This summer, Alex Honnold became the first person to climb Yosemite’s legendary El Capitan without a rope, ascending 3,000 feet with nothing to catch him if he fell. Honnold walks us through how he pulled off such an audacious feat, and what ran through his mind as he climbed, clung, and even karate-kicked his way to the top.

None of my friends really wanted to talk about the solo. Pretty much everyone thought it was a bad idea. But I'd been thinking about it basically since I soloed Half Dome [in 2008]. It's the obvious next step. If you're in Yosemite, you look at Half Dome on one end of the valley and El Cap on the other—they're the two formations that matter. Every year I looked at it and thought, “Oh, it's still too hard. I'm not strong enough yet.” I realized that it was never just going to happen. I would have to put a bunch of work into it, and so I finally just did.

I arrived in Yosemite in late April, and from then until I did the climb in June, I only left once. I stopped responding to e-mails. The main thing for me was to have unstructured time, where I had nothing going on and I could just sit in my chair in the van and naturally start to think about the things that matter on the route.

Climbing's always been a lifestyle thing, where you just putz around and do stuff when you can. I'd never trained in a systematic way before. It was a nice opportunity to be, like, a real athlete. Because I was the first person working on that route this year, we did a bunch of routine gardening where bushes had sprouted in handholds. That's sort of the unglamorous side—making something secure enough to solo it. Anyone who was around saw me up on the Freerider a lot, maybe 15 to 20 days total, climbing the lower section and rappelling the upper part. I memorized five or six pitches in their entirety, and then tons of little sequences here and there.

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