840 metres of imposingly vertical rock - El Capitan seen from the valley floor. Photo: Mike Murphy / Wikimedia Commons

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Alex Honnold has completed a feat that many in the rock climbing world thought impossible by scaling Yosemite’s famous El Capitan cliff without safety ropes or a harness.

Honnold took just under four hours to complete the “Freerider" route up the 840m-high rock, which takes most roped climbers days. National Geographic magazine, who were filming the climb for an upcoming documentary, said that it “may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport".

"It may be the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport"

The iconic expanse of rock known to climbers around the world as “El Cap" been a bucket list item for serious climbers ever since the first ascent by Warren Harding in 1958, but the sheer length and difficulty of the multi-pitch climb meant that many believed it would be impossible to “free solo", or scale without safety equipment.

Rated a 5.12d in the US climbing grades system (equivalent to a 6b in the UK) the climb was described as “the moon landing of free-soloing" by National Geographic. Even for a climber of Alex Honnold’s ability (he is widely regarded as the best free solo climber in the world) the feat is a staggering achievement.

“So stoked to realise a life dream today," Honnold tweeted after the climb.

Meanwhile praise has poured in from people in the world of climbing and more broadly, including this slightly unexpected tribute from Jared Leto, the actor and singer of 30 Seconds to Mars, filmed at a gig in Nashville.

The 31-year-old Honnold first made his name in the rock climbing world with a daring free solo ascent of Yosemite’s Half Dome in 2008, and in 2014 astonished the climbers and commentators again by soloing El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico - another technical, multi-pitch climb that was previously considered impossible without ropes.

Alex Honnold gives a talk at the Trento film festival. Photo: Niccolo Caranti / Wikimedia commons

Alex Honnold at the Trento Film Festival

In The North Face documentary about that climb, his cameraman Cedar Wright says: “The sport of free-soloing is easy to understand. He went up this giant face without a rope. If he falls, he dies."

Thankfully, Honnold has yet to put a foot wrong on a serious free-solo attempt. For the El Capitan climb he trained meticulously, familiarising himself with the route meticulously and practising in various locations around the world over the past few years.

“The sport of free-soloing is easy to understand. He went up this giant face without a rope. If he falls, he dies."

He told National Geographic: “Years ago, when I first mentally mapped out what it would mean to free solo Freerider, there were half a dozen of pitches where I was like, ‘Oh that’s a scary move and that’s a really scary sequence. There were so many little sections where I thought ‘Ughh—cringe.’ But in the years since, I’ve pushed my comfort zone and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fell within the realm of the possible."

He pulled out of a previous attempt at the climb last November after an hour because he felt the conditions weren’t right. But having completed a practise climb and rapelled down freerider a few days before to make sure everything was good to go, Alex Honnold decided that Saturday was the day.

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