Father of boy, 8, whose record-breaking climb of Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan was slammed as ‘publicity hoax’ by rock climbing veterans brands critics ‘evil’ – and argues his son’s help from ropes is just ‘semantics’
- Joe Baker hit back at critics who questioned whether his eight-year-old son Sam was really the youngest person to ever summit El Capitan
- Sam finished scaling the 3,000-foot summit over the weekend using the aid of ropes and a mechanical device called an ascender
- Some hardened climbers argued that because Sam didn’t actually scale the rock with his hands that he didn’t actually climb the mountain
- Baker said the critics were arguing semantics over his use of the word ‘climb’ to describe the ascent in public, and questioned how far those challenges could go
- He also pointed out that numerous widely held records, including the climbs for oldest woman on El Capitan, were rope ascents
The father of a boy who summitted Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan has pushed back against critics who said the boy isn’t really the youngest to ever climb the daunting rock face.
Critics have accused Joe Baker of staging a ‘publicity hoax’ around the climb, saying he drummed up media attention for his son Sam’s climb while misleading the public about the nature of the ‘record breaking’ achievement.
Sam, a second-grader from Colorado, and his father completed the climb of El Capitan on Saturday to a chorus of headlines calling the climb a ‘historic’ event, and hailing Sam as the youngest person to ever scale the daunting peak.
But many in the climbing community raised their eyebrows at the headlines, noting that Sam did not exactly climb the rock-face in the strictest sense, but instead ascended it by previously rigged ropes with the assistance of a scaling device called an ascender.
Baker hit back at the critics, pointing out that the arguments against his son’s achievements felt ‘semantical,’ and also pointed out numerous other commonly accepted records which were accomplished through rope ascents.
‘To steal this away from Sam, is such a sick thing. It’s an evil thing, because he accented each foot of that wall,’ Baker told DailyMail.com
Joe Baker hit back at critics who questioned whether his eight-year-old son Sam was really the youngest person to ever summit El Capitan
Sam and his father Joe Baker. Over the weekend the pair scaled the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite
Baker told DailyMail.com that he had never thought twice about using the word ‘climb’ during interviews before his and Sam’s ascent of El Capitan.
‘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,’ he said. ‘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,’ he added, noting that in the wake of the backlash he’s decided to always specify that the climb was a rope ascent.
Baker also pointed out that numerous other El Capitan records that are widely accepted – including the climb for oldest woman, set by free climber Alex Honnold’s mother Dierdre Wolownick – were made using rope ascents.
He said the criticisms of his son’s climb largely came down to the phrasing, and questioned what other parts of the sport could be challenged in the future.
‘It felt very semantical. It’s very funny when you think about it, because who controls this lexicon? Am I allowed to call Sam a climber? How far do you go with it?’
Some have said Sam’s rope ascent of El Capitan qualified him as the youngest person to ever climb the cliff, while others have argued it does not
Eight-year-old Sam Baker climbing the 3,000-foot El Capitan cliff face in Yosemite National Park
Baker said he felt that the criticisms against his son’s climb may have also been driven by stars of the sport who are bitter they don’t get the national recognition other athletes do.
‘In America people don’t love rock climbing like they love football and basketball,’ he explained. ‘Whereas there’s guys in Yosemite [doing] these sick ascents and the populations never hear about it. Then suddenly a kid jumars the lines on El Capitan and gets international attention. You can see how that’s unfair.’
Baker said he was no happier about that reality than Sam’s critics, and that he wished it wasn’t so.
‘I don’t like it too, I wish people cared more,’ he said. ‘I’m not taking anything away from everybody else, but it’s just that people don’t like that Sam’s getting all this attention.’
Baker also pushed back on claims in the San Francisco Chronicle that he made the ascent without permission, using what are known as pirate guides.
He said the outlet misconstrued his El Capitan climb with a different climb he had previously put in a request to do, but later abandoned after the park said he would be required to do it with a large team of guides.
‘This is a publicity hoax,’ said Tom Evans, a retired teacher who for 28-years has camped out at the base of El Capitan with a telephoto lens and documenting the comings and going of climbers on the cliff
‘Theoretically 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,’ climbing legend Tommy Caldwell said
For at least the past year, Baker has been pushing publicity about his plans for his son to be the youngest person to scale El Capitan.
The duo was featured in countless news segments across local and national television, and appeared on numerous interviews.
‘You don’t get on El Cap unless you are an expert in the sport,’ Baker said of his son in a promotional video on his website promoting the climb.
‘That’s what we’re developing, is a young man who is an expert in the sport. He can really do everything that the great climbers can do,’ he said.
While countless clips showed Sam – who the family says has been climbing since he could walk – is an undoubtedly talented young climber, critics said Baker’s characterization of their mission to climb El Capitan was not entirely honest.
‘This is a publicity hoax,’ said Tom Evans, a retired teacher who for 28-years has camped out at the base of El Capitan with a telephoto lens and documenting the comings and goings of climbers on the cliff.
Evans, 78, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he watched the Bakers over four days of their climb and that not once did he see them touch the rock or try to physically climb the wall.
Instead, he saw the pair ‘jug up’ – also known as jumaring – which the process of climbing lines with a mechanical ascender. The process still requires considerable physical effort on the part of the climber.
‘The guides do everything that I’ve seen,’ said Evans. ‘That’s why this is not a climb.’
Tommy Caldwell, a well-known scaler of El Capitan, also thought their claims to a world record were questionable.
‘Theoretically 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,’ Caldwell said.
Sam peers out over the edge of his bed for the night on the 3,000-foot El Capitan cliff during his climb
Baker shrugged off the critics, saying that he made media rounds and touted Sam’s ability – who he insisted was the best climber of his age he’d ever seen – because he was just proud of his son.
‘I’m his father, I’m very proud of him. I wasn’t saying he’s about to do the Dawn Wall here,’ he said. ‘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, and that’s what they’re claiming, that I purposefully deceived everybody.’
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