Rock climbing icon Alex Honnold goes urban

Alex Honnold climbing a brick building in San Francisco. Photo from Alex Honnold's Facebook page
Alex Honnold climbing brick building in San Francisco. Photo from Alex Honnold’s Facebook page

Alex Honnold, best known for scaling Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes or safety gear, has expanded his free solo climbing act to include buildings. Honnold has gone urban.

Whereas Honnold is used to climbing sheer cliffs, clinging to rock walls with only his fingertips and toes, the free solo climber visited San Francisco and climbed structures like the Mark di Suvero sculpture on Crissy Field, the iconic Palace of Fine Arts, and a brick building in the Financial District.

Alex Honnold nears top of the building, climbing without ropes or safety gear. Photo is a screen grab from the video
Alex Honnold nears top of the building, climbing without ropes or safety gear. Photo is a screen grab from the video

“I spend so much more time on rock where it’s so natural to me, whereas with buildings it’s much more of an adventure,” Honnold said.

“I don’t have that much experience climbing up buildings, so it’s more exciting.”

Video of Honnold’s latest free solo climbing exploits went live again on YouTube this week after it had been suspended for three weeks following its initial debut as a piece of audio was cleared. Here now is “Alex Honnold’s Urban Ascents”:

Sure, in the end, Honnold does a health care commercial. A professional rock climber has to make a living, right?

But the climb was also a sort of warm-up act to the Taiwanese skyscraper Honnold plans on scaling someday–again, without ropes or safety gear. It’s the 1,667-foot Taipei 101 Skyscraper, and he was set to climb it before a live TV audience on the National Geographic Channel.

Alex Honnold climbing the Mark di Suvero sculpture. Photo is a screen grab from the video
Alex Honnold climbing the Mark di Suvero sculpture. Photo is a screen grab from the video

At first, he was going to climb it last November. Then it was rescheduled for this month. Then National Geographic Channel executives got cold feet about live broadcasting a potential fall/death of the world’s best rock climber and pulled out of the deal, according to a spokesman for Honnold.

“Alex said that the Taipei 101 climb is on from his end and the building’s end, and that they’re working through the details of the broadcast,” Michael Schwartz told GrindTV Outdoor.

Honnold was asked during the making of the above video about climbing Taipei 101 and doing climbs like that for money, and how the payout weighed against the risk.

“The first time I saw Taipei 101 in person I was like, ‘Oh that looks awesome,’ the way like an amazing 1,700-foot ladder would look,” he said.

“Obviously getting paid enough will entice you to do things that you might otherwise not be into. But obviously I have a line where I’m like, ‘That’s sketchy I’m not going to do that,’ and that’s totally regardless of payment.”

Alex Honnold climbing at the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo is a screen grab from the video
Alex Honnold climbing at the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo is a screen grab from the video

But he’s up for Taipei 101. It’s just a matter of when.

In the meantime, fans of Honnold can look forward to the documentary called “Valley Uprising: Yosemite’s Rock Climbing Revolution,” in which the 28-year-old is featured. No surprise. Honnold has been featured on “60 Minutes,” on the covers of National Geographic and Outside magazines, and in the New York Times, among other places.

Esquire recently spoke to him and asked about climbing solo without any ropes. He said it’s mellow most of the time but is “punctuated by brief moments where you’re like ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna die.'”

“It’s slow, mounting dread,” he told Esquire. “It has as much to do with not being able to bring your fear under control as it does the actual danger that you’re in. So it’s like you’re doing some hard climbing that’s high above protection, you’re looking at a big fall, and you start to get scared. And then you start to think you’re off route, and that uncertainty starts to nag at you. Then it spirals out of control until you’re having a panic attack and you think you’re going to fall and die.

palace of fine arts 2
Alex Honnold atop the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo is a screen grab from the video

“I mean, the reason that I do all this stuff is that I love being in that position, I love being way up off the ground. I think it’s awesome.”

It’s also heart-pounding…for those on the ground watching.

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