The Thunder from Down Under
One of Oz’s strongest, Chris Webb Parsons, goes on a world tour.
When I first met Chris Webb Parsons, he was just some random climber around a campfire in Australia. It was 2007, and I was camping alone amongst the kangaroos, wallabies, and kookaburras at Stapleton Campground, in the Grampians. Eating sardines in the dark one night, Chris and his mates invited me over to their circle. He and his wife, Teegan, and the others around the fire were unassuming and friendly to a fault. Chris had a shy demeanor, close-cropped blond hair, and the strange ability to align his double-jointed thumb with his other fingers in a crimped position, making a five-finger crimp theoretically possible. (This “skill”, someone hinted, was the secret to Chris’ lofty climbing abilities.) Later that week, at the Hollow Mountain cave, I watched Chirs work Dai Komayada’s proposed V16, Wheel of Life, some of the hardest climbing on the continent (or the world). With each attempt, he got closer and closer to linking the 68-move problem, which squeezes from the back to the front of a cave so constricted it barely allows a horizontal climber to move dab-free.
When it came time for me to head back to Sydney to meet a friend, Chris and Teegan offered up the keys to their house just outside the city. They’d be climbing in the Gramps for another week or so, and said I was free to crash there. I was thrown off by such trust and generosity coming from someone I’d known less than a week. (But I took them up on the offer.) Just after returning to the States, I learned that Chris sent Wheel. At the time, I wondered what a mutant-strong climber like Chris would have to say about climbing in the States. Then, this January, I caught wind of his arrival in Hueco. Within a week, he’d ticked Shaken Not Stirred (V12), flashed Free Willy (V10), and sent Power of Silence (V10) second go. Next he sent Diabolique (V13) and flashed Diaphanous Sea (V12). Capping that with a fourth-burn send of Slashfash (V13), and a ticks of Esperanza (V14) and Barefoot on Sacred Ground (V12). He keeps a blogroll and timely record of his ascents on his site, chriswebbparsons.com.
OK, first, some background: When were you born?
February 4, 1985.
Where did you grow up?
In Canberra (Capital of Australia).
When and how did you get started climbing?
I started climbing at the end of 1999, when I was 14. I turned up to my local climbing gym with some friends, later that day bought my first pair of climbing shoes, and haven’t looked back since.
Where do you live now?
Currently my wife and I are homeless. As crazy as that sounds, we packed up our house that we rented in the Blue Mountains and headed off on our [current] eight-month climbing adventure. We’ll decide where we want to live when we get home, later this year — whether that be in Australia or possibly another country.
How are you feeling? You’ve had some issues with split tips, is that right?
I’ve just begun an eight-month world-climbing trip, so I’m feeling really good at the moment. I’m currently on the first leg of my trip in Hueco Tanks and then I’ll be off to Bishop. Then I head over to Europe for five months, then off to South Africa...
So far in Hueco I’ve had a really good time, but my skin has been in pretty bad shape from day one so I haven’t been able to do as much bouldering as I wanted. Before coming on this trip I had a bad injury. Climbing in Hueco has helped me get some strength back, as lots of the problems are very physical.
The climbing scene in Australia is considerably smaller than that in the US or Europe. Is that just because there are fewer people? And how would you compare the Australian scene to the US scene?
Population would for sure have a lot to do with why climbing is not as big a sport in Australia, although climbing in Australia is definitely growing and slowly becoming more recognized. Although the scene is smaller than in the US and Europe, it’s also kind of cool — most people know each other, so you feel like your part of a community. On the other hand, it can be frustrating that there aren’t more climbers to help develop new areas. It can also be hard to find someone to go out bouldering and training with, so I find myself bouldering and training by myself a fair bit. As most of the population of Australia lives on the coast, surfing is a really big sport and it’s harder for grass-roots sports like climbing to get a good foothold. In places like Europe a lot of the population lives closer to mountains and rocks, so maybe that’s another reason climbing is not as big in Australia. All that aside, Australia has some of what I believe to be the best climbing in the world... “So Where The Bloody Hell Are Ya?”
Have you used your magic thumb wrap in Hueco?
Haha my magic thumb wrap it still under development — it should be ready for release in 2010. But Hueco has definitely been a good testing ground for it.
What do you do for a living?
I co-own a Rope Access company in Sydney. I’ve had to do a lot of travelling for work, to places like China. I spend a fair bit of time away from home and climbing. Before I came on this trip I’d been working in Australia up in QLD, which is about a 13-hour drive from my home. I was away working for about four months with hardly any time off, so I could barely do any training. It’s really frustrating, as I know I could be a lot stronger... but I also have to make money, so I can go climbing and make this trip possible.
You’ve put up some very hard routes and problems in Australia... what are some of the most notable in your mind?
I did the first accent of one of the hardest routes in Australia back in 2004. The route is in Nowra, NSW, and called White Ladder. I graded the route 34/5.14c and it has yet to see a repeat. The route was a project for a long time, tried by some very strong climbers, like Fred Nicole, Garth Miller, Klem Loskot, etc. I’ve also established a lot of the hardest boulder problems in Australia. One of my hardest is Catalyst (V14), in Sydney — it’s a sit start to a V13 called Genesis. The sit start was the original vision, but hadn’t been completed. Catalyst is at a crag called Crumbly — it’s an urban crag, like most of the bouldering spots in Sydney, but the quality of problems are very good.
Do you prefer routes or bouldering... or maybe ice climbing?
When I first started climbing I was mostly interested in route climbing, but as I progressed, I started to turn to bouldering for strength and power gains for my route climbing. Soon, I found myself doing more bouldering than routes. I enjoy the style of climbing that bouldering lends itself to. The feeling on the rock is freer, as you have no ropes and no gear to deal with. I also enjoy the power-based training that comes with bouldering.
You’ve done quite well in competitions in and around Australia. Do you like competing? What was your proudest victory?
I have been in many competitions in Australia, but as I think back I don’t have any real, proud moments. I know that sounds very arrogant, but the competition scene in Australia is very small and sometimes I don’t actually feel like I’m in an event. Most of my proudest moments have come from the rock.
The junior comp scene in Australia seems very healthy, though, so hopefully this will produce some talented climbers in the years to come and progress the sport further in Australia. As for me, the real challenge seems to be with the World Cups. Hopefully one day, I’ll be the first Australian to stand on the podium.
Coming to the States was quite a trek for you. How long was the flight? And since it was such an undertaking, did you come with specific goals in mind? Slashface, for example?
The flight to the US wasn’t too bad. We got a direct flight from Sydney to San Francisco, and it only took 13 hours on the plane. The real mission was once we arrived; we drove straight from San Fran to Hueco in one 22-hour push. We were so happy to finally make it. I’d wanted to come to Hueco for a long time; I’d seen great photos and footage of the area and it just looked amazing. It definitely lives up to my expectations.
I had a few things on my to-do-list for Hueco, including Slashface, Esperanza and Terremer, but my main objective for this trip was just to enjoy the area and get a taste for some of the great problems that make Hueco Tanks one of the premier bouldering areas of the world.
What’s it like being a sponsored climber in Australia?
While I was in Australia I had two great sponsors, Black Diamond and Australian Industrial Rope Access, who have been extremely helpful supporting me, especially for this trip. And since arriving in the US I’ve picked up two new sponsors: Moon Climbing and Five Ten. I’m grateful to be one of few sponsored Australian climbers, and hopefully this encourages other young climbers to seek sponsorship to progress towards their own climbing goals.
What’re your favorite bouldering and route crags in Australia? And how does Hueco stack up?
Grampians would have to be on the top of my list. It’s an amazing place to both climb and boulder and has beautiful wildlife and scenery. The bouldering is very similar to Hueco, just a little more spread out. Hueco seems to have a lot more quantity of problems in a smaller area, whereas the Grampians have a lot of problems, just spread over a larger area. I find in the Grampians, even if I haven’t done a single boulder problem that day, I still feel like I’ve worked myself, because of the walk-ins to the crags. The quality of both the Grampians and Hueco are perfect.
What’s the biggest difference between Australia and the States you’ve encountered so far?
The US is very different from Australia: it seems everyone here in America has to have a massive car. I’ve barely seen a small car since arriving. Plus, your supermarkets are huge, and you can buy anything and everything in one store.
Most people have been very friendly and as soon as they find out I’m from Australia they always seem interested and happy to have a chat.
For any person wanting to travel, Australia would be a great place. It’s easy to get around, and if your planning a climbing trip you’ll find climbers in Australia to be very accommodating to any travelling climber new to the country.
Anything else you’d like to add:
I would like to say a huge thank you to all my sponsors: Black Diamond, Australian Industrial Rope Access, Moon Climbing, and Five Ten.