Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mo Attempts and a Film Review

A climber ending the day on "Duck Soup"

We spent today, and a session last weekend, climbing in Sinks Canyon. I've spent parts of five sessions now, trying to redpoint "Mo." I've done it many times with one short hang. Endurance isn't a strength of mine, and "Mo" requires more of it than the average 60 foot route. It might have happened by now, but we've had less than perfect conditions. Last weekend was cold, and today it was cold and windy. Pumped arms, numb fingers, and one exciting fall.

Spring Break will be here in a few weeks, so I'm making the transition from training mode to performance mode. My hyper-gravity sessions have been making me stronger, but it's time to take off the weight belt. By which I mean, I started dieting last week.

Hiking out last weekend.

When we got home from the canyon today, I was surprised to see that my copy of "The Disciples of Gill," a film by Pat Ament, had already arrived. I just ordered it on Wednesday. I've enjoyed Pat's books (maybe I'll write a post about them soon), and already have a copy of his film "The Silent Climber." After eating a tiny dinner (I'm so hungry right now...), I sat down to watch it.

It's very different than most recent climbing films. Slow paced and reflective, a collection of 1970's bouldering film footage, slides, interviews with some of the early participants in American bouldering, and footage of Pat taking his young daughter out for some easy top roping and discussion of bouldering. She listens as he explains "The neat thing about bouldering is, just a big pile of ruble is a paradise for a boulderer."

The film feels homemade, without the professional polish that most of us have become accustomed to. But how meaningful bouldering sessions, and bouldering friendships, have been for Pat, John, and the other early boulderers inspired by him, comes across very strongly. Many of the men interviewed haven't been able to boulder for decades. Some of the injuries they suffer from may have been caused by bouldering. Yet they have very fond memories of it, keep in touch with their bouldering partners, and obviously don't regret devoting so much of themselves to the art.

In one scene, Pat tries to do a little bouldering despite suffering from adhesive capsulitis in both of his shoulders. It's painful to watch, and becomes even more so when he breaks off a large flake, falls hard to the padless ground, barely missing a large rock with his head. It brought up fears of old age that I didn't realize I have, and a renewed appreciation of the present when I'm still relatively young, and able to climb pain free with just two ibuprofen pills.

I highly recommend this film to anyone interested in the history of American bouldering. The footage of John Gill's dynamic moves, his one arm lock offs, and lever based moves, and Jim Holloway floating up problems on Flagstaff mountain are incredible. No one boulders like this today. A formal style, similar to gymnastics, appears in their climbing. A reminder of bouldering's origins. A statement to the climbing world of the time, that bouldering was a separate pursuit with very different goals than traditional climbing and mountaineering. The disciples of Gill were playing a different game, in a different venue, with different rules. It was so distinct, removed in so many ways from the rest of climbing.

Today the distinctions have blurred. Roped climbers use dynamic techniques, rehearse their pitches, and can often fall without fear. Boulderers go for the topout using any free climbing style, or lack of it, that works. Today bouldering appears to be a logical evolution of the climbing pursuit, but it wasn't in the 50's. Gill made a leap in approach, even more inspirational than his leaps on the boulders. I didn't quite get that until now.

"The Disciples of Gill" is available for $18.00, shipping included, from

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