John Sherman

John Sherman

John Sherman is the Godfather of American bouldering. Without his broad shoulders to stand on, Daniel Woods would be toproping 5.7 right now.

Stone Master

Blog #2


Right now my forearms ache so much hitting the computer keys stings the torn muscle fibers.  This is due to the R-rated exploits yesterday and I’m not talking a double date with Ginger and Mary Ann.  No, I’m talking about hanging at an awkward stance for nearly an hour painstakingly arranging 7 nuts in a funky groove, 2 Camalots barely resting cam edges on friable ridges of rock with the stems jutting horizontally from the rock. This is just an attempt at absorbing a few pounds of force before hitting the two equalized hexes, one rocking in what might be a good placement if the force comes directly downwards. Any outward pull might pluck it, the other floating in a pocket formed by skinny flanges of volcanic matrix. 


My back-up if they fail?  #1 and #2 RPs in crossly slot a few inches below, then the last ditch #3 Camalot surprisingly holding it’s own weight in a flared pocket a foot down.  Below that?  A ledge 40 feet down to break my fall before the next gear could get weighted.


Above the shit nest of pro the rock thrusts out and the moves get gymnastic.  I climb a move up, a move down - two moves up, two moves down - three moves up... Flag right, dig a couple tips in a hollow flake-lipped pocket left, slowly weight the pocket but tense to catch myself on my other hand should the lip snap.  Back down.  Back up.   Finally a moment of truth -  enough energy spent I can’t reverse to the stance - the only salvation is up.  Heel hooked at the lip and the mortifying realization I can’t lift my other foot high enough to roll into the groove above. 


“Fuckin’ watch me” wakes my belayer from her boredom.  Doing the moves and contemplating the consequences split me into separate planes, the body desperate on survival, the soul readying for the afterlife.  Then a flared fingerlock, two body scum thrutches and respite. 


A hundred feet more to go to the belay, the rack depleted, fair nut placements with no nuts to fill them, crux after crux piling on, marginal pro and marginal rock.  A near collapse of faith 20 feet from the end.  At the belay I’m utterly spent, the hollow husk of a beetle, the juicy parts all gone, just a crispy shell left.  But like the beetle, a fresh entity emerges and climbs to the summit.  And this is why I set out on this FA in the first place. 


Sometimes you are climbing well, feeling your oats and the need to test yourself.  To do that you add the risk that has always separated climbing from lesser sports.  Take everything you’ve learned climbing and put it to the test.  Without death or serious injury as the end result, the test means squat.  In my 35 years of climbing too many friends have scored less than 100 on the test and are no longer with us.  But their sacrifice is what has always given climbing its cachet.  The one the media so heavily banks on.  The one you use when hitting on someone at a party and telling them “I’m a climber.”  

Today the cachet is watered down.  64 calories of risk acting like it can replace a bomber of The Czar.  And sadly even the ground-fall-every-time pursuit of bouldering is watching its testes ascend into the warm body core of media back-patting.  Have we forgotten Gill carefully making his way up the Thimble in 1961, career-ending guardrail beneath him, blowing away North American standards in the process?  Next time you’re in Camp 4 track down a pair of slick-soled EBs and see what the top friction moves of the 70s standard Shiver Me Timbers are really all about.  When you toss a half dozen pads under See Spot Run or Midnight Lightning remember that isn’t how it was done 20 years back. 


With the proud history of high bouldering in mind, you can imagine my shock and sadness as I read “Dissecting a Highball” in the last DPM.  Clean on rappel?  Chalk and fag dash the holds?  Work the moves?  At least Jason Kehl tells us what goes on when the cameras aren’t clicking, but this sounds more like a sequel to “Autopsying Adventure”.


Whatever happened to boulderers don’t use ropes?  Damn it, I’ve climbed with Jason - dude is strong as shit and if he cinched the skullet a notch tighter I KNOW he could send his problems ground up.  So where does the motivation to dumb down today’s highballs come from?  From the industry and the media selling us slick images of ropeless climbers on blank-looking walls - the taller and blanker the better.  But how best to pose for those photos and keep the sponsors happy?  Toprope rehearsal comes to mind.  Suck the risk out to get the desired magazine or catalog photo as quick as possible. 


Jason states that headpointing and highballing have become blurred.  To clear up this mess the media should designate a new term to describe highball poser problems prepared on rappel.  Because I find Jason a likable, entertaining individual who gives a lot to the climbing community I hope they don’t call this fuzzy pursuit Kehlgeling.  Besides this might get confused with kegeling which actually whips pussies into shape.  For want of any better inspiration I suggest any bouldering cleaned, chalked or rehearsed on a rope be called highbawling.  FUCK YEAH!  BE A BAWLER!!!!

Next month: why hiding sex toys in your chalk bag is a bad idea going through airport security.


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