Downhill all the way

Gary Hart Photography: El Capitan Reflection, Yosemite

El Capitan Reflection, Yosemite
Canon EOS 10D
1/4 second
ISO 100
27 mm

On Saturday, with little fanfare, Alex Honnold stunned the climbing world when he free-soloed El Capitan in Yosemitethe world’s largest granite monolith. (What’s the big deal? From this image, you can clearly see that it’s downhill all the way….)

But seriously…

Speaking for all non-climbers, Alex Honnold didn’t just stun the entire climbing world, he stunned the entire rational world. Soaring three-thousand feet above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the Holy Grail of climbing. Among climbers, if you’ve summited El Cap, you’ve made the Major Leagues.

First conquered by Warren Harding in 1958, today dozens of climbers dot El Capitan’s vertical surface on any non-winter day with reasonable weather in the forecast. But until Saturday, all who scale El Capitan do it with ropes and a virtual hardware store worth of climbing aids. Most require multiple days to summit.

Alex Honnold chose to ascend El Capitan unencumbered by ropes or safety hardware of any sort (free climbing uses ropes for safety only; free-soloing is completely sans rope), scampering up the shear granite the old fashioned way, using only his hands and feet like a kid climbing a tree in his backyard. Even more astonishing, he accomplished his feat in less than four hours.

I’m not a climber, and in fact have a difficult time getting within three feet of any un-railed vertical drop greater than thirty feet. But I’ve always lived vicariously through climbers, devouring climbing books, videos, and documentaries just to marvel at their accomplishments. And for years Alex Honnold has been the climber I’ve followed most closely, not just because he’s the best (he is), but also because of our common affinity for Yosemite, and the fact that my daughters when to high school with him (they weren’t close friends, and I was a Honnold fan even before I knew this connection).

I also admire Alex Honnold not only for his skill and accomplishments, but for his humble demeanor (I suspect that he’d prefer climbing in complete anonymity) and quiet wisdom. And though we’ve never met, I can’t help worrying a little about him when I think of the number of mistakes I make with my camera—”Oops, I’m still at ISO 3200 from last night’s Milky Way shoot”; “Crap, I forgot to orient my polarizer”; “Did I remember to focus?” (I could go on)—and realize that for Alex Honnold, even one small mistake likely means death. I mean, even if I knew with absolute certainty that missing my exposure by just 1/3 stop would cause my camera to explode, I’m pretty sure I’d still be dead long ago.

So hats off to you, Alex Honnold, here’s wishing you many happy years as the world’s greatest living climber.


An El Capitan Gallery

Click an image for a closer look and slide show. Refresh the window to reorder the display.


10 Comments on “Downhill all the way

  1. Wow, Gary! Thank you for sharing. I had heard of Alex before and his soloing climb. But it wasn’t until I watched the 60 Minute segment that I fully realized what he had accomplished. My heart was beating with fear he would slip AND I knew he had made it. I still have chills.

    As always, I enjoy your posts and images. Miss seeing you and Don as much as I use to, but look forward to running into you somewhere out there.
    Cheers, Gail

  2. Amazing feat but I pray that he retires soon. Even if he never makes a mistake there may be a loose rock somewhere on some mountain in the future. Many great climbers have perished. 🙏

    • I agree, Karl. The urge to do better is pretty difficult to curtail. It’s hard to walk out of the casino a winner, isn’t it? Now matter how well we do, we always want to reach for just a little more.

  3. Gary, having come back from a week of traveling with non photo friends, and saying “crap” a number of times to no one who would understand, your posting today simply is a great chuckle. Yes, our photo mistakes are just a lost shot – not a lost life. Thanks for the perspective.!

    On Mon, Jun 5, 2017 at 5:29 PM, Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart wrote:

    > Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart posted: ” This e-mail is the first edition of > this post. Click here to read the most current version. On Saturday, with > little fanfare, Alex Honnold stunned the climbing world when he free-soloed > El Capitan in Yosemite, the world’s largest granite monolith. (Wha” >

  4. Wow! Alex’s achievement shows the amazing potential of human beings. While I would never even think of attempting anything like what he did, his story does inspire me to reach higher.

  5. Gary, Thank you for placing Alex’s incredible achievement in a personal context. Seeing so many of your El Capitan images makes me realize how much that landmark that I too experienced first in childhood has become equated in my own mind with your amazing work. These images bespeak your own extraordinary devotion to your craft which I’m sure continues to inspire many more than myself.

    • My pleasure, Rick. And thanks so much for your kind words. Honnold’s achievement is a reminder that El Capitan represents different things to different people. I’ll never climb it, but I’ll never tire of seeking new ways to see it.

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