While some reserve the term “Triple Crown” for the world of horse racing, its meaning can transcend sports, much as it does with climbing.
Friday, May 18, Alex Honnold, along with Tommy Caldwell, completed a triple link-up, better known as the Triple Crown, of Yosemite’s El Capitan, Half Dome and Mount Watkins, becoming the first to do so free in under 24 hours.
Alex Honnold and Hazel Findlay, Canada. Photo: Tim Kemple.
We (TNF) caught up with Alex (AH) today to get his take on the feat, and as luck would have it, caught him hiking down from a climb, which he told us he’d been on for around nine miles. And he was starting to get hungry.
TNF: Hi, can you hear me?
AH: I can kind of hear you. I’m sitting on some rocks now…
TNF: I don’t want you to have to stop, you have to make it back.
AH: I made it to the trailhead, now I just have to hitch back into the valley.
TNF: Hitch?... As in, Hitchhike?
AH: Yeah. I hiked out to the highway. But whatever. It’s just a roundabout way down. It should be easy enough in a minute, but I’ll wait till we’re done.
TNF: Ok, well, tell me about completing the Triple Crown. You were the first to do it free?
AH: Yeah, it’s totally cool. The thing is, in a week or two I was planning on doing the solo triple, rope soloing the three of them – not free soloing, but climbing each of the big faces by myself and the Sender guys are supposed to film it for part of a Reel Rock piece that they are doing. So for me it’s super cool to have done this, but it’s also just warming up for the season.
TNF: What do you take away as the most memorable part of that 21 hours?
AH: Probably the most memorable part was in the middle of the night climbing Freerider, which is the route up El Cap, when Tommy climbed one of the harder corners. It’s just a technical corner and he said, “I’m too tired to lieback* it, I’m just going to stem** it,” and then he proceeded to just totally bust it out in this unconventional style. I was just like, I didn’t even think you could do that! It’s the middle of the night and it’s really hard to see the feet because it’s dark and he has a head lamp, and he’s standing on tiny dimes, and he just stemmed it. Later when we were climbing Half Dome, the final route, I got into this little corner where I was like, “I’m tired, I’m just going to stem it” and I did kind of the same thing and it worked.
TNF: So you enjoyed climbing it with Tommy?
AH: Tommy’s like a technical wizard on that stuff. He’s really, really good on granite and so it was cool seeing just how good he is on some things.
TNF: You said it’s preparation for you for this season, but it had to feel better than just preparation, right?
AH: Today I just soloed the west face of El Cap, which is not a real El Cap route, but it’s still kind of exciting for me. They’re all little things that you do that you’re psyched on, but that aren’t necessarily that big of a deal.
TNF: You mentioned wanting to do this last year. Now that you have done it is there something else you are looking forward to?
AH: This is the culmination of endurance linkups, so I don’t think that… I really doubt that I’ll ever do anything bigger. Just because, one there isn’t anything obvious that comes to mind because there aren’t any faces that make sense to add in. We did what there is to do.
TNF: People would be shocked to hear you say you won’t do anything bigger.
AH: Well, I mean bigger in Yosemite. There just aren’t any bigger faces to climb. But there are certainly harder things to do and there are other things that could be done in a day that would be a bigger challenge. But just in chaining a bunch of faces, climbing multiple routes in a row, there just aren’t more routes to climb.
TNF: I’m sure there’s a giant sigh of relief. People like guessing what’s next with Alex.
AH: Well, there will be something next, but it can’t really get that much bigger than the triple.
TNF: How do you come up with the thought to do these things?
AH: You do one route and you have a lot of time left in the day and you think, “Oh maybe we should have done two.” And eventually you do two with time left over and you say, “maybe we could do three…” and we did three and we didn’t have any time left over so we said, “we’re over it.”
TNF: So you’re challenging yourself?
AH: Yeah, exactly. My first year in Yosemite, just climbing El Cap in a day was a big thing. Now that it isn’t a huge challenge anymore, you just have to come up with bigger ones.
TNF: What was the most challenging part of the climb?
AH: Just doing stuff for 20 hours.
TNF: So the obvious. There was no moment, it was just the endurance involved?
AH: Each of the routes have specific cruxes to them. Each time we got to them we would know it was the hard part and get all stoked, but they were all reasonable. The real thing was it overall – your feet hurt more and more and you get tired. Which in some ways is why I won’t do bigger linkups. They aren’t super fun. Once you hit hour 12 or 14 you aren’t really thinking, “Oh! Great times!” That’s how it is every time. You think it will be cool till it isn’t fun anymore.
TNF: I have a sneaky suspicion you’ll get yourself into another one of those situations.
AH: Yeah, for sure. That’s the beauty of the game. After a couple months you forget about how bad your feet hurt and you think, “Man it sure would be cool to do four in a day!” But I’m going to need a while.
For more on Alex's and Tommy's Triple Crown record, check out Outside Magazine's article at OutsideOnline.com.
*lieback: The practice of pulling on the hands while pushing on the feet.
**stem: Using two widely spaced footholds, or using two faces that are less than 180 degrees from each other.