Bob Williams: I've known Bob for over 30 years.
We still get together occasionally - he boulders, and I do some sort of
geriatric exercising on the small rocks, too pathetic to further describe!
Bob is now 57, ten years younger than me - and when I see him still bouldering
impressively - he claims to be able to climb V8 - I wonder if I could have
done as well, had I not given up the sport at the age of 50 after a bad arm
injury. Oh well, best not to ponder!
Bob, I think, did some early bouldering in the 1960s at Carderock
near D.C. After getting a degree in engineering - at Michigan, perhaps
- he moved to Boulder in 1969 to start graduate school in mathematics. He
received an MS a couple of years later and went to work in the aerospace
industry. We first met during 1970 or 1971, while I was trying to recuperate
from a bad case of Climber's Elbow.
Shortly after moving to Boulder, Bob observed climbers trying
to do the Smith Overhang on Flagstaff
Mountain - by lunging. This looked appealing to him and he decided to take
up rock dynamics, subsequently cultivating a style that he referred to as
you Bob Williams, the lunger?"- "I prefer to be called a swinger!"].
Soon he was flitting all over the local problems.
(Bob preparing to fly on Penny Ante Boulder,
near Pueblo, in the mid 1970s)
Williams is genetically blessed, with a body having just the
right proportions for rock climbing. Unlike many of us, who must train
rigorously for the sport, he's been able to just go out and do it. How I've
When I got back into bouldering, we met several times,
comparing techniques and attitudes - Bob was (and is) the exemplar of competition,
and readily admits as much, saying he boulders strictly for the human challenge.
However, he and I both thoroughly enjoyed dynamics in those days. Having
introduced that technique into the sport some 13 or 14 years previously,
and having done a fair amount of experimenting with it, however, I occasionally
pushed off the ground with only one foot on the rock, to launch my flight.
Bob declared this inappropriate on any
problem, whereas I thought it fun on some. But, we got along just fine -
I never imposed any conditions on him, feeling that bouldering was less a
formal competitive sport than an individual activity open to personal interpretation.
One of his goals was to make the second ascents of many of my
old problems. It was a long drive from Boulder to the Gunks, but he took
the trip to get up what is now called the Gill Egg before anyone else - and he
very quickly accomplished this once he arrived. He also drove up to Fort
Collins several times, making the 2nd ascents of several of my routes,
including the Left Eliminator
and the Pinch Overhang at Horsetooth
Reservoir. He also negotiated my Right
Eliminator problem - which never involved using the right edge of
the boulder as is now done (I took a dynamic step up from the ground with
a strong pull on a small, sharp hold for the fingers of the right hand
to reach a large hold) - by taping his finger tightly and snagging the tape
on the sharp hold and pulling up more slowly than I had done. That
was OK with me - it's a personal game - and it was certainly more seemly
than snagging a fingertip and losing it. Besides, climbers who wrap their
hands in tape in order to ascend strenuous jam cracks are rarely criticised
for that practice. Should they be?
Back at Flagstaff Mountain, Bob did a fine pair of problems
in 1972 - up the same route, Double Clutch,
on the back side of Beer Barrel Rock - calling one Dynomesh (dynamic), and the other, Synchromesh (static). These are very
exposed, and require a top-rope. He tempted me to look at Dynomesh one day
in the mid 1970s, setting up the rope and giving me a belay. Twice I easily
flew up to the top handhold, but each time the rope was there between me
and it and I instinctively grabbed the rope! The humor of my ridiculous
display undid me - so I yielded, and Bob punched me out. (I think he
informed me before my attempts that he had done the problem on his 1st or
2nd try - implying I had better do the same - so it seemed pointless to continue!)
We met in the Black Hills one summer in the mid 1970s, and I spotted
him as he made the 2nd ascent of the north overhang of the Scab and perhaps the 3rd ascent of the
Outlet boulder (Pete Cleveland
had done the 2nd). He also inspected the Thimble, but passed on it, citing the
risk involved. In the Tetons, he climbed my boulder routes at Jenny
Lake, taping up his finger again to adhere to a critical hold on either the
Gill Problem (V9 - 1959) or its
variant (V7) on Red Cross Rock (
I can't recall which).
In the early 1970s Bob met Jim Holloway, a young and very talented
climber who was destined to push bouldering standards to unparalleled levels.
He and Jim climbed together for a few years, with Bob introducing the
talented Holloway to the raptures of bouldering dynamics. I moved to Pueblo
in 1971, and Bob and Jim came down several times after that, so inspiring
me that I actually committed myself to working on a single problem that
initially seemed beyond my abilities, a fierce but short bit of controlled
leverage and dynamics I called The Groove.
After I had done it in 1978, Holloway repeated the climb on one of his Pueblo
trips. Then Bob came down to try it, perhaps in the early 1980s? On
his first or second attempt to pull into the overhanging Gaston, I heard what
sounded like velcro ripping. Williams jumped off, and grabbed his chest
- he had torn his chest cartilage. He was very calm and composed with what
I thought at the time might be a rather severe condition. But the injury
Bob had actually stopped bouldering on a regular basis by the
latter 1970s. Years later, Holloway laughingly commented, "After I started bouldering
with Bob, he quit. My big inspiration and he quits." Williams
didn't engage in bouldering on a regular basis for about 15 years, before
returning to the sport with renewed interest and determination. Since then
he has spent much of his time at Morrison, punching out boulderers half
his age. He came down to visit me in early spring of 2004, and I was astounded
at how well he still boulders. He's got to be one of the best boulderers
in the world in his age bracket. Look out youngsters! Flowing
white hair and wrinkles tell you nothing of the spring steel inside my
old friend - I bet he'll punch YOU out too! (2004)
[For a more detailed look at Bob Williams
and Jim Holloway, read Stone
Crusade, by John Sherman]