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Pros and Posers: How Social Media Has Changed Our Climbing Experience

Has it changed climbing for better or worse? Who gets to make that judgement and why does it matter?

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I recently read a quote from an old blog written by the deceased Hayden Kennedy, a world-renowned alpinist: “The ultimate alpine climb would be a spectacular line up a virgin face, no one nearby, with a good partner—and there wouldn’t ever be a word uttered about it. Stripping away all desires except the pure experience of the climb. Escaping all expectations and our own egos. These are the real achievements. We should all dream of this. Maybe one day it will become a reality.”

Today, as I sit hunched over my notebook at the kitchen table agonizing over how to structure this essay, I can see my fiancé, Meagan Martin, trying to do a handstand on top of a box of beverages that she endorses, and I couldn’t help but consider how far climbing culture has seemingly strayed from this righteous path.

“Hey, can you come take a look at this? Does this look cool?” she asks.

“Um. Yah. It looks…great,” I say reluctantly, barely opening my mouth.

“Ok. I think this will look better outside under the tree,” she says excited to represent a brand that she genuinely enjoys. “Will you come outside and take some photos please?”

I grab my cell phone and open the sliding door to our backyard. After 20 minutes of trying to find the right angle with the proper light, highlighting both the product and Meagan’s pose, my patience, which is subpar to begin with, runs out.

“This is so lame. Why are we doing this? Why do you do this?” I ask.

“It’s not lame and because I have to.”

“You don’t have to do it,” I respond sharper than intended, my blood pressure rising. “No one is forcing you to do it. You have chosen to earn some of your income by posting on social media platforms like TikTok, gaining more followers in the process.”

After biting my tongue for about three seconds, the words tumbled out. “Why don’t you focus on other things that you are actually passionate about. Why don’t you just get a real job?” I blurted out.

When the same situation happens out at the crag or boulder, I feel like we are just adding to the global click-bait media machine that exacerbates the symptoms of a culture already infected with the obsession of incessant self-promotion. Except since I’m the kind of introvert who feels more comfortable out in the woods stalking eternity with my dog—someone with no social media presence at all—my biased reaction to Meagan’s work seems hardly justifiable. Maybe somebody needs to poke a hole in my ballooning cynicism, but it’s just that the idea of posting for posterity in a place where people sometimes bully, brag, boast, lie, brainwash, and preach—whether it be out of narcissism or necessity—simply irks me. …


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