Sanni has, however, spent her childhood in Washington state and in North Carolina. She graduated from East Chapel Hill High School in 2010 and studied psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She graduated in 2014 with a BA in psychology and minor in Spanish.
Happy birthday to @sannimccandless!! She wanted to climb 24 pitches to celebrate. The Swiss mountains did not disappoint. Stoked!!
Posted by Alex Honnold on Thursday, June 30, 2016
While at UNC, she traveled to Mexico on a Spanish language immersion program. She also taught elementary-level Spanish as the Spanish student leader. Sanni even spent a couple of months in Cordoba, Spain as a hospitality assistant in a WorkAway.
In college, she briefly worked as a waitress at a local pizzeria and was a nanny to a local family.
She was also the social chair and business manager of the Cadence all-female a cappella group.
She worked at the Durham Arts Council in North Carolina for six months, initially as an intern and then as an art services assistant.
Sanni’s professional career began when she moved to Seattle, Washington. But she now calls Las Vegas home while also living in Alex Honnold’s van.
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Outdoor enthusiasts might be familiar with the life and story of Chris McCandless. The hiker and traveler explored the North American continent with minimal supplies before dying, allegedly of starvation, in 1992 at the age of 24.
With Sanni also having an outdoorsy lifestyle, many wonder if she’s related to the late hiker. However, there’s no evident familial connection between them and they are not siblings, either.
Chris was the son of Wilhelmina “Billie” McCandless (née Johnson) and Walter “Walt” McCandless. His sister, Carine, has kept his free-spirit memory alive to this day.
Sanni has at least one sister, but there’s no evidence of a brother. It can’t be said if her parents are related to Chris’ parents, either.
She Left Her Job to Become a Life Transition Coach
Sanni moved to Seattle, Washington where she worked as an events and marketing coordinator for EnergySavvy. But after almost two years, she quit her job in 2016 to travel.
View this post on Instagram
I’m at a loss for words at just how incredible this weekend was. I can’t imagine a more meaningful and vibrant experience. Thank you to each and every one of you who showed up 100% to the Outwild Festival – it felt like family. More photos and thoughts to come ❤️ photo credit @eliza_earle #outwild2018
A post shared by Sanni McCandless (@sannimccandless) on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:19am PST
When her savings were beginning to run out, she decided it was time to follow her entrepreneurial passions and start her own business. That’s how she became a life coach.
Mind you, she’s no self-proclaimed spiritual guru. She’s a certified professional life coach from iPEC Coaching and has helped many people overcome their fears, communicate better, make better decisions, and live life to the fullest.
Several testimonies by McCandless’ clients prove that she’s remarkable at her job. Most of her clients were inspired by her to take on more outdoorsy lifestyles.
After being introduced to it by her sister, McCandless also became an avid rock climber. A large part of her coaching is based on her love for rock climbing and outdoor adventures.
She’s also the co-founder of Outwild, an outreach festival with group activities to encourage more outdoor and value-driven lifestyles.
Outwild was founded by Sanni and her two friends, Courtney Sanford and Jeremy Jensen in June 2018. Through a wide range of events, online forums, and an annual community gathering, Outwild presents individuals that are looking to make positive changes in their lives to connect with life-affirming life coaches and other individuals who are also on a journey to self-improvement.
Working alongside her two co-founders, Sanni and the rest of the Outwild team can help participants map out productive strategies to identify and achieve their life goals while also making healthy changes in their lives. Outwild 2019 is scheduled to be held on September 26 to 29 in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Lotus, California.
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McCandless Met Alex Honnold at His Book Signing
As a rock climber herself, McCandless looks up to several famous rock climbers, including Alex Honnold. In 2015, she and her friend went to an event for Honnold’s book, Alone on the Wall.
Honnold’s honesty and simplicity while answering audience questions enchanted McCandless. At that time, she had sworn off online dating and decided to take the plunge by committing to giving her number to every guy she was interested in.
It so happens she found Honnold cute. So she approached him to sign a copy of his book she shared with her friend, gave him her number, and ran out. A guy who was also at the event went after her to tell her that Alex was ecstatic about getting a cute girl’s number.
They went on a date a few weeks later when Honnold’s book tour brought him back to Seattle. Six months after their first date, Sanni and Alex went on a climbing trip to Switzerland.
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She Lives with Honnold in His Van
Alex Honnold famously calls a family van his home and pretty soon, McCandless had moved in with him in his van, too. Sometime into their relationship, Honnold bought a more concrete house in Las Vegas where they spend time when they’re not on the road.
Around the same time she moved in with him, Honnold was planning his free solo climb of El Capitan. Husband-wife documentary-making duo, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, were also filming the National Geographic documentary on him. Which meant Honnold and McCandless’ relationship would also be captured on camera.
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Just a few more days till I’m back in the van with my own personal huckleberry fin. @alexhonnold
A post shared by Sanni McCandless (@sannimccandless) on May 7, 2018 at 12:52pm PDT
“It was the beginning of our relationship, so I think my concern was: ‘I wonder if this is gonna put weird pressure on us as a couple.’ We were still getting to know each other,” she said about the experience.
Some felt that a new romance could hinder Honnold’s biggest ascent of his career. However, he kept Sanni close for her help. Despite her own nervousness, she gave him unwavering support. She even tended to him when he suffered two accidents.
When he made his free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017, she was not there. They had opted to let him have his space while she sent him off and drove back to Las Vegas.
Since the release of Free Solo in 2018, Sanni has been in the spotlight and is often asked how she copes with dating a death-defying climber. While she does worry, she has made her peace with her fearless rock-climbing beau. This couple is going strong while literally ascending mountains together.
Now a lifetime of adventure in their van awaits Sanni and Alex. The couple took to Instagram to announce their engagement over Christmas 2019. After a year earning critical praise for Free Solo, 2020 is expected to be even better for this soon-to-be-married couple!
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@sannimccandless agreed to marry me. Marry Christmas!!
A post shared by Alex Honnold (@alexhonnold) on Dec 25, 2019 at 1:21pm PST
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Alex Honnold Wife – Are The Free Solo Climber and Sanni McCandless Married?
When ‘Free Solo’ was released near the end of 2018, it was a scary watch, to see a man play chicken with death while climbing he granite mountain of El Capitan, without any ropes to stop his fall. The documentary movie was, in a way, a show of an extreme athlete, hell-bent on doing the one thing he always dreamed of.
The movie was both a triumphant feat and also a cautionary tale to people who want to imitate the feat. Not everyone is built the way Alex Honnold is, and the directors of the movie did their best in showing the impact such an endeavor will present itself in the personal life of the people attempting the feat and the family they leave behind if they fail.
Watch: Free Solo showed a death defying climb and the consequences for the family
One way the film drove the point home is by showing Alex’s girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, who was supportive of her boyfriend’s need to conquer the almost 1-kilometer long granite monolith and also scared out of her mind of what could happen even a single thing went wrong. Throughout the movie, we were scared for Alex even though we knew he made it, and at that moment came to the realization what Sanni must be feeling every second of every day he is away. Now the couple is engaged, to be married, it is only going to get harder for Sanni McCandless to see her future husband, teasing death.
How did Alex Honnold and His Girlfriend Sanni McCandless Meet?
Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless met for the first time during a book signing in Seattle. Source: Instagram
Alex was living out of his van, and the climber was not so hot about starting a relationship because people could not keep up with his living style and schedule. It was hard to be in a relationship with someone who lived in a van and moved from place to place just so he could climb mountains.
The Free Solo star talked about his difficulty in finding a person willing to take on the schedule of his life, but in 2015 when he was in Seattle, he found the person who was willing to take him for the life he was living. Sanni McCandless and Alex Honnold met for the first time in November of 2015 when Alex was in Seattle to sign books he wrote.
Alex and Sanni started dating soon after their first meeting in the later part of 2015. Source: Instagram
Sanni McCandless knew Alex was cute, and she also loved the book he wrote, which resulted in her going to the book signing event with her friend. The two got their and Alex signed their books, and before she left the event, Sanni wrote her number down and gave it to Alex. According to her, one of Alex’s friend came over and said the climber was geeking out over getting a phone number from a cute girl.
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Nothing came off the first meeting, but about three weeks later, when Alex was back in Seattle for the final leg of his book tour, he texted Sanni, and the two set up a dinner date. They started dating soon after and are still together.
Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless got Engaged – Is Sanni Alex Hannold’s Wife?
Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless are together for over four years now. Source: Instagram
Though the couple went through some rough patches, in the beginning, they worked through it all, and one of the major reasons for their successful relationship was because they sync their calendars all the time. This way, they can make time for one another, and there is not a massive gap in communication and meeting between the two.
Alex and Sanni also said they travel together and try to be best in their own field while respecting the other’s interests. Alex said Sanni was trying to fall in love with climbing, and she used to tell him to be with a girl who knew how to climb better than her. But he did not want that, so they make it their whole thing about staying on their own thing and doing most of all other activities together.
Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless announced their engagement on 26 December 2019. Source: Instagram
Alex and Sanni seem to be making the best of their relationship and are in sync with what they want with their lives. The couple recently announced their engagement on 26 December 2019 with both sharing on their Instagram page about the coupling.
They seem to be happy doing what they are doing right now, but with a little more commitment now. All of their friends and fans were happy about the engagement. The couple did not announce a marriage date, but Alex would be looking to make Sanni his wife, pretty soon.
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Before you leave, make sure to visit Glamour Fame to be in the know of all the happenings in the world of show business.
Sanni McCandless: A Force of Nature by Joy Martin
Nov 1 • Locations • 134464 Views • 4 Comments on Sanni McCandless: A Force of Nature by Joy Martin
Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you in better living conditions.
I’ve always been a sucker for men with incredible strength-to-weight ratios. My husband, a wiry 5´11˝, coming in at 139 pounds on a good day, has the most gorgeous, well-defined arms I’ve ever laid eyes on. They’re not huge, but they’re capable of amazing feats. One of my favorite things in the world is watching him climb or build stuff, those biceps fully engaged, forearms pumped. It’s like he becomes this force of nature, one with whatever he’s doing, master of his universe. It’s beauty in motion.
by Joy Martin (this piece is printed in Volume 11, “Choss, Solos, and Reflection” Get your copy, or subscribe HERE) Banner photo of Sanni climbing in Wild Iris, Wyoming by Ted Hesser
When we first started hanging out seven years ago, I was into “soft” adventures, like hiking and world travel. He, on the other hand, was way more hardcore in outdoor endeavors, an avid climber, mountain biker, skier. I ached for his arms to learn these things too and was grateful he wanted me to join.
On our initial outings, scrambling through slot canyons or across chossy ridgelines, I often found myself in the uber-attractive beached-whale position, struggling mightily to not look like a total amateur. But I pressed on, laughing at myself as I maneuvered the learning curves, because I knew the reward was always worth the awkward effort. Thankfully, even though you can barely see them, my muscles grew to fit my ambition, and my maladroit moments are now fewer and farther between.
Those early days weren’t all conquering summits and recapping perfect sun-soaked days. Rather (more than I care to admit) I would get super frustrated with my weaknesses, embarrassed that I couldn’t do this or that, fearful he wouldn’t like me when I failed. In these psycho-hosebeast moods, I would bring up girls stronger, faster, better than me. I called the collective her “Gnar Chick.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be with Gnar Chick?” I’d prod my strong-armed man.
At first, he’d lovingly explain that it was me he wanted, not a more adept skier, climber, biker. But I couldn’t let it go. Finally, his typical cool, calm demeanor snapped, and a deserved tirade unleashed about how I had to stop pushing him toward this fictitious character and just embrace wherever I was on my athletic journey. So I dropped Gnar Chick talk, and our adventures got way more fun.
Thank goodness I got (mostly) over this comparison syndrome before Instagram. Now I can just be inspired by Gnar Chick, grateful for coming into my own version of the collective her. These days, I even have a few Gnar Chick crushes, like Taylor Freesolo Rees and this other badass I’m about to introduce you to.
Last year, I was flipping through Instagram when I saw that Alex Honnold, one of my strength-to-weight crushes (I have a lot of crushes), had a girlfriend. I’d read that Alex was a little shy and socially awkward. He’s darn likeable for these reasons, so I was really excited that he had found someone to share the good times with. Social media’s weird like that, like, how you can be genuinely happy for a complete stranger.
I thought, damn, Alex’s girlfriend must be a Gnar Chick, but when I checked her photos, I quickly saw that she was, in fact, NOT the typical Gnar Chick. In lieu of BASE jumping and sponsorships was the sweetest creature ever. Though there were climbing photos and majestic mountain scenes scattered throughout her feed, Sanni McCandless was really this all American girl next door adorned with a soul-melting smile and dimples. She looked so fun and carefree.
The author (right) with lean, mean Nick Martin. Photo: Joy Martin Collection
There was a link to her blog, Thirty Fives Degrees West. Turns out she’s a great writer too. Her heart-on-sleeve prose and self-deprecating sense of humor reveal a girl who wrestles with improving both her skill and attitude in the great outdoors—just like me—while trying to live her biggest, boldest life. Her blog introduction captures her essence well:
“When I was a sophomore in high school, I was sitting in Spanish class, mindlessly tapping my pencil in front of me, when it suddenly slipped from my fingers and flew up and over the front of my tiny wooden desk. Without a second thought, I hurled myself forward, swinging onto the front legs of my chair as I attempted to catch it in mid-air. I missed by a long shot, flailing my arms and teetering precariously for a brief second before crashing face-first into the ground. Still in the seated position, I hung over the front of my desk with my face on the floor and my ass in the air, looking at my pencil, questioning my life choices up to this point. It was at this moment that I realized life is not clean or pretty or perfect, but actually a string of sometimes wonderful and sometimes mortifying events that give you a weird, but overall engaging sense of character. It is, in fact, hilarious.”
Sanni exposes bits of her “engaging sense of character” through welcoming narratives following this intro, so I pieced together her story, filling in the blanks after a recent phone conversation we shared.
Born in Seattle and raised in North Carolina, Cassandra “Sanni” McCandless is known for being eternally nice and bright beyond her years. When she was twenty-two, her older sister taught her how to climb, encouraging her to just try her best. It was a gentle start for the noncompetitive, self-proclaimed “half athletic dabbler.”
McCandless looking truth straight in the eye. Photo: Malena Harrang
After earning a psychology degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sanni moved back to the Pacific Northwest. She was thriving in independence and a vibrant community—even her tomato plants were sprouting. Her climbing and friend group was mostly composed of strong, supportive, wildly entertaining women. One night in November 2015, she and one of these gals went to hear Alex Honnold on his book tour for Alone on the Wall.
Sanni perked up at his honest answers to audience questions. Single and weary of the complexities of online dating, she’d imposed a new life rule on herself to give her number to any men she thought were cute. Alex, she thought, was cute, so, when she and her girlfriend walked up to the table to have him sign their co-copy of his book, Sanni gave him her number, then bolted for the door.
As they were leaving, a guy in line ran after her and said that Alex was all geeked that a cute girl gave him her number. Flattered and giggling, Sanni and her girlfriend departed to Seattle’s lamplit streets. Three weeks later, when Alex returned to Seattle for the final night of his book tour, he texted Sanni for a dinner date. She picked him up from the climbing gym, and Cedar Wright climbed in the back seat.
“It seems fitting that Cedar was on our first date,” Sanni says, laughing.
So the trio had pizza before Alex’s talk, and then everyone met at Sanni’s house afterward for a bonfire. It occurred to Sanni later that inviting Alex to meet all of her amazing, beautiful, single girlfriends might have been a bad idea, but they didn’t seem to matter to the guy who couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. Six months later, Sanni had packed up her life in Seattle to join Alex for a climbing trip in Switzerland.
It was in the Alps that the former “half athletic dabbler” developed a curiosity of her own abilities. Sanni says Alex stirred her interest to try harder, set objectives, cultivate tenacity and a willingness to scrabble her way up holds. She discovered that small fingers were her greatest strength. But as her muscles strengthened, so did her fear.
“I was afraid to lead, afraid of getting my foot caught behind the rope, afraid to fall,” she says. “It became clear that getting better meant facing my fear of falling, learning to transform fearful energy into focused and controlled energy.”
Sanni and Alex. Photo: Sanni McCandless Collection
Alex was instrumental in pushing Sanni to not let her fear get the best of her on the wall. Acknowledge the anxious thoughts, and then move through them intentionally, he’d say.
“Often my fear on the wall occurs when I project anxiety into the future, even if everything is fine in the moment,” writes Sanni. “Yes, I can grab this hold, but what if I can’t grab the next one? What if it gets too hard? In my personal life, my plans are currently as flexible and moldable as my creativity allows, and I find myself engaged and inspired by the emptiness. What if I took this approach in my climbing? Instead of being afraid that I won’t be able to handle the move in front of me, I’m instead excited by the opportunity to figure it out—maybe on the first try, or maybe 450 attempts later.”
As Sanni’s climbing prowess escalated, so did her relationship with Alex. They traveled near and far, scaling walls, working on projects together and separately. Inspiring and not-so-inspiring climbing days came and went, and Sanni’s techniques for navigating stress triggers in the outdoors seemed to translate seamlessly into dealing with life’s inevitable trials.
“When I first started dating Alex, people would ask me about death,” she writes on her blog. “They wanted to know how I felt about his profession and the risk involved in soloing. But I wasn’t wondering if he would die; I was wondering if we even liked each other. Instead of deep contemplations on risk and consequence, I felt an intense curiosity to learn more about relationships in his world. I was drawn to partnerships that mimicked our own situation, half professional climber, half athletic dabbler.”
Nicole and Ueli Steck were one of these couples who Sanni saw as an example “of a possible future yet to come.” So when Ueli died earlier this year during a climbing accident on Everest, Sanni was forced to face the reality that people she loves live their lives “dangerously close to the edge.”
“Now, I suddenly feel the need to establish a new stance on death, not just because of Alex, but because I’m clearly growing up,” she writes. “It’s funny how even writing this, I feel like it’s inappropriate and morbid. I’m somehow breaking an unwritten code that death should be discussed quietly and privately. But I hate the unspoken. For my whole life I’ve said what I feel when I feel it. I don’t hold grudges or hang on to past offenses, instead I (sometimes awkwardly) bring up issues moments after they occur. I want death to be no different. No longer taboo, no longer off-limits.
“Because no matter how much we like to avoid thinking about it, death is as much a part of living as life itself,” she continues. “In modern society, dying is something to be feared. Something to run away from at all costs. And while I would fight for my life to the very end, I also want to know that if I die, the people around me will look back on our time together fondly, not tinged with tragedy and devastation, but thankful for the time we had together. I would never want my death to take the joy of living from someone else.
“It’s natural and healthy to grieve, but maybe it’s also ok when the time is up. Not because we won’t miss the shit out of people we love, but because death is coming for us all. Out of respect, we should live life fully while we’re here, thankful that our loved ones did the same.”
With resolve to honor this awareness, Sanni kept pushing through plateaus, becoming more comfortable climbing 5.12s. Meanwhile, Alex focused on training for the holy grail of his climbing career: free soloing El Capitan, that three-thousand-foot granite face looming over Yosemite Valley.
In early June, the weather window appeared, so Alex picked a day. The couple agreed it’d be easiest if Sanni left Yosemite for the main event. She played it tough until after she kissed him good-bye and headed out of The Valley.
“When I drove away, I just let my brain go there,” she recalls. “It’s like when you’re home alone and you think of all of the worst case scenarios, like, I’m going to pull open the shower curtain, and there’s going to be a man there. You’re clearly not doing yourself any good to indulge the fear.”
The morning he chalked up and put rubber sole to rock, Sanni’s girlfriends distracted her with pancakes in a kitchen far away in Las Vegas. They put a broom in her hand and made her sweep—anything to keep the nerves at bay. As peace settled and laughter brought her out of reverie, Sanni realized that the day didn’t have to be the worst ever; it could end up being the best. Her hope proved true when she got the call that he’d successfully topped out in less than four hours. Proud, ecstatic relief flooded her soul.
In the beginning days of their relationship, Sanni often wondered why Alex didn’t want to date a more able climber, someone “way cooler and more poised and hilarious”—someone like Gnar Chick. He would just roll his eyes and smile, like good dudes do, reminding her that she was who he wanted to be with and that, above all, stoke for life makes up for any lack of gnar.
“You could be a 5.10 climber for the rest of your life,” he says. “It’s your attitude at the crag, your attitude every day, that counts.”
“The parallels between creating a fulfilling life and pushing myself in the outdoors continue to appear,” writes Sanni. “I’m always better off when I move toward the things I don’t understand because they give me the opportunity to learn more. I’m always stronger when I push myself to confront fear because I learn to trust and rely on my own body and mind. I’m a more open and receptive human when I don’t resist what the universe has put in front of me, but instead move gracefully toward it.”
The last year has roused Sanni to move gracefully toward launching a coaching platform so she can help others take control of their own stoke, their own happiness, and live courageous, intentional lives. Why?
“Because feeling powerless will never serve you,” writes Sanni. “And the longer you wallow, the harder it becomes to take action. When you live intentionally, you become a force of nature. You begin to create instead of react. Your energy shifts. Suddenly, there’s not only momentum in your life, but it’s moving in the direction you wanted to go. That doesn’t just serve you; it serves everyone around you. When you create a fulfilling life for yourself, you raise the bar on what success should look like—you demonstrate that it’s not just about functioning; it’s about thriving.”
As a transition coach for folks in the outdoor industry, Sanni encourages people of varied backgrounds, goals, and abilities to stop making fear-based decisions. She’s not a personal trainer, counselor, mentor, or therapist, she says. Her goal isn’t to advocate for everyone to avoid commitment and embrace van life but, instead, to find a lifestyle that works best for them, one that is fulfilling and passion driven.
“Life coaching has the propensity to come across as really douchey,” she says, laughing. “I’m not here to tell you how it’s done. I’m here to help you through a process because only you know what’s best for you. The goal is to feel fulfillment and balance, not to turn your back on everything that’s important.”
From making time to pursue a goal—outdoors, artistic, or otherwise—to learning how to find balance in relationships rooted in the outdoors, life’s too short for fear to steer. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re Gnar Chick or Totally Rad Dude; you’re alive in this moment, breathing, reading Sanni’s words:
“The more I reflect on my experiences, the more apparent it is that I have a lot of anxiety about losing people in my life. And as a climber, I’m beginning to see just how closely to the line we all play. But, I want to open myself up to other ways of thinking about our mortality. I want to be honest with myself about the realities of life and death—they are both unavoidable, both natural, and both reasons to celebrate our brief time on this planet.”
For more info on Sanni’s life work or to schedule a complimentary session, check out sannimccandless.com. Her blog is thirtyfivedegreeswest.wordpress.com. For more on the other Gnar Chick, er, writer, who finds joy through alpenglow, Nick Martin, bicycles, and homemade ice cream, feel free to peruse joydotdot.com.
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About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.
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” Review: GSI Outdoors water bottle The Desert and The Dog by Luke Mehall ”
What’s next for Las Vegas climbing couple after Oscar gold?
Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless
By C. Moon Reed (contact)
Saturday, March 9, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Aquaman star Jason Momoa stands on the Dolby Theatre stage in LA, holding that famous red envelope. “And the Oscar goes to …”
At stake is the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary. Among the nominees is Free Solo, a dizzyingly compelling film about Las Vegas climber Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of the 3,000-foot El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park. The film is also about the anxieties of the people who love Honnold, namely girlfriend Sanni McCandless, who struggles with the risks of such an endeavor. If he falls, he will certainly die. Her fear acts as a bridge between the audience and the rarefied world of elite climbing. (Spoiler alert: Honnold succeeds, and the resulting film has been a runaway success.)
Onstage, Momoa opens the envelope, smiles and meets eyes with co-presenter Helen Mirren. She nods and Momoa announces, “… Free Solo!” The music rises, and the camera pans to the audience, where the filmmakers and documentary subjects Honnold and McCandless make their way to the stage—and to a new level of stardom and a place in cinematic history.
What a documentary Oscar means for its subjects
So what’s it like for a “dirtbag climber” to receive the Hollywood treatment? After six months touring to promote the film, Honnold is back home in Vegas and still making sense of it all. “It was pretty exciting,” he says on the phone as he packs his car for some short scrambling at Red Rock Canyon. “Honestly, I don’t know if it’s sunk in. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.” As for any newfound fame, Honnold says, “There’s been a lot of spillover to the Honnold Foundation, which is good to see.”
McCandless says, “It felt totally amazing. We were all just blown away by the success of the film. It was very validating of all the hard work the entire team put into the film.”
On the Oscars red carpet, the outdoorsy life coach looked as glamorous as any movie star, thanks to a beauty regimen that started at 10:30 a.m. and included makeup sponsored by Clé de Peau Beauté. For his red carpet look, Honnold hit the gym and then took a shower.
The Honnold Foundation supports solar energy initiatives with the goal of creating a more equal and sustainable world. To learn more or to donate, visit honnoldfoundation.org.
Meeting British royalty—Prince William and Princess Kate—was a “peak experience” of the film tour, according to McCandless. “We were just totally amazed by how poised and regal they both were,” McCandless says. “They’d seen the film. They were very genuine, excited and kind. It’s something we’ll never forget, because it’s so different from our normal lives.”
Life is now, more or less, back to normal. “We came home to reality,” McCandless says, laughing. “I did my taxes yesterday. Today we cleaned out the van. Stardom is over.”
Both are excited to get back to their regular lives of outdoor adventuring. McCandless is busy running her business, Sanni McCandless Coaching, and she’s preparing for the 2019 Outwild festival, which she co-founded.
Honnold is looking forward to ever more climbing. He had put all big climbing plans on hold until the end of the film tour. As for what big goals might lie ahead? “You can’t plan big climbs until you’ve done tons of little climbs,” Honnold says. “I’m looking forward to little climbs.”
What this Oscar means for climbing
(Jimmy Chin / National Geographic via AP)
This Saturday, June 3, 2017, photo provided by National Geographic shows Alex Honnold atop El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Calif., after he became the first person to climb alone to the top of the massive granite wall without ropes or safety gear. National Geographic recorded Honnold’s historic ascent, saying the 31-year-old completed the “free solo” climb Saturday in nearly four hours. The event was documented for an upcoming National Geographic feature film and magazine story.
Inevitably, the film’s success will boost the sport of climbing itself, which has been growing from a niche endeavor to a popular pastime in recent decades.
“It’s one of the latest, and perhaps most dramatic, demonstrations of the ‘mainstreaming’ of climbing,” longtime climber Bill Ramsey says of Free Solo’s big award. A UNLV philosophy professor and vice president of the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition, Ramsey first met Honnold and started climbing with him in 2005, when the now-star was just 19. “It is not just an appreciation of the technical challenges involved in making a brilliant climbing movie, but it is also, to some degree, an acknowledgement of the special values and virtues of the climbing community in general and certainly exhibited by Alex in particular.”
Longtime climber Stephanie Forte predicts that the film’s success will bring more newcomers to the sport in the same way that gymnastics gets a popularity bump whenever it’s featured in the Olympics.
But unlike gymnastics, much of climbing happens outdoors rather than in gyms. An influx of newbies poses both a challenge and an opportunity for outdoor areas like Red Rock. “This isn’t a new issue, and in recent years, climbing gym owners, brands and groups like the Access Fund have been working together to develop programs to educate new climbers about outdoor ethics and stewardship,” says Forte, who runs a Vegas-based PR firm. “As a community, what we can hope is that people watch Free Solo, are inspired by Alex and the wild landscape of Yosemite and gain an understanding of why we must protect our public lands.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.
Most of us are inundated from a very young age with fearful messages about how we shouldn’t question the status quo or how we should design our lives the way our parents did, or our older brother did. Most of us drift, that is we let external circumstances determine where we go in life, instead of our internal desires.
In contrast, Sanni asks the tough questions, the ones we probably all should be asking ourselves.
1. What do I really want from life? To spend all my time at a job I hate or isn’t a good fit, or dedicating myself to something that’s actually meaningful to me, and that I enjoy.
2. What am I willing to do to get to where I want? Make some more excuses and put it off or not think about it – or put in the work and grind until I get there.
3. What is holding me back? Why am I afraid of going after what I want? Allow not knowing where to start paralyze you, or the possibility of failure or judgment terrify you, or stepping up to the challenge and just going for it.
In my opinion, putting some thought into these questions is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves, no matter what situation or stage of life you’re in.
In ‘Free Solo,’ Alex Honnold is on display as climber and boyfriend
Alex Honnold was preparing for the biggest climb of his life when he started to fall for her.
She’d come up to him after one of his book tour stops, this buoyant spirit who seemed different from anyone he was meeting on dating apps. She was outdoorsy too, the kind of young woman who wouldn’t be put off by the fact he lived in a Dodge Ram ProMaster van.
So even though Honnold was readying himself for a death-defying ascent — trying to become the first to scale Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3,000-foot rock wall, without ropes — he invited Sanni McCandless, his new girlfriend, to move into his van.
Adjusting to life inside a cramped vehicle would be challenge enough for any fledgling couple. But shortly after McCandless quit her job in Seattle to join Honnold on the road, she learned their courtship would also be filmed: Honnold had just agreed to be the subject of a documentary about his quest to free solo El Capitan.
“At first, I really wasn’t sure what my role in it was gonna be,” McCandless, now 26, recalled. “It was the beginning of our relationship, so I think my concern was: ‘I wonder if this is gonna put weird pressure on us as a couple.’ We were still getting to know each other.”
In addition to documenting the historic rope-free climb of El Capitan by Alex Honnold, right, “Free Solo” observes his relationship with Sanni McCandless, left. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
It helped, though, that “Free Solo” would be shot by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, a husband-and-wife filmmaking duo whose relationship, in many ways, mirrored that of their film’s young lovebirds. Chin was one of Honnold’s longtime climbing buddies — the two met as members of North Face’s athlete team — who himself had traversed Everest, Annapurna and Meru. While Chin made his name documenting his risky adventures for National Geographic, Vasarhelyi began her career working for ABC news anchor Peter Jennings while she was a student at Princeton. The films she made were set against the backdrop of global turmoil — following Kosovo twentysomethings surviving amid the Bosnian conflict or a Senegalese pop star whose Islamic faith stirred cultural debate in Africa.
In other words: Vasarhelyi isn’t into climbing. She and Chin, who have a young son and daughter, split their time between Wyoming and New York to accommodate their varying lifestyles. Chin doesn’t like the city and primarily lives in Jackson Hole, where he can be close to nature; Vasarhelyi, who grew up on the Upper East Side, still keeps the Instagram handle “mochinyc” despite all the time she spends with her family out in the Rockies.
It’s this very dichotomy that makes “Free Solo” — a National Geographic film that opened in theaters Friday — work so well.
“Part of the thing about me working with Alex is that I’m very, very close to it, so I have a deep understanding of the climbing ethos, the culture, how he approaches it, his capacity to make assessments and risk,” Chin explained. “But Chai has a totally objective view of it.”
Chin and Vasarhelyi split their time between Wyoming and New York City. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
He was sitting next to his wife with Honnold and McCandless in a hotel room earlier this month, a couple of days after “Free Solo” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even though the group had already visited an indoor climbing gym in the city, Honnold seemed restless, spinning on an office chair.
Vasarhelyi’s main goal with the documentary, she admitted, was trying to understand what made the 33-year-old tick. When she was trying to measure whether she and Chin could make a film with “more than just awesome rock climbing,” she read Honnold’s 2015 book, “Alone on the Wall.” In it, he describes how as a kid, it was easier for him to climb without a partner — meaning without a rope — than to ask someone to be his partner.
“And I feel we all have that,” Vasarhelyi said. “We have something in our lives like that we work through. The idea that this incredible feat could somehow communicate that anyone out there could work through their fears was moving to me.”
Still, the directors had concerns about filming Honnold’s El Cap ascent. It took them a while to even take him seriously because “it was just too far out there — even for me — and I’ve been shooting people who are the best in their sport for 20 years,” said Chin.
“I mean, honestly, none of my friends were ever like, ‘So when are you soloing El Cap?’” Honnold said. “Because it was just like, ‘That’s completely outrageous.’ Nobody wanted it to happen.”
Advertisement Alex Honnold is seen here on June 3, 2017, atop El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, after he became the first person to climb alone to the top of the massive granite wall without ropes or safety gear. (Jimmy Chin / AP)
Once it became clear that Honnold truly did intend to climb the wall with just his hands and feet, the filmmakers paused. They put the project on hold for a couple of months to mull over the ethical quandaries: What if the pressure of being filmed somehow affected his climb? What if he fell to his death and their cameras captured the tragedy?
And what about McCandless? Those closest to Honnold quietly worried that his budding romance would distract him from his mission.
“A romantic relationship inevitably takes away the armor, and he needs to be focused,” Chin said. As a climber, he added, “part of me was in that space.”
“We all were,” added Vasarhelyi.
“Except for me!” McCandless said with faux enthusiasm. “I mean, imagine you’re waking up to take on the most challenging physical experience of your life. If you wake up alone in a cold, dark van, you’re like, ‘I’ve gotta get out there and ascend and be rad!’ If you wake up next to a partner and you’re cozy, you’re happy — why go? Why put your life at risk?”
“I think in a lot of ways,” she continued, “my role was to say over and over again: ‘I think you can have it all. I think you can be in this relationship and have a lot of joy and love in your life and you can also go do rad things and you can also go be a badass athlete.’”
Alex Honnold climbs through the enduro corner on El Capitan’s Freerider. (National Geographic/Jimmy Chin) (Jimmy Chin / National Geographic) Advertisement
But for a while, even Honnold feared his girlfriend was impacting his focus. While training for El Cap, he brought McCandless along for help and twice ended up suffering injuries. In the film, he says he considered breaking up with her as a result of the accidents.
“I never really blamed her,” he said in Canada, walking back his statement. “I wanted to blame her, but honestly, it’s more on me. Basically, I slipped, I fell, I hurt my ankle — she was there and she was belaying, but it’s not anything she did. It was just sort of unfortunate.”
“Alex and I had all those conversations,” McCandless said. “I was very much committed to learning: What did I do wrong? Could I have done something differently? How am I affecting you, and how are you affecting me?”
Sensing the tension in the room, Vasarhelyi chimed in.
“I think what the film was trying to say,” she offered, “was that we were questioning Alex’s judgment for training with a novice when he’s training for this big objective. I think the real issue was to sleep with us all day and sleep with someone else all night is just exhausting. It was all so intense. To fall in love with Sanni in front of the cameras while you’re working on the biggest dream of your life while this big production is around you — it was a lot.”
It was a lot for Honnold, sure, but also for McCandless. “Free Solo” doesn’t always paint the climber as the easiest person to date. He’s blunt — often to the point of discomfort — and withholding with his feelings. He doesn’t like “scheduled fun,” like birthdays or parties, because, he says, “I like having fun when I have fun. I don’t like being told to have fun.”
“I in no way feel obligated to maximize lifetime.” Alex Honnold
In the film, when he and McCandless finally purchase a place to live together outside the van — a home in Nevada — she eagerly takes measurements, excited to decorate the place; he stares on blankly. When she asks Honnold if having her in his life changes his mindset about risk-taking, he replies that he appreciates her concern, but “I in no way feel obligated to maximize lifetime.”
And on June 3, 2017, the day Honnold became the first person to solo El Capitan, McCandless wasn’t there. She’d left hours before, opting to drive back to Nevada because she knew he needed his space.
“It’s really hard for me to grasp why he wants this,” she says on camera through tears, miles down the road. “Why do you want this? It’s a totally crazy goal.”
“I mean, Sanni climbed her own mountain that day,” Vasarhelyi said in Toronto. “To be able to leave that day must have been the hardest thing ever.”
The filmmaker — who said she’s grateful to have a creative outlet when she gets worried about her own husband’s risk-taking — said she often related to McCandless. Despite their 13-year age gap, Vasarhelyi said she often felt the urge to give McCandless advice, but resisted because of the professional boundaries.
“Sanni is remarkable,” the director said with a smile. “She articulates her feelings and she also stands up for who she is quite honestly, and that was a wonderful foil for Alex.”
“Who has none of those things,” Honnold interjected.
“Well, no!” Vasarhelyi insisted. “You were totally candid about your feelings, and that’s why we have those crazy scenes, which are incredibly painful and difficult, but they’re honest.”
And which is why, after Honnold climbs El Capitan rope-free in 3 hours and 56 minutes, it’s almost more of a relief to watch him call McCandless and hear him say ‘I love you’ than it is to see him reach the top of the wall. Those three little words are an awkward point of contention between the couple throughout “Free Solo.” As McCandless explains: “I tell Alex that I love him all the time, and he shows me that he loves me all the time.”
In fact, the first time Chin watched the footage from the El Cap shoot, he was so stunned to hear his friend utter the words aloud that he had to replay the clip.
“In the 10 years I’ve known Alex, I’ve certainly never heard him say ‘I love you’ to anybody,” said Chin. “So when we saw the footage, I was like, ‘He said what?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
“Yeah, I keep it discreet,” Honnold said with a coy grin.
“Discuss it away. It’s just my heart on the line,” McCandless said sarcastically. “No, Alex was saying ‘I love you’ the whole time.”
“Well, like, from time to time,” Honnold said. “You know, just enough. I think of it as watering a desert rose, you know — it’s parched and then just one drop of water.”
“You’re digging deeper. Just stop,” Vasarhelyi said, shaking her head.
“Yeah, that’s not helping at all,” McCandless agreed.
Honnold, left, and McCandless had just begun dating when “Free Solo” began filming. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Asked if going through such vulnerable moments on camera ultimately strengthened their relationship, McCandless initially gave a forceful “no.” But Honnold said he disagreed. Sure, the documentary added stress, but he found it helpful to articulate his feelings in interviews in ways he might not otherwise.
“That’s true for him; that’s not true for me,” she clarified. “I talk about my feelings with a lot of different people, and I’m a very reflective person. So it wasn’t something new to have those conversations. But for Alex, maybe it was really good timing to have to process it more.”
But the question remains: A few years into his relationship with McCandless, does Honnold still prioritize climbing above all else?
“I mean, we’ll see, we’ll see,” he said, squirming a bit. “Maybe if we have a family someday or something, maybe I’ll value it totally differently. Maybe I’ll never find another soloing objective that I’m as passionate about. Maybe I’ll never solo anything meaningful again. We’ll just see.”
Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA
Is Free Solo star Alex Honnold still with his girlfriend?
Incredible. Insane. Insufferably nerve-wracking.
No, that’s not a description of the Free Solo documentary but the three words that would accompany Alex Honnold’s Tinder profile, if he had one. Or, come to think of it, if he had any idea what it was.
Alex put his girlfriend through emotional hell during filming for his documentary. Not only did he attempt a climb that many others labelled as “impossible” but he did so without showing any emotion.
So, are Alex and his girlfriend still together?
Honnold peers over the edge of Taft Point, across the Yosemite Valley from the granite escarpment known as El Capitan.
Who is Alex Honnold’s girlfriend?
Alex Honnold‘s girlfriend is called Sanni McCandless – we know, cute name!
The 26-year-old from Seattle studied psychology at university and worked in marketing before moving on to become a certified life coach.
An avid outdoor enthusiast and rock climber, Sanni met Alex in 2015 at a book signing event he was hosting.
Following a brief spell of dating, the pair moved in together in 2017. Well, into Alex’s caravan that is, which is documented on Free Solo.
Finally saw ‘Free Solo’ a movie about climbing legend Alex Honnold having a girlfriend. Oh, and also free climbing El Cap.
— Trent Bauserman (@TrentBauserman) March 16, 2019
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 10: Alex Honnold (L) and Sanni McCandless attend the EE British Academy Film Awards at Royal Albert Hall on February 10, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Why Sanni has the patience of a saint!
For anyone who has was watched Free Solo, they would have done with soaked pits and aggressively chewed nails.
The 100-minute documentary is truly gripping, as nerve-wracking and stressful as it is entertaining.
Now imagine having a strong emotional connection to the man who is clutching to a 2,000 ft rock with no safety harness, helmet and would 110% instantly die.
It’s safe to say that if Sanni managed to see herself through Alex’s free solo ascent of El Capitan then all other related problems should be plain sailing.
Free Solo was fucking amazing. Alex is the funniest person in the world and he has no idea. He DESPISES his outrageously hot girlfriend who just wants him to survive.
10/10 what a RIDE 🔥🔥🔥
— joshing (@Gladdovi) March 17, 2019
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – SEPTEMBER 27: Alex Honnold (L) and Sanni McCandless (R) attend the screening of “Free Solo” at the 2018 LA Film Festival at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 27, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images for Film Independent)
Is Alex Honnold still with his girlfriend?
Alex and Sanni are still going strong. Since Free Solo’s claim at the Oscar’s, the pair are more fittingly known as the ‘climber couple’.
The pair moved into a house together in Las Vegas although they still primarily live out of a van while climbing across the USA and the world.
Alex told Review Journal in January 2019:
The whole point of the van life was to be able to climb full time. The beauty of Vegas is that I can take showers and cook home meals and be close to my climbing; it’s the best of both worlds.
What happened to Brad Gobright?
November 28th 2019 brought with it some tragic news that Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless’s friend Brad Gobright passed away.
Alex took to Instagram to pay tribute to his friend and wrote: “He was such a warm, kind soul – one of a handful of partners that I always loved spending a day with.”
Brad was climbing in the El Potrero Chico area near Monterrey, Mexico when he accidentally fell to his death.
Sanni wrote in an Instagram post: “I’ll miss his sideways smile, his never-ending supply of amazing memes, the way he kept Alex on his toes and provided motivating competition…”
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Disclaimer: This article contains significant spoilers for the documentary Free Solo.
Alex Honnold climbs way, way, way above the Valley floor during his free solo ascent El Capitan’s Freerider.
Courtesy National Geographic
Alex Honnold is a polarizing figure. I don’t mean within our community, I mean within my own mind. Honnold gives me cognitive dissonance. I believe both that his free solos are amazing feats, approaching the limits of human potential, and that he’s recklessly risking his own life. I’m impressed, but I—like so many in the climbing community, including some of Honnold’s own friends—wish he wouldn’t pursue these unroped climbs in the first place. The film Free Solo, which documents Honnold’s groundbreaking El Cap solo via Freerider, is this concept distilled.
Before I move on, let’s get one thing out of the way. This is not a review. Free Solo is a great movie—one of the best climbing films to date—and you should go see it. OK, now that that’s settled….
As a member of the climbing media, I don’t like questions like “Should the media cover free soloing?” I don’t believe it’s our job to decide. I believe it’s our job to report on newsworthy climbs of whatever type and let readers form their own opinions. Yet there was a point during Free Solo, as Honnold was waxing poetic about the virtues of soloing, that I couldn’t help but wonder: Does this movie glorify free soloing? Will this movie encourage more people to climb ropeless? After finishing the film, I realized that there’s not one answer. It depends on whom you ask.
Trailer: Free Solo—The Full-Length Film About Alex Honnold’s Iconic Freerider Ascent
While it’s true that Honnold spends the entire film expounding on his love of soloing, not a single other person interviewed wants him to go through with the climb. Tommy Caldwell does not want Honnold to do it. Peter Croft, one of Honnold’s Yosemite free-solo predecessors, reminds Honnold that he doesn’t have to go through with it. Honnold’s girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, tries her best to be encouraging, though she would much prefer Honnold not solo. The film shows that Honnold’s continued pursuit of ropeless ascents puts significant stress on his loved ones, even when he succeeds. So the question becomes, whose side are you on? The film can be seen as an inspiring story of Honnold going against the odds and proving all the naysayers wrong to accomplish something incredible. Or it can be viewed as the story of a climber who went against all better judgement and got away with it. Or somewhere in the middle. Or both. Cognitive dissonance.
Of course, the movie guides the viewer toward Honnold’s perspective. The story follows the structure of a major Hollywood movie, and he is the hero of the film. We’ve all been conditioned since birth to root for and empathize with the main character, and it can be hard to go against this instinct. I, for example, was rooting for Walter White in Breaking Bad right through the bitter end, long after he had gone from roguish antihero to utterly irredeemable human being.
The filmmakers do a good job of questioning Honnold leading up to the ascent, which is why it’s so jarring when they stop. After Honnold tops out, the ambiguity disappears and it becomes a wild celebration of an athletic achievement, complete with triumphant guitar riffs. It’s as though the filmmakers believe that since Honnold succeeded, it was a good idea all along, and we were wrong to ever doubt him; victory silences scrutiny.
Perhaps this has been a problem in climbing media all along. In the 1997 film Masters of Stone 4, Dan Osman not only performs his well-known speed solo of Lover’s Leaps Bear’s Reach, but he also dry tools a fast-flowing waterfall without a rope. Both segments are presented as being unabashedly rad. In Valley Uprising, the film speculates that Dean Potter’s free-BASE soloing—free soloing while wearing a BASE-jumping parachute—may be the next big progression in our sport. Neither of those men are alive today. Cedar Wright’s Safety Third, part of Reel Rock 12, is a celebration of Brad Gobright, who breaks his back on a risky trad route and does not look nearly solid enough when he free solos Eldorado Canyon’s Hairstyles and Attitudes (5.12b/c) for the film’s climax. In Meru, also by Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the team decides to continue pursuing the first ascent of the Meru Shark’s Fin even though group-member Renan Ozturk is non-verbal due to a possible stroke. And then they summit. And then the credits roll. And then the music plays. Certainly we’ve been guilty of the same approach to reporting on risky endeavors at this magazine—perhaps too much cheerleading and not enough of the tough self-examination.
Alex Honnold’s Freerider Free Solo: 360 Degree Video
What Free Solo does do well is shatter the image of Honnold as he’s typically been portrayed in the media. Before Free Solo, you could view Honnold as a funny, intellectual, well-adjusted guy who just happens to take great pleasure in the occasional onsight solo and in working big routes until he has them so dialed that they are, to some degree, “safe” pursuits to then do ropeless. Free Solo, on the other hand, doesn’t portray Honnold as a happy guy. He places his athletic pursuits ahead of all personal relationships, he’s obsessed with perfection, and while he is able to climb a 3,000-foot 5.13 without a rope, he is unable, upon completion, of surmounting the challenge of accessing his own emotions and allowing himself to cry. The film cuts away before he can answer the question, “Are you depressed?” But on a podcast interview with Tim Ferris (45:15 in the episode), he does respond, saying:
“Yes. I think I gravitate towards being a somewhat depressed person. Or—I don’t know actually. I’m sort of just flat…I feel like I don’t have any of the highs. I kind of go from level, to slightly below level, to back. It’s all pretty flat…Sometimes you just feel useless, you know? But in some ways I embrace that as part of the process because you kind of have to feel like a worthless piece of poop in order to get motivated enough to go do something that makes you feel less useless. But then ultimately that still doesn’t make you feel any less useless, so you just have to keep doing more.”
For years, climbers have been talking about Honnold as though he has superpowers. Now, with a more-honest portrayal, it seems that it may be his weaknesses that both allow and drive him to put his life on the line: an inability to access emotions, struggles with self-esteem, and indifference toward his own continued existence. In the film, his biggest concern about falling is that others may have to watch. He says, “The idea of falling off is—obviously I’m trying to avoid that— but it’s kind of OK if I’m just by myself. But I wouldn’t want to fall off right in front of my friends because that’s messed up.”
Behind the Scenes of Alex Honnold’s Freerider Free Solo
Free Solo does admirably dive into an uncomfortable question: Was the film crew influencing Honnold to go through with the climb? The crew certainly seems uncomfortable. Chin shows a great wave of relief when Honnold pulls onto the summit. Mikey Schaefer proclaims that he will never work on another project like this again, and is visibly upset throughout the climb, looking away from his camera in El Cap Meadow at key moments on the solo. But Chin is quick to shirk responsibility when Honnold bails off an early attempt in autumn 2016, telling himself that it proves that the documentary is not encouraging Honnold. He says, “What made the big difference for me is that he did turn around last year. He didn’t feel the pressure to have to do it because we were there. That, to me, said a lot.” The film ignores two important things:
By allowing the crew to film him, Honnold by default is acknowledging that he wants the crew there more than he doesn’t. If he did not see significant value in being filmed—fame, glory, a wide-release documentary, and the accompanying monetary incentives—he would not have agreed to it. Therefore, the film crew must provide some motivation to Honnold to go through with his free solo of El Capitan.
As my coworker James Lucas is quick to point out, the film crew makes the free solo more accessible to Honnold by providing him the option to bail at any time. While no one can save Honnold from a sudden foot slip or botched move, the film crew gives him the option to rappel whenever he’s not feeling it, and he did take advantage of this benefit on his abortive attempt in 2016. Their presence lowers the barrier of entry to the climb.
But if I’m going to cite the filmmakers as accomplices, then the other uncomfortable truth is that we, the viewers, are equally culpable. By watching Free Solo, by clicking Alex Honnold YouTube videos, by reading news stories, by going to his book signings, we create the market for the free-soloing content that gives Honnold sponsors and opportunities in the first place. Consider this: When’s the last time you’ve seen a photo of Honnold climbing with a rope? His sponsors may stick with him if he quit free soloing today, but none of us would know his name had he not exploded onto the scene with ropeless ascents of the Rostrum and Astroman in-a-day back in 2007 then Moonlight Buttress and Half Dome in 2008. His value as an athlete is wrapped up in his willingness to climb difficult routes unroped.
So will the movie encourage more people to free solo? Probably a couple. But at the same time, did we all encourage Honnold to free solo El Cap by lavishing praise upon his previous big solos and, later, by lining up at the box office for this documentary? I think we did.
Kevin Corrigan is the digital editor at Climbing Magazine. To read more of his work, check out Unsent for his humor columns and Noon Patrol for his non-humor columns.
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#11 On his process for a big free solo climb
If I were going to talk you through the process of a big free solo, it wouldn’t really start at the base of the route. It would start years before, when I think about maybe doing the route. Then, it would be the months of preparation ahead of time, where I’ve worked through it, and visualized it, and just believed that it’s possible.
The actual process of going from the base of the route to the top of the route is probably the least interesting part of the whole journey, because that part, I’m on autopilot. I’m just executing. It’s all the preparation ahead of time. There’s a lot that goes into believing that you can do a free solo.
The actual moment of soloing it is all pretty, I don’t want to say anti-climactic, because it can feel amazing to get to the top and everything. But the actual climbing just feels like climbing. It’s all your body, just executing the way it’s supposed to. It’s quite a long process, really.
When you get to the top of a big free solo; like when I free-soloed El Cap, I was ecstatic on top. I was super-happy, super-excited. I still get pretty psyched when I think about it, just because it’s still probably the most I’ve put into anything, and the most rewarding experience that I ever had in climbing.
But there have been plenty of other free solos that I did, that I was glad to have done, and happy to do, but didn’t feel great about. I’d get to the summit and just think “Oh, that wasn’t as good as it could have been,” or it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I think that’s sort of the nature of any human endeavor. You get out of it what you put into it.
So, some solos, I’ve had to work really, really hard for, and I’ve dreamt about for years. Those feel super-rewarding. Others, I maybe haven’t quite put in the work, or I rush it, or I sort of get away with something, Then, on top, it doesn’t feel that great, because I’m like “Oof, that was kind of ugly. I just got away with it.”
#12 On faith and spirituality
I am not superstitious at all. I am very unspiritual, unreligious, and do not care about any of that stuff.
#13 On being an “advocate”
I’m trying to figure out to frame this in a nice response. It’s funny, you ask me about advocacy, because just yesterday, someone was doing an interview with me about what it’s like to have a platform, and my responsibility as an athlete. What I realized was that I’ve never felt a responsibility as an athlete. It doesn’t matter to me that I have a platform.
What matters to me is that I am an engaged, moral, caring human. I feel like I respond to issues in the same way that I would like for all engaged voters to respond to issues. I think it’s important for any informed adult to have strong opinions about the issues that affect the world. And people should act in line with their values, and speak out about their conscience, and all of those sorts of things.
The fact that I happen to have a bigger platform than most, just means that when I speak about those issues, it’s slightly amplified. But I think that I speak out about issues, the same as everybody should be. I think that you can’t live in this world, without caring about the oppressed, or the environment, or whatever issues, really.
There’s a lot going on around us, that we should care about. I’m not like an advocate, in any way. I’m not out pushing for reform for certain things. I’m just speaking my mind about things that I think are important. I’d like to think that everybody should be doing the same.
I care about protecting the environment, and I think that protecting our public lands in the U.S. is certainly an important way to protect the environment. So, particularly in the current political administration or political climate, public lands are a much bigger issue right now, than they have been in the past.
But that said, ultimately, I think with all issues, it’s more important to go to your actual values, like what do you truly care about? I care about the concept of leaving no trace, minimizing the impact, not doing harm in the world. So, protecting our public lands is a very easy way to minimize our harm, because when you open up public lands to exploitation, that is now no longer a pristine, wild place. You can’t take your grandkids there someday, because there’s a freaking open coal mine or something. I just went down a dark path, and now I’m sad.
I wouldn’t say that I’m an advocate for public lands, exactly, but I am all about protecting the environment how we can. Right now, protecting public lands is an important way to do that.
It’s a surprisingly charged thing to talk about public lands, or talk about gun control right now, or talk about climate change, all of these issues. It’s too bad that those all have to be considered so politically divisive, because I feel like if you get to the values behind that, I don’t want to harm other creatures.
I don’t really care about gun control. I don’t want to take away somebody’s guns. I want to make sure that people are not harmed inappropriately. I would never kill another creature if I didn’t need to. Which is why I try not to eat meat, and try not to eat meat products, or as few as possible, because I want to do as little harm as possible.
I wish people would think more about underlying values, like that. Like what are the things that really matter to them? That was the thing, doing an interview about it yesterday. I was sort of like “Oh, I don’t know if it’s really fair to call me an advocate for any particular issues.” I just think of myself as a normal human, that cares about the world around me, and wants to see it protected in the best way.
No, it’s still climbing. I don’t know. I don’t know. What am I excited about?
#14 Beyond climbing, does anything excite him?
I just got an Air-pop popcorn thing, which has made my life a lot better. I love popcorn. It’s just like a little bowl. You just fill it to the line, and then it just air pops, and it’s the most perfect popcorn I’ve ever had. It’s amazing, and it saves you all of the calories from the oil.
Oh, and I just got a blender. I just got a Vita-Mix. I’ve been making a lot of smoothies. So, between smoothies and air-popping popcorn, I’m on a good diet, and I’m pretty happy. Actually, it is interesting for me, just because I’ve been really into training in the gym right now, and I’m really into domestic stuff, like using my new blender. I’m just like, I kind of like it! I’m like “No wonder people like living in houses!” It’s nice, it’s comfortable, it’s fun.
I’m sure pretty soon, I’ll start to feel the itch again, and have to go out and have some kind of adventure. Already, I’m thinking about Yosemite season, which I’ll go in April. But for now, I’m really enjoying home life. It’s pretty nice.
#15 On climbing in the Olympics
I’m pretty excited about climbing in the Olympics. I think it’s cool. I’m looking forward to watching it. Actually, I really want to be a commentator, in some way. I really want to go and be a part of it, somehow. But I’m too old and too weak to be an athlete, to actually compete. I’d love to go and participate somehow.
I think it’s good for the sport. I know that the competitors are all super-excited about it, so I think it’s great. I know every time anyone asks, I’m like “Just putting it out there!” I’m sure somebody will hear.
After Oscar Win, What’s Next for Las Vegas Climbing Couple?
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Aquaman star Jason Momoa stands on the Dolby Theatre stage in Los Angeles, holding that famous red envelope. At stake is the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
“And the Oscar goes to .”
Among the nominees is “Free Solo,” a dizzyingly compelling film about Las Vegas rock climber Alex Honnold’s ropeless ascent of the sheer El Capitan rock formation at Yosemite National Park.
The film is also about the anxieties of people who love Honnold, namely girlfriend Sanni McCandless, who struggles with the risks of such an endeavor.
If he falls, he will certainly die.
Her fear acts as a bridge between the audience and the rarefied world of elite climbing.
(Spoiler alert: Honnold succeeds, and the resulting film has been a runaway success.)
Onstage, Momoa opens the envelope, smiles and announces: “Free Solo!”
Honnold and McCandless make their way to the stage and take their place in cinematic history with filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.
So what’s it like for a “dirtbag climber” to receive the Hollywood treatment?
After six months touring to promote the film, Honnold is back home in Las Vegas and still making sense of it all.
“It was pretty exciting,” he tells the Las Vegas Sun by telephone as he packs his car for some short scrambling at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas. “Honestly, I don’t know if it’s sunk in. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.”
As for any newfound fame, Honnold says, “There’s been a lot of spillover to the Honnold Foundation, which is good to see.”
The Honnold Foundation supports solar energy initiatives with the goal of creating a more equal and sustainable world.
McCandless says, “It felt totally amazing. We were all just blown away by the success of the film. It was very validating of all the hard work the entire team put into the film.”
On the Oscars red carpet, the outdoorsy life coach looked as glamorous as any movie star, thanks to a beauty regimen that included makeup sponsored by Clé de Peau Beauté.
For his red carpet look, Honnold hit the gym and then took a shower.
Meeting British royalty — Prince William and Princess Kate — was a peak experience of the film tour, according to McCandless.
“We were just totally amazed by how poised and regal they both were,” McCandless says. “They’d seen the film. They were very genuine, excited and kind. It’s something we’ll never forget, because it’s so different from our normal lives.”
Life is now, more or less, back to normal.
“We came home to reality,” McCandless says, laughing. “I did my taxes yesterday. Today we cleaned out the van. Stardom is over.”
Both are excited to get back to their regular lives of outdoor adventuring.
McCandless is busy running her business, Sanni McCandless Coaching, and she’s preparing for the 2019 Outwild festival, which she co-founded.
Honnold is looking forward to climbing plans he put on hold until the end of the film tour.
As for what big goals might lie ahead? “You can’t plan big climbs until you’ve done tons of little climbs,” Honnold says. “I’m looking forward to little climbs.”
Inevitably, the film’s success will boost the sport of climbing itself, which has been growing from a niche endeavor to a popular pastime in recent decades.
“It’s one of the latest, and perhaps most dramatic, demonstrations of the ‘mainstreaming’ of climbing,” longtime climber Bill Ramsey says of Free Solo’s big award.
A University of Nevada, Las Vegas, philosophy professor and vice president of the Southern Nevada Climbers Coalition, Ramsey first met Honnold and started climbing with him in 2005, when the now-star was just 19.
“It is not just an appreciation of the technical challenges involved in making a brilliant climbing movie,” he says, “but it is also, to some degree, an acknowledgement of the special values and virtues of the climbing community in general and certainly exhibited by Alex in particular.”
Longtime climber Stephanie Forte predicts that the film’s success will bring more newcomers to the sport in the same way that gymnastics gets a popularity bump following the Olympics.
But unlike gymnastics, much of climbing happens outdoors rather than in gyms.
An influx of newbies poses both a challenge and an opportunity for areas like Red Rock.
“This isn’t a new issue, and in recent years, climbing gym owners, brands and groups like the Access Fund have been working together to develop programs to educate new climbers about outdoor ethics and stewardship,” says Forte, who runs a Las Vegas-based public relations firm.
“As a community, what we can hope is that people watch ‘Free Solo,’ are inspired by Alex and the wild landscape of Yosemite and gain an understanding of why we must protect our public lands,” he says.
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com
This article was written by C. Moon Reed from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
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THE most famous rock climber in the world released a documentary about climbing a 3,000-foot vertical rock face with no ropes in September.
But who is Alex Honnold, the fearless star of Free Solo? Here is what you need to know about him.
5 Alex Honnold is the first person to free solo climb El CapitanCredit: Barcroft Media
Who is Alex Honnold?
He is a 33-year-old rock climber who recently rose to fame after climbing the world’s most famous rock face, El Capitan, without any ropes, a style of climbing known as free soloing.
Alex free solo climbed the 3,000-foot vertical wall, the first person in the world to do so.
Born in Sacramento, California, Alex began climbing at the age of five and dedicated the rest of his life to the activity.
For most of his adult life he has lived in a van or tent, claiming it’s the most efficient way to live as a climber.
5 El Capitan is one of the most famous rock climbing spots in the worldCredit: National Geographic
How did Alex Honnold rise to fame?
His climbing career began to take off in 2012, when he solo climbed the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome, a 2,000-foot wall in California.
The climb was featured in the film Alone on the Wall.
In 2014, his sponsor Clif Bar cut him along with four other free solo climbers, saying they are “taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no long willing to go”.
Then the peak of his career came in June 2017 when he free soloed El Capitan, in a feat described as “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever”.
Alex’s jaw-dropping climb was the subject of his film released in September this year titled Free Solo.
5 Alex Honnold’s documentary Free Solo has already won six awardsCredit: National Geographic
What’s the film Free Solo about?
The film follows Alex in his journey preparing to free solo climb El Capitan, the most famous rock climbing wall in the world.
It stands at 3,000 feet and is a vertical climb that appears almost completely flat in some places.
Alex was determined to complete the climb without ropes for over a decade and is the only person in the world do have done so.
In the documentary, directed by Elizabeth Chair Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, we see Alex’s strained relationship with his girlfriend due to his obsession with climbing.
There is also a view into how the structure of Alex’s brain might have affected his ability to experience fear – a possible explanation for why he was able to overcome the seemingly impossible feat of staying calm whilst always one tiny slip from death.
The film grossed over $10million, making $5million in box office profits over five weekends.
It has so far been nominated for 19 awards, won six with seven of the nominations still pending.
5 Alex is now one of the most famous rock climbers in the worldCredit: National Geographic
What is El Capitan?
El Capitan, Spanish for captain or chief, is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, California.
It’s around 3,000 feet (900m) high and formed from granite.
A popular spot for rock climbers, Alex Honnold is the first person to climb the mammoth rock face without using any ropes.
El Capitan was first climbed by Warren Harding in 1958, a challenge which took 47 days and included using fixed ropes along the length of the route.
It took Alex a matter of hours to make the climb using no ropes.
5 Despite now being a millionaire, he still lives out of a vanCredit: National Geographic
Is Alex Honnold in Valley Uprising on Netflix?
Alex is one of the climbers featured in the 2014 documentary, Valley Uprising.
Available on Netflix, it goes into the 50-year history of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley – charting the birth and rise of this rebellious counterculture of bin diving and wild parties that clashed with the conservative values of the National Park Service.
Capturing both the struggle against both the laws of gravity and the laws of the land.
What is Alex Honnold’s net worth?
The rock climber has a net worth of $2million (£1.6million).
Despite his fortune, Alex still lives in a van due to its efficiency for his climbing career.
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Who is his girlfriend?
Sanni McCandless, Alex Honnold’s girlfriend, has a tough time in Free Solo coming to terms with the probability of his death when he climbs El Capitan.
She is a transition coach for adventure focused individuals who want to create more intentional lifestyles.
Living in Las Vegas in the winter and with Alex in his van through the summer, the couple have been through a lot together.
Does Alex Honnold feel fear?
After a doctor approached him at a book signing, concerned with the functioning of his amygdala (the part of the brain that triggers fear), Alex agreed to an fMRI scan of his brain in 2016.
The result of the scan was that he does indeed have an amygdala in his brain, but it wasn’t “firing” when he was faced with gruesome images that most wouldn’t even be able to look at.
Doctor Jane Joseph who took his scan says: “It could be the case that he has such a well-honed regulatory system that he can say, ‘OK, I’m feeling all this stuff, my amygdala is going off,’ but his frontal cortex is just so powerful that it can calm him down.”
Aerial video of El Capitan at Yosemite National Park where climber was killed by rock fall
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In ‘Free Solo,’ Love Proves A Steeper Challenge for Honnold Than El Cap
TORONTO – The important thing to rock climber Alex Honnold is that the movie screen be big. IMAX, whatever. But big.
It’s shortly before the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of Free Solo, the documentary that chronicles Honnold’s legendary, ropeless ascent up Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3,000-foot wall of sheer granite and possibly the world’s most fabled rock face. Honnold has just come from free soloing — climbing without safety gear — a 69-story luxury apartment building in Jersey City, New Jersey.
From a hotel window he scans the Toronto skyline but doesn’t see anything much appealing. “It has to be inspiring aesthetically,” he says.
Honnold, 33, is widely acknowledged as the greatest free-solo climber in the world. And in a sport that demands absolute perfection from its strivers — death is the only alternative — Honnold’s feat on El Cap is his masterpiece. An almost unfathomable climbing achievement, the four-hour climb is still spoken of in hushed reverence. The New York Times called it “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever.”
But whether scaling El Cap was Honnold’s greatest challenge is an open question. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Free Solo, in theaters Friday, not only chronicles Honnold’s famed ascent, and the months of preparation and anguish leading up to it, but also an arguably steeper challenge for the 33-year-old Honnold: moving out of his van and maintaining a long-term relationship.
“Anybody, if you took two years of their life, you would see some growth, hopefully,” Honnold says. “But it’s easy to see growth when you’re starting at zero.”
FILE – El Capitan, a 3,000-foot wall of sheer gran FILE – El Capitan, a 3,000-foot wall of sheer granite, is seen in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Jan. 14, 2015.
After settling whether Free Solo would screen on IMAX (it wouldn’t), Honnold was joined by Sanni McCandless, his girlfriend of several years. Just as Chin and Vasarhelyi, the filmmaking couple of the celebrated Meru, were beginning their film three years ago, McCandless slipped Honnold her number at a book signing. The exceptionally dedicated but goofy and boyish Honnold (in the film, he sums up the fearsome specter of El Cap with the phase “I mean, dude”) is at first almost comically inept at making room for someone else in his life.
“When we started he was online dating, or on-phone dating, on his book tour. And then he met her. We were not expecting that,” says Vasarhelyi.
The two make an appealing and revealing match. McCandless, articulate and assertive, pushes back against the less mature, bluntly honest Honnold, long a bachelor adventurer. Vasarhelyi shakes her head. “It’s painful at times,” she says, smiling. “Extremely painful.”
Case in point: When Honnold, shortly after meeting Sanni, is shown saying that she will come and go like previous girlfriends. Later, they buy a place in Las Vegas and are seen refrigerator shopping.
“How do you feel about that line, Sanni?” Honnold asks.
“How do YOU feel about that line?” she retorts.
“That’s just one of many lines in the film I’m slightly horrified to hear back,” says Honnold. “That’s kind of the nature of two years of filming. They just have so much material of me saying terrible things.”
What makes Free Solo so fascinating is how these developments influence Honnold just as he preparing to take his biggest risk as a climber. Just the slightest distractions can be potentially lethal for a free soloist, making both the onset of love and the presence of film cameras unpredictable factors in a zero-sum game.
“Soloing always come from some kind of particular mental space. And it has taken some effort to cultivate the right space for a relationship, the right space to still climb at a high level and just try to balance it,” says Honnold.
The high stakes also transferred to the film crew. Chin, himself an expert climber, estimates that he and the team of veteran climbers spent more than 30 days rigging and shooting on El Cap. The danger is very real. Many renowned solo climbers have died; just in June, two experienced climbers, Jason Wells and Tim Klein, fell to their death while “simul-climbing” El Cap with ropes.
“You’re a pro, but when you have that much exposure and you’re moving that much equipment and you’re filming on top of it and thinking about your friend, it’s a tremendous amount of physical and mental exertion,” says Chin. “The crew was tortured by the idea that maybe you’ll be filming your friend’s death.”
Vasarhelyi says the tension was highest when Honnold made his first, aborted soloing attempt of El Cap despite a recent injury. She felt he wasn’t prepared.
McCandless has also had to come to terms with Honnold’s obsessive pursuits.
“I don’t think I ever wished that he wouldn’t do it. I wanted him to not want it, but I never wanted him to not to do it,” she says. “Knowing that he does want it, you realize he’s going to be so bummed if he never brings it to fruition.”
Free Solo in some ways demystifies soloing which, to some, can sound like lunacy. Honnold’s preparation is extreme. He doesn’t go until he’s thoroughly mapped out every foot hold of a climb. Also worth noting: A brain scan revealed that Honnold barely registers fear.
“It’s a crazy-seeming thing. I get that,” he says. “I just think: Why does anybody seek out anything challenging? Humans do so many interesting and difficult things.”
Honnold calls his El Cap solo the best climbing experience of his life. “Glorious,” he says. For all their months of anxiety, witnessing the climb left the filmmakers mesmerized.
“I remember standing in the meadow being totally terrified, trying to get myself under control,” says Vasarhelyi. “Then there was a certain moment where I was like: This is absolutely beautiful. It’s exquisite.”