The ascent of Alex Honnold

Mountain climber Alex Honnold seems to defy gravity, scaling sheer, steep rock faces with no rope and apparently no fear

The ascent of Alex Honnold 13:18

If scaling a 1,600-foot rock face seems terrifying, imagine scaling it without ropes or a harness. That's what Alex Honnold recently attempted in Yosemite National Park, using nothing more than his hands and feet. "60 Minutes" cameras were strategically placed along the climb, capturing every harrowing move. Correspondent Lara Logan interviews the man now being hailed as the best climber alive.

The following script is from "Alone on the Wall" which aired on Oct. 2, 2011.

From time to time, we come across someone who can do something so remarkable that it defies belief, and in this case, seems to defy gravity. It's the story of Alex Honnold.

He's a 26-year-old rock climber from Sacramento, California, but not just any rock climber. He scales walls higher than the Empire State building, and he does it without any ropes or protection.

Filming mountain climber Alex Honnold
Fourteen cameras were rolling the day Alex tackled the sheer mountain face of Sentinel in Yosemite

It's a kind of climbing called free-soloing and the penalty for error is certain death.

We first heard about him in a movie called "Alone on the Wall," a harrowing account of one of his most extraordinary feats: the first free-solo climb up the northwest face of Half Dome, a towering 2,000-ft. wall in Yosemite National Park.

This past summer we met up with Alex at Yosemite to watch what he does first hand.

What you're about to see is someone holding onto a wall, thousands of feet above the ground, with nothing to stop him if he falls.

Dude: The quirky world of Alex Honnold
"60 Minutes Overtime" takes a fun look at Alex-speak - from the "heinous" to the "mellow."

Here, Alex Honnold is 2,600 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, trying to haul himself up the slippery granite wall of Sentinel.

He's so high, he disappears into the mountain.

Alex moves seamlessly across a section of flaky, unstable rock, pausing to dry a sweaty hand in his bag of chalk.

There's nothing but him, the wall and the wind.

He is up here without ropes or a safety harness. All he has is a pair of rubber climbing shoes.

This is what climbers call free-soloing, and it's so dangerous, that less than one percent of people who climb attempt it.

Lara Logan: Do you feel the adrenaline at all?

Alex Honnold: There is no adrenaline rush, you know? Like if I get a rush, it means that something has gone horribly wrong, you know? Because the whole thing should be pretty slow and controlled and like-- I mean, it's mellow.

Logan: Does the challenge appeal to you?

Honnold: Yeah, for sure. Or like, always being able to push yourself. Like always having something bigger to do or harder to do. Anytime you finish a climb there's always the next thing you can try.

This is Alex in the film "Alone on the Wall." He's done more than a thousand free-solo climbs, but none were tougher than this one:

Here he is, just a speck on the northwest face of Half Dome.

You can barely make out the Yosemite Valley Floor below, as he pauses to rest.

He's the only person known to have free-soloed the northwest face of Half Dome.

Logan: What do you consider Alex's greatest achievements to date?

John Long: That he's still alive. If you look at the past, people who have made a real habit of soloing, you know, at least half of them are dead.

In the 70s, John Long was one of the best rock climbers in the world. Today, he's an elder statesman in the climbing community.

Long: It's indescribable what it's like to be up real high, because you know. But, you can get some kind of idea about it just by walking to the edge of a cliff or edge of a building. You look over and your body has, you have a visceral sort of effect. You know you can dial it off with a lot of experience, not all the way off--

Logan: Well, you just lose your stomach.

Long: Yeah. And the, the real challenge about climbing without rope is the fact is that feeling can come up full bore in a split second.

Logan: And you have to control that?

Produced by Jeff Newton.