Fact or fiction?
Markus Bock (picture below) has, once again, accused Rosta Stefanek of being a liar. It's not the first time this type of thing happens and certainly not the last. The problem is that there is simply no way of knowing if Bock is right or wrong. The only person who knows is Rosta himself.
Markus himself is one of the strongest boulderers in the world today. In his home area, The Frankenjura, he's repeated basically everything hard, including Action directe, 9a, and also opened loads of problems and routes of his own including two 8C's, Gossip and Montecore. He's also proved himself abroad with, for example, ascents of 8B+'s in Ticino and 8c+'s in France.
The sport of climbing is in no way an exact science. How difficult things are is impossible to meassure. Neither are the rules written in stone or God given in any way. We need to use common sense. Unfortunately common sense isn't as common as you'd be led to believe... But what is a fact is that you know whether you've done something or not. Everything else is bull shit. You know whether your ascent is valid or not. Was it really an onsight or did you have too much information, making it a flash? Did the rope help you to hold that swing? Did your heel touch the ground on that difficult sit down? No one else can know these things with the same amount of surtainty. We could make up a million detailed rules, but in the end it will always boil down to two words: honesty and trust. If everyone has to prove everything... I think you all understand where that would lead us. On the other hand it's easily understood that people are going to become sceptical towards your ascents if no one ever sees you climb anything on a similar level. As a climbing "star" you're sooner or later, also going to have to face and deal with the fact that you, at least to some extent, are a role model, someone who a lot of people are admiring.
The list of people who've been accused isn't short. Let me give you a few examples:
Rosta Stefanek (right picture) - So, let's start off with Rosta himself. Rosta is a Czech climber who, over the years, has established himself firmly among the World's best by climbing boulders up to 8B+ and routes up 9a. In his home country doubts were first raised almost 6 years ago, in the spring of 2000. If my memory serves me right, this is what went down: Those doubts led to an article in the leading magazine. In particular Rosta's ascent of Le Miroir des vanités, 8Bb, was questioned. He was supposed to have done this traverse in late April, and, as we all know, this is hardly the ideal time if you want to send hard stuff in Fontainebleau... Anyway, Rosta invited the reporter to go with him back to Fontainbleau to see for himself. Said and done, they went there and Rosta climbed the traverse in front of the reporter. This was in July...
In the same year, Markus Bock questioned Rosta's ascent of Peter Steel, 8A+/B, in the Frankenjura and now he's questioning both routes and boulders. He demands proof and says Rosta couldn't have climbed the things he claims because he either wasn't there, or the conditions were impossible. On the subject of proof, it should be said that Rosta actually sent me a video of him climbing Festin de pierres, 8c+/9a, at Saussois, back in 2002, and there are people who've seen him climb hard problems in really bad conditions. Case open
Fred Rouhling (left picture) - This Frenchman shouldn't need any further introduction. Many were very sceptical towards his ascents of both Hugh, 9a, in 1993, and particularly Akira, 9b, in 1995. People said that if it truly was 9b, he couldn't have climbed it and if he had, there was no way in hell it could be 9b. History seem to be proving Fred right. Full story here . Case closed
Thomas Willenberg - Mystical German boulderer who've repeated many hard problems including Dreamtime. Thomas has opened one 8C of his own, Tranzendans, in Sachsen, Germany. Many locals were sceptical towards his claims both at home in Germany and in Australia. After a trip to the Grampians and the famous Hollow Mountain Cave, he claimed to have climbed most of the (then) hardest lines, including Cave Rave and Eve Rave both 8Bb+. Things like "he wasn't there" and "I saw him trying that thing and he wasn't even close" were flying through the air (and also the internet) . Then it turned out his hardest ascents were caught on film... It's been quite a while since we heard anything about him. Case closed
Jochen Rühl (right picture) - Young German who appeared out of nowhere and claimed ascents of some really hard problems including La Dance des Balrogs, 8B, Eau profonde, 8Bb+ and Coxa distorta, 8Bb. No one could back his claims. On the contrary many had seen him struggle on relatively easy routes and problems. This was way back in 1998, but last year Jochen, curiously enough, backed Markus Bock when he accused Gaskins. Case closed
Philip Moser a.k.a. "the German" - For a long time Moser's name was high in the rankings of 8a.nu. He claimed a lot of FA's and repeats, crowning it all with his own L'Anarchiste, 8C, at S:t Anne in southern France. We got a lot of indications saying Moser wasn't all that he claimed, and after Fred Tuscan and friends repeated the "8C", down grading it to 7B in the process, the bubble finally burst. We haven't heard anyhting about him since... Case closed
Si O'Conor (picture below) - Scotland's own enigmatic original. Many believe his claims, including a couple of 8C's, to be totally bogus. Whatever the truth is, the climbing world would be an emptier and less colourful place without him. Case open
John Gaskins (right picture) -British climber famous for his incredible crimp strength and low traverses. First ascents of two 8C's, Walk away SD and Il Pirata, none of which have been repeated. Maybe you remember the animated debate between John and Markus in the summer of 2004. John claimed fast ascents of a some of Bock's hardest problems, including Gossip, 8C. Markus was building his case in much the same way as this time. Of course no one could prove anything, but I must say John's track record speaks in his favour. Interestingely enough, Gossip is still listed as unrepeated on the Boulderrausch list. Case closed
Martin Cermak (left picture) - Martin is a Czech climber, currently #8 in the rankings, who some has accused of being less than truthful regarding his ability and ascents. Apparently he's several times agreed to meet up and prove himself. Evertime he's failed to show up...Case open.
Like I said in the beginning, these are but a few. The list is long and keeps growing... So, what do we do? Well... we simply wait and see. We'll simply have to take comfort in the fact that, in the end, faking ascents doesn't work. There's no way we can force anyone to prove what he or she has done. That's impossible, and it's also not the kind of community we want. One of mistrust.
Pictures courtesy of Climbing, Mountain.ru, Climbing.de, Bleau.info