The Cleanest Line


The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not

The Facebookification of Climbing and the Decline of All Things Real – or not

By Kelly Cordes   |   Nov 3, 2011 November 3, 2011

by Kelly Cordes

Caldwell - IMG_2184
[Tommy Caldwell moving the portaledge during his attempt to free the Dawn Wall. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

Tuesday night, November 1, 9:58 p.m., posted on Tommy Caldwell’s Facebook page:

“No send tonight. But the craziness of the situation struck me. Trying to climb 5.14 by headlamp during a super intense wind storm. Strangely invigorating. I love the experience but am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project.”

I’ve often been a crusty bastard about from-the-route publicity. Ironic, I know, and indeed we all want to draw the circle around ourselves, starting with my going, “yeah but…” and explaining how my propensity to spray on the interwebs is soooo different from all that “bullshit” out there. Right. And I generally stick to it. I’m a fan of send first, spray second. That comes mostly from an alpine climbing mentality – it’s hard to imagine how you can be doing something that’s invariably publicized as “futuristic” or “cutting edge” if…hmmm…well, uh, so then, how did the camera guy get up there?

Yeah but, Tommy’s Dawn Wall climb really is different. Different in that it’s so – yes, futuristic – difficult that Tommy’s not climbing it in some lightweight (ie. easy?) push. When you’re doing a pitch or two a day (notwithstanding the final planned day of 12 pitches up to a mere 5.13, if it all works out), then on those slow days, when you’re redpointing 5.14+, does it affect anything to have a media circus shooting photos and video?

Let’s also remember that it’s a roadside climb. You can hike to the top of El Cap and rap in right on top of him. Some irony exists, in a way, in how we so revere El Capitan – with very very good reason – yet nowadays it’s a fully public arena. Telescopes in the meadow, the Tommy fbk screen grab
[Screen grab from Tommy’s Facebook page.]

The other day, between texts and phone tag, Tommy answered some of my questions about this whole media thing, about being so public and open about his attempt. He’d just finished his second day on his Dawn Wall push, was seven pitches up and hanging in the portaledge, writing on his iPhone from the wall:

“In the past all my climbing has been done in a pretty solitary fashion. Me, my partner, and not too many people knew what was going on until after it happened. As a professional climber, a few years ago I realized that the whole media world in climbing was changing.

Although it felt a bit unnatural at first, I decided to embrace the circus on this project. There are many reasons for this. First of all, it becomes a circus whether I like it or not. The Ask a Climber Program here in Yosemite has put the climbers on El Cap on display. There are daily blog updates complete with photos of what is going on. If you can’t fight ‘em, might as well join ‘em.

Also, this has been a really drawn out project. I have been hitting it pretty hard for two years and dabbling for two years before that. It’s part of my job to let people know that I am not just sitting on the couch all these years.

It’s also been really fun having all the photographers and filmmakers on the wall with us. They are all my close friends and El Cap makes for an amazing place to get to know people. There have been so many people supporting me and it’s fun to have them up here. Our logistics have made it easy. With some decent jugging skills you can get to our ledge camp in a hour.”

An unlikely twist came to mind regarding Tommy’s high-profile Dawn Wall attempt: the most cutting edge ascents in history have necessarily been climbs where top climbers fully embraced failure, were even likely to fail but somehow managed the improbable, even “impossible.” This usually happened in relative solitude. But letting the world watch while you try, fail, try, fail again, and maybe, hopefully, succeed? Hell yeah, he’s embracing it.

At least that’s how I look at it. What do you think?

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