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into th e w i l d

We chat with East Chapel Hill High School grad Sanni McCandless about appearing in the Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo” and falling in love with climbing herself

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. I’d love to hear about growing up in Chapel Hill. I was born in Washington state and lived there until I was 11. My dad’s work transferred, and we were relocated to North Carolina. I went to Ephesus [Elementary] for half a year, and then I went to Smith Middle School and East Chapel Hill High School. I went to college at UNC. I loved living in North Carolina. It was a really hard decision, actually, to decide to move back to the West Coast, but everyone in my family had already moved back. By the time I graduated in 2014, all my extended family was on the West Coast, and it turned out there was a job opportunity [for me] in Seattle. Any favorite spots in town? [Visiting] Whole Foods/PTA Thrift Store with my mom was definitely a childhood favorite. I love the Weathervane’s brunch. Every time I go to Chapel Hill, I have to go to Southern Season and get Chapel Hill Toffee. I actually have some Chapel Hill Toffee sitting on my desk right now for a rainy day. [Also] Lime & Basil and Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen [for] cinnamon rolls. Were you outdoorsy growing up? My parents were always really outdoorsy, and we did a lot of camping and backpacking trips. When we moved to North Carolina, it was definitely a step back from that way of life. I did do a sea kayaking trip through UNC and would go out to Eno River State Park a lot and hike around there. When I was in college, I was in an a capella group, and I was studying – I just had really different priorities. The second I moved back out west, I got kind of excited about backpacking more. What was your first impression of climbing? [My] older sister, Jaime, was the first person to take me climbing and the first person to take me backcountry skiing. She’s definitely kind of always pushed me in that direction. The first time I went, she just took me to a rope climbing gym in Seattle. I remember really enjoying it. The way that 28

chapelhillmagazine.com

May/June 2019

you move when you climb is really similar to how we play when we’re kids. So when I first learned, it felt really right. And then three or four months before I met [my boyfriend, professional rock climber] Alex [Honnold], I really decided I wanted to start climbing more. I canceled my other memberships, and I decided to start diving into climbing. [That] was almost four years ago. It’s what I love to do and always something I’m thinking about. And definitely something I share with Alex. We obviously climb at really different levels, but I think we both just love the act of climbing. How long was the whole process filming “Free Solo”? [Alex and I] met at the very end of 2015, and that’s probably right around the time that he was signing the contracts with National Geographic. Then he did the climb [the first free solo of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park] June 3, 2017, and then the film was released in September 2018. The film was a huge part of our relationship. It was an ongoing project throughout the course of us meeting, falling in love, and then dating and moving in together. It’s an hour-and-a-half-long film, and there’s probably 15 minutes

Profile for Shannon Media

Chapel Hilll Magazine May/June 2019  

THE WOMEN’S ISSUE

Chapel Hilll Magazine May/June 2019  

THE WOMEN’S ISSUE