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Unsent: Are You a Real Rock Climber?

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Unsent /un-sent/ 1. To have failed so badly on a route you had previously climbed that you negate your redpoint. 2. A humor column.

Chris Sharma is not a real rock climber. Too handsome.

There are a lot of gumbos* these days that call themselves rock climbers, but only climb in the gym. That’s bullshit. They’re not real rock climbers, and we all know it. Or are they? They do ascend rock-like surfaces using only their strength and cunning to overcome gravity. But it’s not rock. It’s plastic. On the other hand, some of the world’s best competition climbers rarely touch real rock, and there’s no question that the ones that top the podium are climbers, right? So let’s settle this once and for all. What’s actually rock climbing?

Is gym climbing rock climbing?

No. Obviously not. By the literal definition, gym climbers are not rock climbers. They’re plastic climbers. Real rocks are made out of rock, stone, and sometimes minerals. Rocks are never made of plastic. Anything that happens on plastic is a different sport entirely.

What about when I go to the crag with my friends and spend the afternoon toproping?

You’re climbing on rocks, so it’s rock climbing, right? Wrong! If you’re not leading, you’re not rock climbing. All you’re doing is goofing off on a cliff. Think of it this way, if you can walk to the top, it’s not a real rock climb (I’m looking at you El Cap).

I get it. Anything less than sport climbing isn’t rock climbing.

Um, sport climbing? That’s more of an oxymoron than gym climbing. True rock climbing doesn’t follow a dotted metal line up a cliff. It requires route finding. It doesn’t provide you with bomber bolts every five feet. You need to be bold and take responsibility for your own safety. Sport climbing is more like bungee jumping where you try not to fall. If you think that doesn’t make sense, you’re right.

You’re saying Chris Sharma and Sasha DiGiulian aren’t rock climbers then.

Exactly. And furthermore, both of those people are too attractive and have too much money to be real rock climbers. They’re just athletic models that pose on the sides of cliffs. Real rock climbers are dirty. And homeless.

So you’re one of those elitists that thinks trad climbers are the only true climbers.

Wow. You think trad climbers are real climbers? You know those cowards use ropes for protection, right? Anyone can climb anything with the benefit of a rope. It’s basically aid climbing, which is also not climbing. Those Caldwell and Jorgeson clowns were only able to climb the Dawn Wall because they used ropes and spent over two weeks up there. I could climb the Dawn Wall with a rope. I’d just hang for a day in between each move and do it over the course of two years. But that’s obviously not rock climbing. Not to mention that climbing El Cap is a waste of time anyway because you can just walk to the top (see above).

I see. You’re saying that free soloing is the only pure form of climbing. I think that’s stupid, but at least I can understand the argument.

You don’t understand anything. Real climbing requires strength and gymnastic talent, as well as technical mastery. Free soloing is too easy. There’s nothing hanging from your harness weighing you down. You don’t need to build anchors. Free soloists are basically chimpanzees. Sure, they can get on top of a rock, but there’s nothing going on inside their heads. Real rock climbers understand engineering and physics. They know what fall factors and kilonewtons are. They spend a lot of money on shiny metal things that they hang on their harnesses. Then they take those shiny things and shove them in the rock. Free soloists are not climbers, and especially not Alex Honnold, because like Sharma, he’s way too handsome.

OK. What? You just said that trad climbing isn’t climbing because ropes are for cowards. Then you basically said free soloing isn’t climbing because it’s not trad climbing.


So the only true form of climbing is free soloing while placing gear and building anchors but not using either for protection? You’re just sticking them in the rock for the hell of it, and if you fall, you die?

Yes. Free solo trad requires all the boldness and technical prowess of true climbing.

What about bouldering?

Bouldering is great.

*Spell check changed this and I’m leaving it, and saying it from now on.

Film: How Matt Cornell Free Soloed One of America’s Classic Hard Mixed Routes

"The Nutcracker" explores the mental challenges of solo climbing and the tactics Cornell used to help him send the route.