Alex Honnold, arguably one of the world best free solo climbers, was fired by Cliff Bar for soloing. Cliff Bar had previously sponsored twenty climbers and recently dropped five of them, including climbers who freesolo climb, base-jumps, or slackliness.
Alex, as well as some of the other dropped climbers, was featured in Valley Uprising, a film sponsored by Clif Bar that documents that evolution of Yosemite rock climbing. When asked why they terminated these contracts, a Clif Bar spokesperson said, “After evaluating a variety of sponsorships at all levels of climbing, we’ve made the decision to get back to Clif’s roots and focus on the more traditional aspects of the sport, like trad, bouldering, alpinism and sport climbing to name a few. Our climbing athlete sponsorships will reflect this traditional focus.”
Clif Bar, as well as many climbing experts, argues that freesolo climbing does not fit in to the standard definition of climbing, but I wondered if it would fit in to Huizinga’s definition of play. Huizinga classifies play as free, separate from normal life, uncertain, unproductive/autotelic, governed by rules, and essentially make believe. Freesolo climbing is free; nobody is forcing Alex, or other climbers, to undertake this incredibly difficult task. It is separate from normal life; freesolo climbing is not an ordinary task. It’s definitely uncertain; the climber could fall and die at any moment. It’s unproductive in that it serves no essential purpose or achieves anything concrete. It’s governed by rules: that no ropes or harnesses are allowed, and it is a make believe “game.” So why doesn’t Clif Bar consider freesolo climbing to be an adequate form of play?
John Stuart Mill, would argue that freesolo climbing is climbing, it’s just different. Mill values individuality and a variety of situations. He would appreciate the fact that there are different kinds of climbing, and the people could learn different things from each type.
People climb in all different ways and for all different reasons. For example, Steph Davis, a more novice climber describes in her blog how she feels when she climbs: . “quietly filled with joy, satisfied–and also proud of myself for figuring out how to break past my mental barrier in a way that worked for me, slowly and gradually.” Chris Sharma, of the popular climbing blog, Evening Sends, says he loves climbing because “it means giving back to the community through the creative process of bolting and climbing new routes.” This is the kind of individuality that Mill would find to be beneficial to society. Both Mill and Huizinga would agree that freesolo climbing is a valid sport.