“No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity.”
Last week I asked you to imagine being attacked by a 9-foot bull shark.
This week I invite you to envision climbing the storied 3,600-foot sheer vertical rock face known as El Capitan. The trick? You have to do it without any ropes, harnesses or any protective gear whatsoever. An astonishing prospect, even the tiniest mistake or unexpected intervening variable could cost you your life — a life that hinges moment to moment upon punctilious preparation, meticulous focus, and a preternatural relationship with fear.
This is one small aspect of the life of Alex Honnold, a renown professional adventure rock climber whose audacious free-solo ascents of America’s biggest cliffs have made him one of the most masterful and compelling athletes of our generation.
An global icon of athletic mastery, the lore of Alex Honnold transcends sport. I imagine many of you have viewed — with palms sweaty and jaw agape — at least one of his many stunning climbing videos. Perhaps you saw him profiled on 60 Minutes, or read profiles about him in the New York Times, National Geographic or Outside and, like me, were left to wonder:
How is that even possible? How does that guy do what he does? And more importantly, why?
The answer isn’t as elementary as you might imagine. It can’t be reduced to simple genetics, strength, drive, or even his most unusual relationship with fear.
I think the answer is far more complex and frankly, much much more interesting. Of course, fanatical preparation plays a role. As does his fidelity to incremental progression. His unique kinship with risk is certainly a central factor.
But I think what truly sets Alex apart is a profound sense of awe and wonder. An uncanny facility to meld his body and mind with spirit. And the ability to become absolutely one with his quest.
Inarguably, what Alex does is both staggering and astonishing. But it’s who he is, how he lives, and what he stands for that I find most impressive.
Today, we explore all of it.
This conversation is everything I wanted it to be. It’s about adventure, fear, risk, curiosity, focus, mindset, preparation and the primacy of incremental progression.
Over the course of almost two hours we cover his boundary-crushing El Cap solo free climb and his most recent expedition to Antarctica. We discuss his passion for environmental conservation and the benefits of his minimalist lifestyle. And of course we explore his training routines and mostly-vegan diet.
But most of all, this is a conversation that not only examines the how behind Alex’s feats, but the why behind his pursuits.
Thoughtful, deliberate and present, I also found Alex to be quite generous, incredibly curious, and whip smart.
I’m grateful for this exchange and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.
Peace + Plants,
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Thanks to this week’s sponsors
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Note: One of the best ways to support the podcast is to support the sponsors. For a complete list of all RRP sponsors and their respective vanity url’s and discount codes, visit my Resources page and click “Sponsors”.
Background, Context & Reference
- Connect with Alex: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube
- Support: Honnold Foundation: Supporting solar energy for a more equitable world
- Alex’s book: Alone On The Wall*
- NY Times: The Heart-Stopping Climbs of Alex Honnold
- National Geographic: Alex Honnold Isn’t Fearless – He Just Accepts Death
- National Geographic: Exclusive: Climber Completes the Most Dangerous Rope-Free Ascent Ever
- Nautilus: The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber
- Outside: Eight Adventurers Who Changed Our World
- Outside: The High-Performance Secrets Inside Athletes’ Guts
- Outside: Why Alex Honnold Walked in the Women’s March
- Deadspin: The Antarctic Expedition That Included Alex Honnold Sounds Frigid And Terrifying
- Guardian: The edge of reason: the world’s boldest climb and the man who conquered it
- The North Face: Alex Honnold – El Sendero Luminoso [VIDEO]
- GQ: Rock God: How Alex Honnold Climbed El Capitan
Notable People Discussed
- Colin O’Brady: pro endurance athlete, mountain climber, adventurer, professional speaker. Two-time world record holder for the Explorers Grand Slam and Seven Summits speed records and (2x) podcast guest
- Brogan Graham: former collegiate rower, coach, November Project co-founder and podcast guest
- Noah Lang: CEO and co-counder of Stride Health
- Conrad Anker: rock climber, mountaineer, and author
- Jimmy Chin: check out his incredible photography
- Savannah Cummins: rock climber, ice climber, mountaineer, climbing guide and adventure photographer
- Anna Pfaff: professional Alpine climber
- Pablo Durana: cinematographer, climber and cyclist
- Laird Hamilton: big-wave surfer, co-inventor of tow-in surfing, fashion and action-sports model
Related Podcasts You Might
- RRP #170: Climber Conrad Anker On Suffering, Risk, Reward & The Allure Of Meru
- RRP #235: Colin O’Brady Shatters The Explorers Grand Slam World Record: Ruminations On Risk, Limits, Fear & Giving Back
- RRP #277: Brogan Graham On Igniting A Fitness Revolution
- RRP #307: Big Mountain Skier Lynsey Dyer On Sport As Art
- RRP #275: Kimberley Chambers Swims With Sharks: The World’s Greatest Female Marathon Swimmer On Turning Adversity To Advantage
*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
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