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Just below Pawtuckaway State Park’s fire tower, Brett Meyers hangs off a rope, his red Milwaukee leaf blower swinging against the 25-foot granite boulder he’s been cleaning with a black wire brush. These tools are just part of the quiver that Meyers has been carrying through the New Hampshire woods for 20-plus years.
Spend time bouldering in Pawtuckaway and you’ll come across Meyers’s name on blocs like Brett’s Problem (V5) or Brett’s Mom (V10-), or on the FA of classics like Mr. Natural (V9), Mothra Stewart (V8), and Universal Socket (V6). These are just a few problems among the thousands, including highballs and dynos, that Meyers has established across New England.
Born in 1975 in Londonderry, New Hampshire, to Bob, a gas-line supervisor, and Jean, an accountant, and with a brother, Rob, six years older than him, Meyers grew up noticing climbing all over New England. (After seeing a boulderer in the woods around age 10, he asked his mom for a chalk bag, which he thought was for holding carabiners.) At age 16, when Meyers worked at Londonderry’s Market Basket, his boss, Steve Whitmyer, invited him out to Pawtuckaway—Meyers’s first real taste of climbing.
By the early 1990s, Meyers was helping kick off Pawtuckaway’s modern bouldering renaissance along with a small crew of fellow locals, all of whom trained in Middle Earth, the basement of an abandoned textile mill in Manchester, New Hampshire. “It was like Jerry Moffatt’s the School Room, but way more ghetto, with rats all over the place and pee-stained mattresses for padding,” says Meyers. The goal was to get strong, not to chase grades, which had yet to cement in these early days of the V-scale.
- Related: Dust, Sweat, and Tears at Smith Rock—A Firsthand Look at the Little-Understood Art of Establishing New Sport Climbs.
At age 20, Meyers traveled to Hueco Tanks, anticipating that he’d climb V5; instead, he ticked V8 and realized just how subjective and unimportant grades can be—to this day, he prefers not to grade his problems. “I’d rather put up a V0 that 50 people come climb than some wicked-hard V10 that will only ever see two ascents,” says Meyers. As a developer, he often feels frustrated by how few boulderers hunt for new areas, instead putting time into eliminates and link-ups; on the flip side, he’ll happily give away the first ascent of climbs he’s spent days cleaning in the spirit of furthering the sport.
Meyers points to Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods area as an example of what the community can accomplish when developers come together: “When we found Blair, when that was getting developed [circa 2001], it was all hands on deck. That was the cool thing in New England. Everybody, every weekend, would come together and put new stuff up,” he says. Their joint efforts yielded classics, including Tim Kemple’s Sit and Deliver (V12) and Meyers’s The Next Message (V7).
These days, Meyers divides his time between the hunt for new stone; his work as an electrician; his wife, Lisa, a teacher who just climbed her first V9, I Think I Can in Chattanooga; and his daughter, Harper, 8. After a hiatus following Harper’s birth, he’s back to developing. You’ll find him in the woods scrubbing newly found boulders, wearing a multicolored beanie, denim jeans, and a massive smile.
Q & A
Why is developing new climbs important for younger climbers?
I get frustrated because there are not that many people [establishing new problems], and the people doing it are usually doing it right next to a classic. They’ll link this into that one. I get it—there’s a newness to it, and they get the same excitement that I feel when I find something new. But it doesn’t create a new venue for people to get excited about.
How has climbing changed in the 20 years you’ve been doing it?
There’s a discontent in me in the sense that I see lots of people repeating stuff that’s already been done instead of expanding things in a more creative way. It’s something that’s reflected in the climbing itself, but also in climbing media where things have gotten pretty cookie-cutter.
What are your thoughts on the idea that New England is somehow “tapped out”?
I get it. You see a spot like the Warm Up Cave in Lincoln Woods, and pretty much every possible variation has been climbed. But then there are other places, whole areas that haven’t been scrubbed, that don’t even have a name yet, that have hundreds of problems. The Fire Tower is just one of those places. We’ve put up, like, 200 problems and have barely even scratched the surface.
Brett Meyers’s top 5 ethical bouldering-development tips
1. Know the local ethics.
Know the boundaries of the tools that you’re using and what kind of damage they can do. Some brushes, like wire brushes, won’t put a dent on granite but can destroy sandstone.
2. Leave the boulders as natural as you possibly can.
No matter what, you’re going to impact the environment, so minimize your footprint. For example, scrub lichen off only the necessary holds.
3. Get creative with your search.
Google Earth is dead-obvious, but you can often find boulders by looking up glacial erratics. Going through mountain-biking and orienteering forums is a good idea, or even flower- or mushroom-hunting sites. Find leads and run them to the ground.
4. Make sure nothing is loose.
Just a small bit of water behind a flexing flake could expand enough when frozen to loosen it, and make things dangerous for the next climber. So look for anything that’s flexing or seems like it could come off, and remove it accordingly.
5. Remember, you’re leaving something behind that will be there forever.
Establishing a new climb is special, and hundreds of people might get to one day enjoy what you’ve created, so make sure you enjoy the process, too.