Not to be an alarmist or anything, but at the current rate of miniaturization, by approximately 2035, climbing will be invisible to the naked eye.
Humans were first drawn to climbing in 1492, when King Charles VII demanded that someone climb Mont Aiguille, so his servant, Antoine de Ville, used ropes and ladders to climb the peak, previously known as “Mount Inaccessible.” The climb marked the birth of mountaineering, which saw its heyday in Europe between 1854 and 1865, when Edward Whymper and his party stood atop the Matterhorn, climbing the last of the great peaks of the Alps.
Sometime after that, several people got the idea that you could climb smaller things: in the 1880s, in areas of Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, and the Dolomites, young men climbed “routes” for the first time, and sometimes—as in the case of Oliver Parry Haskett Smith’s solo first ascent of Napes Needle—the climb ended only 60 feet off the ground. Which, when compared to the 14,692-foot-high Matterhorn, is quite small.
Then the French invented bouldering, which is possible on boulders as small as 3 feet high, as proved by Luc Gruenther’s visionary 2002 first ascent of Little Devil (V11 X).
You can see this trend illustrated in the following hastily drawn chart:
Climbing is not the only thing experiencing miniaturization. From 1987 to 2001, cell phones shrunk exponentially in size:
Consider music’s path to invisibility: In 1973, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s visionary “Head to the Sky” album was 12 inches wide. By the mid-1990s, it was 4.7 inches wide, on Compact Disc. By the early 2000s, Head to the Sky was available for purchase in MP3 file format, which, unlike vinyl or CDs, is invisible. Or, in the words of Violent J of the Insane Clown Posse, “music is magic, pure and clean. You can feel it and hear it but it can’t be seen.”
Is climbing headed this way? It’s really up to us, isn’t it?
Of course you could say, “but people are still climbing Everest!” That’s correct, a few dozen or hundred people are still climbing 8,000-meter peaks each year. But look around your local climbing gym: Is anyone climbing Everest? No, but a whole shitload of teenagers are hiking unbelievably hard boulder problems 15 feet high, an entire generation of climbers focusing on difficult, but short, climbing routes. If this ethos continues, when someone climbs V21, it could potentially be a one-inch-high boulder problem.
Or maybe Adam Ondra just sent the world’s hardest route last weekend—but it was so futuristic, no one could even SEE IT.