Fighting Trolls, Finding Fiancés: Climbers Speak Out About Social Media

Whether you use social media or not, these platforms have changed climbing.

Look no further than Reel Rock’s documentary Big Things To Come, which follows Alex Johnson’s 10-year quest to send an uber-hard boulder problem. Social media plays a crucial role in the film, starting as a megaphone for Johnson’s failures and ending as emotional support in her journey of self-discovery.

That give-and-take reflects the experience of many climbers on platforms like Instagram, which has become a crucial pillar for athletes of all kinds. To understand how climbers deal with life online, ExplorersWeb reached out to several stars of the sport. We asked them about their positive experiences with social media — and what they wish would change.

For many athletes, social media has become a necessity for furthering their careers. As veteran ice climber Will Gadd puts it: “The other older athletes that didn’t adapt to social media are gone like the dinosaurs.”

But for alpinist Calum Muskett, his sponsors don’t care much if he makes posts or not. The responses we received reveal a broad diversity in both attitude and practice.


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Una publicación compartida por Will Gadd (@realwillgadd)

Will Gadd: ‘Insanely rapid progression in every sport’

Will Gadd has long been one of ice climbing’s most recognizable athletes, though he’s also a top paraglider and well-rounded outdoorsman — kayaker, caver, skier, rock climber. He has plenty to say about social media’s impact on the outdoors.

ExWeb: What impact do you think social media has had on outdoor sports?

Will Gadd: When I was a kid, the latest skateboarding trick would arrive months after the fact as a series of stills in a magazine from California, and we’d try to puzzle out the missing frames over the course of months. Now it’s on YouTube, sometimes literally in seconds, in full HD and often 60 or more frames a second. And the same is true for every trick and tactic in every mountain sport. If I can rebuild my car with YouTube, then I can definitely learn to build anchors, mostly. This has driven the most insanely rapid progression in every sport I’m involved with, but especially the session sports like play boating, ski tricks, etc.

What has changed for the worse with the advent of social media in climbing? 

Social media has made it a lot easier for more people to make a living off outdoor-related content. You don’t have to win comps or do the sickest version of your sport anymore, it’s all about connecting to people with engaging “content.”

This means that really talented athletes may not receive the dollars they would have historically, while mediocre athletes who produce great content can be the top earners in a sport…As someone who has genuinely pushed my sports, I thought it was bad at first that an attractive young person with skimpy clothes would rack up huge followers, despite climbing at a local junior team level. But the market has grown so much that there’s room for the “influencer athletes,” and for the high-end athletes who can use social media effectively.

Can you give an example of a social media post or experience that resonated strongly with you?

Most of my most successful posts have been emotional, and about things I really care about. The engagement has been almost universally respectful among people and often led to some surprisingly positive outcomes. The terrible accident on Howse Peak springs to mind. Some real good came out of that in terms of product design (integrated Recco to reduce the load on rescuers, families, etc.), and just conversation about risk-taking in a non-judgmental way.

I try to make roughly 25 percent of my posts genuinely useful to people, and that’s an ethic that has helped me do better personally rather than just putting up posts that give our dopamine-starved brains a quick hit.

Mary Catherine Eden: ‘I belong here’

Mary Catherine Eden, known as Tradprincess to her many followers, has become a heroine of the brutal climbing style known as off-width crack climbing. Last fall, she set a new benchmark by climbing Necronomicon, a 5.14a roof route in Utah.

ExWeb: You’ve developed a huge following on Instagram. What impact has social media had on your climbing? 

Mary Catherine Eden: I thought about deleting my social media a million times. Especially when I realized how much negativity I was getting. But I met Mercedi Carlson through social media, and she’s the best climbing partner I’ve ever had, and that friendship pushed me so much. I wanted to be Robin to somebody’s Batman.

Not Batman? 

No, Robin has more fun. Batman has too much responsibility.

Do you think social media has made climbing more inclusive?

Yeah, I think so. I travel a lot for climbing. It’s so much easier to find women to climb with now. I’m now more of a “normal” instead of the “other.” For the first five years of my rock climbing, I was always the “other.” The only girl. ‘Cause I was a trad climber in the desert. There wasn’t somebody that I could get in the car with that was like me.

Now I’m so grateful to social media. I feel so much more connected to women than ever before in rock climbing. I can’t believe I’m here. It’s weird. I didn’t feel like I belong here. And then one day I realized I do belong here.


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Una publicación compartida por Anna Taylor (@anna_taylor_98)

Anna Taylor: Finding support — and a fiancé

Anna Taylor has developed a large following on social media through photos and videos of her daring free solos, mostly in the U.K. In addition to becoming the first woman to do the 83 routes of the Classic Rock circuit, she’s also pulled off big adventures in Tasmania.

ExWeb: What impact has social media had on your life outdoors and your personal life?

Anna Taylor: It’s impacted my life in some very positive ways. It’s very easy to connect with people through Instagram, and I’ve been given some really great opportunities over the years because someone somewhere saw a post I’ve put out. For instance, working on a big TV project with the children’s show Blue Peter, and shooting an advert for a technology company that involved pretending to work an office job from a portaledge.

I also began talking to my now-fiancé online, and I honestly doubt we would ever have bumped into each other in person. So I guess I can thank Instagram for my relationship, too.

Can you give an example of a social media post that was important for you?

I once had to put a story out there, calling out a scene from a film I was in that had been edited in pretty poor taste. I really didn’t want to have to do it, but the response from people when I did was lovely. It turned out that an awful lot of people had been thinking exactly the same thing. That cleared any doubts I had that I was worried about nothing.

I’m not usually one that needs a lot of support from people I don’t know, but having it in that moment really helped, and I was extremely grateful to each and every person who reached out to me.

Tim Howell: Discovering new goals

When it comes to BASE jumping, few people have the resumé of Tim Howell. The climber and BASE jumper has drawn understandable attention for the stunning photos and videos of BASE jumps from Aconcagua and the Six Great North Faces of the Alps.

ExWeb: What impact do you think social media has had on outdoor sports? What has changed for the better and for the worse?

Tim Howell: The amount of knowledge that can be passed on is a great thing. There are pages dedicated to gear, safety aspects, techniques, news bulletins, etc. Knowledge is key when it comes to safety in the outdoors.

There are, of course, negative aspects. When I post on social media, I try to be as genuine and natural as possible. I often climb or jump without a camera, it’s not always about the content. So when people do things just “for the gram,” it seems so contrived. Apart from the newsworthy “selfie fatalities” on unforgiving clifftops, there are also lots of cases of the environment being damaged due to tourists crowding areas of beauty because it’s such a popular Instagram shot.

Can you give an example of a social media post that was particularly useful for you?

Some of my favorite expeditions have started with one photo. Four years ago, I saw a picture on Instagram of a single limestone cliff in northern Vietnam. That started a huge quest to research the area and find out if it was possible to wingsuit from this cliff. I asked around on travel forums and Facebook groups to see if people had been to the area and had any pictures.

After getting in touch with local motorbike guides and measuring the distances on Google Earth, I finally took a trip out to Vietnam. After three days of overnight trains, local mini-buses, and scooters, we arrived at the cliff and I was able to be the first person to wingsuit BASE jump in Vietnam. For a lot of the expeditions I do, the research comes from the communities on social media.


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Una publicación compartida por Calum Muskett (@calummuskett)

Calum Muskett: Facebook ‘doesn’t add much to my life’

Calum Muskett is an alpine climber and skier who has pulled off many impressive solos, such as the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute route in just over 24 hours. He has sponsorships, but his relationship with social media remains ambivalent, despite his obvious skill and the beautiful Instagram photos of his adventures.

ExWeb: What impact do you think social media has had on outdoor sports?

Calum Muskett: Sponsorship tends to go toward content creators (who might be terrible at the sport) or to the very best athletes in the world (who often have a content creation team). This can be pretty frustrating for a lot of elite athletes who are incredibly good but can never sustain a living as professional outdoor athletes from sponsorship. With that said, this has always been part of the adventure sports game, where there’s little state funding for elite sports compared to more mainstream Olympic sports.

Can you give an example of a social media post that particularly affected you?

I remember in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic seeing a friend discuss on Facebook whether it was ok to go bouldering a short walk from his home in a secluded spot. The responses to this genuine question, from people I know are very reasonable in person, were extreme and filled with absolute certainty one way or the other, with very little level of proportionality or reasoning. I just found the environment very toxic and it was the final straw for me. I realized that Facebook was really not adding much positive to my life.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.