In February 2006, I was shooting video in Hueco Tanks with Dave Graham, Brian Camp, Jamie Emerson, and Angie Payne. We were living at the Hueco Rock Ranch.People talk about who’s doing what and gossip about who’s stronger than whom all the time there. (It gets a bit annoying.) Among these conversations, I heard of a climber from Wyoming who was really close on some classic, benchmark problems in the park: Shaken Not Stirred (aka Right Martini, hard V12) and Slashface (Fred Nicole’s V14, East Mountain testpiece). I met up with the climber, a humble, soft-spoken fellow who was staying 30 feet from me in his Toyota truck. He invited me to shoot the next day. He said he was falling off the last move of Right Martini, a problem not too many people have success on because of its sustained nature and ridiculous endurance demands. The next day, I watched him coast through it his first go, then repeat different sections for the camera for close to an hour he had a dip of tobacco in his mouth the entire time and a smile on his face.
Granted, this was not his first day on the problem, but I could see that he was not just another simpleton boulderer. He had beautiful technique and a certain set of skills that the average dime-tugging, pebble wrestler usually lacks: His head was in the right place, he was efficient and controlled, and, shockingly, he was polite. (Truth be told, the guy’s a sweetheart.) Days later, he repeated Slashface in perfect style.
When did you start climbing?I started climbing 10 years ago, just before I moved to Lander.
You had a pretty successful year! Congratulations on some incredible sends in Hueco.2005 was the first time I had been to Hueco, so everything was new, and there was so much of it. I really just wanted to get a lot of mileage and not focus too much on any specific project. I think the longest I spent on anything was three days on the Full Monty. But last year , I went back with some more specific goals like Slashface and Right Martini. I was willing to spend the whole month on those two problems, but they went down and I had time to do The Flame and Barefoot on Sacred Ground (with the topout), as well. All in all it was a great season.
What was the highlight of your climbing in 2006?The highlight for sure was Slashface. That’s a problem that I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. When I first got serious about rock climbing back in the day, that was the hardest boulder problem in the world, so it was, like, yeah I want to climb that someday. Standards have come a long way since, but it’s still pretty satisfying to follow through. Plus, it’s absolutely CLASSIC!!!
Don’t you live in Wyoming? What’s that all about?I was born and raised in Cody, Wyoming, and I moved to Lander with my mom when I was 15. Right about the time I started rock climbing, go figure. Lander is a great place to live, it has a few drawbacks, like lack of job options and no lift-access skiing, but we do have a ton of good limestone. In fact I’ll go ahead and say that Wyoming is one of the best states to live in if you like to sport climb. Most places that are considered to be “destinations” only have one crag — even if it’s a great crag it’s still only one option. Lander has Sinks Canyon, Farfield Hill, Fossil Hill, the Wild Iris, the Granite Buttress, the North Country, Baldwin Creek, Super Platinum, and Suicide Point. Plus, two hours away, you have Tensleep Canyon and two lifetime’s worth of undeveloped rock in the Big Horn Mountains — but it’s all choss, so don’t bother to visit.
Why do you think there’s been so much debate about grading in Hueco? Is it justified?The grades in Hueco get so much debate because that’s where the focus is right now. Wherever has the most people is going to have the most discussion. It is justified to some extent to try to reach a consensus, but people take it way too seriously. Grades are a suggestion or a guideline, but they aren’t absolute law. A boulder problem is a little different for every person who climbs it. There will always be different ideas on what it is rated. It’s certainly not a bad thing to care how hard something is, but try to appreciate the experience on a more personal level, rather than stressing about what number you can put on it.
What’s the best sport-climbing crag in the United States?It’s hard to say because there are a lot of places that I’ve never been, but I will say that I am pretty impressed with Rifle, Colorado. For bouldering, it’s hard to imagine any place topping Hueco, restrictions aside. The quality of the rock, diversity of features, and amount of cool boulder problems is truly unique.
Do you train?I just try to climb as much as possible. In the winter I go to the gym three times a week, but nothing too structured. Mostly just bouldering around.
Do you diet?I definitely don’t diet. I just let my body weigh what it wants. I have friends that used to diet for climbing and they all got stronger when they stopped dieting.
What are your goals in climbing?I guess my main goal in climbing is just to see what my mind and body are capable of. I feel like I am still improving every year, so I want to see how far that can go. I would like to find more time for sport climbing and see what 5.14+ is all about. I always get time off in the winter, so most of my traveling is for bouldering. But I would like to travel for routes.
Do you do competitions?I have done a few competitions. Mostly just small local comps like the Wyoming bouldering series that 307 Bouldering puts on every winter. The series is just a comp in every town with a gym over three months of winter. It’s great because everyone in the state gets together every two weeks to boulder. I did the Sendfest at the summer OR tradeshow. I had never done a comp like that before, but it was pretty fun. Probably the most intense 25 minutes of bouldering I’ve ever done. I’m psyched to give it another burn, knowing what I know now.
Can you be a strong competition climber, but a weak rock climber?Absolutely. They are two totally different games. The biggest difference for me is that in a comp you have to get it done right then. There’s no coming back when you feel a little better. Outside, the route or boulder problem isn’t going anywhere, so you can always come back. Although I do have a habit of waiting until the last minute to send something. I guess a deadline helps to really focus in and get things done. During the 2005 trip to Hueco, I ended up doing Woman With a Hueco in Her Head (V10), Power of Silence (V10), and Bleeding Brothers (V12) all on my last day there.
Is it hard to maintain the techniques and skills learned in sport-climbing and bouldering individually at the same time? (I.e., is it difficult to be a good sport-climber [5.14] and a good boulderer [V12] at the same time?)I think you can definitely learn things bouldering that you can apply to routes and vice versa, but for me there is a transition period between bouldering hard and climbing hard routes. I guess it’s mostly stamina, because I can see being in route shape and sending a hard boulder problem, but I can’t see climbing 5.14 straight off of two months in the gym and a month in Hueco. All the moves feel easy, but I can only do five in a row. Plus, too much bouldering makes you forget how to climb efficiently. I guess I’m old school because I still think of bouldering as outdoor training for routes: fun as hell, but not quite as serious.
What is the most important element in climbing?I think the most important element in climbing is persistence and a positive attitude. It’s easy to try something that feels hard and decide that it’s too reachy or too squatty or too long or whatever, but the challenge is to stick with it and solve the problem. One of my favorite things about climbing is that moment when you crack a move or a sequence and all of the sudden something that you thought was just too hard feels possible. Believing that you can do any problem you touch goes a long way.
Name three places you absolutely must visit to climb before you die.Ceüse, Australia/New Zealand, and Spain.