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Where are our Superstars?

Submitted by michael on 2004-02-01

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IN 1906, Oliver Perry-Smith did the first ascent of "Teufelsturm," a Grade VIIb, and solid at 5.9. It took fifty-four years for someone to finally break that grade when Tom Frost did the first ascent of "Daveís Deviation," a whopping 5.10a in 1960. While everyone was busy patting themselves on the back as they cranked in the 5.10 era, Pete Cleveland was hanging in the Needles pounding a "Superpin" (5.11d) and eating "Bagatelle." The latter weighed in at a whopping 5.12d in 1969. That grade stuck around for almost a decade until Ray Jardine plugged in a friend and landed the "Phoenix" (5.13a) in Yosemite. Cleveland struck back with "Phlogiston" (5.13b), then ventured into obscurity like many kings before him. Just as the numbers felt capped, a campusing phenom named Wolfgang Gullich ushered in the 5.14 era with a blazing high of 5.14d on "Action Directe" in 1991, and likely would have continued pushing the limits had he not died shortly thereafter.

Thirteen years later and what do we have to show for it? Whereís our superstars? Where are our Michael Jordan? Babe Ruth? Our Elvis?

Enter Sharma. Now Chris is probably the nicest guy in the climbing community, and no one wants to say anything bad about that Zen talking, flute playing, PrAna pimpmaster. Is he a superstar? Not lately. So far one unverified 5.15a. In the meantime Tommy Caldwell is living the comic book dream at his own Fortress of Solitude. Fred Rhouling slapped the world with his duelling gloves on more than one occasion, and a complete unknown claimed a 5.15c without batting an eye. Of course the media pushed him out of sight because after all, they hadnít heard of him, so therefore he is not worthy of our praise. How could a sheep know better than the shepherd?


Itís time to pull our collective heads out of our puckered hidey-holes and look at whatís really happening out there. Beyond the advertised/sponsored pages, people are climbing harder than before. Fifteen year olds are pulling 5.12s as warm-ups and fifty year olds are clipping 5.14s. The sheep are strong, and the superstars arenít necessarily in print. Theyíre at the crags, the gyms, and every strip bar in Southern California. Okay, maybe not the strip bars, but diligence has a price, and for this writer itís a two drink minimum.

The reporting powers that be need to listen up and smell the Elvis. Elvis is the King, and only the King is worthy of the attention and recognition of the superstar status that we are force fed to believe is deserved by those in the pages today. Itís time to raise a finger and perform a bulimic purge on the sugarcoated misrepresentations stuck in our distended bellies.

Every day I go climbing I see a little bit of Elvis in every one of you. Elvis is in your blood. Elvis is in your genes. Elvis is alive and well but the media keep ignoring him. They need to understand that Elvis is in everybody, except one.

Jason Kehl has no Elvis in him.

Climbing V13 is definitely something only a few are capable of. Then again, Jim Holloway did it thirty years ago on Trice, while John Gill and others in his crew likely also climbed as hard, and all without the comfort of twenty-six crashpads with matching color-coordinated spotters. Itís easy to masturbate but only kings can pull hard while keeping the mental game intact.

Which brings us to the other side of royalty that, in this humble opinion are quickly earning the right to bear the title beyond the power in this little chess game of tips.

Girls, itís time to take the on boys and put the little piggies back into the food chain. While the Huber brothers are sending big multi-pitches that immediately get repeats, Little Ms. Lynn Hill is laughing in the wine country waiting to see who will finally repeat her thirty pitch freeíd up testpiece, The Nose. After all, itís only been a decade.

Stella Marchisio, out of Italy, has been sending V12 and likely took a V13 or harder at the home crag. Unfortunately, she chose not to wear green nail polish, or date a British climbing writer, so no one noticed. Katie Brown disappeared early, but her writing hints at a comeback. Josune Bereziartu is becoming a Conquistador in her own right. Beth Rodden is stealthily working with Superman (aka Tommy Caldwell), and training has begun where several women are currently learning how to write in yellow in the snow, and take on alpine achievements. Sorry Steph, didnít mean to give away your secret, but people were bound to figure out how you bagged multi-peaks of the Fitz so quick.

And the list goes on, but all these folks need your help. They need to understand that people believe. Like Peter Pan of lore, without followers sniffing at their heels, thereís no reason to jump and fly. Instead they keep close to the ground and never lift off. Maybe a little pixie dust is in order, (not that kind, the DJís not that good).

So hereís what you need to do. Itís time for each of you to find the Elvis within. Talk to him. Be one with him. Curl that lip, put on the shades, wiggle those hips and letís flood this drought the media have forced upon us. The next time you touch the rock, repeat with me:

    Heal me.
    Save me.
    Make me be born
    in that perfect Elvis light.

And before your naked steaming eyes, the King will arrive. Itís all a matter of looking beyond what the players preach to us. What your friends spray to us. What some old man claims to us. Itís all about pushing your limits and letting the cream know the crop is not so small and the harvest not so distant. Weíre close, and getting closer.

So címon Elvis, I know youíre out there. Stop flipping burgers at McDonaldís, and touch that rock. We need you now like never before.

**Photo of John Gill in 1969, from his Photo Albums here on our site.**


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2 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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This is an interesting article. I'm curious what "Michael" has to say now that Sharma has ticked a number of unrepeated 5.15s, including the first confirmed 5.15b 'Jumbo Love.'

However, Michael does have a good point regarding what it means to be a superstar climber in the media, and merely a superstar climber. The American marketing strategies are highly effective and consistently turn crap into gold. Sure, Sharma, Rands, Graham, they're all incredible climbers - but they're the only ones in all the videos we see. There could be 5.15s being sent across the world by people uninterested in all the hype, ascents that we don't hear about.

Either way, stimulating article.
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Who said the best climber is the one having the most fun?

Not me, but I like it!

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