Ogden climbers react to Honnold's Yosemite free-solo climb

Friday , June 09, 2017 - 8:34 PM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

Alex Honnold gives the keynote talk at the Ogden Climbing Festival. Two months later, he free-solos Yosemite’s El Capitan, one of the greatest feats in climbing history. Coincidence? Yes, definitely.

Ogden may have made only a small impression on the world-renowned climber — Honnold mentioned on the Ogden Outdoor Adventure Show podcast that he only recently learned climbing legends Jeff Lowe and Greg Lowe grew up here. But Honnold has certainly made a big impression on Ogden climbers. 

“At face value, he’s promoting a very dangerous activity — climbing without a rope. He’s not a role model as most people see it,” said Shad Burnham general manager of The Ogden Front Climbing Club and organizer of the Ogden Climbing Festival. “But he always has promoted the sport in a positive way — he’s a great ambassador for climbing and conservation as a whole.”

Honnold grabbed headlines throughout the world when, in the early hours of Saturday, June 3, he climbed the 3,000-foot rock face of Yosemite’s El Capitan alone, without ropes or the protective gear climbers place in case they fall.

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Honnold summited the climb, which typically takes climbing teams days to complete, in just under four hours.

It’s the first free-solo of the iconic mountain in Yosemite National Park. The route he followed, called “Freerider,” is one of the most difficult lines to the top. The climb involves glass-like surfaces, blank walls and challenging cracks.

“It’s like driving across the country, getting a flat tire, picking up your vehicle and carrying it the rest of the way,” said Abraham Shreve, an Ogden-based climber. “Here’s a good way to describe what he did to the non-climber. Imagine the morning of the Ogden Marathon, it was announced someone ran the marathon before the event started, barefoot with a blindfold on, and beat the lead runner by half the time. That’s what it was like.”

Shreve arrived in Yosemite with plans to climb the day after Honnold’s bold ascent. None of the park’s visitors and climbers had any sense of Honnold’s monumental plan.

“It was really under the radar,” he said. “We’re all just awe-struck.”

Shreve spent Wednesday, June 7 climbing “The Nose” — another classic climbing route up El Capitan. By Thursday, the Yosemite Valley was still abuzz with media and climbers in awe of Honnold’s feat.

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“There were lights all over the valley, it looked like a movie set down here, it was kind of funny,” he said.

While the accomplishment may sound borderline suicidal to non-climbers — the smallest slip or misstep could’ve cost the climber his life, after all — local climbers are quick to point out Honnold’s acuity. 

“It’s something he does not take lightly. He’d done the route several times before ... he had rehearsed this rock,” Shreve said. “His ability to climb at the edge of fear, but not climb in fear, is remarkable.”

Burnham, who has met Honnold several times, including at the recent climbing festival, said Honnold’s focus makes an impression.

“He’s really not a crazy, extreme, adrenaline junky,” Burnham said. “He’s a calculated person. He’s very clam and humble, by no means out to make a huge splash.”

That humility came through during Honnold’s keynote talk at April’s climbing festival. He spoke less about his climbs and instead focused on his charity. The Honnold Foundation works to sustainably improve the lives of those living off the grid, like Navajo reservations and communities in developing countries, by bringing them solar power and water filters. 

R. Brandon Long has interviewed dozens of accomplished outdoor athletes for his podcast, the Ogden Outdoor Adventure Show. His interview with Honnold last spring was the first time Long felt “legitimately star-struck.” 

“I think a lot of it has to do with his presence and personality, it’s a little different and it’s intimidating,” Long said. “He’s focused. He’s focused in a way that, I think you have to be wired that way. I don’t think it can be learned.”

Although the interview was almost two months to the day before Honnold’s astounding free-solo, Long said he didn’t have any sense that Yosemite, El Capitan and “Freerider” were rolling around in the climber’s head.

“The funny part about that is, we asked him, ‘Do you have any big plans?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m thinking about ... maybe some classic big walls,’” Long said. “And that was his hint, but nobody picked up on it.” 

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiaoutside or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

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