This is a guest post written by Fallon Rowe (@fallonclimbs). Fallon is all things climbing:  a sponsored climber, a climbing coach, a writer, and a teacher. Below is her review.

It’s my fault for getting my hopes up when I first saw Chris Sharma in the ads for the new HBO show The Climb. With sweeping views of deep water soloing in Spain and adventure climbing in Wadi Rum, the gorgeous imagery and inclusion of expert climbers gave me a flicker of hope. Here was a chance to finally get climbing right in the eyes of the mass media for public consumption. Unfortunately, the show missed the mark in a number of important ways, and I walked away from the eight-episode arc with mixed feelings.

On the show, ten ‘amateur’ climbers with dreams of going ‘pro’ are vying for the chance to win $100,000 and a one-year sponsorship with Prana. Each week, one climber is eliminated based on their performance in the climbing competition, usually because they couldn’t onsight a predetermined route and then lost in an elimination round. The premise is simple enough, but the execution was questionable.

First off, lest we take ourselves too seriously, I want to remind us all that climbing and television are both meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The outcomes of any given climb or reality TV show are really not that significant.

The Climb on HBO
A promo shot for HBO's new show The Climb with Jason Momoa and pro climber Chris Sharma.

I first heard of The Climb back in August 2021, when one of the producers DMed me asking me to apply to be a participant. We chatted on the phone briefly to discuss the details. The filming schedule conflicted with my teaching contract, so I declined, and ultimately I am glad I turned down the offer. When I eventually saw the ads for the completed show, I was excited to see what they’d put together. I’ve been climbing for over 20 years, and it was a novelty to finally see a TV show about rock climbing for the first time.

I want to make it clear that I have nothing bad to say about any of the individual participants in the competition. They all seemed like nice people who were trying their best, and surely just doing what they were told by the directors. I think they all actually climbed quite well for their skill levels, maintained positive attitudes, and stayed away from the typical interpersonal drama and backstabbing that is ubiquitous on most reality TV. For that, I commend all of the climbers.

Some of the camaraderie came off as cheesy or superficial (we really could have skipped the giggling crash pad bumper cars activity), but for the most part they seemed to be genuine friends. Anyone who has spent a day out at the crag or at a comp has seen how climbers cheer each other on, and there is a strong sense of wanting to see others succeed. Of course, with that much money on the line, it introduces a more competitive side, where as much as you want your friends to send, you also don’t want them to beat you.

There were other positive aspects of The Climb. One of the things I loved most was the racial and gender diversity of the recruited climbers; we also see a variety of backgrounds and experience levels. The videography and quality of the filmmaking was spectacular, with beautiful scenery and an obviously Herculean amount of rope work and drones to get the best angles.

Thinking of the intended audience, it was likely not hardcore climbers, but rather a broader demographic — think of your relatives who saw Free Solo and never shut up about it, and have probably been to the gym once or twice in their lives. For that target audience, the show actually did a decent job explaining some of the different styles of climbing in a manner that was friendly to non-climbers.

So, where did things go wrong?

Drama and Continuity

The hosts (Chris Sharma and Meagan Martin) exaggerated even the smallest amount of drama, with their endless “Oh no, a foot slip!” and “Their rope is tangled, this could cost them!” commentary. This is to be expected from reality TV, but it felt incredibly over the top in the context of what they were doing. For example, when someone was eliminated, they somberly walked away alone from the crag almost immediately. Are we really supposed to think that contestant just found their way home alone? Of course not. They must have all hiked back down and driven together.

There are other examples where we are asked to suspend disbelief, such as when a climber is shown on an “onsight” of a route in one pair of shoes, and then in the next shot, they have magically changed to a different model of shoes! This lack of continuity leads the viewer to distrust what they’re seeing — clearly the climber must’ve been on another attempt, so it wasn’t an onsight.

As a mental performance climbing coach and comp veteran, I was actually impressed with the general lack of meltdowns among the participants. I’m sure there were more emotions off camera, so perhaps they edited those down for the final cut. The climbers faced various trials, such as injuries, competitive pressure, and trauma-based fear, yet they managed to push through to commit fully to the routes presented to them. However, there was some crying that made me roll my eyes — like, are you really crying when you’re getting paid an appearance fee to climb in Spain? C’mon, people. Get it together.

The Format

Overall, I think the show was a misrepresentation of the community’s general approach and lifestyle associated with serious climbing. We’re supposed to buy into the goal of these competitors becoming pro someday, but we aren’t shown much evidence that they are ready for that step. In fact, we don’t learn much about most of them at all, with only limited backstory woven into the show for some of the contestants.

TheClimbContestants 1
The contestants of The Climb shown with hosts Chris Sharma and Meagan Martin. (Photo: HBO Max)

The format of the show didn’t lend itself to highlighting the climbers’ best either — the “onsight or die” style meant that one small mistake was a quick ticket to the elimination round. In the real world of elite climbing, onsighting is evidence of mastery, but most hard routes happen after lots of projecting and then an eventual redpoint burn. With the exception of the finale, the climbers get basically zero opportunity to project routes on-screen.

I found myself yawning just to get through the early episodes where so many contestants had to attempt onsighting the same route. I can’t imagine how tedious it would have been to watch them all projecting the same climb, so I understand why they structured it how they did.

Additionally, time was the tiebreaker between competitors who reached the same hold or both finished a route, which makes sense in the context of the competition, but in the real world, climbing time doesn’t actually matter (except in niche big wall speed ascents and the like). It was bizarre to see indoor comp rules twisted for an outdoor setting.


One of the most infuriating issues is with how the hosts treated Deco. It started when Deco chose to jump off a deep water solo route as a strategic choice – he didn’t need to go any higher to avoid elimination, and he wanted to mitigate the risk of a big, unexpected fall. The hosts (and other contestants) got on his case and lectured him with a holier-than-thou perspective about trying to send no matter the cost. They never let it go that he jumped off rather than finishing the route even though it was a smart, safe strategy in the competition.

TheClimbDeco 2
Deco, one of the contestants on the show, deserved better. (Photo: HBO Max)

Next, Chris kept calling Deco “unfocused” and talking about how he needed to redeem himself, but personally, he seemed to be having a good time and doing just as well, if not better, than many of the others. Later on, during a first ascent challenge on chossy sandstone, Deco breaks a hold and falls prematurely. Breaking a hold is a common occurrence considering the circumstances and even Sharma, who bolted the route, admits there was loose rock. They blame Deco for not climbing “delicately” enough and not thinking about the rock quality, which is total BS. Sometimes you can have a spidey-sense for loose rock, but ultimately you can’t control when a key hold breaks on unclimbed choss. Villainizing him for this was wholly unwarranted. Also, if you could go anywhere in the world for the show, why select a chossy cliff to test them on in the first place? I digress.

A Disservice to Trad Climbing

The episode (#6) where they climb a crack in Wadi Rum is a complete insult to the entire discipline of trad climbing. They emphasize how dangerous and scary trad climbing is, and talk about zippering out like it’s a frequent problem. In reality, there are very few instances where someone zippers out and hits the deck in day-to-day trad cragging. It’s not like they’re on a messed up A4 pitch in the Fisher Towers or something; they were on a solid splitter crack.

It was irresponsible for The Climb to briefly show the competitors learning how to place cams, and then quickly throw them on a trad lead. Frankly, trad climbing is something that should be learned with the proper time and instruction, usually through an extended mentorship or classes. The show alludes to the contestants getting more practice off-screen, but it becomes obvious that they are nowhere near competent as soon as they attempt the lead. This was problematic because it could imply to the audience that trad can be learned in a rushed setting without thorough knowledge and opportunity to practice in the right environment. I wish they’d made it clear that (safe) trad climbing requires a lot more time than the flippant practices that the show portrayed. Of course trad climbing is going to seem dangerous when you have no clue what you’re doing, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Pre-Placed Gear

We see the contestants leading the crack with lots of hand- and fist-sized cams on their harnesses, yet there are also pre-placed cams shown above them. It’s unclear why this is the case; my guess is for liability. It is bizarre to give them so many cams to place while also having pre-placed cams in the crack — why not go with one or the other instead of this odd mixture? Either they have the skill to protect it on their own, or they don’t.

Pre Placed 3
One of the climbers laybacking the crack in episode 6, with pre-placed cams shown above her on the route. (Photo: HBO Max)

By giving them pre-placed cams, they are admitting that the contestants didn’t properly learn how to place gear so they can’t be trusted to protect themselves, yet they are trying to give off the appearance of the contestants actually protecting it on their own. We see them struggling to place gear (the drama!), unsuccessfully shoving #3 cams in where it clearly should be #2s, and so on. I physically cringed watching them all panic and try to find stances or placements while there was still a piece at their waist. It’s giving desperation, y’all. I almost feel bad they were forced to go through that.

The contestants were also hastily taught how to hand jam and we see most of them purely laybacking the crack or relying on face holds. It’s apparent their jamming lesson was not up to par either, so we can’t really blame the contestants for sticking to what they know. I wish the show had left out trad and crack climbing altogether, or had at least acknowledged that they couldn’t do it justice in the short amount of time allotted. Instead, we are served with a rushed mess of an episode full of confusing, downright laughable and dangerous practices.

Grading Error?

This brings us to the next issue with the crack episode: the grade of the route. The show calls the climb “Fist Full of Jebels” a 5.12c, but anyone who has crack climbed could tell you there is no way it’s harder than a 5.9 or 5.10 purely based on the size and angle of the route.

In forums and on meme pages, I dug into this conundrum. Some people reported that it’s a 5.12c layback, but a 5.9 if you jam it. (To those people, I say: my project is a 5.16 if you don’t use any of the crimps, but a 5.13 if you do). What is this nonsense logic? The grade is the grade. If you don’t know how to jam, it does not change the grade of the route; you’re just incompetent. The show easily could have explained this discrepancy, but they did not.

Other people online claimed the route is the start of a 5.12c multipitch, but the first pitch they actually climbed is a 5.9. For a brief moment, someone created a Mountain Project listing for the route and gave it a 5.9+ rating, but it has since been removed from the website. Hopefully someone who has actually climbed in Wadi Rum (or has a guidebook) can weigh in. One thing we can all agree on: the contestants are definitely not capable of flashing a 5.12c trad route with no experience. Very sus.

A Bolted Crack

To add insult to injury, at the end of the crack episode, we’re given a shot of Chris Sharma leading a fully bolted splitter crack while reciting some faux-inspirational quote, which is somehow almost worse. Even if bolting cracks were the norm in Wadi Rum (which I sincerely hope it is not), it’s unacceptable to place bolts where there is safe protection available with trad gear. The show made a conscious choice to select a shot of him on that route in particular, which is downright distasteful when there were hundreds of other climbs they could’ve picked.

Bolted Crack 4
Chris Sharma leads a bolted splitter crack climb in Wadi Rum. (Photo: HBO Max)

Jason Momoa is MIA

The show is ostensibly put together by Jason Momoa and Chris Sharma. For how often he appears in the ads, you’d think Jason would have a bigger role in the show. Instead, we only see him on scouting missions with Chris at the beginning of each episode, where it’s clear they’re just getting paid to hang out, climb together for fun, and remind us of the depth of their bromance. (Someone should really count up how many times in the show Jason and Chris confess their love to each other). To his credit, Jason does show up for the final episode and is supportive at the end. Thanks for the marketing, Khal Drogo.

SharmaJason 5
Jason Momoa and Chris Sharma, a true match made in heaven. Long live the bromance.

The Multi-Pitch Episode (#7)

My main question here is: Why? For the cool shot of the climbers on top of the spire? They chose a 4-pitch route called “Pecho Lobo” (5.10c, 5.11c, 5.9, 5.10a) for the contestants to climb. This time, their performance was purely based on the speed of each pair. I really just don’t see how moderate climbing like this is a challenge for them this late in the competition. The finalists should certainly be able to easily onsight up to 5.11 by this point in their journey.

This is where more of their inexperience becomes obvious with a lack of basic knowledge about anchors and rope management. The anchors are pre-built for them, which must be for liability and time’s sake, and they use an odd off-the-harness redirected belay rather than the standard belaying off the anchor. The personal anchors/tethers hanging off their harnesses were attached in a silly way such that they were practically tripping on them. Yikes.

The show also plays up the importance of choosing a partner for multi-pitch. Yes, communication and teamwork can make or break a multi-pitch climb, but for this group, it shouldn’t have made much of a difference. Half the time, I’ve climbed multi-pitches with random people I met in a parking lot right before, and it’s never been a huge issue as long as everyone involved is experienced. The feigned gravity of the situation just felt … off. Putting them on a harder multi-pitch maybe would have done it justice, but a relatively moderate, loose conglomerate route really left me feeling blah. (Again, why did they pick climbs where they acknowledged the amount of loose rock?)

Then The Climb throws us a huge curveball: they use the IFSC indoor speed wall as the elimination round for the multi-pitch episode. Sorry, WHAT? Save a small percentage of Olympic climbers, most pros never need to (or bother to) touch an indoor speed wall. It’s such a niche thing, and for the purposes of the show (becoming an outdoor ‘pro’), it’s completely irrelevant. It seemed like it was just a way to advertise for Sharma’s gym.


I have mixed feelings about displaying the details of climbing to the public at large, but it’s become inevitable. It seems like non-climbers get even more confused with all of this half-baked climbing knowledge tossed their way in various documentaries and TV shows. Now, I have to wonder how many people will stop interrogating us about Free Solo, and will instead start asking us, “Have you seen The Climb? Have you ever deep water soloed?” Brace yourselves.

Spoiler Alert!

Exit now if you don’t want to read who won!!

For all its faults, HBO’s The Climb does achieve some good in the world. Cat wins the prize, which I think is fantastic. He took the challenges in stride, had a great attitude and inspiring story, and as a bonus, he is an awesome representative for the trans community. I bet he will do amazing things from here and I look forward to seeing where he goes in climbing!

Avatar photo
Fallon Rowe

Fallon Rowe

Fallon is a Utah-based rock climber, desert lover, science teacher, writer, and climbing coach. She can be found on Instagram @fallonclimbs.

All author posts

We’re @weighmyrack


Get Climbing Gear News

You can expect 0 – 52 updates per year.

About Us

We’re a bunch of gear nerds who set out to level the playing field. Screw the media bias of marketing budgets, we treat all brands equally. You won’t find elitist or gatekeeping writing here, we welcome all climbers.


When we write specific place names we will give a land acknowledgement.
To avoid assumptions we’ll ask to share gender pronouns.

Our Location

We’re often mobile. Do inquire for a current shipping address.

Our business address is:
30 N Gould St
Suite 23131
Sheridan, Wyoming 82801

Instead of featuring distracting ads or creating a paywall to monetize our site, Weigh My Rack LLC links to relevent products via affiliate marketing (if you click a link and then buy, we get a commission). Weigh My Rack LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Weigh My Rack LLC also participates in affiliate programs with Avantlink, AWIN, Bergfruende, CJ, FlexOffers, Webgains, and other sites.