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    Moonlight Solo-Nata


    Everyone knows that April 1 is a day for fools, especially skeptics like Bill Ramsey, longtime climber and a professor of philosophy at the University of Las Vegas. On this most impish day, Ramsey received a call from a friend who had read an online post claiming someone had free soloed the Moonlight Buttress, the 5.12d big-wall free climb in Zion National Park, Utah. His friend, skeptical of what he had read, wanted to know if the climber in question was Alex Honnold.
    Alex Honnold smiles through the rain during the second ascent of Conception (5.13b), the Dean Potter testpiece in Day Canyon, Utah, on his second try.

    Everyone knows that April 1 is a day for fools, especially skeptics like Bill Ramsey, longtime climber and a professor of philosophy at the University of Las Vegas. On this most impish day, Ramsey received a call from a friend who had read an online post claiming someone had free soloed the Moonlight Buttress, the 5.12d big-wall free climb in Zion National Park, Utah. His friend, skeptical of what he had read, wanted to know if the climber in question was Alex Honnold.

    There were two reasons for the call. First, Ramsey and Honnold had climbed the Moonlight together in 2006. The other reason is that, right now, arguably no other American climber is capable of pulling off a high-stakes solo like this. Last fall, for example, Honnold, 23, soloed the Yosemite classics Astroman (5.11c) and the Rostrum (5.11c) in a day.

    Ramsey called Honnold and, sure enough, the post, taken to be an April Fool’s Day prank, was true. And so it was with a delayed, uncertain sputter that this most impressive news broke in the climbing world. The self-effacing and good-natured Honnold wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    “Too much press is bad,” Honnold says, talking into his cell phone from a mall outside his home in Sacramento, California. “I’ve gotten so many e-mails from photographers wanting to go back and shoot me on it. I’m not going to. I’m just psyched to be home, hang out with friends. Plus, my elbow kinda hurts.”

    When asked if Free Rider (VI 5.12d) on El Cap is next, Honnold says, “That’s what everyone is asking me. … I don’t think so. It would be a big step up. Thing is, I have fallen on Free Rider—the Boulder Problem pitch is hard. But I’ve never fallen on the Moonlight.”

    In this casual conversation, Honnold has very little to say about the actual climbing—it was “enjoyable,” “cool,” fun and he feels proud. Fact is, the Moonlight Buttress is a 1,500-foot sheer buttress. It was first climbed in 1971 by Jeff Lowe and Mike Weiss at V 5.9 A3. Twenty years later, it took the efforts of Peter Croft and Johnny Woodward to free the sustained crack. Honnold’s solo ranks as one of the sport’s most significant.

    “It is a pretty proud ascent, but it makes me nauseated thinking about being up there without a rope, especially the face climbing sections,” says Ramsey.

    Honnold arrived in Zion after crushing all of the hard testpieces around Moab (see Breaking News, No. 169). Inside his nondescript white van, Honnold has built a plywood loft upon which he sleeps—nothing fancy, just some threadbare foam, a pillow and a sleeping bag. He has a laptop, which he uses at night to check e-mail, update his 8a.nu scorecard and watch TV shows on DVD. There’s a collection of books and battered gear on the floor, but in general, the van, Honnold’s home, is simple.

    “When people see the inside of my van,” Honnold says, laughing, “they say it looks like I never get laid.”
    On March 28, Honnold rope-soloed the Moonlight on a static line ... twice. He climbed all nine pitches once in the morning, took a break for lunch, and climbed them again that afternoon.

    “I felt this real excitement building,” Honnold says. “I was so excited, I just couldn’t wait for the day to come when I was actually going to solo the route.”


    Honnold didn’t rush, however. He continued his preparation. The next day, on March 29, again he climbed the Moonlight twice. He recalls how cool it was to be the only climber in Zion, home to the world’s best and most beautiful big-wall sandstone.

    It rained on March 30. Honnold waited two long days before soloing the route. He killed time at the visitors’ center, read his books, watched the television series The Sheild, a “super hardcore police drama,” on his laptop and battled the “nervous/excited feeling you get before a hard redpoint.”

    “I’d eat mac and cheese and go to bed every night at 8,” Honnold says. “It was grim. I was just counting hours away. Ah, the glamorous life of a climber!”

    On April Fool’s Day, Honnold free soloed the Moonlight Buttress in 88 minutes. He topped out just as his 25-song iPod playlist came to an end, and descended without fanfare. No climbers were there, just tourists in shuttle buses. Honnold got into his big white van and drove away, homeward bound to Sacrame



    • STECK-SALATHÉ: In 1973, Henry Barber onsight soloed the Steck-Salathé (V 5.9) on Sentinel Rock, Yosemite. The ascent propelled “Hot Henry” to center stage. Sadly, in 1993, Derek Hersey lost his life attempting the same feat. His is the only known death attributed to free soloing in Yosemite history.

    • ASTROMAN: In Yosemite, Peter Croft free soloed Astroman (V 5.11c) and North Face  (V 5.11c) of the Rostrum in a day in 1987. Alex Honnold repeated the feat in 2007.

    • THE DIAMOND: In 1989, Derek Hersey free soloed three routes on the Diamond Face of Long’s Peak, Colorado: He climbed the Yellow Wall (V 5.11a), downclimbed the Casual Route (V 5.10a), and finished on Pervertical Sanctuary (IV 5.10c) before noon.

    • BRANDLER-HASSE: In 2002, Alex Huber free soloed the famed Cima Grande di Lavaredo by its 1,500-foot Brandler-Hasse (5.12a). Of this ascent, Reinhold Messner said, “A brilliant deed, which can hardly be surpassed in elegance. With this Huber shows he isn’t a gambler, but a great master. Safety always only comes from skill.”

    • ROMANTIC WARRIOR: In 2005 Michael Reardon pulled off perhaps the most impressive solo to date when he onsight free soloed Romantic Warrior (V 5.12b), Needles, California. Some climbers continue to debate the veracity of the ascent.

    • THE FISH ROUTE: Last year, Hansjorg Auer free soloed a 3,000-foot 5.12c on Marmolada known as The Fish Route. Due to its similar length and grade to Free Rider (5.12d), Auer’s ascent prompted Americans to wonder, “When is El Cap going to be soloed?”



    P1:     5.8. An easy scramble in a corner.

    P2:     5.10. A right-facing corner with one or two tricky, sequential laybacks.  

    P3:     5.11c. Face climbing on edges.

    P4:     5.12d. The crux. A hard 5.11d problem starts to the right of the Rocker Block, a loose boulder that is bolted to the wall. Sustained laybacking.    

    P5:     5.12a. A bombay chimney tapers to a one-inch crack of more sustained ring locks. This ends at a ledge, the first reprieve, halfway up the 1,500-foot wall.

    P6:     5.12b. Matt Wilder, who onsighted the route in 2006, describes this pitch, a one-inch crack, as “Pure Indian Creek-style splitter, pretty stout.”

    P7:     5.12a. This technical thin-finger pitch has hard moves transferring out of a corner. “You are way off the deck at this point,” says Wilder.

    P8:     5.12a. The Nutting Pitch. The famous steep and exposed finger crack that swallows passive pro like finger locks.

    P9:     5.10. The Hero Pitch. Mellow climbing over a roof leads to easy face climbing on big jugs.


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