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For eight years, American Alex Honnold dreamed about climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any safety equipment. But whenever Honnold went to the park and looked up at El Capitan, he became frightened.

That changed last Saturday. Honnold, a world-class rock climber, reached the top of the great rock wall in about four hours. He used only his hands and feet.

He is the first person ever to climb the 914-meter high granite wall alone and without ropes or safety gear to catch him if he fell.

“I was pretty much elated,” Honnold, 31, told the Associated Press about reaching the top. “I was probably the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s something that I thought about for so long and dreamed about and worked so hard for."

Honnold began preparing for his historic climb two years ago. He climbed El Capitan while wearing safety gear countless times. He tried to memorize every hole he had to hold and the positions of his body. He repeated the climb again and again, until he felt sure enough to try the so-called “free solo” climb.

The most difficult part of the trip is about 700 meters off the ground. At that point, the very small holds in the rock are only big enough for a thumb to fit.

But Honnold said the climb was more mentally difficult than physically difficult.

“Each year I would show up and it would seem just much too daunting,” he said. “To walk up to the base of the climb without rope and harness, it just feels a little outrageous. Getting over that side of it was the hardest part.”

Observers say Honnold’s climb has pushed the limits in a sport that requires a high level of physical ability, risk-taking and mental strength.

Daniel Duane wrote the book “El Capitan: Historic Feats and Radical Routes.”

“This has never been done before ... and it’s hard to imagine anybody ever coming close to what he’s done,” Duane said. “He is totally alone at the top of his game.”

Alex Honnold grew up near Sacramento, California’s capital. He began doing indoor rock climbing at age 11. He dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley to train full-time.

Honnold dismissed criticism by those who say he’s being irresponsible by not wearing protective equipment.

“I could see how for a non-climber it might seem completely insane. But I’ve devoted 20 years to climbing and probably six or seven to this particular project...It took years of effort."

The climb up El Capitan once took climbers several days to complete with the aid of ropes, safety equipment and a partner. But in the past 20 years, speed climbers working with a partner and using ropes have set records in reaching the top.

In January 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson became the first to “free climb” the Dawn Wall, a very steep climb to the top of El Capitan. They used ropes only to catch them if they fell. They reached the top in 19 days.

Duane said Honnold has an extreme ability to control fear and his body for a long period of time.

“To climb without ropes where the slightest slip is literally fatal in that arena requires enormous self-control and focus,” Duane said.
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