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Controversial El Capitan “Climb” Hits the Mainstream, Debate Rages

‘It was a record setting climb’ versus ‘It wasn’t even a climb’. Those are the two sides of a debate being escalated about the recent scaling of El Cap by Sam Baker.

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Baker, who is 8, has had hits on CNN as well as Good Morning America. He is being hailed as being the youngest person to go base to summit on the majestic — but insanely difficult to climb — El Capitan.  El Cap stands more than 3,000 feet above the valley floor inside Yosemite National Park. For a reference point: its height is about 2.5 times as tall as the Empire State Building in New York. Simply put, it is the largest exposed granite face in the world.

The attention that he is getting is drawing intense scrutiny by the climbing community because many claim it wasn’t much of a climb at all. They say that it was a jug.

Jugging, for those not into the sport, is the practice that involves using jumars (or jugs) for ascension. It is equipment that uses two different, movable, connections to the rope. There is a person being “jugged” while others are doing the actual climb.

For Baker, it was multiple guides as well as his parents — who are both avid climbers themselves.

There are plenty of outspoken critics to the outside celebration.

One such critic is the sports (unofficial) record keeper. Tom Evans is a gatekeeper to the community and cited as an expert spokesman on the subject. He was on site to witness the ascent for his own eyes to judge.

“The guides do everything that I’ve seen,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle, . “That’s why this is not a climb. This is a publicity hoax.”

Critics do point to the possibility of it being nothing more than a loose claim to fame. Baker has had an online persona being carefully crafted by his parents.

His website reads: “Samuel actually has the middle name Adventure…” as well as “Sam is way ahead of his class when it comes to rock climbing. At six and a half, he was able to climb 5.10s at the rock gym.”

His father has also enjoyed his time in the spotlight. The elder Baker told GMA that he climbed El Capitan before but never from the base to the summit, and added that making the climb would be a dream come true for him.

“It’s just a mythic place; kind of like the mecca of rock climbing. It’s so big and it’s such a big adventure and also an opportunity,” he said. “Nobody else is going to do this and so we thought it was a great opportunity to do with our kids.”

That stance was another particular stumbling block for climbers.

Ken Yager, founder and president of the nonprofit Yosemite Climbing Association told the SF Chronicle that he did not like what was happening.

“It takes away from the integrity of the sport, in a way,” he said. “When it becomes a big media thing, I’m not a fan of it.”

Previously Selah Schneiter had been credited with the youngest to make the climb. She went the top of El Capitan over the course of five days in June 2019 when she was 10. Scott Cory had been the youngest to climb to that point. He charted the same route Schneiter took in 2011 on two occasions when he was 11. The record was held before that by Tori Allen. She was 13 when she climbed The Nose in 2001.

What do you think? Did he climb El Cap? or Did he get dragged up a mountain?

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