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.
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson spent 7 years working the Dawn Wall before it saw a first free ascent. Nalle Hukkataival worked the world’s first V17 for 3 years. What do these ascents, two of the most incredible climbing breakthroughs in recent history, have in common? We believe both are impressive because the climbers told us so. We’re just taking their word for it! Climbing is built on the honor system, which is super easy to take advantage of. Here’s how to do it.
1. Choose an inconvenient route
First, discourage anyone else from trying your “mega proj.” If some gumbo waddles over with his new lead card and sends your testpiece first go, the jig is up. Keep the crowds away by thinking remote. The Dawn Wall is 32 pitches of supposedly hard free climbing on El Capitan. That alone will discourage most people from checking it out. Sure, maybe the first pitch is legit 5.12, but who’s going to rap all the way down to pitch 15 to confirm that it’s not juggy 5.2? Tommy and Kevin even convinced us all that it must be climbed in really cold temps because of science or something. Anyone want to rap halfway down El Cap in the middle of winter to check out something supposedly too hard to clasp the start holds on? Me neither. Similarly, Nalle’s Burden of Dreams (V17) is in Finland, which is enough to keep most climbers away.
2. Hang out for a while
Adam Ondra sent Jade (V14) on his first try?
“Sounds like a pleasant afternoon.”
The Dawn Wall FA took seven years?
“Wow! What an inspiring story of dedication and the triumph of the human spirit!”
Hard things take a really long time to achieve. If you want people to think you did something bordering on impossible, tell them it took years. Honest question: How do we know Tommy Caldwell wasn’t spending so much time on the Dawn Wall because he was running from creditors? Perhaps he was making himself scarce, lied about why he was on El Cap, and the story snowballed. Suddenly he wasn’t “on the lam”; he was “pushing the boundaries of human potential.” There are plenty of other reasons Tommy could have been hiding up on the Dawn Wall, but none of them explain his missing index finger. The point is, massive fraudulent climbing achievements are a long-term investment. Once you choose your “dream” climb, start killing time. Settle into your portaledge and chip away at that Netflix queue. If it’s a boulder problem, go take a nap in the forest. You need to show people that you’re out there. If you search the Finnish forest around Burden of Dreams, you might just find a Nalle Hukkataival–shaped divot in the dirt, worn away from years of snoozing.
3. Make media
If there are no videos or photos, then it didn’t happen. To prove you did your climb, you need media. TC and K-Jorg had a team of talented media-makers to document their Dawn Wall ascent. Very talented. These people would definitely know how to tilt the camera to make a pitch look 25 degrees steeper, or Photoshop flat ground to look like a pitch on the Dawn Wall. I’m not saying that’s what they did; I’m just saying that they’re skilled enough to do it. That’s all.
Luckily, hard climbing is mostly sitting around while you “recover” and “wait for good temps.” Fill your Instagram feed with lifestyle shots near your climb, and you’re set. Every once in a while, throw in a close-up of blank rock and say it’s the crux hold.
Eventually, you will have to deliver a film. The climbing only has to look hard. Scream a lot. Show failed attempts. A shot where you look angry at your hands is a must. Sure, Burden of Dreams looked impossible on film, but so do some V3s. Look like you’re trying hard, and people will believe you are. It’s called acting.
4. Find accomplices
To solidify your ascent, you need backup: a “repeat” ascensionist. This is a win-win situation for you and your accomplice. You get verification, and she gets an incredible tick for their résumé. Adam Ondra fired off the Dawn Wall in just a few weeks—long enough to make it look like he had to try, but quick enough not to raise suspicion or miss Thanksgiving. Ondra “verified” TC and K-Jorg’s hard ascent and went home a hero. Do you think he’s going to blow anyone’s cover? Not a chance.
For Nalle’s V17, Daniel Woods and Jimmy Webb agreed on camera that it was real, real hard. That was enough “proof” for boulderers.
And if anyone does call you out, just keep lying. If you hold out long enough, then Kelly Cordes will write a book about you—that’s a pretty cool achievement in its own right.