Seven years ago, when I started free soloing long, hard routes in Yosemite — climbing without a rope, gear or a partner — I did it because it seemed like the purest, most elegant way to scale big walls. Climbing, especially soloing, felt like a grand adventure, but I never dreamed it could be a profession. However, over the years sponsors came to me one by one. I assumed that they wanted me to represent their companies because they supported what I was doing.
So it came as a shock last week when I came off a four-day climb of El Capitan in Yosemite to learn that Clif Bar, which had sponsored me for four years, had fired me along with four other well-known climbers: Dean Potter, Steph Davis, Cedar Wright and Timmy O’Neill. What was going on? Was Clif Bar terminating its sponsorship because I was doing exactly what I thought it had signed me up for in the first place?
Within the climbing world, we are all known for taking risks in one form or another. Our careers as climbers have been shaped by free soloing. Dean Potter and Steph Davis have taken the game much further with BASE jumping and wingsuit flying — parachuting off cliffs — but at heart they are still rock climbers who are inspired by the mountains. The fact that the adventures that we seek out are dangerous is part of what makes them interesting to the public and to sponsors.