Honnold Sends El Cap Again, But Caldwell Can’t Keep Up

Alex Honnold surprised no one this month by showing up in Yosemite and free climbing El Capitan. Perhaps equally unsurprising was the fact that El Cap veteran Tommy Caldwell was along for the ride.

What’s notable about Honnold and Caldwell’s team free ascent of the Heart Route (5.13b, 31 pitches by Caldwell’s count)? The man who authored the hardest big wall climb on the planet may have lost a step.

Caldwell, 45, reported the climb via Instagram early this week. He stated he did not send, tallied up the stats, including the absurd 9-foot downward dyno, then talked up his partner.

“Alex is so impressive and fun [to] climb with up there. He pretty much hiked everything while I struggled to keep up,” Caldwell wrote.


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A post shared by Tommy Caldwell (@tommycaldwell)

The route, first free climbed by Mason Earle and Brad Gobright in 2015, would give the vast majority of climbers all they could handle. From “The Dub Step” V10 dyno to the “usually wet” crux arete, the Heart Route is a handful. Honnold’s successful effort marks “maybe” the climb’s third free ascent.

But the athlete who once virtually lived on another planet than everyone else in his discipline is back on earth. Caldwell did not send, following a long recovery from a torn ACL (which he later re-aggravated).

“I was a bit sad to feel like I have slipped from my peak form up there,” he wrote, crediting his wife for reminding him he’s still on the mend from the injury. Then he admitted it didn’t bother him as much as he expected that he didn’t measure up to Honnold.

“Maybe I’m getting wiser, or maybe [losing] my edge a little,” he mused.

One commenter voiced what probably came to mind for many: “Father time will get us all, even Tommy.”

Regardless, Caldwell appears to have taken it in stride.

Honnold’s assessment was similar.


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A post shared by Alex Honnold (@alexhonnold)

“Feel psyched about your send?” Caldwell asks in a brief summit video.

“Ah,” Honnold grunts between handfuls of pistachios. “Pretty beat, yeah.”

It’s Honnold’s goal now to free climb the route in a day. Maybe not surprisingly, he did not mention the possibility of a solo.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.