President, Pro Climbers Disagree on Border Wall

Whether or not the wall can be climbed, and who would be best to test it, is the issue

Border wall
A border wall located near the Calexico Port of Entry.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
By Tobias Carroll / September 22, 2019 10:47 am

One of the few constants of Donald Trump’s time as President to date has been his plan for a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. That’s gone from an image in speeches to prototypes to reality; recently, Trump was quoted as saying that their design makes them very difficult to climb, something he allegedly has on good authority from professional climbers.

The professional climbing community begs to differ.

The Daily Beast reports that, in a conversation with the media on Wednesday, the president invoked the wall’s design, saying that it had been tested by a group of climbers: “they’re very good, and some of them were champions,” the president said. “And we gave them different prototypes of walls, and this was the one that was hardest to climb.”

Upon hearing this, The Daily Beast went in search of climbers who might have been involved in the testing process. What did they find? In this case, it’s more about what they didn’t find.

Speaking to the nation’s top-ranked climbing athletes, past climbing and bouldering champions, and sports associations, The Daily Beast sought clues to the identity of any climber who might have participated in such a test. Not a single person in the tight-knit community of world-class climbers had heard a single word about any border wall experiment.

Marc Norman, the CEO of USA Climbing, the governing body for competitive climbing, was also unsure of what the president was referring to. “I am not aware of any of our athletes being contracted to do such work,” he told The Daily Beast.

Climbers also suggested to The Daily Beast that the wall might be less unclimbable than the President contended it would be. Mitsu Iwasaki of the group Mazamas said, “if it’s the slat wall behind him when he made the comment, it looks like it would be easy for a professional rock climber to get up and over.”

At least one of the climbers interviewed for the article offered up a potential explanation for the seeming discrepancy: Ross Fulkerson, of the U.S. climbing team, suggested that Trump might have confused rock climbers and boulderers, the latter of whom might be more suited to testing a structure like the wall. 

Did the president conflate the two types of climbing? Is there a secret wall-testing program that swears participants to secrecy? One day, perhaps, these mysteries will be solved.

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