This an excerpt from Finding Mastery #108 with adventure rock climber Alex Honnold in which he describes how he used imagery to train for free-solo climbing El Capitan.


Michael Gervais: There was an insight that you spent a year doing imagery or visualization of El Cap…

Alex Honnold: Probably more really. I first started thinking about free-soloing El Cap in 2009.

Basically the year after I solo’d Half Dome, I started thinking like alright, El Cap is next because that’s the obvious thing.

You know it’s the next bigger, harder objective. And so in 2009, I was like alright it’s happening and then I showed up in the valley and looked out and was like, “Oh my god, it’s not happening.”

Then each year thereafter I’d look out and be like, “Oh no not this year,” but I was definitely thinking about it in the back of my mind all the time, for years and years.

It wasn’t until a year and a half before I actually did it that I started being more conscientious about it.

Micahel Gervais: And were you structured in seeing those images?

Alex Honnold: No, I mostly tried to give myself enough empty time that my mind would just naturally gravitate towards it. For the full month before I actually solo’d El Cap, I erased all the social media from my phone so I couldn’t just mindlessly waste time.

I stopped responding to emails for so long that I stopped getting any e-mails which is actually pretty amazing. And so basically I just had no demands on my time.

My girlfriend left for periods of time and I was just by myself, in my van, which sort of reminded me of the good old days, reminded me of 2006-2007 when I was like desperately single and all I could do is climb, all the time.

And so suddenly I had all this free time where you just wind up sitting there with nothing to do being like “huh.”

And then my mind would just naturally go to the things that I needed to think about on El Cap.

I find it really hard to intentionally go, “Now I’m going to sit down and visualize for an hour.”

What I need is just five hours in an afternoon with no plan where I can just like lose an hour or two sitting there being like, “Hmm and then the left hand and then the right no.. the right hand first and then the left hand and then…”

You know just have some time to think about it.


Listen to full podcast here.

Rock Climber

Alex Honnold is an American rock climber best known for his free solo ascents of big walls. He is the only person to have free-solo climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and has broken a number speed climbing records.