A boulder problem at my local climbing gym had me stymied last week. No sequence for my hands and feet seemed to work. I contorted my body in weird ways, but the wall rejected my pathetic attempts at creativity.
Obviously, this problem is impossible, I thought. Only a steel-fingered rock god could stick these moves, and such deities exist only in the climbing mags.
Just then, a small, shy voice asked my permission to attempt the problem. My eyes, which were glazed over with confusion while looking at this impossible problem, turned toward her: a prepubescent girl who was as tall as my waist. I gave her a look that communicated, ‘Well kid, if you want to embarrass yourself and possibly damage your psyche trying to start this problem, then be my guest. This is grown-up stuff.’
She calmly and gracefully pulled herself up through the first couple of moves using her frail-looking, pipe cleaner arms. At the crux, the part that had me stumped, she paused to collect herself. Her body just wasn’t long enough to reach for the next hold — she would have to jump for it. With impeccable body control, she defied gravity as though her bones were hollow and feathers were attached to her skin. (Seriously, how much did she weigh?) She reached the top, hopped down and walked away, like it was nothing.
Schooled by a grade schooler.
She avoided my incredulous gaze, and had the tact not to give me advice or encouragement. My bruised ego couldn’t take any more humbling.
The Rise of the Super Climber
A race of superhumans is taking over the climbing world. Like Spiderman or Daredevil, they are not bounded by restrictions of gravity and fear; their strength appears limitless.
They are children, and they are making old people like me, in his 20’s, obsolete. They are the up-to-date models — climber 2.0 — which are faster, more powerful, and ruthlessly efficient.
The climbing ability of these kids is like a particularly hot day in April, when people say, If it’s this hot now, what will it be like in August? If these kids are climbing V10s when they’re ten years old, they’ll be climbing V30 by the time they’re my age.
Why are there so many kids who are good at rock climbing now? Nobody knows. Perhaps radioactive air has infiltrated our atmosphere, suffusing these young people with superpowers.
It seems like a new Mozart of climbing comes along everyday. First it was Ashima Shiraishi, who was profiled in last year’s Reel Rock Film festival. An adorable 11-year-old, Shiraishi is a fearsome sight to behold on rock, crushing V13s with apparent ease.
Now there’s Brooke Raboutou, who has been blowing up the climbing blogs. She’s been destroying 5.14s lately. No big deal for an 11-year-old.
Or what about Tito Travers, the 10-year-old climbing wunderkind?
And who can forget Adam Ondra, who at 19 years old is on the shortlist for strongest climber in the world. He’s practically an old man compared to when he won the world lead climbing championship at the age of 16. The previous year, the female champion was Johanna Ernst, also 16.
A 13-Year-Old on Everest
Rocks aren’t the only thing that kids are taking over in the climbing world. Now mountains are yielding to these puerile climbing freaks.
13 years was the time it took for Jordan Romero to exit his mother’s uterus and make it to the top of the world. When I was 13, climbing small trees frightened me; I once saw a picture of Everest in a book and thought it looked pretty cool.
What does a 13-year-old do on the summit of Everest? Call his mom of course! “Mom, I’m calling you from the top of the world,” he said, according to a Christian Science Monitor report. What a nice young man, letting his concerned mother know that he was doing all right. I mean she was probably worried sick with her young boy on top of a mountain that kills people every year.
Romero’s accomplishment immediately set off a controversy over the ethics of allowing a boy to climb a dangerous mountain. The New York Times’ conclusion: Physically a 13 year might be capable of it, but psychologically, a 13-year-old can’t be trusted to make the life or death decisions required of high altitude climbing.
Would Somebody Please Think of the Children!
To most non-climber bystanders, the questions that comes to mind is, Where the hell are the parents? Why would anyone let their children participate in this sport? Climbing in a gym leads to climbing outside, which can lead to death and serious injury. And yet many parents not only allow, but actively encourage their kids down this slippery slope that could lead to an early death.
It’s as if some parents gave their son a motorcycle and a gun and told him to join the Hell’s Angels.
But many of these parents are avid climbers themselves. Their lives revolve around climbing, so why wouldn’t they have their kids take part in this activity? For these parents, it’s not as if they were forcing this kid into the sport; it’s that climbing is woven into their lifestyle, and they’re continuing to live their lives with their kid there.
As the parents of Brooke Raboutou say, “[Climbing’s] just something that’s always been in our lives. Just like, you know, the refrigerator or the bathtub.”
Conclusion: You’re Probably Too Old to Be Climbing
If you’re old enough to drink in America, you were probably too old to climb by several years. Let’s face facts: climbing’s a young person’s game. Kids are smaller, lighter and stronger, pound for pound, than fat old people like us. They haven’t yet been weighed down by the Albatross of mature responsibility. They haven’t learned to be limited by their fears or resign in the face of life’s disappointments.
I, for one, welcome our new climbing overlords.