Alex Honnold did something no one had ever done — he free-soloed the El Capitan vertical rock formation in California.
Honnold, who climbed El Capitan without any safety gear in 2017, spoke in an interview with Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith on Wednesday afternoon at the Qualtrics X4 Summit about how he mentally prepared for the 3,000-foot climb at Yosemite National Park.
For a long time, he said, it was a dream he never thought he’d reach.
“The dream meant enough to me that it was time to actually do the work,” he told Smith. “It was the dream you’re afraid to have because it’s too big.”
He held some fears, of course.
“One of the fears was that I’ll put in the effort” and not succeed, he said.
He added, “I don’t want to try and fail and fall off, because then you die.”
He said friends would often ask him if he’d ever climb El Capitan since they knew it was his goal. He would nervously avoid the conversation. But the idea of climbing never left his mind.
Honnold eventually decided to complete the climb.
“I just knew it would be the thing in the back of my mind if I never tried, I would regret.”
He spent hours and hours at the gym thereafter. He prepared himself for eight years, practicing such things as sticking fingers in crevices, jumping from one spot on a rock wall to another.
"I committed myself to the process, to putting the work in, even though I didn't know if there'd be a result,” he said.
“I was grinding myself to death," he added.
But Honnold said he had to prepare mentally for the climb, too. Mental preparation included visualizing what the climb would be like when he actually started.2 comments on this story
Honnold said he even visualized how he would die if his climb went wrong.
“The mental side is harder. … You know what you have to do physically, but you never know what you have to do mentally.”
But he never doubted himself.
“Doubt is the precursor of fear. But preparation builds confidence.”
That eventually led Honnold to become the first person to climb the rock without protection in just hours, according to the Associated Press.
He added, "It was everything I wanted. That was the payoff ... It was the happiest I've ever been.”