Climbing without ropes

Alex Honnold rehearsing at El Capitan

MOST people get sweaty palms just staring up at the sheer granite bulk of El Capitan, a spectacular rock formation in California’s Yosemite Valley. Alex Honnold’s stayed dry as he ascended the 3,000-foot (900-metre) vertical wall on June 3rd, jamming his hands in cracks and pulling on edges barely big enough for fingertips.

That is just as well, for Mr Honnold could not afford any slips. He carried no kit other than painfully snug shoes, with soles made of the same sticky rubber that glues Formula 1 race cars to the tarmac, and a bag of gymnasts’ chalk strapped to his waist, to keep his fingers moisture-free. There was no rope to secure him if he fell, as there had been when he repeatedly rehearsed the route. After a four-hour display of sloth-like precision, power and preternatural poise, the 31-year-old safely made the summit, hiked back down to the valley, and phoned his mother. He then squeezed in a…Continue reading

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