Before the days of Sprinter Vans, I spent a few seasons living in Yosemite in a Coleman children’s tent that I got from Walmart for $19.98. The packaging had a picture of a crosseyed kindergartner sitting inside and holding a purple dinosaur. I bought the tent because its shape most resembled the iconic Bibler I-Tent, the extreme shelter that often appeared in climbing magazines pitched on some impossible Himalayan ridge. I seam-sealed the kids’ tent on my parents’ front porch, and loaded it up into a rusting Nissan Sentra alongside a crate of climbing guidebooks and literature, knock-off Czech cams, and a red Petzl Ecrin helmet that sported a “Hey Fuck Face” sticker parodying The North Face logo. Then, I headed west to Yosemite.

I’d climbed in Yosemite several times before, during summer breaks from college. I climbed with strangers who held no discernible climbing experience whatsoever. I pawed my way up south-facing slabs in August, getting so dehydrated and scorched on the granite frying pan that I literally began to hallucinate.

This trip, though, I was gonna dig in, climb some big shit. I’d just graduated, and as most of my peers headed off to medical and law school, I, with not a lot of money, no health insurance, and no girlfriend, went into a kids’ tent in the woods.

These were the days when the Huber brothers still frequented the Valley, camping in the dirt alongside all the gumbies like me. Bridwell, Bachar, and Kauk all still occasionally showed up, too—and all those myths and legends spun by my favorite climbing writer John Long ossified into a type of bone-hard truth.

ValleyUprising-10

Back then—and it’s not as if this was all that long ago—the celebrities of the climbing world were the ones who were truly pushing the sport and taking real risk for little reward. They were real honest-to-god dirtbags. It was guys like Dean Potter, who floated in torn Prana rags and walked barefoot among the colossal ponderosa like a native spirit, one moment bounding clear across slack lines in the back of Camp 4; the next moment, gone, off on some other crazy shit.

My dirtbag fantasy came to an unexpected end when I got an opportunity to take a desk job working for a climbing magazine, and I spent the next decade covering the sport of climbing as it grew and grew. When I first started writing about climbing, I had a big middle finger to give to all the old bald fucks who protested the direction the sport was taking. Lamenting bygone days is an unflattering habit, one I promised myself I’d avoid, the way one avoids Jim Beyer routes, when I reached an age when it’s appropriate to start behaving in such a surly manner.

Thankfully, I’m not yet bald, but I am feeling rather surly when I look around and see the state of climbing, with its increasing focus on marketing and morphing just-above-average millennial climbers into narcissistic brand ambassadors who are famous on social media but don’t appear to actually do anything substantial on the rock. Or, more likely, perhaps, they’ve done one or two hard route of some debatable grade, then ride that achievement for as long and as far as they can.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

In a recent Instagram, Alex Puccio penned an interesting rant that began, albeit cryptically, with “Dear publicity and Media …”

She goes on:

“There’s something that really bothers me. I’m pretty frustrated with what it takes to be at the top level of our sport. I feel like I’m a pretty honest climber and person and I will never be ok with taking a higher grade for a climb just to get more recognition and publicity just to be more “famous” in our sport. People will always have their opinions and the sad thing is that when climbers take the inflated grade just to “look cooler” they might get crap from other professional climbers or climbers that are immersed in the sport, but to the majority that doesn’t know any better they look “bad ass”! Sure I could have said I’ve done another V14 or more V13s and even flashed a V12, but that’s not me and I wouldn’t have been honest to myself and to the media. …”

Dear publicity and Media, there’s something that really bothers me. I’m pretty frustrated with what it takes to be at the top level of our sport. I feel like I’m a pretty honest climber and person and I will never be ok with taking a higher grade for a climb just to get more recognition and publicity just to be more “famous” in our sport. People will always have their opinions and the sad thing is that when climbers take the inflated grade just to “look cooler” they might get crap from other professional climbers or climbers that are immersed in the sport, but to the majority that doesn’t know any better they look “bad a**”! Sure I could have said I’v done another V14 or more V13’s and even flashed a V12, but that’s not me and I wouldn’t have been honest to myself and to the media. I will never be one of those climbers to do that just to get ahead! And actually some of the climbs that have been the toughest for me have not been V14 or even V13. There are quiet a few V12’s that I have done that were physically and mentally the hardest for me because of the massive moves and slopy holds. I like to seek out the “non girly” or “non shortie” climbs because I like a challenge! I don’t want to be defined by my gender and height and no one will tell me what I can and can’t do! And I won’t just go seek out a climb with a big number attached to it just because it’s my style and it would be easier for me. A climb has to inspire me for me to want to try my hardest on it and have fun working it, otherwise it’s meaningless. I will always keep pushing myself, but honestly!!! I’m also want to add that im very thankful for my sponsors that support what I value as an athlete, person and climber! ? @scarpana @petzl_official @frictionlabs @sendclimbing ? by: @joelzerr

A photo posted by Alex Puccio (@alex_puccio89) on

 

As I haven’t been following the bouldering scene all that closely lately, I’m not really sure what—or, rather, who—set off the Pooch on her social-media tirade, but I do think that her frustration is probably warranted, and speaks to a wider problem with climbing media. In the last 10-20 years, a lot has changed in terms of how climbing media is created, disseminated, and interpreted. Climbing news—the legendary “Hot Flashes” of the 1990s—used to be sent in by parcel, only to appear in print months later alongside a well-researched article that gave the ascent a proper context within the history of the sport.

When I first started working at Rock and Ice, compiling the Breaking News department for the print magazine was one of my first jobs. Within a few years, however, we ended up getting rid of this department and moving it online, which of course made the most sense as printed news (whose value is, by definition, its timeliness) couldn’t compete with the internet. Still, there were a few years when actual writers and journalists were the ones breaking stories, only doing it online.

Now even that has changed. Today, climbers are the ones breaking their own news stories on social media. And of course, often times, there is erroneous information in these guerrilla social-media blitzes, but they get passed on as the rock-solid truth. One recent example that comes to mind is when Ashima Shiraishi posted last September the news that climbing is definitely going to be in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Her post was liked 3,900 times and shared 450 times. I even got calls from editors of major magazines asking me to do a story on this breaking development. 

In case you haven’t heard, climbing will be in the#2020olympics in #Tokyo!!!!!!! THANK YOU to all of the athletes and…

Posted by Ashima Shiraishi on Monday, September 28, 2015

 

The problem is that Ashima was slightly mistaken; no big deal; she’s 14, and the press release she probably read was indeed confusing. Climbing isn’t officially an Olympic sport yet. I learned that through a very quick email to the IFSC, who promptly informed me that, “Sport Climbing was officially proposed as a new sport for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games by the Tokyo 2020 Additional Event Programme Panel. The final decision will be announced at the 129th IOC Session in Rio in August 2016. Until then, the IFSC will continue to work with the Athletes and the National Federations to reinforce and improve its organization to prove the solidity of this choice.”

Not only is this not surprising, but it’s hardly the worst example of the fact that Facebook has “swallowed everything,” according to this must-read article. It’s hard to even look at Facebook anymore because my feed—probably like everyone else’s—is filled with the most dubious and utter bullshit, about everything from climbing to this most-bizarre election cycle.

But the issue is much deeper than simply presenting, however innocently, wrong/misinformed information on social media—whether that’s about climbing in the Olympics, or about an over-inflated grade on a boulder problem. What’s crazy is just how many companies in the climbing/outdoor world are out there encouraging, supporting, and empowering climbers of a rather wide range of skill, vision, and ability to be their own brand ambassadors.

This perhaps explains why Puccio, who actually is at the top level of our sport, is frustrated with what it takes to be up there alongside her.

It begs the question: what does it take to be a top-level climber? In climbing, there is no World Series or Super Bowl, (though perhaps, if climbing actually makes it into the Olympics, that will change). For a long time, the climbers who were cutting edge were the ones who went out and made names for themselves by actually pushing the limits—through new routes and first ascents. Media and sponsorships followed as a result, but the climbing really was their primary focus.

I can’t help but think back to those days in Yosemite, when the Huber brothers, despite all their celebrity, despite all their leather pants, were also the guys putting up the hardest routes on El Cap by day, and sleeping in the dirt alongside everyone else in Camp 4 by night. It’s not as though I believe that in order to be a real, core climber, you have to be a dirty-ass hippie dirtbag—that’s just nostalgia talking. But the fact is, there was a certain dedication, a certain prioritization, that you saw in climbers who obviously were there for the love of the sport, whether they were practicing it at the highest levels (like the Hubers, Potter, etc.), or whether they were just broke idiots with political science degrees from expensive universities sleeping in kids’ tents (like me). It seems that level of sacrifice for the love of the sport is getting rarer—especially for some well-sponsored climbers.

Today, it seems like the paradigm has flip-flopped. It’s as if the more media you can create, the more sponsorships you will get, and then, therefore, the more you might be considered a top-level climber. There are only two people in the world who have climbed at a 5.15c level, but there are a shit-ton of people who are at a “5.15c level,” so to speak, in terms of their self-promotion and social-media savviness.

One way media companies are learning to survive in this new world order is to put out advertorial content or native advertising, which basically means presenting a sponsored idea for a story as an actual piece of journalism. In other words, corporate marketing interests are turning journalists into advertisers.

Likewise, companies are turning some of the best climbers in the world into their own marketing mouthpieces. And that has trickled down to everyone else, too. I’ve seen people who aren’t even sponsored by companies tagging those companies in their Instagram photos. Unless you’re getting paid or being given free gear, why would anyone do this? Have we really become so oblivious to the fact that we’re all being trampled into a single file vision of what climbing should look like?

The actual climbing side of climbing is truly beginning to feel secondary to the marketing of it.

Today’s breed of sponsored climbers, with their with tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, don’t actually need to even send routes anymore, let alone establish first ascents or envision new creative ways to approach the mountains—the way Dean Potter (and many many others) did.

It would seem that the only expectations of what it takes to be a “professional” climber these days is having a vibrant and robust social-media campaign, one in which they post random photos of themselves preparing to climb, training to climb, or just posing down on a route they may or may not one day send—alongside, of course, all the attendant hashtags and sponsor mentions, and maybe a cliched quote or maxim of inspiration, or two. That’s more than enough to justify their existences on their sponsors’ payrolls.

As Puccio pointed out, there is also a problem of grade inflation—and perhaps even taking advantage of the often circumstantial “first female ascent”—in order to make what are otherwise average ascents seem much greater or more important than they are.

What’s also concerning is that these ascents are often later reported, almost verbatim and without any further historical context to hold one accountable for accuracy, on many climbing magazines’ and climbing-media websites.

I’m too old and surly to comment on whether or not this is a “good” direction for the sport. But it certainly seems that that anti-establishment view that drove me into a kids’ tent with a Hey Fuck Face sticker on my helmet is being replaced with something else, something very corporate and something that, at least to me, feels inauthentic.

What do you think?

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  • Marcus

    Climbing mirrors everything else in the world that has done away with intelligence in favor of popularity. Same argument in this article could be made for almost any other sport, activity, or non-activity out there. The social media explosion has lead to the most stupid things becoming popular for no other reason except the number of eyes looking, and some measure of how much we can relate. How else would something like “Honey Boo Boo” get the kind of attention it has?

    Marc-Andre Leclerc recently free soloed three of the most notorious mixed & ice routes on the Stanley headwall in one day the other week. Arguably the most bad ass thing that has happened in the climbing world in a very long time (well, since Colin Haley & Honnold’s Torre traverse in a day). But because these aren’t things that is even a little bit relatable to the general population.

    Isn’t this the exact reason why the last cover of R&I featured Nina Williams climbing 5.11 rather than something more impressive? Relatability?

    • Jamie Carpenter

      Great article Andrew. Love your style of writing. This is my perspective, from someone who enjoys lots of different sports, I was kinda bugged on international wemons day when I saw posts of girls who sent this and sent that project and up and coming “heros” based on level of difficult climb, it prompted my post about the wemon that inspire me most, who sacrifice their own goals and ambitions to help communities, change laws, fight for the poor n share their knowledge with others, who make big differences in people’s lives and communities with no recognition, fame or sponsorship. Lately when I see someone post a pic of a send or a new project, it brings to mind how much selfishness and personal time they spent to achieve that goal. I think this competitive nature has been grown and fed through the media and our culture and it has its good, it inspires people to be healthy motivated and work hard, but i guess u could also say its similiar to a capitilistc society, we should only reap the benefit of our work, cause no one else climbed that rock, and u better put in the “real deal” work or u dont deserve recognition. Maybe we are moving away from capitalism towards socialism. (Sorry had to throw a in bad political punn). I actually like to see stories now about how climbers are living, sharing, doing kids camps, getting involved with land regulation and open acess, and using their influence, in what ever fashion they gained it, to contribute and give back to society somehow. Maybe it’s not all bad that people can have followers and get attention n promote them selves for doing something that the “bad asses” think is lame, as long as those people are inspiring others in some way n promoting something besides products or thier own selfishness. Just another perspective. JC

    • Brandon

      Re Marc-Andre Leclerc – A superhuman achievement, dude is badass as fuc*, a true artist and world class climber…
      Problem is very few people outside the Canadian Rockies/ climbing community are familiar with the Stanley Headwall whereas everyone is familiar with Yosemite and Patagonia etc.
      On a selfish note, as a resident I kind of like this, our routes are crowded enough as it is sometimes.

  • mike

    I like it – well-written. Climbing seems to be this rare “honor-based” sport in that we overwhelmingly trust people when they claim to have climbed routes/problems, or accept a photo of a climber on the crux of a route as evidence when they complete it. And Alex’s point is true – for the general public, a person climbing on a V4 in an advertisement may not look much different that someone climbing a V13 . . . and if it sells more product, I can imagine advertisers really don’t care. But it is disheartening to think of the strongest professional climbers that I know who DO legitimately send (5.14 on trad gear and open up big walls around the world) get way, way, way less recognition and payment than athlete-models on Instagram.

  • Nathan

    The main points of this article are spot on, especially asking why people would tag companies that don’t sponsor them. Why the fuck would you do that? Old climbing companies riding high on the new wave of social media and internet marketing. That’s fine, business just works that way now. What isn’t okay is the fact that they rely so heavily on the nostalgic counter-culture roots of climbing when clearly the sport has move so far from that.

    What irritates me even more and I think is even worse for the sports are the new breed of climbing companies that invest far more time into clever market and hip design than actual innovation and engineering. Friction Labs is undoubtedly making a killing with their subscription based, overpriced chalk but the end result is mostly just more wankers spilling loose chalk in gyms and climbing areas. The cutting edge new product that exemplified the worse of this trend was the So iLL climbing shoe. In their kickstarter video bearded urban designers in beautifully detailed design studios tout the fact that the shoes are designed to look like retro sneakers while hardly talking about their climbing capabilities. In my mind Kickstarter was a platform for people cranking out innovative products and ideas from their garage, not well established climbing hold industry leaders.

    • Liz

      Hey, if people who are climbing just for looks can ID themselves by wearing these retro shoes or something, it becomes all the easier for me to avoid them :). I’m in favor…

  • Rob in Pb

    I think the only thing that’s new about this phenomenon is the technology in question. Human nature has not appreciably changed. I’m a mere 47 years old, but I distinctly recall a day in 1994 or so at Hueco when a climber who shall remain nameless was heard asking around for the softest V5 in the park. When asked why she cared so much, she replied “Companies care!” [OK so the requisite grade for sponsorship has obviously come along as well] This was not so long ago, and I suspect it was not the first attempt on the First Great Problem of getting paid to go climbing.

    Good for Sasha, rocking college and still cranking. Arguably a much higher level of accomplishment than remaining solely focused on climbing.

    We all miss Dean, and dirt, and leather pants. Those kids Instagramming from your lawn are just the ones making themselves known to you. Rest assured that right now, someone young and strong and oblivious to all this garment-rending angst is sleeping in the woods and pulling down hard with no one else around. Take a deep breath and channel her.

  • MC210

    I see buddies who fish all the time with 10+ brand hashtags…wondering wtf they’re doing since they’re not getting paid. Also, the proliferation of Yeti stickers on cars has actually had a negative impact on me towards the brand, no matter if I love my tumbler I got as a gift or not.

  • Jd LeBlanc

    Well well Bisharat … seems like a never-ending rant, one I share BTW.
    I will add in that the ice climbing / mixed climbing realm certainly leads on this content. Inflated grades and style on the mixed end, with a solid gold in the marketing sponsorship area of the climbing industry. Those as well making it on the ice end is odd as well, when the grade has not changed for real and it was done with stubai’s and big boots with really bad screws. Hence a lot soloed back then and continue to do so.
    The other thing is that just because it got written about does not mean that it has not been done before.
    I recently read about a strong climber trying to send an old 8b in Buoux called La Rose … and he noted the FA was there from 1985 … and the climber did not send at that time of the article on FB.

    Even in a recent Petzl video of Woods and Graham in Flatanger showed youth top end with no knee pads versus the older strongman with dual knee pads. Both sent so how does that differ?

    Just a few thoughts …

    Cheers

  • Drew

    Why are non-sponsored climbers tagging brands in their Instagram feeds? It’s because they want to be sponsored. They’re trying to get the brand’s attention. There are plenty of climbers for whom the appeal of sponsorship is the goal. They feel like that is when they’ve “made it”. I don’t think anyone can be to blame apart from the individuals, or maybe if we look way back, we can blame the first heroes of the sport like Kauk and Bachar, as they started the idea of hero-worshipping individuals?
    And as for the requirements for a “professional” climber, sure some brands will look purely at “Likes” and “Followers”, but most will still look at achievement first. But surely the point of sponsoring someone is to get your product seen, so having a strong social media presence will help.

  • David Sahalie

    People #hashtag companies in the same way people put stickers on their cars. how many people who have Sportiva stickers are sponsored by Sportiva?

    Frankly, there is a lot of #butthurt here. who cares how kids promote themselves these days? But it is funny that they put so much work into #hashtagging, when no one cares.

  • Dave

    Regardless of the chosen sport, everyone wants to look pro. Great article.

    • Brad Hilbert

      Truth

  • Bradley Carter

    This is capitalism. Simple. Outdoor company “Ambassador” is just another word for Outdoor Company
    salesperson. There’s simply no money in the act of climbing a rock (and not much in comps) they way playing a football game on TV is. I hope it stays that way but then again I’m an old bald fuck. Even the best /most famous athletes make more money pitching product than in sport. Jordan, Woods, Sharapova, and on and on. http://opendorse.com/blog/highest-paid-athlete-endorsers/

    Spray is spray, but if its false then call bullshit on it and don’t climb with those people.

    I never understood the drive to make climbing as popular as other sports. But there will always be unpopular crags to climb at if you want to escape crowds.

  • Tboss

    Well stated column. I was also in camp 4 back when 9/11 occurred. I recall seeing Kauk, Alex huber, potter and many other elite climbers walking and talking with rank and file climbers…. Ahhh….I don’t think I saw a single sprinter then. No social media! Pay phones even existed at camp 4. The one anomaly which stuck out, was tori Allen (remember her?). She had her father and entourage with her, filming her every move on midnight lightning, which she didn’t come close to sendings when I glanced over at the spectacle. This media cultivation was certainly, unknown to me at the time, portending the egotism of digital promotion which we find ourselves in.

    Brands, millenials, looking cool….essentially materialism has invaded climbing. Sometimes I wonder if these “cool brands” didn’t exist, would anyone go out climbing? Certainly the mass corporate dissemination via digital media has created an optic of climbing that shows attractive, young, fit, clad in cool threads people. It feels so dissimulated. Insincere. I don’t need Patagonia or Arcteryx or a sprinter or Audi to feel like I am a climber.

    At bottom, this is an image issue. By implication, a massive ego fixation. These climbers crave digital attention. There are so many average climbers out there posing as pros or elites. Maybe someday they will get there. Sadly, they seem to feel the need to dissimulate digitally. But who am I to criticize?

  • Eric Hounshell

    Hi Andrew, I’m pretty new to climbing, so I don’t have the same experience or investment as you do, but I can definitely see what you’re talking about. Actually, the reason I wanted to comment here is that I just watched the Banff Film Festival Tour last night. Pretty much the whole thing felt like one long Patagonia commercial, EXCEPT the short film of Mayan & Libby on The Nose.

  • TEEJAYZ

    Yeah yeah….and when Dylan went electric people lost their shit.
    A well-written and thoughtful perspective but the “good ‘ol days” angle doesn’t fly with me. If any of those old-timers you mentioned were given a shot at free gear and maybe some running around money they’d take it in a second. Potter had sponsors, right?
    I don’t climb but I do backpack and the motto is “Hike Your Own Hike.’ I see this argument about sponsorship a lot in the climbing community. For men and women who seem to have some toughness about them, and engage in what is largely an individual pursuit, there sure seems to be a lot of crying and foot stomping over this issue. I don’t get it.

  • natalie jaime

    It seems that the days of pros being the only ‘strong’ climbers are over. Not that being strong always translates to being a good climber… what I mean is that if you want to be a professional (or semi-pro?, or ambassador, or whatev..) you have to do something that sets you apart from the rest- maybe that entails social media? I don’t know… But just because you climb 5.14 does not make you entitled to any kind of sponsorship. You could climb 5.14 and be the nicest person…or be a total douche- so how does a company decide which 5.14 climber to support? And do you even need to climb 5.14 to be sponsored? What can you offer a company? Do you represent the sport well? I think a pro climber should be someone who has a good attitude at the crag, someone who isn’t a whiny little bitch when they don’t send their proj…hah! Really interesting, thought-provoking stuff, Andrew! At the end of the day we’re just climbing rocks, enjoying life. As the youngin’s say- You do you.

  • dlg

    This essay/article/rant exactly expresses what I’ve been thinking for a while. I am not an old-timer in climbing, but even I feel that in the five years that I have been “into” it, it’s changed a lot. My first Reel Rock included Alex Honnold alone on a ledge in Yosemite and Ashima being coached by her father and obe. It was my first major climbing exposure and it probably set me up for the perspective I have now. Climbing seems to have moved away from what is bold, unimaginable AND technically/physically difficult to only what is difficult. The elements of adventure and risk are de-emphasized by the media. I also think of the strong generation of youth climbers and how climbing to them began in a safe, prescribed way, and that the brazen energy and curiosity of what is possible now doesn’t have the space to grow and to inspire people as it once did. I’m not arguing for rugged individualism in climbing, but I think what I miss is that sense that the people I’m reading about are doing it for some interesting motivation. Then I get the feeling that I’m reading about/watching some natural wonder.

  • Scott

    It seems to me that you pay too much attention to social media. It is true that climbing has gone mainstream. Most climbers aren’t counter culture anymore. You may lament that people don’t do it like they used to, but the fact is that many more people are climbing now than ever have or would have before. In addition, the limits are being pushed. Not by many of the climbers out there, but would anyone say that the dawn wall and other legendary objectives aren’t big steps towards more difficulty? As to the marketing towards casual climbers, yes, it’s the case. However, that’s not a terrible thing. People who say that only some climbs or some really hardcore way of climbing counts are in my opinion missing out on the point of enjoying the outdoors and the joy of the movement of the sport. Not everyone who climbs will climb hard, but they are still climbing. It’s the same through history and in all sport. Not everyone who runs will or even wants to break world records, but they’re still out there doing it. I think you should climb for yourself, and we should all take that braggy kid’s post on Facebook with a tbls of salt. We all know who’s pushing the sport, and we all know that when we are out in the world, climbing, that’s when we’re most free from these distracting thoughts on how others use social media.

  • Jesse Bruni

    The one thing that will always be a part of the climbing culture is elitism. Back in the Day it was all climbers, they were the dropouts who refused to conform to the suburban lifestyle society wanted them to accept. And they were probably smug as fuck about how much better they were than everyone else.

    Then you had the Stonemasters and the era where if you weren’t doing bold (read, really fucking dangerous) shit you were on the outs. And I guarantee that even though they thought they were hot shit, Robbins and his crew probably though they were missing the point of climbing.

    Then came the 90’s where the ego’s got even larger and it was all about high numbers, but well protected, if you weren’t sending hard, GTFO. And the Stonemasters thought they were ruining the sport

    Then came Sharma in the 2000’s and we had a return to ‘soul climbing’ or whatever kinda fake spiritual bullshit people tried to pretend was the reason they climbed. Whatever. Fact of the matter is that the top climber in the world didn’t seem to care much about grades, and so everyone tried to do what the best climber in the world was doing. And the strongmen of the 90’s thought these guys were fake as fuck.

    Now the name of the game is social media where it’s not about how hard you send, it’s about how good you look doing (or not doing) it. And all the soul climbers of the 2000’s are waxing nostalgic about how back in their day (10 years ago) it wasn’t about numbers but about the purity of climbing. Whatever. It’s all egotism. The fact of the matter is that as soon as someone puts in their dues, spends enough years climbing to feel like they’re on the inside-looking-out, rather than the outside-looking-in, they start to see things differently. They start to see how people are getting into the sport for different reasons than they did, and how they are enjoying different aspects of it than they did, and the automatic assumption is that this is wrong.

    If you don’t like the way the sport is going well, you’re entitled to your opinion, and you’ll be in good company with all the people who are (probably) your climbing heroes. If you’re the new climber who’s getting shit on by all these crusty old climbers for acting like everyone else in your generation just wait a few years when it will be your turn to do the same to the next generation

    • Tom Jackson

      Nailed it!

  • Josh Graham

    Reading this reminded me of the recent R&I mag. #232, the one w/ Nina Williams on the cover. Would that issue, or R&I for that matter, even exist without Adidas money? How does that $$$ affect what I read and the stories they choose to publish?

  • Max Hare

    I’m neither a hardcore climber nor a climbing historian, but here it goes anyway:

    Perhaps, in the good old days, climbing was able to maintain some “principles” like “pushing limits” and “sleeping in the dirt” because it was such a small, homogenous (read: white male) group. Sponsorship was not present because there was no money to be made. Now climbing is more accessible to more people (like first generation girls growing up in the most urban parts of this country), and personally I think that’s great. But as the sport becomes more accessible, it becomes more profitable.

    As I said before, I am not a climbing historian, but I think this article can be read as a tribute to climbers who were climbing before corporate sponsorship, climbers who were still climbing Yosemite when the author was. But let’s not forget that they were a small, non-representative group. No professional, sponsored climber can lay claim to that “spirit”, because no for-profit company values principles over profit. Since companies began using climbers to make money, I don’t see how there has been any real change in climbing (although Nathan’s comment on the effects on climbing gear is interesting), only a change in how companies can profit off of climbers (see Jesse Bruni’s comment below). Given that, I don’t see how any professional, sponsored climbers of any era are more sympathetic than they are at fault. And while I admit I’m not a huge fan of pure capitalism, at least in this case it is accompanying a growing diversity in the sport of climbing.

  • Gisele Saez

    Great article. I remember reading an interview with Miles Young, Worldwide Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency, saying that agencies are becoming publishers (from the independent.co.uk, @http://goo.gl/0Q5cAY). Agencies create stories, people get emotional and involved, they talk about it and become spokespeople for brands (and also buy their products). We, as humans, we fall for this kind of appeal.

    A sport become comercial, well, it happens to almost all of them. With soccer it’s so bad that it gets nasty and full of illegal activities, see what’s happening with FIFA investigations.

    To become comercial instead of keeping it “pure” and focused on the challenge and the joy itself happens to almost of human activities: music, cinema, medicine, politics. There will always be the ones who go for the spotlight and others who do it because they enjoy it.

    I really don’t care if Alex Honnold will solo climb a 5.15c (and I have the impression that he doesn’t too), I just enjoy watching he climb a rock. And I wouldn’t enjoy to see he climbing just because a brand called him to do it.

    That’s why I like so much crowdfunding and initiatives like “Patreon”, which gives us the opportunity to embrace directly something that we enjoy instead of helping brands to make more money in exchange of a circus of builded accomplishments.

    It’s not that sponsorship is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s when it distorts what is being sponsored.

    In the end, the question should be for climbers: “are you here to climb or to make money?”
    “Both” is an answer that should only work for a few gifted people.

  • Wallski

    One summer, about 15 years ago, also as “an idiot with a political science degree from an expensive university”, few job prospects, and without the motivation to go to law school like my friends, I took the greyhound across country and eventually hitched my way into the Valley to chase the dream. Common cliche story–boring. Fortunately, I didn’t do anything stupid enough to get me or anyone else killed.

    Hands looking like a pizza without any cheese, I remember actually paying for a campsite and taking a rest day. A guy was working Midnight Lightning, which wasn’t uncommon. But he had an entourage–piles of crash pads, girls, music, cameras, lots of tape and chalk–and was falling from the same move, not very far off the ground. A real spectacle.

    Then a non-assuming guy crawled out of his Walmart-esque tent, sent the problem without warming up, and nonchalantly walked back to his site. Zero social media.

    I’m okay with being nostalgic about that experience.

  • Hector

    Interesting blog. Possibly an angle that’s missing is that people inflated their achievements (and outright lied about them) long before social media. The most famous climbing example is probably the non-first ascent of Cerro Torre. Human nature is what it is. Social media is just another way of communicating. And while it may allow people to spray in a global way that wasn’t possible before, it also allows us to filter what we see, and call bullshit when we see it. Us climbing consumers are not vacant vessels waiting to be mesmerised by the next sponsor-hashtagged video. We are, in fact, a discerning, critical and diverse community. Some of us love the hashtag-crankers, and others of us hate it. I’m sure our FB feeds reflect which we are. It’s interesting to wonder if Cesare Maestri would have had an easier time convincing the world of his Cerro Torre claim if social media was around. I suspect not.

  • John W. Matney

    You make a good point. I’m a real newbie (less than 4 months) and an old guy-60. My historical knowledge of running parallels the points you made. When I was running in high school, I was considered strange because it wasn’t (except for the Olympics) a “real sport.” Now look at it-millions if people get medals for “finishing” a marathon with a 5 hour time. It would be easy for me to remember the good old days when I was running sub 14 minute 5k’s and sneer at these hoards of poser, but, I just let it go and try not to act like a grumpy old man. One of the big appeals of climbing for me was to be a newbie and learn. It’s been great, but even a gumby like me has to explain to people at work that new climbers that can climb a 5.10c in the gym is nice, but not much of a comparison to a 5.10 outdoors. I prefer the outdoors. I think a proper analogy would be-“climbing is like sex, even if you’re really bad at it, it’s still a lot of fun.” ha ha

  • Jimmie Redo

    Great post. Read by an over the hill climber since 1979 who’s seen the evolution of bullshit.

    #nevereverstopexploring #wontstopneverstop #livingwithoutlimits

  • Michael

    I climbed out of camp 4 in the early 70’s. We had no social media and wouldn’t have participated if it existed. Everything Kardashian is today’s chant! Everything I owned, drove and wore cost less than an average climbers rack today. I don’t remember ever thinking I could make a living climbing, don’t think I would have wanted to. I climbed in an era that was truly special and I’m grateful. M