Walk the Line

posted by dpm on 02/21/2011


Walk the Line

The Back-story:
Lately, several controversial ascents have been the fodder for internet gossip and mud-slinging.  In each instance the ascentionist was directly criticized for their methodology (the way in which they chose to climb the line) and a seemingly proud accomplishment was quickly downplayed and replaced by negative commentary questioning their merits.  In each case the climber that was mentioned was not questioned prior to the posting and unfortunately had to find out through the grape vine that their season’s crowning achievement was being torn down by a large gathering of internet trolls.


Alex Johnson climbing in Bishop.  Photo: Wills Young


At first glance this should not faze anyone.  Trolls will be trolls and what is their word worth anyways? But, let’s consider for a moment that you are a highly sponsored climber who has thus far been in good standings with the community.  And let’s consider that said community resolves to engage conversation on several climbing news sites, informative blogs, and social media outlets where you can find venom-spewing climbers who enjoy nothing more than to debate and downplay the accomplishments of others in order to promote an US vs. THEM mentality, up their stature in the community, or as they simply put it create a dialogue.   These outlets are also what many consider “acceptable” media sources and are used to promote our industry and our community.  Do these outlets and our community consider the negative impact they have with their ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ strategy?


Do these sources consider the implications that these growing conversations can: A.) Have on the climber, B.) The climber’s sponsors, C.) Community growth?  Perhaps a bit of foresight is needed before we go looking to provide “controversial facts” without working to establish a conversation with the climber and other sources that might offer an alternative perspective and actually provide some real facts to the issue instead of hearsay and posturing.  As a community we are collectively working to damage the vary sport we are hoping to grow out of sheer journalistic laziness.


Alex on The Mandala.  Photo: Wills Young


Now that the background is set let’s examine two cases:

Case 1:
Alex Johnson recently made the 2nd female ascent of Chris Sharma’s The Mandala (V12).  Gathering beta from online sources, conversations with locals, and watching others send the line, Alex learned the path of least resistance and applied it to her attempts on the line.  Those attempts culminated with Alex topping the line out and enjoying the well deserved praise from her community.  Within hours news of Alex’s ascent hit the net and what started as congratulations quickly turned into finger-pointing, with bloggers asking, “Did she climb The Mandala?” or stating,  “I think she started with too high of a pad stack and the left hand she used was off.”


(Editor’s Note:  This statement is a simplified take on a pretty complex issue regarding the starting holds of The Mandala Read the details on this issue at Bishop Bouldering.)  


Portia on Beefy Gecko in Bishop, California.  Photo: Prana


Case 2:
Portia Menlove has been on a tear pulling down double-digit lines in both Bishop and Hueco.  Portia’s most recent accomplishment came in an ascent of Barefoot on Sacred Ground (V12).  The line can be found on the same wall as See Spot Run (V6) and starts down and left at the bottom of the wall.  The “business” is the opening sequence of the line which culminates with a throw to a large hueco and then the top out is composed of small pulls on decent edges and has been most recently linked into the top of See Spot Run adding an extra boulder problem to the mix.  Again, Portia climbed the “meat” of the line and choose a different exit and a video was posted documenting her ascent quickly followed by the hordes responding that she did not in fact do Barefoot on Sacred Ground (V12).


Check out video of the ascent here:


The Resolution:
In the case of both climbers the question is one concerning technicalities.  First, Alex Johnson: did she climb Chris Sharma’s Mandala?  The truth: no, and furthermore, neither did Dave Graham or any of the other rows of strong climbers who utilized an alternative sequence.  If we are going to openly call out Alex then let’s not omit the row of other strong climbers who found an alternative method to what was seen in Dosage 1.  Chris’s method in the video is considered by most really difficult and by difficult they mean ridiculous and since his ascent hundreds of other climbers have utilized different hand holds, feet, movement, and top out selections in their pursuit of the line.  Alex is just one of many who climbed The Mandala and her ascent mirrors hundreds of others out there. And yet, several news outlets downplayed the ascent and questioned the integrity of her send and in doing so could have put her in a very precarious place in the community and with her sponsors.

For Portia the same thing could be said of her ascent as Alex’s.  Did she climb the line as the first ascentionist Fred Nicole did?  The answer: possibly, but for arguments sake one might state highly unlikely.  Did she in fact doBarefoot on Sacred Ground (V12)?  The answer is yes, and if we dig deep enough we see that the problem was originally a drop off from the hueco, so logically by extending the line (in either direction) would be to go above and beyond what is considered Barefoot on Sacred Ground by the first ascentionist.


The Moral:
In the case of both climbers time simply proved what they already knew when they topped out each problem.  With any sport there will be bumps in the road and currently a large road block we continue to hit is defining our problems with respect to grade and path.  However, as a community we would be remiss if we did not notice how we interpret, call out, and report these “road blocks.”  Moving forward we must be careful not to discredit others to add to our web hits or to start a dialogue because these methods have begun to create cracks in the community.  These small cracks echo back to the climbers’ sponsors and if they continue unchecked they will become rifts.  Yes, climbing is growing into a business and in any business, especially a media-centric one that operates on the internet, it is important to not slander or be liable for the downfall or misrepresentation of another climber all because we had nothing better to talk about or because they used a method different from our own.

Climbers are striving to be professional athletes and they have “reputations” and “names” that they use to garner sponsorship.  If a climber’s ascent is going to be openly contested, some research beforehand would go a long way to show support for the climber and the community.  Also when in fact these claims are found to be frivolous might the offending party offer a retraction or give the climber a forum to set the record straight?  No news source is perfect, but as of late the strings of forum conversations, news blips, and Facebook chatter that could be seen as damaging to a sponsored athlete needs to be reigned in before any real damage can be done.  Going back to a simple idea that is considered journalistic integrity might we better serve our community by spending the proper time to research a topic before we throw it out there so we can garner more web hits than the other guys?  It is a learning process, but these items can’t continue to go on unchecked as it will only continue to show we are still immature as a sport and do not deserve to be elevated.


-Anthony Lapomardo