 you got “The Golden Piton” award which is very prestigious. What is your attitude towards awards, is it something unique or is it just an extra benefit to what you do?

Awards like that are validating and it’s cool to get them but it doesn’t really matter to me because it has got a lot to do with the selection committees, commercial interest and sponsors and not with the actual success. The most awarding thing for me is when you step to the top and have a wide smile of satisfaction on your face. You had really worked hard for it. It is just like with the Freerider, I didn’t get any award for it but I was so proud as I had put a lot of work in getting to the top, planning the climb, this whole process. Standing at the top of El Capitan was the most rewarding moment for me.

I know that you established a foundation in 2012. Can you tell us why did you do that and who is it aimed to?

I started my foundation basically to make some positive effort after visiting really poor places, for example in Africa. As I was getting more popular I felt I should do something positive for other people too. So, I naturally came up with the idea of a foundation. 

In 2014, together with Tommy Caldwell you climbed Fitzroy. You walked the ridge and not a vertical wall, so it was not your typical style. How do you remember this expedition?

It wasn’t that different for us because we are both rock climbers and it was a rock climbing but for 4 days, with a backpack on and a little bit of ice and snow on the ground. But it was one of the best climbing adventures in my life, both because of the surrounding and my friendship with Tommy. Neither of us knew anything about Fitzroy, we didn’t even know where to go! It was a real adventure!

Alex Honnold

Do you consider repeating such adventure again?

Yes, definitely at a right place and with a right partner. With Colin Haley (who was here last year) we did the Cerro Torre traverse in Patagonia but it is not something huge because the mountains are smaller there. I’m open to new climbing challenges. A friend of mine is planning to climb in Karakorum, on  Trango Tower,  maybe that will also be a possibility for me.

This was supposed to be my next question. Are you planning climbing in the highest mountains like the Himalayas or Karakorum?

In the Himalayas not so much because of the cold and a great amount of snow, but maybe in Karakorum, although I don’t really like the altitude. You feel weak for no reason then and I’d rather feel strong. But maybe someday, who knows?

In Poland we also have some great rock climbers, like – Marek Raganowicz or Marcin “Yeti” Tomaszewski. Are you familiar with these names?

No, these names I don’t know but I know some of the older climbers, rather Alpine climbers like: Wojtek Kurtyka who is also a guest at this festival. Unfortunately, I don’t know any of your famous rock climbers.
Can you see any “fresh blood” among rock climbers around the world, who are worth being observed in your opinion?
There are many excellent young climbers, for example Ahima, a Japanese climber, but you can’t really tell whether some of them becomes  solo climbers one day. I met a guy in California who is very passionate and interested but not as strong. He should work hard on rock climbing but it’s difficult to say if, in the future he would be able to do solos on an extraordinary level.

Do you see yourself coaching people in the future?

No, no, I would never coach anybody because I don’t think anybody should coach soloing as it is a very personal matter. And it’s also forbidden, in my opinion to push a person to get better or stronger and being a coach mostly means that you should do it. It’s not the clue for soloing. I feel that everybody should follow their own path and not look up to anybody’s ideas.

Alex Honnold

Do you perceive Dean Potter and Dan Osman as your personal inspirations?

Yes, especially when I was younger they were my inspiration, now I am more inspired by people who are physically very strong. I’ve always drown my inspiration from the things I could not do. Now, that I can climb certain walls I’m not that inspired by people who have also done it.

You are a very strong person. How do you train, practice your strength?

Oh, I mainly just climb. And I do a little bit of a specific kind of training, like hanging on small edges or push-ups. Just yesterday I did a lot of push-ups and I still have sore armpits! But there are many much more stronger people than me! It’s like a difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner. I’m more like a marathon runner. I admire Patchy (Marcus Pucher – an Austrian free solo climber), who is – on the other hand - like a sprinter and he is way stronger than me.   

A general opinion around the world is that you are the best climber nowadays. How does this statement influence your climbing?

I don’t know if it’s true. For the last years I’ve thought that climbing El Capitan was something ultimate in climbing and that it would be the coolest thing ever done but then, once you do it, it becomes normal to you. It even becomes normal before, within the process of planning. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to succeed. Although, now, when I stand in front of that wall again I still feel what I did was impressive and pretty crazy.

How long do you prepare yourself for one climb?

It totally depends. Before climbing Freerider I had been thinking of it and working on it for years, it had been a complicated process for me. But some solos are done like that: one day I climb and then, the next day I do the solo. It depends on what kind of experience I want to get. Both ways are equally interesting for me, yet so different from each other.

What are you plans for the nearest future?

Freerider has my big dream for many years, now I’m catching up on life a little bit, I have some work obligations, I climb and look for things I can get inspired by. I’m going to an expeditions to Antarctica this winter. Last year I bought a house in Las Vegas for me and my girlfriend, but up till now I have spent only about 5 or 6 days there. In winter I will have more time to just live in my new house and I really look forward to it.

Karolina Andrzejewska
Bartosz Andrzejewski

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