Free Soloist Alex Honnold discusses upcoming documentary in Union’s webinar

Sydney Lewis, co-News Editor

On May 14, Union College’s Outing Club, Concert Club and Speaker’s Forum organized a webinar to host Alex Honnold, star of the 2018 documentary, Free Solo. The documentary itself focuses on Honnold’s journey to be the first to free solo, or free climb, El Capitan. El Capitan or “El Cap” as Honnold called it, is renowned for its vertical rock face in Yosemite National Park. 

The event hosted via a Zoom call began with Sydney Walters ’22, Nathaniel Rodiger ’22 and Stefan Brecher ’22 introducing Honnold and playing the trailer for Free Solo. Honnold presented a slideshow of photos and took the viewers through his journey leading up to El Capitan. 

 Before the release of the film, Honnold spent his time living in a van in Yosemite Valley. After being sponsored by companies such as North Face, he began traveling the world to climb in new areas and different rocks. He discussed how climbing is more about self discovery and how the act of climbing itself relies on a relatively fragile state of mind. He was supposed to go on a bike tour around volcanoes before the pandemic delayed most of his plans for the upcoming year.  He was also supposed to be a commentator for sports climbing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Regarding the dramatic rise of sports climbing, Honnold said, “More gyms have been created, there are more climbers than there used to be and climbing media is more accessible.”

Hannold also created The Honnold Foundation in 2012 which aims to “…reduces environmental impact and addresses inequality by supporting solar energy initiatives worldwide.” Honnold said when he started the foundation, he donated a third of his own income which was 50,000 at the time. He has continually increased his contributions over the years and is currently giving out around one million dollars in grants. Additionally, Honnold has been holding weekly Instagram Live interviews every Tuesday with people whose work they have supported. When asked by a student  about ways to get involved with nonprofits while there is limited access to volunteer in-person at the moment, Honnold encouraged students to volunteer and “make an impact on the world” in whatever positive ways they can. 

When asked whether he is worried as an influencer dabbling in such a dangerous sport, Honnold replied that he has noticed that Free Solo has more generally encouraged fans to go try to conquer something they have always wanted to do, such as to take a cooking class rather than trying to free solo El Capitan. 

Honnold further mentioned  that he still finds challenges in his climbing, and admitted that there may be certain climbs he just cannot accomplish due to “genetic limitations”. He said that there are days where he has bad climbs, and he made it clear that free soloing does rely heavily on a relaxed mindset due to the close proximity of death during every climb.