We showed up to El Portal on Sunday night for a dinner gathering to kick off a week of filming with Alex Honnold for a piece that “60 Minutes” is doing on the goofy Sacramento kid that soloed Half Dome. At around 10:30 that night, Alex quietly mentioned to me that he was considering soloing Phoenix in the morning before our 8:30 “safety meeting” with the rangers. I asked if I could tag along and, perhaps realizing how preposterous the whole thing would sound, he said he liked the idea of having some sort of record of his ascent.
At 5:30 we drove into the park with the early light, and by 6 we were walking to the top of the Phoenix. Alex rapped the route as I got into place on two filming bolts set off to the side of the crack. He warmed up by rehearsing the route for about 20 minutes on mini-traction before lowering to the base. He then tied his harness and sweatshirt to the rope, and asked me to pull it out. Cascade Falls, which flows about 300 feet behind the Phoenix, was flowing with such intensity that it seemed the wall was shaking, and its crash was so loud that I couldn’t understand Alex from even 70 feet away. Alex started up the 12d dihedral that begins the route and it was clear that a fall from even the third or fourth move would be critical, as the wall quickly drops away below the start ledge into Cascade Creek. But he continued up, undaunted by the exposure, the roaring water, or the hard moves that he said felt like 13b, and in 8 minutes he fluidly soloed the first-ever 5.13 crack in Yosemite. By 8:00am we arrived at 4-Mile trail, half an hour early for our safety meeting.