An Interview with Alex Honnold
We recently had the chance to ask Alex about a kickstarter campaign called Escalando Fronteras – Climbing Borders, a nonprofit in Mexico that is working to help at-risk youth find a more promising future through climbing.
As one of the most well-known climbers in the world, Alex also finds ways to actively give back to the community by supporting worthwhile causes, as well as making a difference through his own non-profit: The Honnold Foundation.
For the readers: In Spanish, Escalando Fronteras means climbing borders. It is also a book.
Editor: We’ve been looking at the truly amazing and valuable work Escalando Fronteras has been doing with at-risk youth, and having your support must have meant a lot to the organizers and the young climbers they are helping.
How did you find out about them?
Alex Honnold: I actually don’t remember now, I probably just found them on the internet. But their work resonated with me since I’ve spent so much time in Potrero Chico which is near to where they’re working.
Editor: The organizers were putting up a new route in Huasteca Park in Monterrey, Mexico, a 5.12+, 13 pitch route which they cleaned up, equipped and sent.
To thank you for your support, they gave you the chance to name it. You chose the name: The Life You Can Save.
And it couldn’t be more symbolic, when one hears the stories from the young climbers trying to survive in a notoriously dangerous neighborhood.
It will no doubt become a very popular route.
Since you named it, do you have plans to climb it?
Alex Honnold: Next time I’m in Huasteca I’ll definitely give it a try. No plans to visit right now, but Mexico always makes for a very pleasant winter destination, so maybe next year.
And just to be clear, I chose the name because it’s the name of a great book by Peter Singer about people’s moral obligation to help those in need.
(Readers: Check out these amazing images of mountains in Mexico...truly spectacular.)
Editor: Point noted. Climbing is being used by Escalando Fronteras as an excellent escape valve for a lot of the teens and young kids in the rougher parts of Lomas Modelo, a gang-infested neighborhood. Indeed, life must be extremely precarious for them, and the violence in their neighborhood must affect them emotionally.
I viewed a video Epic TV put together on the horrific conditions (low self-esteem, PTSD from the violence around them) they face every day.
But as climbing instills a sense of self-reliance, empowerment, a way to face fears and trusting your own strength, perhaps these skills might help them cope more powerfully with the ever-present danger around them.
Would you agree?
Alex Honnold: I definitely agree. It’s important for people to have an outlet - something to inspire them and push them forward. Climbing certainly provides a good way for kids to learn new skills and overcome fears.
Also, I think it’s really healthy for people to get out in nature and experience the outdoors. Climbing requires a good connection with nature.
Editor: One of the good things about being well-known is that you have a wider audience, who get better informed by learning about the causes you find worthy and by hearing your opinion on trending issues.
This may encourage your fans and the wider audience to make small, vital changes, live simpler lives (and thus more stress-free lives) and help make the world a little more livable for those who have much less than we do in a 1st world nation.
How do you narrow down which causes get your attention?
Or which particular issues get your ear?
Alex Honnold: I personally gravitate towards clean energy and poverty issues. Or climate change and the transition towards renewable energy. Those are mostly the kinds of projects I’ve been trying to support through the Honnold Foundation.
But something like Escalando Fronteras strikes close to home since it’s using climbing to help lift people up in a well known climbing area that I’ve always enjoyed.
It seems obvious to me that I have to support such a worthy project. Hopefully some other climbers feel the same.
Editor: I’m sure they will. Changing topics for a moment, the California drought, wild weather patterns, disappearing glaciers and rising temperatures are truly a cause for alarm the world over, and there are still some folks out there who deny climate change.
Have you always watched environmental trends or has the drastic, climate-related change that the world is undergoing affected your interest in the subject?
Alex Honnold: I’ve been reading a ton of environmental nonfiction for the last 5 years or so. My interest is much more general than the current drought in CA or any other single event, though they do add a sense of urgency.
I think that the transition away from fossil fuels will be one of the defining issues of my generation. It’s kind of exciting to be a part of that and live through these times.
Editor: Accepting that there is no quick fix for a problem of this enormity, from all the books you’ve read on the environment and its protection, what would you suggest as a few useful things that could be done to address the California drought?
Alex Honnold: The most obvious things that come to mind for an individual to do are get rid of their lawn and stop eating meat. Not that many people like those solutions, but they have vastly more impact than taking shorter showers. . .
Though the real solutions might be at a governmental level. Maybe establishing more of a price signal for the agricultural use of water to encourage better efficiency.
Or just ending water subsidies. I’m not really sure what the best answer is.
Editor: That answer suffices. The weather directly affects the profession of climbing, as well as determines how accessible a certain climbing area might be, or will be in 50 years from now.
Can you share the titles of some of the books on environmentalism that presented some workable ideas?
Alex Honnold: One of my favorites was This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. I also enjoyed The Energy of Nations by Jeremy Leggett, who also happened to indirectly found Solar Aid, one of the main nonprofit partners of the Honnold Foundation.
Bill McKibben kicked off my years of environmental reading with his book Eaarth.
Though really I’ve wandered broadly across the topics, including a healthy amount of books by skeptics.
Editor: Less reliance on consuming animal meat and trying a plant-based diet seems to be very slowly catching on, although it is a difficult transition for many.
You’re not totally vegan, as you have to work with the food available in different parts of the world when you climb there.
But will we ever see Alex Honnold go totally vegan?
Alex Honnold: I might eventually trend towards mostly vegan, but I doubt I’ll ever eat 100% vegan simply because it’s a bit too much hassle with the amount of travel that I do.
It’s possible though, since it is so much healthier and easier on the planet. But I’m not sure if I’ll ever be that rigorous.
Eating mostly plants is already a huge step in the right direction.
Editor: What is your advice/message to the brave, young climbers out in Monterrey, Mexico who look up to you, but live in such a volatile environment?
What would you say to them to keep their spirits up and maintain a belief in the healing, self-affirming qualities of climbing?
Alex Honnold: I have no idea what I could really tell someone who lives with such hardship. I guess just to keep climbing and enjoy the process.
Editor: Thank you for your time, Alex.
Alex Honnold: Thank you guys for spreading the word about all this great nonprofit work!
Support the Honnold Foundation on their official website - help make a difference.
Anthem: “The Honnold Foundation seeks simple, sustainable ways to improve lives world-wide. Simplicity is the key; low-impact, better living is the goal.”
Support the courageous young climbers of Escalando Fronteras.
Anthem: “We are Escalando Fronteras/Climbing Borders. We use climbing to empower and build the skills of at-risk youth in underdeveloped areas around the world.”
A word from the founders of Escalando Fronteras:
"We, Rory (U.S.), Nicklas (Sweden), and Javier (Mexico), are the founding members of Escalando Fronteras (Climbing Borders), a Swedish non-profit youth development organization. We believe that where someone is born and consequently the borders (class, race, sex, nationality) that surround, separate, and define individuals are random and arbitrary and should not decide the opportunities and fate of anyone in this life.
We see at-risk-youth populations not as a threat or an incurable group of youngsters, but as a boundless and potent source of ideas, creativity, multiculturalism, and promise. Born into extremely unfavorable conditions, these youth have been denied any real chance to realize their full potential. They are the future of this highly globalized world and it is our duty as international citizens to contribute to their positive development."
On the Cover:
Alex Honnold -
Winner of the Piolet d'Or &
Named one of Men’s Journal’s
50 Most Adventurous Men.
Cover Date: May 18th, 2015.