Honnold, Wright Enchain California 14ers by Bike, Foot, and Free Solo

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Alex Honnold on the Tyndall Effect on Mt. Tyndall
Alex Honnold on the Tyndall Effect on Mt. Tyndall, peak No. 10 on an 800-mile, 15-summit journey. Photo by Cedar Wright.

Over three weeks and one day, Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright pulled off a unique adventure in their home state of California: enchaining all of the state’s 14,000-foot-plus peaks (and then some), using only two bikes and their own two feet for transportation. Along the way during this remarkable journey from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Langley, the two biked more than 700 miles, hiked at least 100 miles, and climbed over 100,000 vertical feet, often via difficult technical rock climbs. The two free-soloed every route they climbed, up to 5.10a. They took about five rest days.

California has at least 20 summits over 14,000 feet, but only 12 are ranked by the official standard of 300 vertical feet of prominence. Many climbers also count three peaks along the Palisade Traverse to create a list of 15 peaks—the hit list used by Honnold and Wright. Although the 14ers have been linked much quicker—less than three days for all 15 peaks by Sean O’Rourke in August 2012—these high-speed efforts have involved an automobile and usually some helpers. By going all human-powered, Honnold and Wright seriously upped the ante—and nearly broke themselves in the process.

Below is Wright’s first-person account of the trip, which lasted from June 19 to July 10. His words are drawn from an email:   

The long, lonely road to White Mountain. Photo by Cedar Wright.
The long, lonely road to White Mountain. Photo by Cedar Wright.

“This was one of the most sustained and difficult climbing challenges of my life, and as far as I know is the first time that all of the California 14ers have been enchained by bike. I’m really happy with we pulled it off, because at times I genuinely wondered if my body was going to hold up. We climbed quite a bit of technical rock, all onsight free solo, and tried to stay away from the standard routes as much as possible. We were in a perpetual state of exhaustion, which definitely ads an element to the solo commitment.

“Highlights for me included onsight-soloing the Sun Ribbon Arete (5.10a) on the 1,800-foot Temple Crag, which we used to access five 14ers along the Palisade Traverse, which itself entails climbing up to 5.9. Another great day was the Whitney, Muir, and Russel day. I soloed the east face of Whitney while Honnold did the Keeler Needle, then we met and did the standard on Muir, and then headed over to Russel, where we soloed the spectacular Mithril Dihedral (5.9+), one of the finest routes in the Sierra.

Wright climbing Mt. Langley, the final peak of the journey. Photo by Alex Honnold.
Wright climbing Mt. Langley, the final peak of the journey. Photo by Alex Honnold.

“For me, the finishing day on Langley was the most memorable, both because we had suffered pretty hard to get to this point, and because we opted to onsight-solo a relatively new route on the north face called Rest and Be Thankful (5.10a), which was quite exciting for me because we knew very little about the route. It was a great way to finish the mission, and I felt pretty-misty eyed at the summit.

“One of the cruxes was White Mountain, which was around 90 miles round-trip [from the highway] and involved over 10,000 feet of elevation gain on a bike, much of it on rough, sandy dirt roads. It was BRUTAL. Even Honnold had a moment of wanting to give up.

“Taking the car out of the mix really makes things much more difficult—adding 6,000 feet of elevation gain on the bike to each mission really ups the suffer quotient. We definitely threaded the line between being efficient and blowing out our knees! For me the low point was when we went up to do Middle Palisade and accidentally climbed a fifth-class route on Norman Clyde Peak. My heart sank when we got to the summit register and realized we’d climbed the wrong peak. Even worse, the traverse to Middle Palisade is the most loose, difficult, and dangerous part of the Palisade ridge. It was really unnerving trying to solo decomposing 5.9 choss in approach shoes on a knife-edge ridge with a thousand plus foot drop on each side! That mission left us feeling like we’d spent a day at war.

Wright (left) and Honnold at the end of the road on Mt. Langley. Photo courtesy of Cedar Wright.
Wright (left) and Honnold at the end of the road on Mt. Langley. Photo courtesy of Cedar Wright.

I consider this to be one of the greatest achievements of my climbing life, and it was awesome to share it with Honnold, who is great friend and motivating force in my life. Mostly we toiled and suffered, but occasionally I would have a moment of genuine bliss, taking in the beauty of the incredible Sierra Nevada. It was a full-on suffer fest, but I think in a couple of weeks I’ll look back on this as fun. Hopefully we will inspire other climbers to undertake a big human-powered adventure.”

These are all the 14ers we climbed (we also tagged two 13ers):

1. Mt. Shasta (Sargents Ridge) 2. North Palisade 3. Middle Palisade (traversed in from Norman Clyde—epic choss death mission) 4. Starlight Peak 5. Thunderbolt Peak 6. Polemonium Peak 7. Mt. Sill 8. Split Mountain 9. White Mountain Peak 10. Mt. Tyndall (Tyndall Effect) 11. Mt. Williamson 12. Mt. Russell (Mithril Dihedral) 13. Mt. Whitney (East Face/Keeler Needle) 14. Mt. Muir 15. Mt. Langley (Rest and Be Thankful)

Dates of Expedition: June 19–July 10, 2013

Source: Cedar Wright

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