Friday, May 29, 2009

Pat Ament Part 2

Here is the remainder of the Ament interview about Flagstaff bouldering:

3. What are the most memorable problems from this era for you and why?

During the 1960's I was particularly taken by certain routes. One was the north bulge of Cookie Jar Rock, called Jackson Overhang. I first saw it done one day when Bob Culp and I went up to boulder. He worked at Holubar, and after work he drove me up the mountain. Still in his suit and tie, we strolled up to the rock from the parking spot. He slipped off his suit jacket, laced on his Kronhoeffer shoes, and climbed Jackson Overhang, spreading his tall body out over the rock. I was amazed at his ability, and he would remain one of my initial bouldering inspirations. I couldn't quite figure the route out that day, as it has a long reach, but soon I did it. Even in my best form, years later, I found that route to be a respectable challenge. I also was impressed with Northcutt's Roll, on the southeast side of Cookie Jar. Legend had it that Ray Northcutt fell off and rolled down into the road. We weren't sure if Ray ever had actually done the whole route or simply gone up to try and fallen off. We did know he was strong. That was when the tree was still there and much more actual earth and ground around the rock than there is now. Since the road cut widened, it's now a drop almost straight to the road, but one day Dalke did the route, in his Hush-Puppies. Larry Dalke was my high school buddy, a grade and year older. He could perform miracles in those Hush-Puppies. He might possibly have made the first ascent of that route, although only Northcutt could tell us. I also was taken by Pratt's Overhang, although the famous Yosemite climber, Chuck Pratt, had never actually done the route. It simply was named after him, in part because of the legendary mantel problems he authored in Camp 4, in Yosemite. Later these routes became moderate alongside the routes I began to put up, such as the Right Side of the Red Wall.... I often enjoyed simply climbing moderate routes, one after the other.

4. What was meeting with John Gill like? Did you meet him first at Flagstaff? What was his view of the bouldering there?

I had participated on the University of Colorado gymnastics team, as a "walk-on," and I was bouldering and training at gymnastics quite a few hours every day. In 1968 I learned John Gill had moved to Fort Collings (he had gone there to finish his Ph.D. in math). I simply phoned him. He had heard of me, and he invited me to visit him in Fort Collings. We went out bouldering, with his protege, the very talented Rich Borgman. We took a tour of the Dakota sandstone around Horsetooth Reservoir. John was every bit as amazing as all the legends. But he was humble and human. He was so far beyond other climbers of the time he could have had a big head or been arrogant, but he remains one of the finest people I've ever met. It wasn't too long after my visit to Fort Collins, a humbling experience, that he and Rich visited Flagstaff. Rich never did anything in the way of a new route himself but could virtually repeat anything anyone else could do. Rich was very light, had hardly any weight to lift. I learned he was on the gymnastics team at Colorado State University, and soon he and I competed against each other, when CSU, CU, Denver University, and Air Force Academy had a meet. I was on parallel bars, and Rich was on side-horse. On that visit to Flagstaff, Gill was wary of the knobby, flaky sandstone. He refused to try certain routes, such as my South Face of the Amphitheater, because of his fear the nubbins would break off in hand. I assured him the knobs were really solid and rarely ever broke off. Right at that instant, he grabbed a softball-sized quartzite crystal that looked good, and it pulled right out in hand. He stood there laughing, that deep "ho ho ho," with the crystal in his hand, and said, "They never pull out, eh?" It was always fun to be with Gill, and many times we visited each other, at Flagstaff and at Fort Collins, and lots of times later at Pueblo, where he moved when he got a teaching job. Gill was impressed with my routes on Flagstaff, atlhough he one day put up an amazing first ascent of his own not far to the right of Pratt's Overhang, called the Gill Swing. He pinched a slimy hold at about chest level and swung far up through space to where his open left palm slapped onto a ragged, slant of rock. He then did a one-arm pull-up and completed the route. I've never seen anyone do that route, although I've seen a few concoct some variation of it.

5. In your view how does Flagstaff Mountain fit into the history of bouldering?

Flagstaff Mountain was one of those places where, through quite a few decades, the standards of the time were set. There were the boulders of Yosemite, the boulders of Ogden, Utah, where Greg Lowe developed, and there were the short routes of the Needles of South Dakota. But Flagstaff was a premier bouldering location that, perhaps at one time during the late 1960's, had routes that were at the top, if not slightly beyond, the standard. Of course wherever John Gill went, that was the top of the standard. But there were areas around the United States where a certain level of difficulty was pioneered, such as the Gunks, in New York, and Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, and the Tetons, and the Needles of South Dakota, and various places in California. Boulder was one of the two or three main climbing meccas, and through the years it has continued to produce some of the best climbers in the country, such as Jim Holloway.

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