Wills Young: Holding Down the Eastside

posted by dpm on 02/24/2010

Wills Young: Holding Down the Eastside

Interview by Anthony Lapomardo

Wills Young has been holding down the eastside for years. His insight is well respected. We spoke to Wills about claiming first ascents, climbing the line, and the lack of ethics found in the new school climbers.
If you don’t know Wills Young he has been a driving force in climbing for years. His guide book the Bishop Bouldering Guide and his website www.bishopbouldering.blogspot.com are one of the most readily utilized tools for bouldering in California. Wills dedication and drive to further climbing, bouldering specifically, can be seen in his willingness to continually contribute to the sport. Wills took some time out between working on his blog and editing the Bishop Bouldering Guide 2nd edition to lay down his wisdom concerning the continued onslaught of climbers in the Bishop area. He speaks out about “climbing the line”, and caution climbers to continue to questions ascents and the climbing world.
 

Courtesy of Wills Young and www.bishopbouldering.blogspot.com


DPM:
 You are currently launching the 2nd edition of your Bishop guide book, what can we expect to see, and how much time did it take you?
 
Wills: Yes the second edition is at the printer and will be out this spring. It is an updated version of the first, but even so, many months of work have gone into it. Any good guide requires constant reassessment and familiarity with the area’s ongoing changes. There are 150+ new lines listed. I also shot quite a few new images and gathered a few more from visiting photographers.
 
DPM: Who is publishing it?
 
Wills: Wolverine Publishing are publishing and distributing the book.
 
DPM: What do you look for in a guide book?  What strikes you as a reader?
 
Wills: Clear directions on how to find the best climbs at the grades I want. Nice layout and lots of action along with pics to get me psyched.
 
 
DPM: Let's talk lines: There are new lines being put up in the Buttermilk, a highly trafficked area, are these new lines due to new insight, bolder tactics, or just forgotten projects being cleaned up?
 
Wills: There has been a mixture of well-known projects and bold new lines. More pads, plus stronger climbers spending more days at the boulders inevitably results in more and more possibilities being explored. There have been some incredible FAs done over the last few years of big and near-perfect lines, and many of them are by no means at cutting edge difficulty. They have been sitting there just waiting for someone to make the effort. Some shorter high quality lines have also been found, which again have been discovered, in part, by sheer force of numbers. There are hundreds more still to be done.
 
DPM: What is someone’s responsibility when reporting a First Ascent? What do they owe to the community?  Numerous FA's have been called out because of lack of information or questionable skill level...do they owe us the proof or as a community do we owe them the trust?
 
Wills: In general, it is good for a person to report an ascent they think is an first. If they don’t, they will typically be the first to complain and make disparaging remarks if someone later claims a first for the same line! Telling a couple of friends you did something doesn’t give you the right to later slander someone who doesn’t mix with the same group, who says they just did the FA of that same problem. However, if you genuinely don’t care about the kudos, then there’s no need, and certainly no obligation to report a first ascent, and a large portion of problems (generally relatively easy ones) fall into this category. As a guidebook author, I appreciate news of new lines with or without a rating or name and of any difficulty at all. In fact, most people who climb also appreciate others’ reports as they spread the word and keep the climbing exciting and new.
As for getting called out, I don’t believe the media or people in general are inclined to call anyone out. It seems to be a human trait to avoid conflict, and accept people’s word on face value. However, people do exaggerate, and even invent their achievements. This also seems to be human nature. With respect to climbing, many instances of exaggeration are done by simply omitting details. The general public and vast majority of climbers still take it as a given, where other info is lacking, that a climber reported as having climbed/soloed/established a certain line has simply walked up to it one day with no prior knowledge and fired the thing off. Often—though not always—the truth is very much more mundane.
There doesn’t seem to be any true journalism getting done by the climbing media. And quite possibly this will just get worse as more and more information, climbing and other, is presented as fact online without any honest context or background perspective. Perspective can make achievements appear less revolutionary and climbers less super-human reduce hype and potentially reduce sales or site hits etc... Perhaps that’s the future: a huge mass of conflicting exaggerated reports and “info” that we just deal with and accord varying degrees of credibility as we choose or as our growing skepticism allows, without ever really having a true test of veracity or knowing any of the real details from behind the scenes.
Ideally, I think the climbing media need to change their approach and be more discerning. Those who deliberately seek publicity or work with photographers, journalists, and sponsors to widely publicize their achievements should be expected to demonstrate their ascents either through uncut video (when possible) or through varied and reliable witnesses and to have their achievements properly placed into context with accurate background. It should rest with the media to be more demanding. Those who don’t work with the media have no reason to concern themselves, of course. But I don’t feel we, the general public or the media, owe anyone who is out posing for photos and doing interviews and claiming world-class ascents the benefit of the doubt any more. Not because I believe there are relatively more cases of lies and exaggeration but because the sport has become more mainstream, while witnesses and the means to video-record an ascent are relatively easily available.
There may be a few exceptions, but the fact is that most genuine top climbers actually prefer to demonstrate their major ascents to reliable or impartial witnesses, or on video, and it is only in rare cases that this doesn’t happen. They will also show up to competitions, climb in front of an audience of their peers and the general public. And they also expect their fellow climbers (professionals or amateur glory-seekers alike) to do the same. When the reverse is the case, and the majority of a climber’s ascents go unseen, and they don’t climb with their peers/equals, or in front of varied witnesses, then the public should be skeptical if not more than skeptical.
I believe that the very best climbers in the world are concerned by the lack of journalistic exactitude, and anyone who cares about the truth and giving credit where it is genuinely due should feel the same. Despite the enormous amount of hard work and vision that might go into a genuinely ground-breaking ascent, that ascent could potentially pale in comparison to a stack of lies from another climber. If you’re not being skeptical, you’re just not keeping it real.
 
Photo courtesy of Lisa Rands
 
DPM: What is your take on working on someone else’s established project or FA?  Is there an unspoken rule as to who has first crack at it or is it let the strongest take it?
 
WillsA person cleaning a line has the right to try it first but should also accept that it will be an open project after a short while. Respect is due proportional to that climber’s vision and especially the physical effort that went into finding and cleaning the line, and/or showing that the line is possible at an amenable grade. Those coming later can take advantage of this information, so it is typical and fair that they allow the first climber some time to attempt an ascent. How long to stay off the line is a matter decided according to each case and the individuals involved—it could be a day, it could be a week, and it could even be a month. Beyond that, to demand people continue to stay off would be anti-social and after a season goes by, it begins to seem ridiculous to me. Individual cases and interactions between friends can have different parameters though.
 
DPM: Several lines recently in the Buttermilks have been captured on film (The Mandala, The Buttermilker, Acid Wash, and Toxic Avenger) each of which used holds that are not commonly found to be apart of the line or there starting positions were way off.  What is the line, who establishes it, and as a matter of pride and form, what is the best way that you do "the line" and possibly inform someone if they are off?  What does it say about us (climbers) if you only claimed to do the line by using wrong holds?
 
Wills: People are free to clamber about on rocks, pulling on whatever holds they choose in any sequence they like and just plain enjoy themselves. This is right and good. Names and ratings are just contrivances that shouldn’t be allowed to dominate the fun and natural experience of climbing. Such, unhindered and un-ordered climbing, in fact is the purest form to me and I’m all in favor of it.
However, if you want to compare like with like by using a guidebook’s ratings, and/or record specific ascents by their given names and accepted ratings, then you have an obligation to be honest and do the climb from the point that it begins to the top. It is also honest and respectful to the first ascensionist who gave the name to the line, to start at the same place he or she did for the climb of that particular name.
The Buttermilker is a sit-start problem, not a stand-start problem. Anyone who says they have done The Buttermilkerbut did not start at the starting point is simply making a mistake: it begins at a specific hold down and left and yes it was repeated this way by the first ascensionist not long ago. The Mandala is a problem that begins with the right hand on the high crimp, just above the undercling and the left on a small crimp down low.  There is a grey area due to the distance off the ground of that high starting hold and the somewhat fluid nature of the pea-gravel ground level. My feeling is that if you can’t reach that high crimp from the ground; use enough pads or a block to just reach it—but no more than are necessary to pull on! Others may say you should jump. But from a pad or the ground, I don’t know … What I do think is that when you start with the left on the crimp and your right already up in the high undercling, you haven’t done the line. Chris Sharma, who did the FA, and repeated the line, recently, said the same thing to me. It’s a matter of respect and honesty. Sure, most people seem not to care what the starting points are. And yet they still want to go home and record/report that they’ve done a certain specific climb. These attitudes are not consistent. Hey, it’s not the end of the world, but really how hard is it to find out where the problem begins? It’s only hard if you don’t want to know, I guess.
 

Courtesy of Wills Young and www.bishopbouldering.blogspot.com

 
DPM: Creating a guide book how much consideration do you take to mark out the line and inform them of the proper start? Do you feel this is an important piece?
 
Wills: I do take some trouble to do this, but not enough perhaps, and maybe not for every line. I used to think people would learn through word of mouth if they were unsure, but now I realize things don’t work that way.
 
DPM: Lastly, with the online world continuing to dominate, what do you think about several publishers moving to iphone or online and what value do you see in a print version?
 
Wills: Only when the entire database is online and the iphone or similar device can integrate with that to share info and opinion directly with other users will the digital form be of greater value. It’s like with everything in the world right now. Technology is evolving and means of communication are evolving with that. It’s pretty sweet. Ultimately I think an online guide and portable device will be the future. It could be pretty soon, too.
 
Wills updated Bishop Bouldering Guide will be released this spring by Wolverine Publishing. It will contain 150+ new problems, a larger historical index and a great selection of photos to get you psyched.