Watch Alex Honnold Free Solo ‘The Phoenix’ (7c+, 5.13)

If you know only one thing about rock climbing, it’s probably Alex Honnold’s legendary free solo of Yosemite’s El Capitan.

It probably helps that the achievement also came with an Oscar-winning documentary to spread the gospel of Honnold’s mastery of the ropeless discipline.

Yet Honnold’s career has included many other free solos that have received much less attention yet also offered sweaty palms and increased heart rates for those watching.

His 2011 free solo of The Phoenix is one of those climbs. In a new behind-the-scenes video from ReelRock, filmmaker Peter Mortimer recounts the story of this mega climbing achievement. In it, Honnold sends the hardest route ever free soloed in Yosemite (7c+, or 5.13).

It’s a long, thin, slippery crack on an overhanging wall next to Cascade Falls. It’s an epic spot, and as always, the knowledge that Honnold survives makes no difference to viewers. You might just find yourself with a white-knuckled grip on your computer, willing him not to fall.

“The waterfall is so powerful you feel like the rocks are shaking under your feet,” Mortimer recalls in the vid. “One of the scariest things about filming Alex soloing is he moves so slowly. You don’t know if he’s stuck or has a sequence wrong. You just sit there and hold your breath.”

Alex honnold on The Phoenix

Alex Honnold on ‘The Phoenix’. Photo: Screenshot


‘Sickening’ to watch

Like the terrified photographers in “Free Solo,” Mortimer realized that he couldn’t zoom in on the handholds. It felt “sickening” to Mortimer, who realized that the camera was unstable from the shaking of his hands. For the sake of his own nerves, he zoomed back out and kept a wide angle.

Ultimately, Honnold sent the route without a rope, pulling off a historic climb that he immediately discounts with characteristic self-criticism.

The pair made it back to the Yosemite park office for a 9 am meeting with park rangers. None of them except Honnold and Mortimer knew that the already legendary climber had once again made history.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.