Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Read the News Today Oh Boy

A while ago, when I was establishing this blog, I would post items that I thought were newsworthy, but increasingly have left that to those with more aptitude. You can find these items on the RSS feeds on the right margin. They more or less all read "Johnny Rock (or Gianni Rocco or Jean Roche) does first/second/third ascent of an F8c (Fb8c) free solo/ from the low start/without shoes" and so on. The news cycle of the climbing world is practically 24/7 now and the task of sorting out signal from noise is not getting any easier. More and more, I only feel compelled to comment on what the "news" says about how we define ourselves as climbers. As in the previous post, I feel we are at a saturation point that needs a major change in attitude and a redefinition of the sport's goals and purposes.

What matters about climbing news at this point? I personally like to hear about innovative ascents and have an overall view of the performance curve in various climbing disciplines. By the time the third or fourth ascent of a problem or route is reported, however, it may be time to move on. Hueco, for example, really seems to be played out. The reportage from there sounds more like the news from the North Shore of Oahu with the photogs getting the necessary sponsor-pleasing pics of their athletes on the well-known breaks. Areas and routes move through cycles as the media frenzy moves elsewhere.

The other aspect of the sped-up media cycle is the feedback after ascents. Witness reactions to Alex Johnson's ascent of the Mandala in the Buttermilks. Already climbed by a woman, Lisa Rands, in 2008, it seems to me that Alex just wanted to climb this amazing problem. However, the debate opened up immediately as to which start she used and of course the blogosphere stepped in to try to sort things out. Wills Young, the go-to source for all things Bishop, has patiently explained to outsiders the options for starting the Mandala. Jamie Emerson, the go-to analyst for most things related to the rules for bouldering, has also weighed in on this topic. You can read Alex's views on the problem at DPM.

Then there is the ascent by Portia Menlove of Barefoot on Sacred Ground. Here instead of the wrong start, some anonymous commenters noted that Portia did not finish up See Spot Run, a much easier highball problem which Barefoot joins. Matt Wilder's guide notes that a drop off is an acceptable option but the consensus on is mixed both as to grade and topping out. But again, it seems more like Portia just wanted to climb the problem and the newsworthiness of the ascent is neither here nor there. Thomasina Pidgeon had done it the year before, implying the so-called first female ascent angle was missing.

Others have commented, and I tend to agree, that female ascents of hard problems tend to be met with a degree of skepticism atypical of most male ascents. Things are brought up that seem more than anything else seem intended to keep women in their place. Downgrading or other means of devaluing the ascent are par for the course. I wonder if the "news" becomes part of this process, when ascents come under the microscope of public opinion, creating controversy where none had existed before. How do we account for this distorting effect?

News from the world of climbing is pretty trivial stuff, especially when viewed from the safety of one's laptop. It is impossible to convey through words and pictures, even video, the emotions and sensations that are central to the act of climbing. In the hyperdrive climate of the Internet, this internal, subjective element is either eliminated or reduced to a series of banal cliches. Yet it is the primary thing we pursue when we climb. It would be nice to have it back.


Adam said...

Excellent points, well said.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Lisa came and did a FFA of a V10 in Boone, NC, called 2 Pop. Next thing you know, it's a V9, and tons of people still get shut down on it. Just because a girl did it doesn't mean it's easier.

kairn said...

nice post