Witnesses deny father’s claim his eight year old climbed El Capitan: ‘A publicity hoax’

‘I’m very annoyed by this because climbing El Capitan puts you in an elite group of climbers,’ observer says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 31 October 2022 19:14 GMT
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Related video: 70-year-old mother becomes oldest woman to climb El Capitan

After stepping into the national spotlight, a father is facing criticism after claiming that his eight-year-old son recently became the youngest person to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California – a 3,000 granite monolith known as one of the most difficult climbs in the world.

Two children, aged nine and 10, were reported three years ago to have made the climb. But as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, they mostly utilised hand clamps letting them get up the cliff via a rope without touching the rock, which isn’t considered to be traditional rock climbing.

Father Joe Baker has appeared in various media outlets, such as CNN, ABC, NBC and others, saying that Sam Baker, eight, is a “world-class climber” who was going to set a record by climbing El Capitan.

“You don’t get on El Cap unless you are an expert in the sport,” Mr Baker, of Colorado, said in a promotional video on the family website. “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.”

“A second-grader, and a guy with a dad bod are climbing El Capitan,” the site stated.

The Chronicle noted that there was no information indicating that the eight-year-old was using a similar climbing strategy as the two children before him.

After the climb was finished, CNN published a story with the headline “8-year-old boy becomes youngest person to climb California’s El Capitan”.

“For members of the Yosemite Climbing community, some of whom skeptically followed the climb, the achievement merited eye rolls and shrugs, not a headline,” The Chronicle wrote.

In an Instagram post, Mr Baker didn’t use the word “climb” to describe the ascent.

“A rope assent of ElCap is not near as awesome as the guys we met that free it in a day or the [heroes] that put up hard dangerous aid routes…however when [you’re] 8 living on the wall and climbing ropes for days is frickin rad… And it took a lot to get him ready for such an adventure. I am very proud of him. He earned it,” Mr Baker wrote on Sunday.

“As an actual rock climber, I honestly can’t say that I recognize any great accomplishment here at all. I realize that you have changed the wording from ‘climb’ to ‘rope ascend’ after climbers were calling you out, but that is only after you made reference plenty of times to ‘climbing’ the face,” one Instagram user commented. “To me, it’s too little too late.”

Tom Evans, 78, is a retired high school teacher who follows and documents the events on El Capitan for three months of the year.

“This is a publicity hoax,” he told the paper.

Mr Evans estimated that he followed the father and son for a total of eight hours over the course of four days. He said he didn’t see either of them try to climb the rockface, adding that they were led by guides who placed lines that the Bakers could “jug up” – meaning that handheld devices are used that slide up the rope and automatically lock in place.

Foot loops are also attached. The equipment is connected to a person’s harness, which allows the individual to move up without touching the mountain.

“The guides do everything that I’ve seen,” Mr Evans told The Chronicle. “That’s why this is not a climb.”

Mr Evans has posted criticism of Mr Baker on his blog, and the two men had a “heated discussion” when they encountered each other in a restaurant in Yosemite Village.

“He said, ‘What’s the problem?’ And I said, ‘The whole media presentation needs to stop. I know there’s no way your son suggested getting this record. This is about you,’” Mr Evans said he told Mr Baker. “He said, ‘It’s not about the record, it’s about spending time with my son.’ I said, ‘Why all the publicity then?’”

“I was pretty rude to the man, I must admit,” Mr Evans told The Chronicle.

“I’m very annoyed by this because climbing El Capitan puts you in an elite group of climbers,” the 78-year-old added, arguing that the Bakers “are blatantly stealing that reputation for their own use”.

The Bakers seem to have employed two unsanctioned guides, which The Chronicle report would be illegal.

A spokesperson for Yosemite said they got the needed wilderness permit, but wouldn’t add anything else.

Climbing with guides is regulated in the park by Yosemite Hospitality, which told The Chronicle that they rejected the Bakers’ guide request.

They said that they “determined that this group could not effectively meet the needs of our safety requirements, the National Park Service wilderness protocols, and Leave No Trace principles”.

While Mr Baker has said in media appearances that any donations via the family website would be used to help foster children, the site itself states that the funds would go to “a film that inspires parents to do big things with their kids”.

The president of the Yosemite Climbing Association, Ken Yager, told the paper that “I can say personally that this obsession with records is kind of dangerous. That’s the wrong reason to climb”.

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

The Independent has reached out to the Bakers for comment.

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