How do we know if Adam Ondra has actually climbed 5.15c?
Did Ueli Steck really solo Annapurna’s West face?
Is Daniel Woods’ sit-start of The Ice Knife really V15?
We as climbers like to believe there is something sacred about our sport. Short of a few European boulder cups, we generally don’t have throngs of screaming spectators, or massive arenas in which we climb. By and large, we pursue our sport in seclusion, surrounded by majestic vistas, towering rock formations, and a handful of close friends. We celebrate small victories, and even large failures. Clipping the chains on your long term project can taste just as sweet as retreating off your summit push due to bad weather, as long as you surround yourself with good people. But there’s a dark cloud looming over us, and it has nothing to do with the weather.
We all read the magazines, watch the movies, and ogle over the photos and articles of the latest and greatest routes put up and sent by our favorite climbers. We get inspired, and find the mental toughness to stick it out for another work week so that we can get out for two days on the weekend and shred out on the rocks with greater ferocity than the week before. This has always been the role of the sponsored climber: Get the rest of us off our asses.
This was all well and good when being “sponsored” meant that you get a schwag -bag full of climbing gear from Black Diamond every 3 months filled with shoes, chalk, and maybe a rope. Today, however, climbers such as Alex Honnold, Sasha DiGiulian, Ueli Steck, and Adam Ondra, get more than just a new pair of rubber shoes. These, and dozens of other “pro” climbers, are making millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Alex Honnold is backed by companies such as Goal Zero. One look at his Facebook wall, and it’s clear he has become a corporate shill:
That’s not all… Do you ever wonder what the best climber vehicle is? Sprinter van? Westfalia? Wrong! It’s an Audi! That’s right, here’s Ueli Steck showing us dirtbags what to save our coffee house tips on:
Then there’s Red Bull. What real climber even drinks this stuff? These climbers would have you believe that the only way to become the best, is to get a massive caffeine high every time you tie in to a rope:
The list goes on and on. When we’re talking about big money, there is only one constant. There will always be cheating when the incentive of money is on the table.
- Lance Armstrong doped.
- Jose Canseco doped.
- Ben Johnson doped.
- Barry Bonds doped.
Why? Because the better they performed, the more money would be thrown their way by sponsors. The only difference between the above list, and professional climbers, is that at least other professional athletes have to undergo drug testing.
Now, I’m not saying that all or even any pro climbers take steroids… but are we just supposed to take their word for it? I can’t climb V15 yet, and not many people outside of the inner sanctum of top level boulderers can, so how do we know Daniel Woods’ latest V15 send isn’t actually a V14, or V13, or even completely fabricated? Instagram photos can be Photoshopped. Maybe a lot of these routes and boulder problems that sponsored climbers claim to have sent don’t even exist. Who actually goes out to verify these things?
When there’s big money on the line, athletes are known to bend the rules, or even outright break them. We shouldn’t think that climbers are immune to this. If Ueli Steck can claim to solo Annapurna without any evidence – – surely Bob from the climbing gym can claim the same. In fact, just last week I chugged back a can of Red Bull, cranked up my tunes on my Goal Zero speaker, and sent North Americas very first 5.15d. I named it, Prove me wrong, bitch!
I’ll take my Audi now, please.