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THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VC_Questionnaire_AlexHonnold_ED_29790110_1280x640
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THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold
The El Capitan free-solo rock climber explains his love for Yosemite and more California favorites

On June 3, 2017, Honnold became the first person to ever ascend El Capitan, the 3,000-foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park, without the use of ropes, a harness, or a safety net of any kind. His free-solo feat, long considered inconceivable within the rock-climbing world, sealed the 31-year-old’s status as the best rock climber who has ever lived. Climber, filmmaker, and Honnold’s close friend Jimmy Chin documented the climb, which took just under four hours, for a National Geographic feature story and feature film.

Honnold was born in Sacramento and grew up with the Sierra Nevada as his mountain playground. He began climbing when he was 11, and at 19 left his studies at UC Berkeley to devote himself to his rock-climbing pursuits. Yosemite has been a second home to Honnold, who has notched some of his greatest climbing achievements there, including a solo of Yosemite’s Triple Crown—Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome—while living out of his van.

Even Honnold doubted the probability of a totally unsupported ascent of “El Cap,” one of the world’s most iconic climbing destinations. “I think it’s important to let yourself feel that doubt, because I didn’t want to put pressure on myself,” he said, in a post-climb interview with Men’s Journal. “But, I knew I had to at least practice it and see if it was possible, otherwise I’d have always wondered whether I could, or should, have gone for it.”

Despite the international celebrity that followed, Honnold has maintained his self-proclaimed “simple dirtbag-climber existence,” living in his van in his favorite place on earth.

Where do you live? I’m from Sacramento, but have spent basically my whole life traveling and living out of my van. I spend more time in Yosemite than any other place—often three months or more a year.

Why there? Yosemite has the best climbing on earth.

What is your greatest California love? The Sierra Nevada. I grew up there and spent my whole life playing in the mountains. The smell of the dry pine forest around Tahoe and the High Sierra—that feels like home to me. There are so many [climbing] opportunities with big mountains, and the rock is so good. The sheer walls in the Sierra are unlike any other mountain range in the United States. The whole Eastern Sierra just drops off with several thousand-foot walls. It’s amazing for climbing.

What is the biggest misperception about Californians? A lot of people just think about Hollywood, surf culture and the beach. Obviously, that is California, but for me it’s 100 percent mountain-focused.

What is the stereotype that most holds true? That there’s crazy traffic, especially in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

What is your favorite Golden State splurge? There’s so much great food and fresh produce in California. The Mexican and Asian food is so good.

Time for a road trip—where are you going? I’d go up north on the coast. There’s a lot of rock up there I haven’t seen.

If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? I would decree Asian noodles. I love eating them. L.A. and the Bay Area are amazing for food and have the best options.

Best California song? Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

How would your California dream day unfold? I live my dream day. Wake up in Yosemite, pedal my bicycle down to El Capitan (which is the biggest rock wall in the world), and go climb it. Afterwards, I hang out with my friends in the Valley and socialize.

Valley in California's Gold Country
Laura Flippen

Central California

Discover Gold Country

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold vca_maps_goldcountry
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Bumping up against the west side of the Sierra Nevada Range, on California’s eastern side, the Sierra foothills that make up the Gold Country are California Classics.

Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west.

Here, the state’s past, present, and future merge into one unforgettable destination. Pan for gold like a 49er, bike through meadow-and-oak countryside, and raft a rapid-filled river, then explore historic towns with Old West architecture and a new generation of pioneers, opening up outstanding wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T3-Lorres Gold Mine tunnel_CTTC09111716003843
During California's Gold Rush, over 25 million ounces of gold were mined from the Sierra Nevada foothills.
THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold vc_spotlightsacramento_sacramento_st_rf_187559989_1280x640

Spotlight: Sacramento

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold vca_maps_goldcountry
Golden past, bright future

Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisan cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets are...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
July

Back in 1854, the first California State Fair was held in San Francisco, with the cows standing on display in Mission Dolores. The fair moved to Sacramento for good a few years later, but the...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold CAStateFair_686x885
Lucas Himovitz
THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold vca_maps_goldcountry
A Shop Owner in the California Gold Country town of Nevada City,
Laura Flippen

Nevada City

Great food, wine and shows find a home in the Mother Lode

This forest-wrapped hamlet of handsome Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles north-east of...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T3-Lorres Gold Mine tunnel_CTTC09111716003843-1280x642
Lorres Gold Mine

Empire Mine State Historic Park

Tour a Gold Rush mansion then go underground

Get a one-two punch of experiences with a visit to this remarkable site in Grass Valley, roughly 60 miles north-east of Sacramento. First, spend...

SPECIAL FEATURE
From Gold Rush history to 8th wonders of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold McWayFalls_JPB_SP_preview_686x885
Amy Meredith/Flickr
THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T4_Auburn_Manley-1280x642
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Auburn

Explore an ideally situated Gold Country town with a sporty side

History and modern culture merge with outdoor adventure in this appealing town on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. While Auburn has long been...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Take on whitewater rapids, pan for gold and explore California history

Pluck a bit of gold from a riverbed scoured by the original ’49ers. Descend deep into the earth to check out unusual rock formations. Get your heart racing with a ride down whitewater rapids. For...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T12_MoaningCavern_Pfeiffer686x885
Rafters on the American River
Rob Brodman

The American River

Rush for gold, rush for adrenaline

The most popular white water-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T7_WellsFargo_Columbia_Flippen_Webdam-1280x642
Laura Flippen

Columbia State Historic Park

Step into the 1850s in this Gold Country gem

With throw-back charm and a mine-full of historic artefacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing colour. Costumed docents...

SPECIAL FEATURE
Elegant estates, relaxed wineries, urban tasting rooms

Elegant estates at the end of country roads lined with vineyards? Check. Low-key wineries housed in converted barns? Check again. Urban wine trails with hip in-town tasting rooms? Yup,...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold Preview_WineGlasses_686x885_1
THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen-1280x642
Laura Flippen

Sip Wine in the Gold Country

Sample vintages from old vines and new varietals

The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this north-eastern region of California, with wine making here dating back to the Gold Rush days...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T9_JennyMartin_IMG_7844-1280x642
Jenny Martin

Murphys

Explore a blossoming country town with big-city appeal

Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Murphys was one of California’s richest boom towns, but this appealing town in Calaveras County still feels...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T11_GC_AppleFarm_Pfeiffer_1280x642
Jenny Pfeiffer

Apple Hill

Wine, beer, a bliss-out spa—and juicy, sweet apples

Autumn in the Gold Country means clear blue skies, fiery red grapevines and an invigorating snap in the air. It’s apple season too, with more than...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T12_MoaningCavern_Pfeiffer-sized
Jenny Ella Pfeiffer

Moaning Cavern

Walk, climb, or rappel into a subterranean wonderland

Discovered by miners in 1851, this vertical chamber near Angels Camp is so massive it is the largest public cavern in California—big enough to...

Jamestown's Railtown 1897

Jamestown

Climb aboard majestic steam trains for a cruise through the Sierra foothills

It’s unbelievable but true: you can still wade into the shallows of the South Fork of the American River and find flecks of gold, just like the...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen
Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was the first permanent European settlement in the Central Valley.
SPECIAL FEATURE
Amazing Agritourism Experiences

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in the south, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all, ...

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold SC_Chaffin_Eliaschickens_TPS_preview_686x885
Tai Power Seeff

Golden Chain Highway

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold sanfranciscototruckee_stop4_nevadacity_rdvisitcaaug17-779_0

This forest-wrapped hamlet of handsome Victorian-era homes and tree-lined streets 60 miles/98 kilometers northeast of Sacramento is one of the Gold Country’s prettiest towns. Originally settled in 1849 as a mining camp, Nevada City...

Sep 7 - Sep 9
Rub elbows with craft brewers and sample all manner of Californian beers at this annual three-day event

Beyond being the state capital, Sacramento has staked its claim as one of California’s nerve centres for great craft beer. The annual...

Beer drinkers at the California Craft Beer Summit
Courtesy of California Craft Brewers Association
THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold vca_maps_goldcountry_0