Free climber Alex Honnold talks about risk

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As you may have seen, TradingView’s got a new look and feel. As part of this rebrand, we’ve partnered with top athletes in the fields of climbing, skiing and adventuring, including legendary free soloing rock climber Alex Honnold. Alex knows a thing or two about risk – being the first person in the world to have ever free solo-climbed El Capitan in Yosemite Valley – so we thought we’d pick his brains and see if there’s anything we can learn from him about the topic.

Alex, what does the word ‘risk’ mean to you?
To me, risk means uncertainty. An unknown outcome. Or a chance that an unwanted outcome might occur. I guess "risk" feels like rolling the dice and seeing what happens. Which is something I try to avoid as much as possible in climbing.

What was the first ‘big risk’ you remember taking in your climbing career?
I grew up climbing in a climbing gym, so my first real "risks" were probably my first free solos outside, at a place called Lovers Leap. At the time it felt very exciting (scary) just because the whole experience was so new. I hadn't climbed outside much at that point so it felt like a huge adventure.

What do you do to de-risk your climbing?
One way to de-risk my climbing is to practice on similar climbs until I have a high degree of confidence that I can successfully do whatever I've set out for. If I have a proven track record on very similar climbs then I know that the risk can't be too high. I guess the other way to say that is just to practice until a climb feels easy. If it's well within my comfort zone then it's no longer very risky.

How did you formulate what’s a comfortable level of risk for you?
With climbing I normally just have a gut feeling – some things just feel really scary or make me feel uncomfortable. It's pretty unscientific, but it's the simplest way. If something makes me feel sick to think about then it's almost certainly too risky...

How do you push that boundary safely (well, as safely as possible)?
Oftentimes, if something feels too risky it can still get worked on further. I can minimize the risk through preparation or training. So for example, if a specific climb just feels really scary, I can break it down rationally and figure out which specific sections seem the scariest and then work on them specifically. By breaking a big climb down into pieces and working on each section in turn it can eventually start to feel more comfortable.

Thanks Alex

We have more mini-interviews with Alex and others heading down the pipe soon, so make sure to keep an eye on Editors’ Picks in the coming weeks.