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Alex Honnold Wants to Fill a Gap in Climbing Knowledge

Alex Honnold and Fitz Cahall unearth climbing's history and culture.

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Famed climber and El Capitan free soloist Alex Honnold teamed up with podcaster Fitz Cahall to release a new podcast entitled Climbing Gold. Though there are a myriad of climbing podcasts to choose from, this one is unique in its theme and structure. Climbing Gold is a ten-part series that focuses on the history of rock climbing, tracing its roots from exploration and peak bagging all the way to the rise of competitions and climbing’s inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It features interviews from notable climbers from different generations—from old-school hardmen like John Sherman and John Gill, to rock gym kids sending futuristic routes like Kai Lightner and Ashima Shiraishi. 

“It was an obvious idea because there is kind of a hole in climbing knowledge right now,” Honnold said. “There are a lot of climbing podcasts but they mostly focus on unfiltered conversations with specific climbers. Which is cool and a great way for core climbers to get deeper into the sport, but not really an accessible way for non-climbers to get into the sport.”

In early 2020, Honnold was approached by the venerable podcaster and host of The Dirtbag Diaries, Fitz Cahall, about doing a podcast together on climbing. Honnold, who’d been commissioned to commentate the upcoming Olympic Games, jumped at the idea. He thought it would be good practice for commentating and would serve as an opportunity to learn more about competition climbing. However, as the Olympics were postponed, so was the podcast.

“In some ways it was kind of a blessing that the olympics got pushed because it gave us time to establish a deeper context of what we were going to talk about,” Honnold said. “Had we gone straight into the rise of competition climbing we would be skipping over a lot of important climbing history.”

The first two chapters of the podcast, released on March 26, feature interviews from Peter Croft and Joann Urioste. Croft is a legendary Yosemite climber and free soloist, and his interview highlights the theme of inspiration and how each generation stands on the shoulders of the previous generation. Peter Croft, as we find out in the interview, has been one of Honnold’s biggest inspirations, all the way back since Honnold was a kid in a California climbing gym.

The second episode features the equally legendary, though less well-known, Urioste. Urioste was a first ascensionist in the 1970s and 1980s, who established many of the classic climbs in Red Rocks, Nevada at a time when Red Rocks was an obsolete climbing destination. Urioste’s FA tactics broke the hardman, ground-up, no-bolt “rules” of the day, but resulted in such classic routes as Epinephrine. The theme tackled here is innovation and vision.

“We always intended to go thematically and not chronologically, mostly because we thought it would make the podcast more accessible for a broader audience,” Honnold said. “It was important to organize it by themes and ideas rather than straight chronology. It’s not trying to be a history podcast, it’s trying to be a culture-of-climbing podcast.”

With rock gyms cropping up all over the map, climbing being featured in the Olympics, and the film Free Solo winning an Oscar, rock climbing is as popular as it has ever been. According to Honnold, that is why this is the perfect moment to have a podcast like Climbing Gold—to have an accessible means for both seasoned and newbie climbers to gain a deeper understanding of the history and the culture. Honnold is an ideal host because he bridges the two worlds of climbing, from the California rock gym to the most remote and adventurous cliffs and spires on earth.

“I grew up in a gym,” Honnold said. “Ten years ago when people would interview me and say ‘Why are you free soloing something that’s never been done before?’ I would often attribute it to the fact that I grew up in a gym.”

Honnold was already a 5.13 climber by the time he first climbed outside.

“At the same time I’ve embraced adventure climbing and expeditions,” he said. “I sort of have a good position to speak to both sides about the growth of climbing because I am a product of the growth of climbing.”