California Today: California Today: An ‘Incomprehensible’ Climb in Yosemite

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Alex Honnold after completing his free solo climb of El Capitan on Saturday. Credit Jimmy Chin

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Alex Honnold is considered a near mythic figure in the rock climbing world.

He is part of a tiny class of elite practitioners who will sometimes climb free solo, meaning with no rope.

But Mr. Honnold, a Sacramento native, is also known for climbing harder, longer and faster than anyone.

On Saturday, he pulled off what is being called his greatest feat yet, free-soloing nearly 3,000 feet up El Capitan, Yosemite’s iconic granite wall.

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The route, known as Freerider, involves a complex system of cracks and a notoriously hard section about two-thirds of the way up with holds the width of a pencil. Guides say to allow four days to do the climb. Mr. Honnold did it under four hours. (See photographs of his ascent.)

Interactive Feature

A Record-Setting Climb Up El Capitan, Without Ropes

On Saturday, the professional climber Alex Honnold became the first to climb the nearly 3,000-foot El Capitan, Yosemite’s iconic granite wall, without ropes, called free soloing.

OPEN Interactive Feature

Climbing professionals called it “incomprehensible” and “generation defining.”

“It’s hard to translate how groundbreaking this ascent is,” said Kevin Jorgeson, whose 2015 ascent of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell was seen as a milestone in the sport.

We caught up with Mr. Honnold, 31, by phone on Sunday. Some excerpts:

Q. What goes into preparing for a climb like this?

A. The physical side of it is quite a bit of work — going up on the wall day in and day out to memorize moves, to check different sequences and figure out the best way to use the holds that feels the most secure.

But the mental side is the bigger unknown. That’s the part where you just imagine the whole experience and process it for a long time and then wait until you’re ready.

Were there any doubts going into it?

Not so much. A couple years ago when I looked at the wall it was more fear than anything. I’d look at it and be like, “Oh my God that seems daunting.” But because of all the preparation and all the time I’ve spent visualizing and imagining, by yesterday I was like, “This is going to be awesome.”

Regular people see this as insane. Do you worry about dying young?

I do worry about dying young, which is why I spent a year or two preparing. I climbed El Cap without falling as early as 2008 or 2009. So physically I’ve been able to free solo this for eight or nine years. But it’s taken me a long time to feel safe enough on it that I want to do it.

What did your mother say?

She said “congratulations” of course. Then she said, “Thanks for not telling me ahead of time.”

She didn’t know?

No. You don’t want to tell a lot of people because then obviously they are worried and then they project that on to you and then you start to worry. It just complicates things.

Do you have a next big project in mind?

No. Not like this. This has been the all-consuming dream for years.

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

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California Online

(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)

• The groundwork is being laid for a contentious governor’s race — a guide to the players, money and unknowns. [Los Angeles Times]

• Mayor Eric Garcetti said he worries immigration arrests could ignite riots in Los Angeles. [Los Angeles Times]


A memorial was created outside the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, where 36 people were killed in a fire last December. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

• Two men were charged with manslaughter in the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. [The New York Times]

• “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” The Oroville Dam crisis has created a financial windfall for contractors. [Sacramento Bee]


Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, discussing Apple’s new HomePod speaker. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

• Apple showed off HomePod, a speaker to rival Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. [The New York Times]

• San Francisco is investigating whether Uber and Lyft have become a public nuisance. [Reuters]

• The Golden State Warriors are simply too great, writes Michael Powell. [The New York Times]


Jack O’Neill before windsurfing off Santa Cruz in 1982. He revolutionized the surfing industry through the sale of wetsuits. Credit Dan Coyro/The Santa Cruz Sentinel, via Associated Press

Jack O’Neill died at 94 in Santa Cruz. He popularized wetsuits that defied the cold to create an endless summer for surfers. [The New York Times]

• The “Rodney on the Roq” radio show aired for the last time Monday after more than four decades at KROQ. [Orange County Register]

• “Flip or Flop,” a modest ratings success, has produced a tabloid phenomenon. [The New York Times]


Shoes by Rothy’s, headquartered in San Francisco, are knitted with processed recycled water bottle filaments. Credit Aaron Wojack for The New York Times

• Are these flats the new Toms? Jeremy Liew, the first Snapchat investor, thinks so. [The New York Times]

• A new map reveals 19th-century ships buried beneath San Francisco. [National Geographic]

And Finally …


A pigeon shot by darts was treated at WildCare in San Rafael in 2015. Credit Kate Lynch/WildCare

A troubling sight is being reported on the streets of San Francisco: pigeons pierced by darts.

Images posted to social media in recent months appear to show at least two birds going about their lives with blowgun darts embedded in their head and neck.

It’s not uncommon for urban pigeons to face abuse.

Over the years, San Rafael-based WildCare has taken in dozens of pigeons shot by pellet guns or blowguns, said Alison Hermance, a spokeswoman for the wildlife hospital.

She said there seemed to be an increase in cases after Christmas, suggesting people might be testing out new toys to cruel effect.

“There are an awful lot of people out there that do some really stupid things,” she said.

The targeting of pigeons is most likely fueled by a reputation for ickiness that places them in a similar category to rats. The poop doesn’t help.

But the birds also act as a sort of garbage disposal for the city by feeding on discarded food.

What’s more, they have personality, said Elizabeth Young, the founder of a pigeon rescue group. “They’re very charming little creatures.”

California Today goes live at 6 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see:

The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Davis.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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