Reflections & Commentary: Page 3
John Bachar in Lost Canyon, Pueblo, 1970s
A 'dynamic' German climber of the early 1930s
A New Approach to Accomplishment & Technique . . .
As I hinted previously, I was not completely commited to simply getting up increasingly challenging problems. My approach may have been unique in that using the most efficient selection of holds or doing a route in the most efficient style was not necessarily my top priority. I sought some sort of sublime mix of difficulty and kinaesthetics, similar to what I had found in formal - to me, recreational - gymnastics. (When you mount the rings it's easy to muscle-up to a support, but a lot more satisfying to pull through a cross into a support, or execute a back-uprise to a handstand.) I didn't even try to explain this to my bouldering companions - but I did try to demonstrate it occasionally by attempting to display a measure of elegance using what might have seemed, from the perspective of efficiency, to be an inappropriate style.
This aspect of bouldering - philosophical in nature and related to formal gymnastics - that I believed in strongly, but that is seen now in a different guise, is form. In gymnastics, form is an aesthetic quality, while in contemporary bouldering, form is almost entirely functional.
You probably will find it humorous to learn that I intentionally avoided most high heal hooks , which I felt added an undesirable simian image to the sport! However, dynamics was a key part of my artistic portfolio (which, for some reason, I didn't associate with the apes, but with refined gymnastics!). But I didn't think of "dynoing" as a sort of bouldering sub-culture. For me, a real boulder problem should involve some dynamics - at that time this would clearly distinguish bouldering from traditional climbing.
In the 1950s controlled dynamic moves - at least in North America - were relatively unexplored territory, and anything beyond traditional three-point suspension was considered risky and heretical and bore the degrading sobriquet of “lunge”. Feeling this attitude was a bit too conservative, and symptomatic of the prevailing view of climbing as an extension of hiking, I departed from mainstream thought and started practicing controlled dynamics as early as 1955.
Gill Problem - FA 1959
North Overhang - FA 1957
the First V9 . . .
This was an entirely new game, and I made up my personal rules as I went along. I did what, in retrospect, seems to have been the first significant dynamic boulder problem in America in 1959 - when I climbed the center of the short, overhanging Red Cross Rock at Jenny Lake in the Tetons.
Photos taken in the mid 1960s
Done in my original style, the Gill Problem is somewhere around 5.13+ or V9 (at least that's what I'm told. For me, it was merely harder than 5.10 at the time), probably the first anywhere at that level of difficulty. Done statically or dynamically, with an additional, initial obvious right handhold that was altered or "improved" sometime in the 1960s so that it became "usable", it’s easier. So the Gill Route is V6-7. The original problem avoided this initial right handhold. (Several recent magazine articles have confused the ratings). You can see the completion of the dynamic swing here (the problem is not over at this point).
Gill Problem, Red Cross Rock - swinging lie-back :
Step up into a layback, facing left, into a very difficult hold position, without using the obvious handhold to your right - rotate quickly upwards, reaching small hold over lip with right hand. Continue to top. This problem is not a jump from the ground. (V9)
The problem is now considered an artificial eliminate - like a climbing gym route.
Alternate normal version: Use the initial right handhold and either move statically or dynamically to the top. (V6-7)
Probably the First V8 . . .
I had also done a problem almost as hard (V8) on the north side of Red Cross in 1957. This was probably the first boulder problem done anywhere at that level of difficulty: Start from a difficult stance on the rock, under the overhang, feet on a low hold. Pull up on a very small hold and reach, somewhat dynamically, over the overhang. Muscle over the overhang.
Techniques . . .
I did free aerial moves where I would spring directly from a set of hand and foot holds partway up an overhanging boulder, disconnect entirely from the rock, and grab onto a much higher hold. Click on photos for larger images.
I also did levered springs , either from footholds on the rock, or from the ground itself. These were more than simple jumps. I had developed great strength with my arms extended, pressing down, from the several cross-moves I had mastered on the still rings. So as I would jump I would hold onto some small handhold and press mightily, going much higher and with better control than what could have been done with a simple leap.
"Encouraged by Dave Rearick, I decided to seek out John Gill - the undisputed master of dynamic bouldering . . . he did these jumps simply because they were aesthetically pleasing" - Bob Williams in Master of Rock (he criticised my "jumps")
The movement I invented and liked the best and which offered more control over my flight, I called a swinging lie-back. Frequently it was reversible, the idea being to latch onto a handhold at the highest point of your arc - if you missed you could possibly rotate back to your starting point (which might be well above ground level), but that took a lot of strength.
Years later such a high-point strategy, whether through a swing or not, became known as deadpointing , and was perfected and popularized by the late and great Wolfgang Gullich. Here are several photos of general bouldering dynamics. From 1977: a youthful John Long at his most dynamic , Long -observed by Michael Kennedy-on one of my dynos , a bouldering party with-from left to right-W. Banks, J. Bachar, S. Cheney, J. Long, unknown.
"I learned a lot that day about dynamic moves, about doing them smoothly and in control. I was very interested in learning and in pushing my own limits. Now that I had seen this dynamic style done so flawlessly by John, I was hooked" - Jim Holloway in Master of Rock.
Fatted Calf - free aerial, 1975
Pennyrile Forest - levered spring, 1965
Other Pioneers of Dynamics . . .
I wasn’t entirely alone in my interest in dynamics, here in America. In the mid 1950s, Dave Slinger, over 50 and a successful onion farmer, decided he could climb as well as the youngsters he saw at Devil's Lake. He became a familiar sight, with his baseball cap (less common then) and waffle-stompers, strolling along the paths under the rocks, stopping to fly up some sinister outcrop to the astonishment of climbers new to the area. Dave developed his own unique climbing style, which was very dynamic - in contrast to the prevailing three-point suspension.
And Dick Williams, another gymnast, began independently experimenting with creative “lunges” in the Gunks in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament (2002), Williams comments: "I started gymnastics in the 6th grade, and by the time I was in the 9th and 10th grade I was good enough to be invited to work out at the prestigious New York Athletic Club. I would simply say that in climbing I began using my gymnastic skills immediately. I found it so much easier to do moves dynamically, and as best I remember a lot of my climbing buddies were quite amazed that I would just lunge for out-of-reach holds. As far as I know, I was the first to use lunging in the East."
In Europe, prior to 1960, particularly at Fontainebleau, climbers had occasionally jumped to reach holds at the start of certain routes, and lunging while on the rock was not entirely unknown. Certanly, Pierre Allain must have employed some sort of non-static technique from time to time. Such moves, however, may have been less technical and less a matter of controlled acrobatics than those that appeared in America in the 1950s and 1960s. Anyone knowing of such instances should contact me, so that I can post this information.
It’s interesting that in the literature of the 1930s through the 1950s one occasionally finds references to a mysterious “rhythm” in climbing. This signifies a sort of flow - an effort at continuous, paced movement that lies at the heart of efficient climbing. It was a precursor to genuine dynamic motion.