El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (by Matt Kuehl)

Choose The Mountain

Ron Pragides
4 min readJun 5, 2017


On June 3 2017, Alex Honnold made climbing history by the way he scaled El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. He completed the feat by a method of climbing known as free soloingwhen a climber is alone and uses no ropes or any other equipment to aid or protect him as he climbs.

The free solo of El Capitan has been called “the most dangerous rope-free ascent ever” — only two other people had ever publicly stated a desire to scale the 3300-ft granite wall alone and without a rope. (Those other two individuals, Michael Reardon and Dean Potter, each died as a result of their dangerous choice of profession.)

The low lands call
I am tempted to answer
They are offering me a free dwelling
Without having to conquer

Alex Honnold first learned to rock climb at the age of 11, when his father took him to a climbing gym. According to a NY Times profile on Alex: “By 16, Honnold could do a one-finger pull-up; by 18, he was among the top competitive gym-climbers in the United States, though he had done virtually no climbing outdoors.”

Before dedicating his life to climbing, Alex intended to pursue a very different path: He enrolled at UC Berkeley to study Engineering! But at age 19 (when his father died suddenly of a heart attack), Alex dropped out of college to pursue rock climbing as a full-time endeavor.

The massive mountain makes its move
Beckoning me to ascend
A much more difficult path
To get up the slippery bend

Alex has completed many treacherous climbs around the world, including other peaks in Yosemite. He had already achieved notoriety in 2012 for scaling Mount Watkins, El Capitan, and Half Dome alone and (except for 500 feet) without ropes or safety equipment. But in this interview from 2016, he describes a free solo of El Capitan as one challenge that filled him with fear:

I cannot choose both
I have a choice to make
I must be wise
This will determine my fate

Unknown to most people at the time of this interview is that Honnold had already decided to attempt the intimidating climb. As quoted in National Geographic: “Years ago, when I first mentally mapped out what it would mean…”

Alex trained for the El Capitan ascent for over a year at locations in the US, China, Europe, and Morocco. Only a very small circle of close friends and fellow climbers knew of the project. Honnold made a first attempt to free solo El Capitan in November 2016, but aborted because conditions didn’t feel right. Undaunted from his goal, he continued with his detailed preparations up until a few days before the historic climb.

I choose, I choose the mountain
With all its stress and strain
Because only by climbing
Can I rise above the plane

Close friend (and frequent climbing partner) Tommy Caldwell sees Alex Honnold as uniquely qualified for his dangerous profession: “He’s wired a little differently from everybody else. The risk excites him, and he knows it’s super badass, but he doesn’t allow himself to go beyond that in his mind”

But the risks of the profession aren’t for everyone. Clif Bar withdrew its sponsorship of Alex Honnold out of concern for the increasing challenges he faced. In response, Alex drafted an op-ed piece for the NY Times explaining The Calculus of Climbing at the Edge: “…if I have a particular gift, it’s a mental one — the ability to keep it together where others might freak out.”

I choose the mountain
And I will never stop climbing
I choose the mountain
And I shall forever be ascending

Alex Honnold’s accomplishment on June 3, 2017 is inspiring for anyone facing a daunting challenge and a fear of the unknown.

He has chosen a career path that many others wouldn’t, but leverages his past experiences and unique talents to every new situation. The risks he takes are real; he approaches them with an understanding that strategic planning, diligent preparation, and steadfast effort are required to be successful. And he knows that to achieve the next level in his profession, he has to continually seek out the next obstacle to scale.

This milestone is particularly timely for me, as I embark on a new endeavor of my own. Today, I join AppDirect as VP of Engineering and look forward to scaling another peak in my career.

I’ll try to remember the lessons of climbers that have gone before me — and one particular poem by Howard Simon whose words have special resonance:

I choose the mountain



Ron Pragides

Led pre-IPO teams at @BigCommerce @Twitter @Salesforce. Follow me on twitter: @mrp