El Cap ‘su­per in­tense’

Climb­ing Yosemite cliff with­out rope

Toronto Sun - - NEWS - JANE STEVEN­SON jsteven­son@post­media.com @JaneCSteven­son blogs.ca­noe.ca/ent

What kind of per­son scales a 3,200-foot sheer gran­ite cliff with­out a rope by them­selves?

Turns out Amer­i­can rock climber Alex Hon­nold, 33, who be­came the first per­son to make his way up El Cap­i­tan in Yosemite Na­tional Park in a his­toric free solo climb, doesn’t feel fear like the rest of us.

There’s even a scene from the nail-bit­ing doc­u­men­tary, Free Solo, de­tail­ing his El Cap­i­tan climb (in Toronto the­atres be­gin­ning Oct. 12), fea­tur­ing a brain scan of his fear cen­tre, also known as “the amyg­dala.”

“It was just kind of in­ter­est­ing see­ing how brain chem­istry ties into life­style — (and) ba­si­cally (me) need­ing a higher level of stim­u­lus to get ex­cited about things,” said Hon­nold, a na­tive of Sacra­mento, Calif.

I caught up with Hon­nold at TIFF where Free Solo won the peo­ple’s choice award for best doc­u­men­tary.

Do you have a lucky shirt, pants or shoes when you climb?

“This is lit­er­ally the (red) shirt I was wear­ing on El Cap. It’s not su­per­sti­tious. I just own six things and I just wear them all the time.”

How big of a con­cern was it that the mere pres­ence of the film­mak­ers might lead you to make a fa­tal mis­take on El Cap­i­tan?

“Over the two years that we were film­ing, that was def­i­nitely some­thing that we con­stantly eval­u­ated. But I think part of what made it such a great ex­pe­ri­ence for me was by the end, by the day I ac­tu­ally did the free solo, the cam­era crew was so di­alled, we had ba­si­cally prac­tised to­gether so much, that it

was per­fectly ex­e­cuted.”

But even one of the DOP’s had to look away at times while film­ing your climb?

“I to­tally un­der­stand. No­body likes watch­ing free solo­ing be­cause it’s scary.

It’s hard to watch. And so it’s not sur­pris­ing that he pref­ered not to. It was su­per in­tense. I wouldn’t want to be watch­ing some­body else.”

Do you still not tell your mother when you’re go­ing to free solo?

“(Laughs) Yeah, for sure. But I haven’t done any big free solo­ing since (El Cap­i­tan) re­ally. Free solo­ing is a pretty small per­cent­age of my climb­ing in gen­eral. Like I’m nor­mally climb­ing with a rope. I’m nor­mally climb­ing with part­ners. In the last year I’ve prob­a­bly soloed a hand­ful of times.”

Do you still live in Las Ve­gas in a home you share with your very un­der­stand­ing girl­friend, Cas­san­dra “Sanni” McCand­less, about whom you say some ques­tion­able

things in the film?

“Yes. I think that’s one of the hard things for me watch­ing the film, there are a lot of lines in there that make me cringe. Like, ‘That’s grossly in­sen­si­tive. Maybe I should have phrased that dif­fer­ently.’ I think that’s an hon­est por­trayal of two years. I’m pretty un­cen­sored. And it’s all there for bet­ter or for worse.”

Does Sanni’s pres­ence in your life mean less free solo­ing for you go­ing for­ward?

“It could be a fac­tor. Maybe we’ll have a fam­ily some­day. And maybe that’ll change my per­cep­tions on risk-tak­ing or who knows? Though, hon­estly, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if I do less free solo­ing just be­cause I don’t know what I want to solo now. For eight or nine years, El Cap rep­re­sented the pin­na­cle of solo­ing to me.”


Alex Hon­nold free so­los El Cap­i­tan in Yosemite Na­tional Park.

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