You’ve seen Alex Honnold on the big screen in Free Solo, now you can see him up close in virtual reality! Last year Honnold make some incredible free solo ascents in secret and the whole thing was filmed with multiple VR cameras.
The VR experience comes in two half-hour parts and can only be viewed on the Oculus Quest 2 – which is now called the Meta Quest 2 as it’s owned by Meta (Facebook’s new parent company name).
To be clear he didn’t wear a helmet cam to film in the first person. Instead, a film crew set up specialist multi-sensor cameras along the routes. This allows the viewer to move around in real-time, taking a look at the rock and the moves in free space.
For those without the headset, there are some great behind-the-scenes films of the ascents available from Red Bull – see one below. The VR portion was filmed by Jon Griffith who has worked on Reel Rock, BBC Planet Earth, and The Alpinist. The behind-the-scenes parts were directed by Renan Ozturk who worked with Alex before on his El Sendero Luminoso solo and featured in Meru.
The first part sees Alex climbing in his Yosemite, where he previously made the first (and only) free solo of the El Capitan via the Free Rider route – read more. He also makes a visit to Red Rocks, then off to the Italian Alps for some big classic routes.
Just before he set off for the journey, Alex found out that his long-time partner Sanni McCandless was pregnant. In classic Alex fashion, he explains how this probably won’t change his thinking about free solo climbing. Just a few months later the couple married and have now just welcomed their new baby June!
Here he climbed with Renan Ozturk getting used to the routes and helping the team haul up the equipment. They had a good bit of work in lugging up the big cameras and setting them up on the wall in a completely stable position.
After simul-climbing the “Yellow Wall” route on the Cima Piccola with Nicolas Hojac, Alex took a day off and then came back and free solo’d the route for the film. It’s the first solo of the 1,100-foot route, normally done in 11 pitches over a long day.
In episode 2 the team face off against some poor conditions in the Alps and get some good climbing. Later Alex heads back to the US and in Red Rocks manages to free solo “Desert Gold“, a stunning crack climb that runs straight through a long roof section.
Interestingly, Tony Yaniro once “free solo” climbed the same route for an IMAX movie called “To The Limit”. Apparently, he used a cam while climbing and had a net bolted to the wall below just in case he fell.
So as a fun piece of climbing film history this route being solo’d for a new film format has happened twice now. Take a look at an old trailer for Tony doing the route.
Alex also recently teamed up with Mark Synnott to climb an unexplored peak in Guyana for National Geographic in “Explorer: The Last Tepui“.