This year Reel Rock founders, Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer,
chose to open their annual slew of adventure films with a morale-filled recap of Tommy Caldwell’s and Alex Honnold’s ascent of the much coveted Fitzroy Massif Traverse. “Patagonian Alpinist” is not the first label one would attach to Alex Honnold. As impressive as his climbing accomplishments are, no one, not even Honnold, considered himself an alpinist. However, with an invitation from Tommy Caldwell, the free soloist proved you don’t even need to bring the right crampons to summit seven peaks north to south - a full ridgeline of 11,171 feet - in one of the wettest summer seasons Patagonia has seen in years. That’s five kilometers of ridge line and 4,000 feet of vertical gain. Caldwell and Honnold were the first to complete the Fitzroy Massif traverse.
Next in the line-up, a tribute to Dean Potter. Potter not only pushed his limits, but also pushed the entire climbing, base jumping, and slacklining communities to explore the edges of their limits as well. The third film focused on high ball bouldering as we watched Daniel Woods send “The Process” in Bishop, California. This film offered a magnifying glass lens into what it takes to climb a high ball at your limit, and the extreme commitment necessary to follow through with a project. Traddies, sport-o’s, and boulderers alike were intrigued to see Daniel Woods confront and overcome his fear through meditation and mental training.
Since he is so darn endearing, Alex Honnold starred in yet another film where he attends Horseshoe Canyon Hell, a 24 hour marathon of climbing. Elite climbers and gumbies are invited to to rack up as many points as possible by climbing as much as they can from sun-up to sun-up. The finale of the Reel Rock evening was a Dawn Wall exclusive. No explanation needed for what that means.
Five films. 96 minutes. Five epic stories of epic athletes. All men. My question to Lowell and Mortimer: where the hell are all of the women?
The Fitzroy traverse, for obvious reasons, is a well-deserved headliner for the Reel Rock Tour. Dean Potter should never be forgotten, so a tribute to his legacy gains applause. But I beg to ask, how many films of Alex Honnold do we need to see in one evening? The answer: more women athletes.
We all know Alex Honnold is a badass and he has my respect. We all know the Dawn Wall project is going down in the books. Respect. But there has got to be other exciting, monumental events happening in our climbing cult that haven’t been highlighted or brought to the forefront yet. Not only would it have been refreshing to see what’s happening in other realms of climbing, but where are all of the females? Why did Lowell and Mortimer choose to leave out nearly half of the community?
There is one female boulderer being interviewed in “High and Mighty” about Daniel Wood’s project, “The Process.” Other than that it’s just a bunch of men gaping and standing underneath an egg-shaped boulder. As I sat in the Moab audience I wondered what it would feel like to see a group of women standing under the boulder. For a minute let’s play a thought game: What would it be like to see a big group of women staring up at a big, scary boulder?
I am not calling for more women just for the sake of more women. I’m calling for the climbing community to dig deeper. There has to be other Reel Rock worthy moments happening besides “Horseshoe Canyon Hell” - other moments that involve representation of the entire community.
As a climber I worry about the women getting into this niche sport who don’t have a solid foundation of confidence to “do what the boys can do.” This year’s series of films that Reel Rock chose to show told the audience nothing about women in climbing, or that women even exist in the community at all.
Some fellow climbers who I have talked to about this observation have brought up the notion that Reel Rock chooses the best of the best from the year, and maybe the best from 2015 simply were not women.
Let’s play another thought game: Men were used as sources 3.4 times more often than women in The New York Times Page 1 stories, and that disparity shrinks to just twice as likely when a story is bylined by a woman (Usnews.com). Would it be valid to argue that women are not applying for these journalist jobs? Or, that women are simply not as skilled as these men who get the front page? I don’t think so. Maybe Reel Rock received no female entries this year. Doubtful. I just don’t buy it.
I have been climbing for three years, living out of my car for the last month, and know that there are women doing epic things that deserve to be shown to thousands of people who call themselves climbers. Reel Rock could have done better.
Why can’t I let this go? Why can’t I just appreciate the people who were in Reel Rock and give a nod to their godly feats? Because the media is failing women and as a voice in this community I am telling everyone that we can do better.
Reel Rock did not mean any harm. Many people loved the show, laughed their asses off, and won free gear in the process. A free ball of chalk landed in my lap. Thanks, Reel Rock! But the free chalk cannot distract me from feeling like I wasted my $10 on seeing things I had already seen and feeling slighted by the world of climbing.
Women need more representation and credit. Two years ago, I recall Hazel Findlay as a showcase climber. What about Madaleine Sorkin? Pamela Shanti Pack? What’s Steph Davis up to these days? Climbing is more than what was shown.
We are a diverse bunch and the audience deserves a full picture.
I plan to have a life long love affair with the rock. I am not afraid to ask questions, put myself out there, learn as much as I can, and push my limits. However, some women may be discouraged by the lack of female representation in climbing, or worse, it might not even be a thought that crosses their mind. This year, Reel Rock did nothing to inspire women to take the plunge and go fiercely down their own, individual climbing path.
I believe it is Reel Rock’s responsibility as a huge media outlet to represent a full landscape of the climbing community.
Here’s a quote from Reel Rock’s website: “They are the definitive annual event for climbing communities globally…This year’s tour boasts an eclectic program that will get you psyched!” I appreciated that we saw big walls and bouldering, but that’s about as eclectic as Climbing Magazine. Eclectic means deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.
Reel Rock has a wealth of power to impact the lives and minds of the people filling the theaters to see a summary of adventures from the past year. There needs to be more of the whole story. Reel Rock 10 proves that women as a whole still have a long way to go in terms of gaining credit, legitimacy, and representation as accomplished athletes and heroes in this world.