“The word climb – there’s free climb, there’s ice climb, there’s solo climb, there’s rope climb, I didn’t say any of those, I just said climb. There’s all this controversy about the language, I’ve never heard of this. They all say because Joe used the word climb, that makes this thing a hoax.”- Joe Baker, Father of Son who climbed El Capitan.
There was a rare feel-good story a few weeks ago, as an eight-year-old became the youngest climber ever to ascend El Capitan. Sam Baker climbed the monumental rock face with his dad, Joe Baker, with the help of previously rigged ropes, a pair of guides, and an ascender (a scaling device). The publicity came soon afterward, along with the skeptics in the climbing community.
The San Fransisco Chronicle spoke with various climbing veterans of Yosemite National Park regarding the ascent. Tom Evans, who lived around El Capitan during the peak climbing season for twenty-seven years to document various ascents, called the Baker climb a “publicity hoax.” He barely saw the kid actually on the wall, and instead relied on the leading guide to get them up. From what Tom has seen from prior climbs, he believes that the guides do most of the work in this instance, rather than the other participants. Before the climb, Tom Evans and Joe Baker got into a heated exchange at a restaurant, saying that he was stealing the elite accomplishment of climbing El Capitan for their own personal fame.
Legendary climber Thomas Caldwell was also unhappy about the accomplishment, saying that “I could have put [my son] in a haul bag when he was 1 year old and gotten him up there to claim a record.” Some parents also didn’t like that the parents put their child in a risky situation, although jumarring is much safer than what Alex Honnold did when he free-soloed El Capitan.
The Daily Mail spoke with Joe Baker, who is unhappy about the backlash that his son and family have faced over the situation, said the following about the climb:
“I’m his father, I’m very proud of him. I wasn’t saying he’s about to do the Dawn Wall here. You put it in a movie and people are saying ‘Well, he’s about to free solo Free Rider.’ I wasn’t trying to be dishonest. I was just being proud of my son. I definitely didn’t deceive anybody…”
On the other hand, jumarring is still a physically challenging process, especially when you’re going up the menacing 3000-foot face that is El Capitan. Additionally, there is no official recordkeeping in the rock climbing community, or at Yosemite National Park.
It’s a pretty divisive topic among the climbing community, so I think I’ll point out what everyone basically agrees on: the media didn’t actually portray what was achieved. Most headlines listed the situation as the youngest person ever to climb El Capitan. I think what they did was an accomplishment, but obviously, jumarring isn’t at the level of professional climbers who have successfully ascended El Capitan, and likely shouldn’t have gotten as much publicity as it did.