THE LEAPING BOY IS (RE)RELEASED
I had an overactive imagination when I was young — lucid dreams, daydreams, an artistic streak, a taste for literature and bad sci-fi movies... the whole nine. The upside of this was that I rarely wanted for entertainment, even as an only child in Ohio; I was easily moved by what I saw, read, and heard. My point in telling you this is to offer a deeper understanding of how blissfully inspired I was when I read “The Leaping Boy,” a 1996 article in Climbing (No. 164) about the Brit Johnny Dawes (johnnydawes.com), the most preternaturally gifted rock climber of his day. I was 18 then, just getting out of the gym and onto real rock, and the story plucked a perfect chord inside me. I’d found a climbing hero.
Dawes is still climbing — my cohort Matt Samet conducted an interview with him not too long ago for Urban Climber and Climbing.com. In more recent pictures, Dawes no longer has the lean, muscular build of a natural born Stone Monkey — now he looks a bit like Chandler from “Friends.” But his magic still remains — for me anyway.
You could easily mistake Dawes’ ramblings about life and climbing for those of a homeless guy off his meds. (For example, take a look at his thoughts on perhaps his boldest route, Indian Face (E9 6c), which he FA’ed at the age of 22). Until you saw him move on the rock, that is. Then the jabberwocky starts to make sense. Or at least you give the man enough credit to assume that even if you don’t know what in the hell he means, he knows what he means.
Dawes’ taking-up-snakes grade philosophy of friction, balance, and the rhythms of the earth, as it appeared in “The Leaping Boy,” was enough to hook me. I was drawn into a Middle Earth-like universe of reality-bending climbs. In the piece, a shot of Dawes crimping fingernail edges on his 5.14 slate slab The Very Big and The Very Small stirred a sense of infinite possibility in me (at the time, 5.14 was accomplishment enough in itself — but 5.14 on dinner-plate-slick slab?) There was also an image of Dawes, silhouetted on a rock outcrop, wearing a long, very British hound’s-tooth wool coat and a pair of Mocasyms. Not much about the man made sense. His ear was tuned not to the everyday world I occupied, but to the odd inner-mechanisms of his mind and body. (Apparently that wasn’t always a good thing, and he struggled with his own late-adolescent darkness like I was struggling with mine.) Regardless, I wanted to tap into that quirky, cosmic frequency he was on.
So it was with a welcome pang of nostalgia that recently, 12 years after I first read about Dawes, I watched the trailer for, Stone Monkey: Portrait of a Rock Climber, a classic film profiling Dawes recently re-released on DVD (check the trailer at urbanclimbermag.tv; buy it at posingproductions.com). This movie is just the thing for anyone chasing that moment on the rock when your body and mind work in perfect, primal tandem. It’s a certainly not the type of video we’re used to these days — it’s very quirky and British, and at times sentimental. But Stone Monkey, along with additional footage called The Story of Indian Face, is inspiring and honest in a way that many more polished films aren’t. For one of climbing’s true characters, check Dawes, and the movie, out.