If rumors are to be believed, John Gaskins is the strongest boulderer on the planet. His top three FA:s; Walk away sd, Il Pirata and Shadowplay, all 8C and all unrepeated, are supposed to be futuristic, if not impossible, and at least one notch above everything else. In fact, grades seem to be quite relative when it comes to Gaskins, as most of his FA:s above 8A remain unrepeated. Tyler Landman, one of the strongest boulderers in the world, says the hardest thing he's ever tried was one of Gaskins' 8A/B's... But is it really possible for one man to be so much ahead of everyone else? If so, HOW is it possible? I'd really like to ask the man, but since I and 8a.nu screwed up a few years back, he doesn't want to talk to me... What went wrong? Well, it seems we didn't play our cards right in the whole Gossip-controvercy, and, regrettably, in the end the man was deeply offended, even though we made clear we believed the accusations to be groundless... Anyway, let's not get into that.
Another question is why none of the top climbers step up to the challange and try his harder problems. Sure, the lines might not be the most attractive, but still.
Here's a description (by Nigel?) of Il Pirata, from the time of the ascent: From what I remember of my several "looks" at this outrageous line, it starts matched on a fairly good edge, which is however nails to pull up on. Oh yeah, no footholds. In a roof by the way. Then it lashes out with the left hand absolutely miles to a tiny two finger divot. (It says on Greg's site that John used an intermediate on the way. All I can imagine is that its intermediate between existing and not existing, 'cos there's fuck all there.) This divot is utterly shite, literally 2 fingerTIPS. Can I just re-emphasise that this is a roof. And there are no footholds. Now all you have to do is whip your right hand out fucking light years to the next, OK-ish edge. Quite how this movement is generated is beyond me (no footholds!), but the real headfuck is how you end up still on the rock when you hit it, and not on your arse! There is no option to cut loose, so its another Gaskins body tension victory. Then by the sounds it gets the lip of the boulder in the left hand really low down and commits a rising traverse of the lip up to the obvious finishing jug of the 'V8 slap'. Like John says, this bit is OK. As a bit of extra interest, when I was contacting John last year (the year before the ascent that is) about his problems for the "South Lakes Bouldering History" on Lakesbloc, I asked why he had not yet done this cave start to the V8 slap (since it was always assumed that this is where it would finish). The reason was that while trying it a few years ago he broke a hold and it became much worse (the two finger crock of shite I think). After this he had not since been able to hold the positions anymore since he couldn't hang the holds. Bear in mind that this was around the time that he climbed Walk Away, so he wasn't weak. Now he has done the problem. Fucking hell.
If you know anything about the Gaskins, I'd really like to hear about it, and John, in the unlikely case you read this, drop me a line, please.
Photo: John Gaskins on At the heart of it all, 8B+/C, courtesy of Lakesbloc