The north face of Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah. Moonlight
Buttress (V 5.12+, 9 pitches, 1,200′) climbs up and right through the
prominent buttress. On April 1, 2008, Alex Honnold free soloed the route in
83 minutes. [Photo] Duncan Murray
Alex Honnold, the upstart who shocked the Yosemite climbing community last summer with his free solos and speedy free ascents (read the October 30, 2007 NewsWire), just completed one of the most impressive free solos ever achieved–Moonlight Buttress (V 5.12+, 9 pitches, 1,200′), Zion National Park, Utah–in an extraordinary eighty-three minutes.
Honnold made the ropeless ascent on Tuesday, April 1, 2008. He had rehearsed the climb four times solo with a spool of fixed static line and a mini-traxion–twice on March 28 and twice again on March 29. “I’d eat lunch between [rehearsal ascents],” Honnold said casually; however, these back-to-back-to-back- to-back rehearsals within thirty-six hours are impressive in their own right: Moonlight is a Grade V climb with sustained difficulties–four of the last five pitches are 5.12a or harder.
“All of it was locker. Really good, solid fingers.”
A rainy day on March 30th provided Honnold with two recovery days before going for the free solo on April 1. That morning he found himself so bitterly cold waiting for shade that around 10 a.m. he rushed to the climb, still in the sun. It was far warmer at the base than he expected, but rather than wait, Honnold shed all his layers and took advantage of his “giddy” mental state. “I was super excited to do it but kind of nervous,” he said. “I had a hard time sleeping the night before, I was so psyched.”
Before this trip, Honnold had been to Zion only once, for a single day two years before. That day he flashed Moonlight with a friend and became enthralled with the climb. Over six weeks this winter at Indian Creek he birthed the idea of free soloing the classic–“I really love fingers–and Moonlight has really secure locker fingers–and you’re in a really cool, exposed position,” he said.
“The grade doesn’t reflect the difficulty because it’s pure endurance 5.12c. It’s a matter of having the fitness for a general, sustained pump.”
Although Honnold said he felt secure throughout the free solo, he admitted that he does not enjoy liebacking. “The entire dihedral was the crux, but luckily it’s a combination of jamming and liebacking.” The jams were good enough, he said, that the lieback element proved surmountable. He reached the top in an astounding eighty-three minutes.
Honnold also had been in conversations with a friend, Chris Weidner, about linking multiple free climbs, so on April 5 the pair woke up early and quickly dispatched Space Shot (IV 5.13a, 8 pitches, 800′) then Moonlight. “We were toying with the idea of doing a bigger link-up, but the routes are not that inspiring and the rock is choss, except for Moonlight,” Honnold said. “Space Shot is mostly just dirt. And even if you link three or four routes here, it’s not as big as El Cap.”
Of these accomplishments, all completed over just a few days, Honnold is most proud of his speed. “What gets me really psyched is that this is surely the speed record [of Moonlight Buttress],” Honnold said. “I don’t know if anyone can beat it, either. I turned on my iPod at the beginning, played my Top 25, rocked that to the top, and had a couple songs to spare.”