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Shelby Stanger: Today we have on the legendary rock climber, Alex Honnold.
Welcome to Wild Ideas Worth Living. An adventure podcast presented by REI Co-op. The brand who helps get you outside through gear, classes, and adventures. We talk to experts who have taken a wild idea and made it a reality, so you can too.
For people who have climbed the tallest peaks, started thriving businesses, and even broken records. Some of the wildest ideas can lead to the most rewarding adventures. I'm your host, Shelby Stanger, and I hope you enjoy the show.
Alex Honnold is probably the most recognized and exciting rock climber in the world. He's the guy who climbed 3,000 feet of El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes. A movie about his journey Free Solo is coming out with National Geographic this fall and I can't wait to see it. Alex spent many years living out of his van climbing some of the toughest routes around.
He also set very speed records but what's most alluring to me about Alex is how incredibly humble he is and his desire to live life to the fullest and give back to so many others along the way. This was a conversation I looked forward to for a long time.
We talk about growing up with parents who were professors, his views on death and life, his side hobbies which you might be surprised about, tricks for staying in Yosemite longer, some insights into the movie coming out about his free solo adventure of El Capitan, how he met his girlfriend, why being in mortal danger keeps things in perspective, living in Vegas, his foundation, and so much more. Enjoy.
Shelby: Alex, welcome to the Wild Ideas Worth Living.
Alex Honnold: Thanks for having me.
Shelby: We're at the Outdoor Retailer Show overlooking the North Face booth and there's like actually people climbing on a booth.
Alex: Crazy party blast.
Shelby: It's pretty funny. I've listened to a lot of your interviews and you just seem really well thought out in your choices. Not just on the wall but just the choices you make on who you partner with, what you do. I'm just curious to learn about your parents and how were raised.
Alex: I think that's interesting. I didn't see the question going that direction. I don't know if I make good choices or not. No, actually, I do try to live intentionally. I try to make- [crosstalk]
Shelby: You seem thoughtful about your choices.
Alex: Yes, I try to be thoughtful. Actually, my sister is even more thoughtful than me. Though it's interesting because I don't think we were specifically raised that way. I think if I had to characterize my parent's style, it would be less a fair parenting. They just didn't really, they just let us do our thing.
Shelby: What do they do?
Alex: They're both professors. They're both language teachers at a Community College.
Shelby: That actually explains a lot. My parents are professors, as well. My fiancé’s parents are professors and they raised us to pursue whatever we want. [laughs]
Alex: Maybe that's the thing when your parents are college professors-
Shelby: That’s so interesting.
Alex: - they teach you to be an independent thinker, teach you to be an inquiring mind or whatever. I don't know. Also, I think just through the personal quirks of my parents, I think they just had other things going on. I don’t know what to say, didn't care because obviously, they cared about us. Weren't that hands-on.
Shelby: They weren't helicopter parents?
Alex: No, no far from it.
Shelby: That’s great. Do you have-
Alex: Or their helicopter was safely tucked away in the hangar. While we were doing crazy stuff and they were just doing--
Shelby: Do you have an example of like a young childhood memory?
Alex: Yes. I actually was just telling a friend of mine this story a couple days ago, so it comes to mind. I had an experience in high school where I used to go on little bike adventures around Sacramento. I'd bike way down to South Sac which is pretty far from my house. Then I wound up on this connector road that links between South Sac and Far East Sacramento. It makes life the headline news. You're out in the middle of nowhere and biking through fields. You can't see Sacramento anymore. It's out there and I was like, “Oh, I think I might be lost or confused.”
Shelby: How old are you?
Alex: I was like, I don’t know, 15 or 16 but old enough.
Shelby: Yes, but that's still young.
Alex: I passed this big Reagan, this truck driver who'd pulled over, He was like, “Oh, hey do you know where Bradshaw road is or something?” I was like, “I don't know where Bradshaw is but do you know where Sacramento is?” He was like, “Boy, hop in here, you were a lost”. He threw my bike on the back of this huge flatbed type thing and then drove me back into town. He dropped me off in South Sacramento more in the urban part but it was dark. Then I found my way to the river and then from the river I knew my way home and I found my way back north to my house. I came home after dark totally buzzing. I just had the most epic adventures. Probably, I got 70-mile bike ride or 60 at least, which is a lot when you're a teenager.
Shelby: Yes, you were 16.
Alex: Yes.
Shelby: [laughs] Plot now.
Alex: I'd had this huge by Dewar all over Sacramento. I get home and both my parents don't even look up from their books. They were just like, “Oh, you know.” I'm not sure if they knew that I've gotten all day. I'm just like, “This trucker and this crazy thing happen," nobody knows, nobody cares, nobody asks. I was like, "I guess it's time for bed."
Shelby: Awesome. I feel like that’s the way to raise your kids. Like, “Just be home by dinner after dark."
Alex: I wonder if they even would have noticed if I wasn't home.
Shelby: What do they think of what you do now? They have to be really proud but also-
Alex: Yes. My dad actually died when I was 19. He missed out on seeing how it all played out.
Shelby: Sorry.
Alex: It's too bad because especially he'd spent so much time behind me and taking me climbing and being generally supportive of the whole climbing. He wasn't a climber; he just took me to the gym. It was a big commitment of his time to like-
Shelby: You were 19 when he died?
Alex: Yes.
Shelby: My dad died when I was 11, just sad as well. Heart attack.
Alex: Oh, my dad also died of heart attack- [crosstalk]
Shelby: That's so crazy.
Alex: - going to the airport in Phoenix.
Shelby: Did it make you want to live life-- What did they teach you about death? I guess at that age.
Alex: I know what you mean. I don't know. Actually, both my grandfathers had died the year or two before. One of them I was particularly close to and I spent tons of time with. He lived right near us in Sacramento. I always made the circle between the climber, and gym, and my grandparent’s house, and then home.
I spent tons of time playing cards with my grandpa. He had died and then years later, I think two years. Then two years later, my dad died. Then my mother's father had also died but he's on the East Coast, so we weren't quite as close. The lump sum of that was just a reminder that life is short.
Actually, if we're just diving deep the thing is my parents had gotten divorced a year before too. I guess when I was 18, basically when I graduated high school. The classic stay together for the kid stuff. I think they'd both been fairly unhappy with the marriage not overly, so not conflict. Not a very conflict, but just not their best selves, not happy, and so they got divorced.
Then my father moved in with my grandmother because she was now living by herself for the first time in 60 years in a big empty house. It was actually perfect in a way that he was able to move in with her and help her. He suddenly was a lot more understanding and happier and better. I was like, “Oh wow, dad looks so much cooler.” Now that he's on this different path but then he unfortunately died the next year, which was really hard for grandma who was also very close to him. To lose like her husband and her son back to back. She was actually surprisingly. She lived another 10 years or so and I had a great relationship with her too.
Shelby: That’s awesome.
Alex: All that to say, I think it was just a good reminder that to do the right thing with your life. Like not to waste time.
Shelby: I think that's awesome that you say that and I appreciate you just being so transparent.
Alex: I mean that's reality. It all happened.
Shelby: Everybody asks you about death and fear and your approach to death, but I don't think people understand how much you've thought about death.
Alex: That is funny because everyone asks, “Have you ever thought about your death?” You're like, “Yes, of course”. Not just because everyone asks me about it all the times. I do interviews about it, twice a week at least. Obviously, when you're doing things that could result in your death, obviously you think about it. Having lost friends and family, it's just part of life, people die.
Shelby: Any advice to just other people on how we can examine death a little bit more closely. Like in New Zealand, I live there for a little bit and they actually have a tradition in the modern culture to sleep with a dead person in the Moirae for like a week. I know I'm probably butchering this, but it's something like that and they get really close to death.
Alex: Or Buddhist meditation on death and stuff like that. Where you actually meditate on death forever, so it loses its power over you. The same idea, I think it's just one of the things if you think about enough and accept. Everybody's going to die, so everybody should be open to it in the same way. That's just the natural part of the life cycle.
Shelby: What I love about a lot of your interviews, it seems like you've examined death so much that you've decided to live life with a lot of love, and that you'd climb even if you aren't getting paid to climb. It seems like you really follow your heart in what you do.
Alex: Yes, that's totally fair.
Shelby: Is that how you make a lot of your choices?
Alex: It's funny because I do say, “Follow your heart," quite a bit, but it's usually joking, but it's true that do what you're passionate about.
Shelby: We were recently just talking about your girlfriend. You post a little bit about her. She seems really cool. [crosstalk]
Alex: She’s awesome.
Shelby: You guys really in love. How did you guys meet?
Alex: We met at a book event. I was giving a talk in Seattle, and she just gave me her number.
Shelby: That's awesome. Was it your book?
Alex: Yes.
Shelby: Okay, so how did that work? I want to hear about this. [crosstalk]
Alex: It like a wrongest turn, it's better when she tells it. Basically, I was on a book tour. Well, from her perspective, I think she'd been hitting Bamboo pretty hard and was over it. She had made a decision that from now on she was over the online deal. The next cute guy she saw, she was just giving her number and just keeping it real. She wasn't really a climber, she'd climbed a teensy bit, but wasn't into it. One of her friends who was a climber brought her to this book event. It's like, "Cool, there's this thing going on, come and tag along." She came and was like, "Oh, that guy's cute." And so she gave me your number.
Shelby: She waited in line to get the book signed and then-
Alex: Yes, there was 200 people in line, I signed like a million books.
Shelby: How do I say her name?
Alex: Sanni.
Shelby: Sanni?
Alex: Yes, It's short for Cassandra.
Shelby: Sanni you're my hero.
Alex: Sanni is a strong proud woman.
Shelby: She just gives you her number on what? A piece of paper, a book or what?
Alex: Yes, just a little piece. It said something like, because you made me laugh, something else, Sanni, with the phone number.
Shelby: That's epic. Okay, girls listening, yes, this is exactly how you do it.
Alex: Maybe it was like, "Because you made me laugh, and why not. Sanni, with the number" or something like that.
Shelby: What do you guys do for fun when you're not doing-- you're so in demand right now. When you're not doing interviews, when you are not climbing?
Alex: Oh no, I haven't answered an email in a month. I've been in full vacation mode. I've just not been doing shit.
Shelby: Good for you.
Alex: Yes, totally.
Shelby: What's not doing shit for you like? What does that look like?
Alex: Well, that slightly embarrassing, like gaming a little bit. I was playing computer games. I've been going to the gym, I've been just normal climbing, but not doing any work.
Shelby: What kind of computer games, I'm curious?
Alex: It's slightly embarrassing. Diablo 3. It reminds me of my childhood, It's like a computer game. I just erased it again, I just played like couple weeks of-
Shelby: I don't know what Diablo 3 is?
Alex: It's probably better that you don't.
Shelby: I like Goppita and Fraggo, I'm a little older than you.
Alex: Yes, it's just a random computer game. It's just same as anything really.
Shelby: Is that kind of good to take your mind-- I mean because games are really good for your brain.
Alex: It's interesting. Yes, exactly. I sort of saw it as this is the same as like binge watching shows, or in some ways it's the same as reading, the reading you obviously learned a lot more about the world. With gaming I was like, "It's kind of engaged, I'm sort of paying attention, I'm interested." The main thing was a lot of time to just disappear, big blocks of time to be like, "I'm just not working, I'm not training, I'm just chilling."
Shelby: That's interesting, because in the genre of time, I think about you free soloing El Capitan. It's an idea, I think I heard you say you had since 2009. It's a long time to stick with a goal.
Alex: It wasn't a goal. It was more like simmering back burner goal. It was only a goal for the last year or two.
Shelby: A two-year goal.
Alex: I mean but an eight-year dream is still a big thing for sure.
Shelby: How did you stay focus, what are some of the things you did to stay focused?
Alex: Well, I wasn't focused on El Cap. It was always for the first six years or so, it was more like, "I'll do that next year." Then I'd show up in Yosemite and look at the wall and be like, "Hell no, I'm not doing that this year. It's way too scary."
Shelby: You actually had that-- okay, that's good.
Alex: Yes, of course. Otherwise I would have done it in 2009. Had I tried in 2009, there's a 75% chance I would have done it. I wasn't really comfortable with that 25 percent that I didn't.
Shelby: That's a pretty high consequence. I've heard you talk about high risk and high consequence.
Alex: Yes, of course. It always looked scary because it wasn't that certain, there was a pretty good chance that I might fall off and die. I obviously wasn't willing to take that chance.
Shelby: What are some of the things you did? The last year I also heard that you went off social media?
Alex: No, not the whole year just the last month or six weeks or so before I actually saw El Cap.
Shelby: Okay, the last six weeks. As an athlete, that's a good chunk of time.
Alex: Yes, though I actually haven't posted anything a month right now, because I've been in vacation mode. I just do not care.
Shelby: Good for you.
Alex: I think there's something to be said for just taking some breaks sometimes.
Shelby: You've had kind of a busy year.
Alex: Actually, that's part of the thing is that the film about soloing El Cap free solo is coming out next month. It premieres at film festivals, and then it'll be in movie theaters in October. I've been trying to-- I'm marshaling my energy, I'm getting ready for the big push, because I'll be doing a full media promotion tour around the film.
Shelby: When will you start that media promotion tour?
Alex: I don't know, I think basically the beginning of September, the beginning of the festival roll out, and then October will be theaters all over the country.
Shelby: I was just going to ask you, when does that movie come out, I think we're also excited?
Alex: I'm pretty sure that for the average person in October, they'll be able to go to a movie theater and see it.
Shelby: You've seen it though?
Alex: Yes, I've seen it.
Shelby: How did you like the result?
Alex: It's pretty good. I think it's pretty good. I feel slightly douchey being like, "My film is so good," and it's a little weird watching myself for the first hour or so where you're just like, that's backstory and training in history and it's just whatever. Then the actual free soloing El Cap is so awesome. I'm pretty proud of it. It's really cool.
Shelby: Is there any scene that you can-- You can't really share any of it. Is there anything you can give us?
Alex: I can share. It's my freaking movie, I'll say whatever I want.
Shelby: Awesome.
Alex: It's not technically my movie, because I did none of the work in making it, but I did climb the roof.
Shelby: It's not you.
Alex: Yes, I think the hard work is editing it and making it good, and adding the music and color correcting and all that stuff. It's a good film. Basically it's just a straight-up documentary that just follows my journey to free soloing El Cap.
Shelby: Are there any scenes where it gets-- I mean every scene is probably hairy. I'm sure there's a lot of moments-
Alex: Just the opening scene is this beautiful shot of me free soloing a route in Yosemite. It's this epic crane shot crazy exposure. It looks crazy. I kind of think that the average viewer would watch it and be like, "That's the money shot. That's the red thing on El Cap," then they're going to cut back to the backstory. That's actually just like some throw away shove from the rostrum. It looks like this is the money shot. It's like not even close to even-- It's not the money shot.
Shelby: How funny.
Alex: It's interesting because the film does a good job of not diving into climbing grades or labels or roots or names. There's just no backstory on any of the climbing really, except for El Cap, the route that I climb on El Cap. I think that for the really casual non-climbing viewer, all the climbing was sort of blur together into like, "He's climbing again, he's climbing again." It all looked the same. I think some people will probably think that it's all El Cap, because it's all white granite Yosemite. "Oh, he's climbing on, climbing again. Who know what that is." That actually represents a bunch of routes over a year and a half that I built up to El Cap, and then El Cap is only the last 20 minutes or so. It's really good.
Shelby: When you're actually climbing it, how do you interact with Jimmy Chan who's filming you? Do you talk?
Alex: Jimmy was directing the film, but there were a bunch of other people filming as well. There's a whole crew. Yes, we totally chat.
Shelby: You chat while you're climbing?
Alex: Yes, he's like a good friend of mine hanging 15 feet away from me. If it's really serious extreme climbing, then I'm focused on doing my thing, and he's doing his thing and nobody's talking. If we're just shooting on something casually, yeah, we're chatting the whole time and having a good time.
Shelby: How long did it take you to get to the top?
Alex: El Cap was 356. It's like almost four hours.
Shelby: That's a good chunk of time to be without a rope. Was there anything you remember you thought about or are you just 100% focused?
Alex: No, there's all kinds of stuff. On the easy train, I was thinking about a lot of stuff. On the hard stuff, I was-- On the most difficult sections of the route, I was 100% focused, empty blank mind just performing. So much of the climbing on El Cap is five nine hand cracks, really technically easy climbing. I was always thinking about anything.
Shelby: Like what you're going to eat afterwards or?
Alex: Low on the route, I'm thinking more about what's to come or what's happening, you're thinking about the whole experience ahead. At the very beginning, I was slightly distracted. It was slightly warmer and a little more humid than I would have liked. It had been cloudy the day before or it had been cloudy at night so the temperature dropped as low as they could have. I started being distracted, I'm sweaty other than I want to be, is that a thing? Then as you get higher-- I had a wave in the middle where I was, I don't know why I was kind of overcome with gratitude for all that. It kind of like a powerful experience, and I was thinking about the different partners that I'd worked with on the route. It's like, "I'm so glad." Actually, as I climbed through specific places, it reminds you of partners that you've climbed through there with, you're like, "I'm so glad that I got to climb through with Conrad last month, that's so great." That came to mind.
Then up high, I had a few pitches where I was just thinking I am the man, I'm crushing this, this is so amazing, I feel terrific. Then just as quickly being relaxed, depressed, like you're not the man, you have to finish, because It's really easy to be like, "I'm killing It, I'm so good." And then your foot slips, and you're like, "I'm dead." I had moments of like, "This is amazing, I feel terrific." Then be like, "Deep breath, stay composed, just do this, climb get to the top." It was awesome. It was a really good experience.
Shelby: What did you do right after?
Alex: We were on top for a while celebrating. Jimmy and a couple of other camera folks were shooting, obviously they know how to shoot the top out. It's the end of an eight-year dream, I'm on top of most important climb of my life. We sat for a while, there's no cell service on that side of El Cap, basically as soon as you cross over the nose, as soon as you moved to the east a little bit, there cell service.
I made a bunch of phone calls on the way down, which they filmed also with me letting Sanni know that I was safe and done. Calling Tommy Caldwell who's is a very important partner of mine, that I'd worked on the route a lot with. Actually not worked with him that much on it, but he'd help me on it a bit and we had talked about it a lot. He's also a pretty significant character in the film. I made a bunch of calls and they filmed me a bit, then I just ran down.
Shelby: I have little goosebumps; I can't wait to see this.
Alex: It's really a good film, and the music is so good and so when you combine the epic free soloing with a great soundtrack, it's a great score. It's just moving classical music with amazing shots. It's really cool.
Shelby: It's interesting because so many athletes I've interviewed who've done this big wild adventure afterwards. There's usually some sort of depression that comes with it. It doesn't seem like-- I don't know if you've had it or not. Maybe you can talk about that.
Alex: I just took a month off a little bit of a funk. I was just a little burnt out and a little tired. I don't think I've had real depression.
Shelby: But you had something else then.
Alex: I've heard that too. That after a big life cause people often go into depression. Which totally makes sense and I understand. I had intentionally looked past El Cap the whole time. As I as I was getting closer to it, I was looking past it. I went on this expedition to Alaska the week after to go mountain climbing. Then the next winter I went to Antarctica for a big North Face expedition. Then I've had other climbing goals in between. Even as I was building up to solo El Cap, I was definitely looking at these things in the future like these are the next goals.
Shelby: Yes, there always a next.
Alex: Yes, something.
Shelby: One of them was breaking the speed record, right?
Alex: Yes, breaking the speed record on El Cap. We just did that last month or a month and a half ago now. Part of that though was also a bit of a mental trick to take some the pressure off of El Cap because if you build up a free solo like this is everything to me, then it takes on too much weight and it seems too serious and almost makes it scary in some ways because it’s bigger.
I wanted to remind myself that soloing El Cap while very important to me was just one thing. And afterward I would go to Alaska and that would be training for Antarctica and I've always wanted to sport climb better. I think looking through a goal is-- Like if somebody is training for the first marathon and they just keep building it up. It's like I want to run a marathon 26 miles, that's the most I could ever do. The reality is that 26 miles is not the most any human can do. Any reasonable human could run 50 miles if they have to, if they're being chased.
I think that rather than build up this marathon as like, this is the ultimate goal of my life. Look past it as like this is a stepping stone on the way to whatever else I'm doing with the rest of my life. Then I think takes a lot of the pressure off too. Because then whether you finish it or not, it's like who cares, because either way you're just moving forward.
Shelby: That's great advice. Do you do any other mental training or any other weird-- Do you do any weird things like-- I just had Wim Hof who does--
Alex: No, I'm definitely not like Wim Hof.
Shelby: I've asked Wim if he knew you and he's like, "I know those guys." Because he free soloed a long time ago.
Alex: I think he also spoke at the Northeast Athlete Summit last year or the year before. I actually missed that year because I was in the El Cap filming process. But yes, he spoke with the Athletes Summit and taught people the ice bath, control their breath. Actually, my friend got really into it for several months and he was doing all the crazy controlled breath exercise stuff. But no, I don't do any of that stuff, I just do not care.
Shelby: Do you do meditation, yoga, visualization?
Alex: No, I stretch. Yoga in so much is it helps keep your body stable, I find that important. But no, I don't do any of the other things.
Shelby: How's it been. Now you're pretty famous. How do you handle the fame that comes with being a professional athlete?
Alex: I don't know. It's just one of those things. I think it's naturally built up over time. It's been gradual enough that it hasn't felt crazy. Like had 23-year-old me suddenly stepped into the position I am now, I would have an anxiety attack and go free. I think that it's happened slowly enough that it's not that bad.
Shelby: It's not too bad.
Alex: I did this crazy climb with the pros event at the climbing gym last night here in Denver. It's like a Black Diamond sponsored thing. There were maybe four or five of us who are professional climbers and anybody can just come and we're all climbing and having a good time and then we do a poster signing.
Basically the gym was a complete madhouse. I took hundreds of selfies, signed hundreds of posters and it was like craziness the whole night. One I wouldn't have been able to do that at all 10 years ago. I would have completely tweaked out. Because it's like it's totally crazy. Just too many people and I was always super shy and introverted and all scared people.
Also, throughout that event probably six or eight people asked me like, "Do you hate doing these things? Is this heinous?" My standard response is always that it's way better than having a job? I'd much rather sign posters for an hour and a half than have a nine to five or something. You know what I mean?
Shelby: Yes.
Alex: Because totally, people are like, "Isn't it terrible?" And I'm like, "Well, it's not that terrible." It has its ups and downs but overall, I'm much happier being a professional climber than any other trajectory I think my life could have had. I think it's great.
Shelby: You're really gracious athlete though. What do you think you would have become if you weren’t a professional climber?
Alex: I was studying civil engineering. I could have become an engineer.
Shelby: It actually seems like you could be really useful in climbing and figuring out routes and where to go quite a whole deal.
Alex: Yes, maybe. People like to draw things like that with like, "Oh if you've engineering mind it's more rational." Honestly, it doesn’t matter. If you're into climbing, you spend enough time in the climbing gym then no matter what you're going to know how to move your body.
Shelby: How many times do you think you've climbed El Cap?
Alex: Actually, I counted the other day. Because I have a journal that goes back to 2005 of every route I've climbed. Actually, now it's three journals.
Shelby: Handwritten journal?
Alex: Yes, though I've taken photos of all the pages so it's like backed up kind of. Slightly ghetto.
Shelby: I think Tim Ferriss would be like you need to put that Evernote.
Alex: Yes.
Shelby: I know. I don't do that either. It's okay.
Alex: I don’t quite care enough. Well, I thought about it but then transcribing so many pages I'm like, "That is not my idea." I need an intern. make this a public call. If anyone wants to intern.
Shelby: I have a feeling we can get you an intern. If someone wants to intern for Alex email me and I'll get it to your agent.
Alex: I know it would be interesting because I don't know if I will feel comfortable sending someone my journals. They're all just list. It's not like there's anything sensitive inside, but I treasure them a bit. It can be a freaking living. They can move into the van for a week and just scribe.
Shelby: You're in Vegas? Okay so intern ideally lives in Vegas. That'd be a little bit more convenient than shipping the journals because they're precious cargo.
Alex: Yes, though in some ways if I have photos of it all like this is all backed up it's fine.
Shelby: How many times?
Alex: El Cap?
Shelby: Yes.
Alex: I made a note on my phone. I think I've climbed El Cap maybe 80 times via different routes. I have it slightly broken down by route. I've climbed the nose 30 something times, I think. I've climbed the South East/free rider which is the route that I soloed another 15 or 20.
Shelby: You must have Yosemite--
Alex: Maybe more than that actually. I'll pull up a note right now here while we chat.
Shelby: We're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor. When we come back, Alex shares about being a vegetarian, tricks to staying longer in Yosemite and so much more.
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Shelby: I'm curious because you have Yosemite so wired. Is there any tips you can give people who just want to go to Yosemite and find a spot and explore?
Alex: Are you asking me to publicly say how to cheat in a--
Shelby: I guess I can’t ask you that. What are must-see’s?
Alex: Here I just looked it up. I have 81 total ascents of El Cap I think. This could be slightly wrong via potentially 18 different routes. Then the nose was 33 of those and it's broken down on three different ones.
Shelby: Impressive, that’s a lot of time. How about this if you go to Yosemite-
Alex: No, I will say, the thing is that people get discouraged by the stay limits in Yosemite which during the prime season is only a week or like 10 days depending. I think that the key is that if you're flexible about it-- Basically if you play the game right, you can stay within the rules and stay as much as you want. The pay campgrounds is slightly I don't want to say a discriminatory system. But if you use the pay campground like the pines. Like upper, lower and north pine. Those are big campgrounds where you can park your RV and whatever and those sites it cost 20 bucks a night. Those you can basically reserve as many as you want. There's stay limit there if you're paying for it.
The stay limit is enforced in Camp 4 which is a walk in campground which is five bucks a night. Which is one of those classic things where like if you're a poor person you can't really stay but if you're willing pay then yes stay as long as you want. Or if you book a hotel you can stay, I think indefinitely. If you do a combination of, I'm staying at Camp 4 for a week and then I stay in the pines for a few days and then there's campground. Then I drive out of the park and I camp. If you're living in a van and you're driving out of the park from time to time to camp. If you're just smart about it. Because if you stay in stay in Yosemite for a month and a half or something you have to go get groceries from time to time. If you're going to drive out of the park to go see a movie and get groceries and chill then you sleep outside of the park the one night you come back the next day things like that. You can mix it up, you can make it work, yes. It's not that hard to do it legit.
Shelby: Well, it's good to know that you don't have to go-- Because I always thought oh my God guess I need to be rich and get an Airbnb in that fancy neighborhood.
Alex: No, well there's no neighborhood. That's not even an option.
Shelby: The one that's like an hour out where Beth lives and everybody.
Alex: It's better to live in a van and like a float. Also if you're in the shoulder seasons, if you're a high-end climber, it's better to climb in April or November and stuff now when it's slightly cooler. The season are honestly changing and Yosemite is kind of crazy.
Shelby: Change everywhere.
Alex: It's not as crowded until you can get the campsites. The challenge with staying in the pines is that the campsites get reserved, but then, if you're constantly trolling it, you can wind up getting cancellations, and then their whole strategies for how to exploit MP sites. It's all pretty legit. This is all totally legal above board.
Shelby: Thank you for all this information. This is helpful because it's really intimidating to go to Yosemite. It's daunting to make that drive and not knowing where you're going to stay.
Alex: It's interesting because, yes, it's really daunting. I spent 10 years there, spending maybe three months a year. For me, I'm like, "Oh, there's so many things. There are so many options. It's not a problem for me to show up and you can make it work and you figure it out." That is because I have a ton of experience with it. I think if it's your first time, it's a lot more intimidating, but you kind of just have to start and you will learn and you will figure it out and just try to make sure you don't get busted because you don't want to get arrested.
Shelby: It's good to know. I've noticed you're really, really, really articulate speaker these days. Some of the North Face told me you had a speaking coach before you went into this TED talk.
Alex: Yes, it's funny. One guy came one day and chatted with me.
Shelby: Was it helpful?
Alex: It was extremely helpful but it actually wasn't. You can't teach somebody how to speak in one day. Nobody can learn any skill in a day. What he was really helpful with was the structure of my talk for TED. Just helping me organize it the right way and make it a good talk.
Shelby: Compelling?
Alex: Yes, exactly.
Shelby: What was your message?
Alex: I don't know. You'll be able to listen to it when the film comes up. It's all tide to the film release so it will come out in a month or two. Basically my talk just contrast my experience on Half Dome and El Cap. El Cap being probably the best climbing experience of my life and Half Dome being, I wouldn't say the worse, but being on the whole a relatively negative experience I think because I got very scared. I felt I got lucky, and it just wasn't what I wanted. Basic contrasting those two experiences to show the value of preparation and training and practice and those things.
Shelby: I guess what I'm asking is what's your message when people ask you to give a talk. What kind of advice do you-
Alex: Depends on the talk.
Shelby: Okay.
Alex: I normally cater any kind of public talk to whatever.
Shelby: People listening, a lot of people here want to pursue a wild idea. Maybe they feel little stuck. There's some self-doubt, fear. Any advice on just, I say, it's living wildly but it's just pursuing what you want to do. Maybe taking the path less traveled.
Alex: Yes, I always say just go for it. Screw it, give it a go. I don't know. As you were just asking that, what came to my mind is that people should have more near- I don't want to say near death experiences but be in mortal danger more often because I think that puts a lot of stuff in the perspective. Because a lot of the fear associated with like, "I don't know if I want to leave my job. Or I don't know if that's the right thing. What if I'm messing up my life?" If you put it in the context of "Are you alive? Are you happy?" It all kind of melts away. That all seems trivial. Like, "What if I can't get a good job again?" You're like, "Who cares?" If you're still alive, and you're still having a good time, it's like life is good.
Shelby: So true.
Alex: To some extent, I think that's something that I maybe gotten through climbing and through just a number of scary experiences I've had climbing. It puts a lot of the rest of that stuff in the perspective. I think this all the time when I'm at airports. You see people who are like really nervous fliers who are tweaking about "What if I don't make it to the gate? What if it's late? What if it's late?" You're like, "Who cares? You get on the next flight." It's like, "Chill." The worst case scenario you missed the last spot of the day, you sleep in the chair all night, you fly the next morning. You showed up 12 hours late like who cares? You're going to live hopefully 85 years at least. You're not going to remember that one night you spent in Chicago like sitting in a chair. It's like, "Who cares?" So what you're uncomfortable for eight hours? What difference does it make in the grand scheme of a life? A lot of things like that where I'm like, "I think you need the long-term perspective."
Shelby: Have you always been this chill, or has climbing help you chill?
Alex: Well, no. The first time I missed a flight and had to sit in a chair in Chicago all night, I was bummed. I was tweaking. I was like, "Oh my god."
Shelby: It's a not a fun airport to be stuck at Chicago.
Alex: Yes, so that happened to me. I was bummed about it. You learn from it and ultimately you get where you're going. Life goes on. It's like it just does not matter. As long as you're still alive and you're still moving forward, it's like "Who cares?"
Shelby: So good. I wanted really- Could we talk to you about your environmental work and your foundation because we had Stacy Bare on the show and he talked a little bit about being part of it and how he absolutely loves it. What's the revised mission of your foundation these days?
Alex: Yes, so not really revised, but the last five years we just didn't really have a mission statement or anything like that because it was very much me giving my money to the foundation to support the stuff that I thought made the world a better place. I didn't really feel the need to specify what that meant. I was like, "Oh, it's obvious. If it makes the world a better place, we're doing it." Now the mission statement is supporting solely for a more equitable world which is a fancy way of saying the same thing. Everybody is supporting environmental projects that make the world a better place.
Shelby: Where are these projects mostly?
Alex: It's split between project in Africa and then domestic projects in the US.
Shelby: Why Africa?
Alex: I mean there are billion people on Earth without access to power. Majority of them are either in Africa or Southeast Asia. I think there's greater need for Africa.
Shelby: Have you spent a lot of time there climbing?
Alex: Yes, I've spent-- I think I have been in Africa 10 times really.
Shelby: If you could live anywhere besides Vegas or some other place? Where do you live?
Alex: I don't know.
Shelby: You've traveled a lot.
Alex: Yes, I've traveled a lot but the thing is, if there were somewhere that I would prefer to live then I would live there.
Shelby: You really like Vegas.
Alex: I know. Vegas is the best four-season climbing in the country. Vegas is, for me, like an ideal home based.
Shelby: I hope Vegas tourism is paying you massive amounts of money.
Alex: I know. It's so annoying because whenever I talk to, I have to give this whole explanation why Vegas is amazing because people only think of the strip, and they think of show business and stuff. No, Vegas is off the hook. I can go climbing a two-thousand-foot route, go home, take a shower and make it to the airport at noon. What other city in the country has that kind of climbing that close to a functioning airport, and with cheap houses and no income tax?
Shelby: No income tax is huge.
Alex: Basically as a home-based, Nevada is ideal for me. Well, Vegas is ideal for me.
Shelby: What about food choices?
Alex: You mean for me personally?
Shelby: Yes, is there whole foods and some neat restaurants?
Alex: Yes. No, there's everything. Our house is a two-minute walk across the street to nine different restaurants. There are a lot of things to criticize about Vegas like urban planning style. It's all just box strip mall type suburbs sprawling to the open desert. In some way is a horrendous lay out, horrendous design, but it all seems all those little box store. In freaking every big block, there's like a whole suite of little restaurants. Indian places, Thai places, and like fun places to eat. There's a big grocery store every freaking mile on each block. It's pretty convenient. It's very easy living.
Shelby: You've given me a full new perspective on Vegas. Have you read Andre Agassi's book Open?
Alex: Yes. It's amazing.
Shelby: Is there any other books you really love? It just made me think of-- because I know he lived in Vegas for a while.
Alex: Actually, I read Open-- I was on a climbing trip in Morocco with Tommy Caldwell. Actually, it's part of this whole film project. We were doing this big linkup together. Tommy was finishing his book called The Push which is also a great book. Tommy had Andre Agassi's book Open with him because he had been sort of reading Andre's book as an inspiration for his own. Tommy and I were sharing this room together. He's in one bed writing his book and I was on the other bed. I read Open and I read Tommy's book. He has given it to me in a PDF format on my computer. I was reading it as he wrote it. I was like, "This is so awesome." Open is too inspiring and then Tommy's book, The Push, is also super inspiring. Between the two, I was like, "I'm so empt."
Shelby: That's awesome.
Alex: It was like kind of a cool experience.
Shelby: I think I saw you post, was it Ken Ilgunas's book about land.
Alex: Yes.
Shelby: His interview as well.
Alex: This Land Is Our Land.
Shelby: That's a really interesting book.
Alex: Have you read it?
Shelby: I've skimmed it. I'm not going to lie.
Alex: You should read it. It's so short anyway. It's kind of a jam. I thought it was really nice.
Shelby: Then Scott Jurek's book.
Alex: Yes, North. I really enjoy that.
Shelby: I read the whole thing.
Alex: If you read North, you should definitely This Land Is Our Land.
Shelby: I know. Scott was coming on the Podcast next week. He just sent it to me. I had to get it. I'm not a really good reader. It's really hard for me.
Alex: This Land Is Our Land is like 200 pages long, and it's a delight.
Shelby: I love how you are calling me out. That's awesome.
Alex: I'm sure you could read it.
Shelby: I could read it. You're right.
Alex: It's pretty good. It's a powerful idea. It did change the way I think of private property. It made me realize how much-
Shelby: Property is messed up. Yes, owning land.
Alex: Well, how many of the things that I've taken as a- I don't even know how you say it. How many of my core beliefs about private property are actually just cultural. It's just full products of culture, like things that I'm like, "Oh, of course private property is sacred." I'm like, "Actually, that's a belief that's only existed in the US for the last- where this has been getting stronger for the last 50 years, but wouldn't have been completely different a hundred or two hundred years ago." I'm like, "Huh." It's interesting when you learn something that changes your core beliefs. That's powerful.
Shelby: My fiance read it and he was just like, "The Native American will just be- they would be horrified. They just don't understand how we would own land. They won't get it."
Alex: Well, that's exactly what I mean by cultural beliefs where we think- I think of private property's meaning one thing. Then it's like it could be reminded of the fact that probably billions of people on this earth think of property and think of land in a completely different way.
Shelby: That's interesting. Okay, we're going to put those in the show notes. Those two books. If you could throw a party any party, what kind of party are you having, who's coming? What kind of food are we eating and what are we doing for activities?
Alex: Probably I don't know. It depends mostly I'm like, "Why would I ever host a party? I'm like I've never held a party." There'll have to be it--
Shelby: Does your wife-- I mean your girlfriend host parties?
Alex: No. I was like, oh no I just had a little crash a little panic attack.
Shelby: Sorry, we are going to edit that part out.
Alex: It's fine. Sanni will like it. She'll smile.
Shelby: Okay, good. Sanni is my hero right now. I don't even know her.
Alex: No, she'll be like, "Oh, yes. It's tick tock tick tock." I'll be like, "Oh geez."
Shelby: My fiancé and I are engaged and we'll probably be engaged forever.
Alex: Like five more years?
Shelby: Yes. The cool part is getting the ring and having them propose. For me like actually-
Alex: You don't care about the actual event?
Shelby: No, I don't. I don't being around this. I'm already the center of attention enough, I don't need to have-- I can't imagine having bridesmaids and all that stuff.
Alex: That's actually one of the few reasons I can see hosting a huge party is to is for a wedding or funeral, but a wedding is obviously more positive.
Shelby: Let's hope it's a wedding.
Alex: Well, I mean weddings and memorials are like the only two times where you do big community gatherings. Actually, just on my way out to Colorado, I did both in the same weekend basically. A wedding on Saturday and then on Sunday it wasn't a memorial, but I visited the family of a friend who died last year. It felt like the full spectrum of human emotion because doing the full family wedding activity and the next day visiting a family that's still dealing with the loss you're like it's definitely the full scope of humanity right there.
Shelby: Yes, that's a big weekend.
Alex: Yes, I was really having-- by the time we got to Colorado we're like, "Oh, time to chill for a few days." Let emotions settle.
Shelby: Do you drink at all?
Alex: No, I don't drink.
Shelby: Nothing?
Alex: No.
Shelby: That's awesome.
Alex: Well, I always say I haven't started yet but when I do, it's going to be probably off the hook.
Shelby: You've never drink your whole life?
Alex: No. Well, I've tried all kinds of taking sips and things but I don't like it.
Shelby: That's awesome. There are so many people on this show who don't drink and I think it's [crosstalk].
Alex: It means you're getting a certain weird-- Yes, you're getting the fringe.
Shelby: I don't know. I feel like when you are focused, I mean being hungover sucks.
Alex: Yes, totally.
Shelby: It takes a lot of energy and it makes you feel, I had a beer last night out of a reason and I felt it this morning and I had a half a beer.
Alex: This is getting-- maybe this is more than it needs but I think a lot of people drink-- I don't want to say to escape because that's for like alcoholism but I think even in a casual level, there's a certain amount of escapism with like, "Oh, I just want to chill I just want to relax." I think then if you're leading exactly the life that you want, you don't need to escape from things like that. It's slightly hokey but it's interesting because I was thinking about that just-- I mentioned that in my gaming the last month that and that's very much escapism.
Where you're like I just want to unplug and disappear for a period of time. I think a lot of people do the same thing through drugs or alcohol or whatever else. I consciously was like, I'm going to just plug myself into this computer game for a while and like whatever. Kind of stupid kind of a waste of my time, but as far as time waste to go it's like no unhealthy one. I'm like that's fine and I just erase all the shit again. I'm fully committed back to my normal life and oh that's fine.
Shelby: I think you need breaks in life. Like if you're always go go go and your mind like running from a tiger always you-
Alex: Yes, and I think that for me, I think that most people when they take breaks they go somewhere and go to the mountains and do things but that's my normal life. I'm routinely hiking 30 miles in the mountains or something like that doesn't feel like a break. For me, just like sitting on a sofa and just playing on the computer, that's a break. That is so different than anything I ever do. Like even having that good Wi-Fi that is like really unusual for me. It feels wildly different. Oh my God, it's fun.
Shelby: That's nice.
Alex: I did that for a little bit and now I'm over it. Actually, I found that because I'd get so engrossed in it like I just dive in and not think about it for hours. I also wouldn't really eat or drink I do anything else. Which actually helps with climbing in a way because at least I'm not just eating cookies all day. If you're watching a show I'm like, I'm going to eat popcorn and eat and stuff but with gaming, it's like both my hands are so occupied that I just don't do anything for eight hours.
I'm like well, at least I'm not getting plump. Because often if you're in full vacation mode you're also losing fitness. In this case, I was still doing the same amount of gym time and I wasn't getting big. So I'm like oh, it's fun.
Shelby: That's nice. [crosstalk] That's like a good chapter.
Alex: Yes, it's not an unhealthy way to vacation. Also, I don't condone this in any way, but for me, it worked fine. I'm like I don't know if it works for anybody else.
Shelby: I'm just going to go fast and play video games.
Alex: Yes, totally.
Shelby: I've done a couple fast; it was really hard for me.
Alex: I've never done a real one but I've done plenty of like it's like routine if you've got 16 hours. Like oh, I didn't eat since yesterday at lunch that's weird. I think that should be part of the normal human experience. [crosstalk] Yes, exactly.
Shelby: That's really healthy. Any gear essentials-- This is a gear show. This show is sponsored by REI. I like to ask everybody.
Alex: That's why you bring on free soloists and runners and things like that. People that are like well, I have one pair of running shoes and a pair of shorts.
Shelby: I would have brought them on anyway but it's nice to ask people about gear with REI.
Alex: No, I'm joking because there are people that have nothing.
Shelby: I know exactly.
Alex: This is my favorite shoes.
Shelby: I actually have a lot of minimalists and I'm a total minimalist. I don't buy anything. I just don't. I don't need anything except for surfboards works. That's it. If you are traveling, what are the things you'd like to have with you?
Alex: I was having my two tri-factor, the two little three-thing checklist I always have are phone, wallet, keys and then shoes and a strap bag. Those are the two.
Shelby: Pretty simple.
Alex: Yes, it's like if I'm traveling in an urban setting is like, do I have my keys, my wallet, and my phone? Then if I'm doing anything else it's like shoes on a strap bag.
Shelby: What about food? You don't seem to be picky but you like you probably prefer to eat healthy.
Alex: Yes, I try to be relatively healthy and yes, I've been vegetarian. I don't know. In some ways, I'm shying away from the label. It's like I'm of an aspiring vegan but I eat dairy and cheese from time to time.
Shelby: That's how I am. Yes, I get it.
Alex: Yes, the thing is my dietary choices have always been focused around environmental impact. Basically, if meat is going to be wasted then I feel like it's probably better to eat the meat than throw it away because that's a waste of human resources.
Shelby: When you're traveling, do you take any packets? It's hard to eat healthy on the road, so I guess like do you take protein powder, take green powder? Do you do any of that? Take bars.
Alex: When I'm traveling, yes. Sometimes I take bars and no. It depends on the type of trip. If I'm on an expedition or I climb a mountain somewhere remote then yes, I definitely take some energy food type stuff. I take some nut butter. I'm sponsored by this company Momentous which makes protein powder and it's really nice. Actually, recently I've gone into smoothies every morning which I'm pretty into because I'm not doing like spinach protein powder, some nuts, some frozen berries like maybe an avocado or something and then it's all really wholesome Whole Foods that taste delicious and yes, I like it.
Shelby: Vitamix or Ninja?
Alex: Yes, Vitamix, all about the Vitamix.
Shelby: Yes, still. Everyone is.
Alex: I love it because it's like throw pecans into it and it winds up perfectly smooth and beautiful and it's a good smoothie but anyway [crosstalk].
Shelby: [laughs] That's awesome.
Alex: Yes, and then I'm actually also sponsored by Beyond Meat which is-
Shelby: The burgers, the vegan burgers?
Alex: Yes, but Beyond Meat is sweet. I think it's the future of protein is what they call themselves. I think it's genius like even if I have one sponsor I would fully support the company just because the environmental impact is so much less than normal meat and it's healthier and I think ultimately will probably be cheaper and probably taste better. Just because it's basically like a technology. It will continue to improve over time. I'm just like this is the way the world should be. This is what-- like in the not too distant future, you look for burgers, it'll be like two identical packages sitting next to each other that taste the same.
Except the one is much healthier because it's coconut oil as opposed to animal fat. It's cheaper and you're like well, obviously, I'm going to choose that one. It also has a tiny fraction of the emissions associated with it. It's way better for the environment and when you think of eating beef, people are fucking clear-cut in the Amazon to raise cows and it's all just totally destructive in a way that it just it doesn't need to be.
Shelby: And when you've been to the Amazon it's really sad.
Alex: I've never been actually but-
Shelby: You haven't?
Alex: No. I don't really want to. I hate the jungle, it's too human.
Shelby: I don't like it. I got dengue fever but not from the jungle zone but I had to paddle through a portion of the Amazon on a stand-up paddle boat and it wasn't hard. Your grandma could've done it but [crosstalk].
Alex: But you got dengue. My grandma would have died.
Shelby: No, I didn't get dengue on that trip but yes. Anybody could have done the paddle. It's just that it was hot and we didn't know it was underneath us and the one part of my body that wasn't covered in bug spray even had bugs for it was just one part of a body wasn't covered. It just got eaten alive but it was really beautiful, I don't know. The jungle can be nice.
Alex: I've never been a big jungle dude. I live in Vegas, I'm all about the desert.
Shelby: You're a desert guy.
Alex: I love dry, yes. I'm in the west here and I love the dryness.
Shelby: What are you looking forward to next?
Alex: I don't know. The film really stuff. Not to say that I'm looking forward to it, but it's hard to look past that because there's several months of my life will be dominated by it.
Shelby: Are you going to have to do some talk shows again?
Alex: Yes, I'm sure I'll be doing a whole [crosstalk].
Shelby: Do you have some good one liners is ready to go?
Alex: No. I'll think that stuff about five minutes before. I'd feel like oh shit, I'm going on Ellen or whatever. I better think up something. I don't know.
Shelby: Yes, I think comedy is I'm a big fan of. Do you watch comedy all?
Alex: Not really but the Late Show or something, I'd be honored to or like the Cool Bear. I'd be so delighted to go on something like that.
Shelby: Or Stay Alive, I don't know.
Alex: Yes, I never really watch it but ultimately, that stuff obviously is decided by the publicist and the film team and whatever. Because they have some whole plan with how they roll out the film and how they market it and how it gets positioned. I have nothing to do with all that. I'll show up wherever I guess and I'm sure it all be a crazy experience.
Shelby: It's going to be awesome. Thank you so much for your time. Just the last question. If a lot of people want to make a living following their passions. That's not always easy. You've done it really well.
Alex: I've gotten really lucky. For me, it's just really worked out. Actually, I don't know. That's already questioned because I was just chatting with some parents of a son that trying to be a professional snowboarder or something. It's hard because realistically not that many people are ever going to make a living from that. Unless their child is randomly one of the best in the world, which is always you don't really know until you give it the whole 100% effort. It's hard to know.
Shelby: I guess if you're here and then you die, you might as well try it in between.
Alex: Yes, you may as well. In then some ways I think that it's so much easier to work hard on something that you truly love. I found this that I can go climb for hours every day and feel energized afterward. Pretty much anything else I do like emailing or practicing a talk or doing anything else. If I do it for an hour it feels like pulling teeth and I'm ready to quit. It's the same with work. If you're working in a field that you're really passionate about, it easy to dive in, full energy, full blast. The closer you can align what you truly love to do with how you try to make a living, the harder you can work at it the better you'll be at it.
Shelby: Thank you so much. It's been awesome. Where should people find more?
Alex: Yes. That's linked to my agent and everything. gives basic stuff, is a better way to see what I personally care about. Or just follow me on Instagram if you want to see a picture every month. [laughs]. I don't know. I keep things relatively private in some ways. Not that private because I'm obviously- I don't know, there is a freaking movie coming out. I come and go, but I think if somebody wants to know more about me it's not that hard to find more on the internet.
Shelby: Alex thank you so much. This has been awesome.
Alex: My pleasure. Thanks.
Shelby: Alex, thank you so much for doing this interview. I really enjoyed it. Sanni, I can't wait to meet you. We should all go surfing. I'm just throwing it out there. Thank you also to La Sportiva. They're an amazing technical outdoor company that started in a little town in Italy. They really helped me organize this podcast interview. Thank you also to my friends at REI who helped out a lot on this. Paulo, Joe Crosby, and Chelsea Davis. I really appreciate your help and for supporting this show. Also to the folks at the outdoor retailer show in Denver. They hooked me up with the most beautiful podcast room ever, overlooking the entire tradeshow floor. Thank you guys so much.
You can check out more on Alex Honnold on his website. Also, check out The Honnold Foundation, they do great work. We'll have links in the show notes of the website. Just go to Also, I'm throwing it out there, if you'd like to intern or volunteer for wildideasworthliving, I'm looking for someone who's a little tech savvy and can help me make audiograms. Just hit me up. You can find me on our website,
Thank you so much to all of you for writing reviews on Apple Podcast and iTunes. These reviews help the show a lot. If you want to support this show write a review on Apple podcast. Wherever you're listening to this show don't forget some of the best adventures often happen when you follow your wildest ideas. We're off next week for Labor day, catch up on old shows. When we come back we'll bring on some great guest. We have a NASA astronaut, a woman who writes about JOMO instead of FOMO, it's the joy of missing out. Big wave surfer and commentator Pete Mel. Outdoor Afro founder, Rue Mapp and some other great surprise guest. Stay tuned, we'll see you in a few weeks.
[00:54:03] [END OF AUDIO]

Here’s the Wild Idea

Alex’s Wild Idea: To climb El Capitan without ropes and tackle some of the world’s most challenging routes, setting records, inspiring others, and giving back through his foundation.

*Editors Note: Do not try this at home.

Alex Honnold is the most exciting and recognized climber in the world, in addition to being one of the best climbers ever. Last year, Alex completed the most terrifying, challenging climbing feats to date. He climbed 3,000 feet up El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes. (Yes, if he fell at any point he could have died). The film he made with National Geographic about his journey, and the training and everything else leading up to it will hit theaters nationwide in just a few weeks.

For years, Alex has lived the life that many athletes dream of — living out of his van, traveling around, and climbing some of the toughest and most stunning routes. Along the way, he set plenty of records, but remains humble about his talents. He strives to live his own terms to the fullest, and encourage others to do the same. He also is incredibly generous and gives away a third of his income to through his foundation.

My conversation with Alex goes from his amazing free solo ascent of El Cap to his perspectives on life and death, his unique mindset on conquering huge goals, what he does on his vacations, how he met his girlfriend, and why being in danger can make for having a better perspective on the present moment.

Presented by REI

Listen to this Episode if

  • You’re a climber.
  • You have ever thought about free soloing.
  • You want to achieve a huge goal and don’t know where to start.
  • You think about life and/or death.

Key Takeaways

  • 2:15 – How Alex’s upbringing influenced him.
  • 5:55 – What the passing of Alex’s father and grandfather taught him.
  • 9:30 – How Alex met his girlfriend.
  • 11:00 – What Alex does when he’s in vacation mode.
  • 12:30 – His journey to El Cap.
  • 14:15 – Hear more about his movie Free Solo, which comes out in October.
  • 20:15 – How he stayed out of a funk after free soloing El Cap.
  • 23:15 – Handling the fame that comes with being a pro athlete.
  • 26:25 – How many times Alex has climbed El Cap.
  • 28:20 – Alex’s tips for Yosemite.
  • 30:00 – The best times to climb in Yosemite
  • 32:50 – Why Alex thinks people should have more dangerous experiences.
  • 35:00 – The mission of Alex’s foundation.
  • 36:00 – Why Alex loves living in Vegas.
  • 37:45 – Some of Alex’s favorite books.
  • 42:25 – How Alex looks at taking breaks and escaping.
  • 45:35 – Alex’s favorite gear and food.
  • 50:10 – What is Alex’s advice to become a pro athlete.

Episodes to listen to

Wim Hof
Stacy Bare
Beth Rodden
Scott Jurek


Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold

Awesome book Alex recommends

Open by Andre Agassi
The Push by Tommy Caldwell
This Land is Our Land by Ken Ilgunas
North by Scott Jurek


Honnold Foundation
Free Solo Film
Beyond Meat

Connect with Alex




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