I first met this "Player" in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado. I was way over my head on a project called The Bush Pilot — a Dave Graham problem involving strong tension and thuggy squeeze moves. This kid quietly came up, lay down his pad, and — in a matter of 20 minutes — scratched through to the top. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out the first move. He didn't say much. He just did. I was impressed.
Jon Cardwell has quietly come up in the world of hard climbing, by competing internationally in Youth World Competitions, ticking the testpieces of proven areas, like Rifle, Colorado, with its slippery power-endurance sport-climbing, and thrashing through the finest of boulder problems in RMNP. He's a nice boy, but he's mean on the rock. Here's a quick interview ...
Jon, how old are you?17
Where are you from?Albuquerque, NM
When did you first start climbing?I started when I was about 12 years old — seems like forever now but I think it was is 2001.
When did you do your first 5.12?I don’t really remember when, but it was this climb Crimp Chimp at the Dungeon. It was kind of a turd. I was just really psyched to be climbing outside.
When did you do your first 5.13?In 2003, I'm pretty sure: Chud, in Rifle. The try before I sent, I ate it big time off the top because I was too pumped to clip the last bolt and a foothold broke off the finish hold stance. I nearly decked. I smashed Daniel [Woods] into the wall, also.
When did you do your first V10, V11, V12, V13, & V14?First V10 was probably in 2003, V11 in 2004, V12 in 2005, V13 in 2006, and V14 2006.
When did you do your first B3? Way back in the day. In the Sandia foothills. U-mound — or U-Pound, as some call it. It’s a turd area. Everything always breaks.
Where do you climb the most?Probably just in the local New Mexico areas. But, during the summer, a large amount of my time is spent in RMNP and Rifle, Colorado.
What's your favorite crag?I don’t really know. I like Hueco or Bishop or RMNP for bouldering, and Rifle and Rumney for sport climbing.
If you had to pick one or the other, are you a boulderer or a sport climber? Eh, I'd have to say I'm built for bouldering. I don’t like it as much as sport climbing, but it's kind of my strength — power and such. I enjoy sport climbing better, so I'd probably choose that.
What's the best V12 in the country?I haven’t been to that many areas, but my top three are Full Monty, No More Greener Grass, and Dark Waters.
What city has the best climbing around it in the U.S.? World?Boulder, Colorado, for sure: RMNP, Boulder Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, Mount Evans ... the list goes on and on ... Rifle (just three-and-half hours away!).
What is the difference between hard bouldering and hard sport climbing? I would have to say sport climbing is more of a mind game. More strategy is involved, such as resting long enough, hitting all the moves perfectly, saving energy: and bouldering is just right there. You must do the moves, no resting clipping, etc. —
Where do you see competition/plastic climbing in comparison to these two? I see it as almost completely different. With competition, much more stress is put on a person. Whereas when you're outside chilling with friends, climbing, you're not all stressed-out to win or beat others.
Do you think indoor climbing will ever gain the respect that bouldering has now? Why and when? I think in a few years, once we get a series going, I mean larger than ABS. Something like PCA. Coming to a city near you: pros, cash, prizes ... but that may not happen for a while. I think when it comes to that, it will gain a huge respect as a professional sport.
Can one be a strong boulderer and strong sport climber easily? If so, how? I think it's very possible, maybe not easy. Good examples are Dave [Graham] or Daniel [Woods]. They have the power to change from routes one week and climb at their max, and the next they are back on boulders climbing at their max. It must have something to do with psyche and motivation. They also know how to climb on rock very well. Adapting is easy for them.
Do you train? How often?I usually train six days a week, four to five days climbing, and a day of running hard or something like that.
Does your training for bouldering differ from your training for sport climbing? Sometimes. I do a lot of the same exercises and stuff for both. For example, I may train power-endurance by bouldering for three hours without stopping. It forces you to do hard moves while very tired and pumped. Or I may train routes to get stronger for bouldering comps, because you need endurance to climb well by the fourth or fifth problem.
What's a "must do" V10?Power of Silence in Hueco is one of my favorites.
The TemplePhoto by Honze Fialla
What's the hardest sport climb you've done?This route 7 p.m. Show or Lungfish. Lungfish is rated harder, but I did it first try, second day. So, I didn’t put as much effort into it as I did 7 p.m. Show. That route really taught me a lot about climbing. I first tried it in 2004, then in 2005 I came close, and in 2006 I finally did it. Ha ha! It was epic!
Where's a destination you want to visit, but haven't?I really want to visit France — all the areas, like Ceüse and the Nice areas. I also would really like to check out Magic Wood, Switzerland.
What do you think of manufacturing?Personally, I really don’t care for it. I would never do it. But I can understand. Sometimes people have to vision something out of shit rock, so they can climb. But I still would never do it.
Maple CanyonPhoto by Steve Woods
Does it bother you to climb on boulder problems or routes that are manufactured? It doesn’t really bother me. Sometimes it's upsetting. Someone pounds some jug, two-finger pockets in a wall that had potential for some 5.15 or 5.14 or something, just to create a painful and sequenceless 5.13a. I think they should have just left it for someone stronger to climb. Some of my local areas has some chipped holds, but I enjoy climbing on them very much. Its hard to say. I will not not climb a route, just because its chipped.
Describe your climbing ethic.I try to be respectful to people's FAs, especially with routes. I understand how much work is involved with establishing a route. When I tried to bolt a line near Albuquerque, I put four bolts in. It took me, like, four hours to figure it out. Then I cleaned it. And turns out I can't do any of the moves in the crux. It’s a beautiful face. Just another level of climbing. Point is, people put a ton of work into establishing the routes we climb, and I think it's a bit disrespectful to snake someone's climb. If it's an open project, that’s another story, though.
Clear CreekPhoto by Steve Woods
It's 20 years from now: What does the top of the sport look like in sport climbing and bouldering? It's hard to say that we will see 5.16 soon. Or V17, but I do think what will change is the rate at which people will be climbing hard. Such as 10-year-olds doing 5.14c, or 5.14c onsight. Or people doing 5.14c second try regularly. I would say V17 and 5.16 is still so far away. It's going to be amazing once someone reaches that level. Imagine Realization 10 degrees steeper — that’s probably 5.16a, or 5.15d.