When President Donald Trump said at a press conference at the southern border last month that his wall can’t be climbed, some avid climbers took it personally.
On Friday, climbers at the Red River Gorge tried out an 18-foot-tall replica of the wall being built at the U.S. border with Mexico.
The fastest was Erik Kloeker, who scaled the wall in 17.29 seconds.
In a separate attempt, he climbed it while juggling with one hand, though he was quick to point out that he “didn’t go all the way to the top” that time.
Kloeker, who works as a climbing guide, said the wall would rate as “intermediate” in climbing difficulty.
On Saturday, scores more climbers are expected to turn out for a competition to see who can climb the wall the fastest.
There will be prizes and categories for speed climbing with just hands and feet, with ropes and ladders and with ropes only.
The idea for the contest was spurred by Trump’s comments while showing off a section of the wall on Sept. 18, when he said a group of “20 mountain climbers” had tried out the wall.
“We gave them different prototypes of walls, and this was the one that was the hardest to climb,” Trump said.
He later said it was “virtually impossible” to climb over.
Rick Weber, a retired engineer who founded the Muir Valley rock climbing preserve, said he heard the comments and thought, “that looks like it’d be pretty easy to climb actually.”
“The only way to find out was to build a replica, to get the exact dimensions and build one and see if we could climb it,” he said Friday.
And so he did.
“Of course, you never tell a bona fide rock climber that something’s impossible, because that now becomes a challenge,” Weber said.
This weekend is Rocktoberfest at the Gorge, and while the two events aren’t connected, there will be plenty of climbers in the area to give Weber’s wall a try.
“We have some of the finest climbers in the world, and it was a perfect opportunity to get people out here and give them a chance to climb it,” Weber said. “...What we’re trying to do is to dispel the notion that it’s unclimbable.”
Kloeker said he isn’t trying to take political sides on how border security should be conducted.
“We really did this competition kinda as a fun thing” in response to the president’s comments about climbers, he said.
But many commenters on social media took the experiment seriously, questioning the builders’ and climbers’ methods.
The news of the replica quickly went viral, and Time ran a story featuring an 8-year-old girl who climbed the replica.
While the climbers who participate in the contest Saturday will be attached to a belay rope to ensure their safety, Kloeker said he climbed the wall once without a rope, just to show naysayers that he was not being pulled up by the belayer.
Kloeker said scaling just the columns in the border wall “would be a beginner climbing route.”
Though he said the five-foot-tall flat steel panels at the top would be “a pretty big span for most people,” Kloeker said there are open seams between the sections that climbers could grab onto.
“That actually makes it quite a bit easier,” he said.
“In reality, people aren’t going to have to free climb it,” Kloeker said, noting that ropes and ladders would make the task much less challenging.
Some sections of the wall are 18 feet tall and some are 30 feet. Weber said the additional 12 feet would not be much more difficult.
In some heavily traveled areas, there are two walls running parallel to each other along the border, Trump said.