Alex Honnold - The Crucifix

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Soloing the Crucifix

By Alex Honnold

I climbed the Crucifix in Yosemite Valley, CA for the first time in the spring of 2009 with my good friend Jon Gleason. Even before we'd climbed it, the idea of soling it had crossed my mind. It's a natural step up from Astroman or the Rostrum: about the same size but slightly harder and more physical. The Crucifix itself takes an amazing line up the middle of an orange headwall on Higher Cathedral. You can get to it by climbing either the NE Buttress or Mary's Tears. I've always done Mary's Tears just because it adds a few 5.11 pitches and makes the whole outing more sustained.

Later that season I had a soloing day in which I hoped to climb Astroman, The Crucifix, and Serenity/Sons, but when I got to the base of Higher Cathedral I found the route still baking in full sun and I couldn't get psyched to wait for the shade. I did the NE Buttress instead and considered it a good fun day. But I hoped to come back for it someday.

This year I still hoped to solo it, but I felt like I should repeat it on a rope first, just to make sure I knew what I was doing. I spent the majority of the season speed climbing with Ueli Steck, but when we decided we were done for the season we had some free time left to climb fun routes. I wanted to give him a tour of some Valley classics. We climbed Freerider, we went cragging a bit, and we did the Crucifix.

We climbed the route on an 80m rope, linking pitches and charging at full speed. I climbed with a small pack, carrying our shoes and some water. I wanted a little extra weight just to know it felt solid. It all went smoothly and we sailed up the route, really enjoying a light breeze and cool shade. On the descent I started talking about maybe doing another route since we had some extra time and we seemed to be climbing well. We talked about our options a bit but by the time we were at the base to collect our packs Ueli decided his feet were hurting too much to enjoy any more climbing [he suffered frost bite last year on an 8000m peak. Rough.] We were basically out of food and water and I felt quite hungry, but I somewhat impulsively decided that I wanted to climb another route with or without him.

I'd wanted to solo the Crucifix for at least the last year. Conditions were perfect and I'd just done the route perfectly; I knew exactly what to do. As Ueli hiked back to the car to do some reading I shoed back up and started up the first pitch. It felt the exact same as an hour ago, except this time I didn't have the annoyance of a rope tugging at me from above or below. Everything felt a little more crisp and precise.

Climbing with Ueli a few hours before I'd been proud of how well I'd done a few offwidth sections. I'd liebacked them easily and decided that that was definitely the beta. But when I got back up to them soloing I instinctively got inside them and wormed my way up. All the grace of liebacking was abandoned for the security of being locked in. But worming up a wide pod is actually quite a bit easier with no harness or gear in the way, so I still felt pretty good.

The crux is pulling a small bulge on locker finger jams, so it passed pretty easily. Above was a fun flare leading up to the beautiful orange headwall. Two pitches of wide 5.10 took me up a couple hundred feet of perfect rock. Above me was the last crux of the route, which the topo calls “11+ stemming and face climbing.” The Crucifix traverses into the stem corner from a ledge on the left [I think the corner is part of the route Power Point], making it one of the most exposed parts of the route. You have to down-mantle the small ledge and then bust across into the corner. There are suddenly hundreds of feet of air between your legs and some very thin, insecure moves above.

Part of me wanted to just hurry through the little crux and try not to dwell on the position. But that would have been a big cop out. I wanted that exposure. I was up there for a reason. I'd left the rope behind for a reason. I wanted to be up there all by myself, with nothing but air around me.

I looked down and smiled. Higher Cathedral fell away below me and I was crimping a thin crack. I raised my feet, palmed the other wall, and reached up into the finger crack above. There was still some technical 5.11 climbing to the summit, but it was all secure and enjoyable. I relished the rest of the route. For whatever reason, that conscious realization that I wanted to be up there made the whole thing so much more fun. I wasn't hurrying, I wasn't trying to get it done, I was just enjoying the amazing position.

I was told to add a disclaimer to this essay, so that no random beginner attempts to free solo a big wall. Frankly, I don't really think it's necessary, because if someone is psyched on soloing, and truly enjoys the whole experience, they'll probably be ok. And if they aren't really ready for it, everything will just be overwhelmingly scary. But just in case: Kids, don't solo big walls- unless you really like it, and you feel super comfortable on granite. . .

- Alex Honnold

Comments:

Philip Kekahu, Tuesday, January 10, 2012

After watching the Alex Honnold documentary on CBS 60-Minutes, I instantly gained respect and admiration for Alex. His innate psyche and physical competence to free soloing is beyond the demands and comfort level of extreme sports!

grace, Monday, February 27, 2012

gah alex, you make me so jealous!and aspire my dreams!
i am obsessed w rock climbing, {..yet i ve only been able to go about 5 times in my past..}..........and im not someone people would stop what they were doing and say, geez, she s good. but all i want to do is get there! i have a very far-fetched ambition, excessively high dreams set for my future.
i guess of course the only way to get there is to steadily practice..having the brother that i do, i feel like i wont be able to succeed as the best in climbing compared to him, excelling in everything i love.
in the beginning for you, were you always confidant or did you ever feel intimidated by the people around you? i wish i had some initiative to have an abundant amount of courage and .just.be.great. ..
were you naturally good at what you decided would be fun for you, or did it take years and years like it will probably take me? ha...well, im signing up for another trip to ATL to get in some needed practice..my brother's going..!
please reply, im not very good at writing down what i really am saying in my mind and everything sounds weak, but i would like to know your answers and if you have any tips for moi.
thanks, grace.

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