Alex Honnold & Maury Birdwell on the Honnold Foundation and filming Free Solo (Ep.15)

Alex Honnold “The Climber” needs absolutely no introduction. He is one of the most talented climbers of his generation, and he is without question the greatest free soloist of all time. And yet, Alex Honnold The Philanthropist” may be even more impressive.

Alex Honnold & Maury Birdwell talk about Alex's free solo of El Capitan and the Honnold Foundation on Blister's All Things Climbing Podcast
Alex Honnold on the final section of the Salathe headwall crack, El Capitan. (photo by Jimmy Chin)

Roughly five years ago, Alex teamed up with Maury Birdwell (an extremely talented climber himself), to start the Honnold Foundation. Since then, they’ve donated countless hours and several hundred thousand dollars (most of it Alex’s money) to support energy access projects in various parts of the developing world. Few climbers have advanced our concept of the sport to the extent that Alex has, yet his more important legacy could be the lives changed by the work of the Honnold Foundation.

Alex Honnold & Maury Birdwell talk about Alex's free solo of El Capitan and the Honnold Foundation on Blister's All Things Climbing Podcast
Alex Honnold installing solar panels in the Navajo Nation, US. (photo courtesy of the Honnold Foundation)

In this episode Luke and Dave Alie talk to Alex and Maury about how, exactly, the Foundation works; how they choose their projects; how they gauge whether they’ve been successful; their hopes for the future of the Foundation; and how working in development has changed their perspectives on climbing. And finally, Alex also details what it was like to film the upcoming documentary Free Solo, a film by Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, about his astounding, ropeless ascent of The Freerider on El Cap.


  • Intro (00:00)
  • Presenting Sponsor: Rhino Skin Solutions (01:50)
  • How Alex first got into philanthropy (03:45)
  • “Better World Shopping Guide” and conscious consumption (07:30)
  • How Maury got involved in the Foundation (13:25)
  • Why the Honnold Foundation supports solar projects, specifically (17:30)
  • Why form a foundation rather than donate money directly? (20:05)
  • Have there been any mistakes in projects? (25:25)
  • How they select projects and assess their success (29:20)
  • Where do they see the foundation going? (34:40)
  • Has their perspective changed on how to best promote renewable energy? (37:45)
  • How can people support the foundation? (49:45)
  • Does philanthropy make climbing feel small? (51:45)
  • What was it like making the film Free Solo? (54:00)
  • Did making the film add pressure to complete the climb? (59:10)
  • What comes after free soloing El Cap? (1:01:30)
  • How is the growth of indoor climbing affecting the sport? (1:05:05)
  • What’s it like passing people on routes? (1:11:00)
  • What’s it like being so recognizable? (1:13:25)
  • Outro (1:14:25)


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On top of all that, Rhino Skin Founder Justin Brown sits on the board of the Smith Rock Group, which helps plan and fund-raise for various maintenance projects at Smith Rock State Park. We’re donating all our proceeds from the show, after production costs, to the American Safe Climbing Associate and the Access Fund. Rhino Skin is fully behind this effort and has offered to knock 10% off your order and kick an additional 10% over to the Access Fund when you use the promo code “Blister” at checkout. Head over to Rhino Skin Solutions to check out their offerings.

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