Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Story of Two Worlds: Conversations with John Gill and Dave Graham

In the last two weeks, I have had the curious pleasure of talking at length with two of the most influential boulderers in the history of the sport. By curious, I mean that they essentially bracket the beginning and the end of the development of the idea of bouldering. The conversations made me reflect on the constantly evolving nature not just of bouldering but of people and culture overall.

About two weeks ago, I met up with John Gill at the American Alpine Club Museum in Golden. It was a great time and began with us touring the actual exhibits before sitting down for a conversation. It felt a bit like touring the Louvre with Leonardo da Vinci. John is a truly modest man, reserved yet with a penetrating sense of humor, as he recalled the ways in which he thought about bouldering and essentially founded the sport. We talked for close to two hours, exploring the meaning of climbing in our respective lives and the way in which our thoughts about moving on rock, training, and even thinking itself affects the experience of climbing. I recorded the conversation and hope to have the time to transcribe it in the near future. While John began climbing in era steeped in the auras of alpinism and big wall climbing, his ideas about bouldering ultimately revolutionized all areas of climbing. I felt while talking with him, that I was meeting not just a historically important character but one essentially contemporary in his thinking, who did not seem caught in the past. I have been talking recently with some truly legendary figures in climbing but my time with John was one of the most interesting moments in my climbing career.

The week after, I talked with Dave Graham in Boulder. Dave, much like John, needs no introduction. Dave rewrote the rules of the sport of bouldering in the mid-1990s, much as Chris Sharma did for sport climbing. Tearing through the standard testpieces in Fontainebleau, Dave then went on to establish numerous testpieces in Switzerland and all over the US. His intensity and keen intelligence are notorious in a sport where exuding a sense of laid-back cool and detachment are more typical.

The conversation was fast-paced and wide-ranging as we discussed his plans for the Island, the media outlet he is forming to distribute his vision of contemporary climbing. A child of the 90s, Dave is into electronic media in all forms: video, audio, the Web, anything and everything, all pasted together. His international celebrity and reputation within the climbing community ensure his ideas will bear fruit somewhere on a global stage. As with John, two hours flew by like nothing. Dave's restless mind hopped effortlessly from one subject to the next, digging deeply though never for too long, giving me some insight into how he is able to read rock so quickly and so intensely.

There is an interesting contrast in meeting with these two very different characters so close together. It shows that really there is no such thing as the typical climber and that while there must be some commonality among climbers across time, there are also huge differences, differences shaped by truly profound influences and forces. The world that I live in sits somewhere between the two, offering I hope, some perspective on both the world of Gill and Graham.


Unknown said...

Peter, I'm psyched about this. I value the "approach" to climbing (and any other aspect of life) over the exact 'training' undergone. I imagine both of these guys present an intriguing "approach" to their lives within climbing.

chuffer said...


me likey. more?