Moving Fast Means Climbing More: Alex Honnold’s Favorite Efficiency Tricks

Honnold is famous for (among other things) cramming as much climbing as he can into each day. To do so, he's developed some efficiency tricks that the rest of us can imitate.

This article originally appeared in the Climbing’s May 2013 issue; we’ve given it a new life online.

The only thing I love more than climbing is climbing a lot. I like to squeeze every pitch I can out of the day, and efficiency is the name of the game. Itʼs all about trimming the fat out of your systems so no time is wasted. Many good ideas about building and cleaning anchors, transitioning at belays, and cleaning pitches are covered in books (I found Speed Climbing! by Hans Florine and Bill Wright to be the most useful), so Iʼm going to share just a few of my personal tricks that save me time. Some are a bit silly, and some will seem inconsequential, but in they end they all add up to give me more time in the day to climb.

1. Building Anchors

When climbing multi-pitches with bolted anchors, I always make the anchor out of rope. I clove-hitch myself into one bolt, pull up some slack, tie into the other bolt with a clove hitch or figure eight, and then tie a figure eight on a bight in the slack between the two bolts. I belay the second with an auto-blocking device clipped to a locker on this middle bight. It’s fast and simple, and it’s easy to break back down. And there’s no need for a cumbersome personal anchor system or breaking down a mess of slings and carabiners.

Alex Honnold on Synthetic Happiness (5.13c, 9 pitches) in Red Rock, Nevada. (Photo: James Lucas)

2. Belay Transitions

When the second reaches the anchor, I grab his belay device and put him on belay, using the end of the rope coming out of my auto-block belay device on the anchor. This way, he doesn’t have to clip in to the anchor to switch the belay. When he’s ready to lead, he detaches my belay device from the anchor, and he’s good to go. No need to ever be off-belay or waste time clipping and unclipping from the anchor and moving the belay device from the anchor to my harness—just switch devices back and forth.

3. Descending

Simul-rapping is almost always the best bet as it effectively cuts rappel time in half. This means rappelling simultaneously, with each of you on one strand of the rope; the weight of each climber will counterbalance the other. It’s quicker, and being next to each other means it’s easy to communicate about where to stop or where the next anchor is. The main thing is both of you are constantly watching the ends and making sure neither person unweights the rope without communicating their actions. Obviously, any anchor you’re rapping off should be solid enough to hold the weight of you and your partner. [There are several drawbacks to simul-rapping; some climbers swear by the practice while others condemn it. To learn more about the dangers, click here.—Ed.]

4. An efficient way to clean sport routes

Clip a quickdraw from your belay loop to the rope running through the gear as you lower off. This erases the potential to wander; instead, you slide down the rope to each piece, making it easy to stay within reach of the pro. The less obvious benefit, which is really useful, is that it’s easy for the belayer to tell how far above each piece you are: He can see one draw steadily sliding down toward the next. This way, less time is wasted on communication.

Alex Honnold on Synthetic Happiness (5.13c, 9 pitches) in Red Rock, Nevada. (Photo: James Lucas)

5. Accept (and perfect) French-freeing

Pulling on gear to get up a route is an important skill in anyone’s quiver: Sometimes you just have to get to the top. But French-freeing is still climbing; you must use good technique and plan out your moves. Just because you’re pulling on a cam or a draw doesn’t mean you can forget your footwork, and body position is still important. Don’t waste energy by doing uncoordinated pull-ups on your gear or burling your way through aid techniques. Be mindful and get into a rhythm, just like you do free climbing. Pull on gear, step on bolts, do whatever it takes—but do it smoothly.

6. Remember: slow approaches cut into your climbing

While hiking to the crag, you might have to shed a layer or two. Most people stop, take off layers, pack them away, and then continue. I prefer not to stop, so I pop one arm out of the pack’s shoulder strap, slide the layer off this arm, and then repeat on the other side. (This requires a crag pack with a waist strap that holds the bag on while the shoulder strap is off.) Then I wrap the layer around one shoulder strap of my pack, effectively hanging it near my waist. Voilà! No extra stops on the hike.

7. Be organized

Consistency is key for not losing things. It might seem anal retentive, but I always put certain things in the same pockets of my pack. I.e., keys, wallet, and phone get zipped into the same compartment. This idea applies even more on multi-pitches and big walls. Have a system and use it consistently.

8. Don’t forget your keys

At the end of the day, when I’m packing up my bag, I always take out my keys, phone, and whatever else I’m going to need at the car and switch them to my hip pockets. That way I don’t accidentally forget my keys at the crag or lose them in my pack.