Alex Honnold Grinds Out Long Route That May Be Hardest in U.S.

Synthetic Happiness has six pitches at 7c+/5.13 or harder and two 7c/5.12d pitches. On Red Rock Canyon’s Rainbow Wall, the route shares hard climbing with The Original Route (7a+/5.12-).

Alex Honnold repeats Synthetic Happiness

Rainbow Wall, in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. ‘Synthetic Happiness’ traces ‘The Original Route,’ which takes the center line 300m directly to the summit.


According to Alex Honnold, the margin for success on the route is super thin. On some of the sprawling cruxes, that’s literally the case — sandstone edges six millimetres wide constitute the only way up some of the most intricate slabs.

Though 8a+/5.13c is far from Honnold’s personal limit and far from the most challenging multi-pitch routes by grade, the sustained difficulty makes Synthetic Happiness (8a+/5.13c, 9 pitches) stand out. Training on crimps does not guarantee a ticket to the top. The route’s multiple cruxes are long and complex.

Alex Honnold on Synthetic Happiness

Alex Honnold on ‘Synthetic Happiness,’ Rainbow Wall, Red Rock Canyon, U.S. James Lucas photographs from above. Photo: Priti Wright

Alex Honnold breaks down’ Synthetic Happiness’

Honnold explained that while the crux pitch may be the hardest thing on the route in isolation, the rest of it coheres into a complex puzzle. The 8a/5.13b pitch below presents less of a direct physical challenge, but technical movement on slippery holds still makes it prohibitive. Higher up, another 8a/5.13b pitch demands formidable crack climbing stamina and careful gear placement.

It all coheres into a route that Honnold thinks may be one of the hardest in the United States. Currently, the incredibly difficult Dawn Wall holds that distinction by consensus.

With so much to keep track of on Synthetic Happiness, Honnold needed a redpoint strategy. Instead of going ground-up, onsight, he spent days scouting the pitches on rappel and top-rope solo. The approach allowed him to suss the movement and the innumerable thin gear placements.

Team send: a patient belayer keys the ascent

When he did decide to go for it, he leaned on a trusty belayer. Priti Wright handled every aspect of belaying and logistics on the wall, allowing Honnold to focus on climbing. In an interview with Climbing, he expressed his appreciation for his partner’s efforts.

“[S]he just supported [me], so I could focus on trying my hardest,” Honnold said. “I didn’t have to tag the bag. I didn’t have to do any belaying. I didn’t have to do any extra work. She just did everything for me.”

For her part, Wright appears to have enjoyed the labor-intensive experience. “I’m super honored to have belayed and jugged the hard pitches and simul’d some of the easier pitches (with a micro and some frenching),” she wrote on Instagram. “I learned so much and had way too much fun.”

priti wright alex honnold belayer

How to train for super-thin big wall cruxes?

Considering the wafer-thin crux holds after the fact, Honnold landed on the dissonant conclusion that gym climbing might be the perfect way to train for Synthetic Happiness.

“It’s funny because I’ve always thought that those six-millimetre edges in the gym are kind of a joke. Like, who uses those? When will you ever hold an edge that small outdoors?” Honnold said. “Then trying this boulder, I was like, sure enough, here are those six-millimetre edges! This is what you train for.”