Bouldering Companions  

Bob Williams in the latter 1970s 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 "swinging". ["Aren't 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 envied him.

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 was minor.

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]