Alex Honnold, professional climber of critically acclaimed feature doc Free Solo. The climb will be a first ascent up 1,000 feet of sheer rock to the top of a Tepui, a remote "island in the sky" deep in the Amazon jungle.
Climber Alex Honnold
Climbers Alex Honnold and Mark Synnott trek through the Amazon jungle.
A tepui in the Amazon jungle.
Bruce Means makes his way down treacherous terrain deep in the Guyanese Amazon.
Biologist Bruce Means is look for new species of frogs that inhabit the region of trpuis deep in the Amazon of Western Guyana.
Climber Federico Pisani makes a first ascent up the cliff face of Weiassipu, a tepui in Western Guyana.
Alex Honnold has often left his fans breathless with his seemingly impossible feats, like becoming the first person to climb Yosemite's 3,000-foot high El Capitan — a triumph chronicled in the Oscar and Emmy-winning 2018 film Free Solo — without aid or the safety of ropes. But all of that ability, fearlessness and experience did not prepare him for his latest adventure.
In the Disney+ Earth Day special Explorer: The Last Tepui from National Geographic — streaming April 22 — Honnold is part of an elite climbing team tasked with bringing legendary biologist Dr. Bruce Means deep into the Amazon rainforest of Western Guyana to further his work finding undiscovered animal species.
The tepui — flat-topped mountains or mesas found in South America — offered optimal rock climbing, but the approach to Mount Weiassipu was daunting, as the team had to hike through dense, unforgiving terrain for ten days just to get to the mountain's base.
"I'd never been to a jungle before," Honnold admits, "and it was insane! The creepy crawlies were incredible, and the jungle was just this wall of green — much of it virgin territory that no one had traversed before."
Working with a crew of climbers and cameramen, the group set out to document Dr. Means's efforts to find a species of frogs that, in essence, would reveal a new chapter in the life of the rainforest. As it turned out, Means, who is eighty, was not able to make it all the way to the plateau of the tepui — but Honnold and the other climbers managed the climb on their own.
In fact, they did the climb twice with ropes and then Honnold free solo'd the mountain on his own — just because it was there.
"No tepui had been free solo'd before, so it felt like an opportunity," he says.
While watching Honnold's feats can make any viewers' palms sweat, he contends that it's much harder to watch free solo climbing than it is to do it. "When you're the one doing it, you know how comfortable you feel, you know how solid the wall is, you have a much better understanding of the risks."
And, now that he's married and has a six-week-old daughter, Honnold says he has no plans to do something irresponsible. "I am very confident with what I can and can't do and I know how to stay within my own limitations," he says matter-of-factly. "After all, the whole point of free soloing is to not fall."