So why did I go off on this one when I should have known better? Was there something particularly irritating about this comment? I realized that what I find most troubling about comments like that one is not that they disagree with me or even that they call into question my identity as a writer or even insult me personally. What is most troubling is the lack of consistency and coherence, the absence of serious engagement with the actual issues or facts at hand. Is it just the Internet or is it a deeper cultural phenomenon? I don't know but in the world of climbing it can have important side-effects.
Adam Roy, climbing blogger for Outside Online, wrote recently about Ashima Shiraishi, in a post entitled "The Strongest Woman in Climbing is 10 Years Old."
So let's take this apart. Apparently the suggestion that a certain type of climb might be better suited to someone with small fingers is chauvinistic. I didn't see anywhere that Jens or anyone else suggested that Ashima is not a good climber or that she does not train hard. It's obvious that she is a great climber and clearly works hard. What I saw is actually a very reasonable proposition that we may need to rethink what constitutes difficulty as a new population encounters an older climbing culture. But in the following passage, things get a bit incoherent which is what I am most concerned about because this is actually important. Roy writes "Even if it's true, it just doesn't apply here." Why? Because Ashima's climbs are "just hard." Full stop.
At this point we should consider the possibility that there is no such thing as a climb that is "just hard." All climbs are hard or less hard relative to the person trying them, based on a wide range of factors. The grade of a climb is never eternally fixed and in fact there are numerous routes and boulder problems that have grades reflecting this, especially regarding body size, what the French refer to as "morpho." Given that Crown of Aragorn has maybe four moves into a hard V8, any advantages or disadvantages related to hold size or beta are going to be magnified considerably. To state that, "At 10 years old, she climbed a problem that's turned away adult professional climbers. No amount of rationalization or arguing can change that" is on the face of it correct but it doesn't explain why those "adult professional climbers" were turned away, which is the interesting part. Was it that these "professional climbers" were not good enough climbers? Or is there something else?
Which brings me back to that URL. "haterskeephating.html" Why would it be "hating" to ask about how a young climber would be able to ascend a problem with such a reputation and a relatively high grade so quickly and with relatively little experience in the grades just below? Obviously Ashima is a remarkable talent. But can it seriously be said that a small light 10-year old girl and a six-foot adult male are doing the same thing, even on the same problem? Nobody would say that women's and men's gymnastics are the same thing, for example. A serious consideration of this ascent has to ask these questions as they go right to the heart of the system that climbing has used up to now for evaluating the significance of achievements. In other words do grades really signify anything and if they do, what exactly do they or can they measure?
Again there is no such thing as a climbs that is "just hard" and even if routes are seen as hard, difficulty exists within a wide range of contexts, each of which needs to be recognized and considered. I will not be lauded for doing V13 by chipping some holds and using a ladder to get past the crux. Someone unschooled in the practice of the sport might be impressed but not a real practitioner of bouldering. So what is it that a grade seeks to measure? What is its reward in terms of public recognition and praise? These more important questions linger and are unanswered by the Outside post and other discussions on the topic
Bringing this post back to its main focus, the issue of arguing constructively, can climbers cultivate an environment of argument and discussion on these central issues without being derided as haters or chauvinists? I would like to think that they can but only if writers across the spectrum can agree that we ought to dig deeper beneath the surface of events and actions. Again Ashima's ascents in Hueco are amazing and point to greater things to come. But they also highlight weaknesses and inconsistencies in our ideas of difficulty and grading in rock climbing, something which may be one of her more important contributions to the sport, even at the tender age of 10.