Alex Honnold was about halfway to the Freerider during his historic free solo from El Cap, searching for a bottle of water he had stashed on Heart Ledge when he woke up a mythical beast asleep on a portaledge.
Tom Evans, the pillar of the Yosemite Valley, captured the moment by chronicling Honnold’s ascent for his site, ElCap Report, and the climbing community made a collective double take. Was this climber wearing a chicken suit ? No, a unicorn costume ? National Geographic even asked Honnold About It In His First Interview after it was sent out. “What costume? I wasn’t paying attention,” he replied ⛰️
Honnold’s looking for his water bottle. | Photo: Report from Tom Evans ElCap.
The climbing unicorn begins its day. | Photo: Report by Tom Evans ElCap
I wanted to see if I could find the unicorn-onesia climber and ask him a few questions, so I posted Tom Evans’ picture on the Mountain Project Facebook feed, and it took me 12 minutes to find Forest Altherr of Frisco, Colorado, who must be one of the most enthusiastic (and unique) climbers in America.
You always climb into a unicorn costume ? Is that your thing ? And, uh, why ?
Well, I wasn’t always like this.
The lab group I worked for during graduate school studied poop, and we developed a fascination for pooping unicorns after watching the best Internet commercial ever while dithering over exams. That rainbow pooping unicorn changed me forever.
I started climbing as a unicorn in Linville Gorge, North Carolina. It is surprisingly functional as a warm layer, but it doesn’t breathe very well and also attracts a lot of bees.
How long have you been climbing, and what are your favourite climbs to date ?
I was introduced to rock climbing when I was very young, but I didn’t start having a climber’s identity until I started living in my car in 2013. My favourite climbs are mainly in Yosemite: The Nose, the Freerider, the north face of the Rostrum. I spent a few years in the southeast recently, and climbing around Chattanooga is so good. One of my all time favorite sites is the Space Ranger in Sunset Park, near Chatt. I heard that someone did it in a koala suit. But you still have to do a first unicorn ascent (FUA).
Is this the first known ascent of the cape by a unicorn ?
I wouldn’t be surprised if other mythical creatures had climbed the granite monolith before, and I hesitate to proclaim that this is the first thing to do in El Capitan. The resident historian, Tom Evans, would be better able to talk about the mythology of the wall.
Editor’s note: We asked Tom, and he says that in more than a decade of watching and photographing every day of every climbing season on the Big Rock, he has never seen a unicorn on the wall. He has seen a climber in a banana suit, but the climber only wore it on a few pitches, not all of them].
What did you think when you woke up in front of alex honnold's face ?
As a Unicorn Costume, few things seem truly magical, but they certainly were. Alex seemed much less impressed by the sight of a unicorn than I was by his sight.
Did you talk ?
I recognized him right away because he had passed us when he was rapping on the Freeblast earlier, so I looked at him and said, “Hey”. He looked at us and said we looked “tired.” I interpreted that as if he thought we had pooped on the ledge and I vehemently denied the accusation. I mean, even unicorns use poop tubes! He corrected me by saying that he was actually commenting on our physical appearance, and then we talked about our plans that day on Freerider. It was a pretty sweet exchange. Seeing the concentrated intensity in his eyes will stay with me forever. And it was really cool to see him riding the Monster Offwidth.
Have you heard about the recent first naked ascent of el cape ?
It’s clear ! Jon and Leah are in another realm of legend. If I could see them right now, I’d kick their ass. It’s an epic first ascent, although I should point out that unicorns are technically still naked.
What are the future fua on your radar ?
There’s so much to do it’s hard to say. I’m going to be in the Southwest for the next two years, so I’d like to do walls in Black Canyon and Purple Haze on the Shield in the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. El Capitan always calls me too.