Kendal Speaker Profile: Jerry Moffatt on John Bachar

© Mick Ryan

Jerry climbing Ulysses at Stanage on the cover. Photo credit: Heinz Zak/Vertebrate Publishing.   © Vertebrate Publishing/Jerry Moffatt
Jerry climbing Ulysses at Stanage on the cover. © Heinz Zak/Vertebrate Publishing.

This is the third in a series of Kendal Mountain Festival speaker profiles. The first was Glen Denny, Yosemite in the Sixties followed by Chris Sharma, Life At The Top

Jerry Moffatt and Niall Grimes are appearing at the Kendal Mountain Festivals this year. Congratulations to Jerry and Niall who have won the prestigious Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival for their book Revelations — Jerry Moffatt.

Revelations: A Rock Climber's Story - Literature Event

Niall Grimes interviews Jerry on his successes and motivations.

TIME & DATE Friday 20 November at 5.30pm in Kendal Parish Hall.:
TICKET: £5.00. Click to Buy

A force in world rock climbing in the 1980s and 1990s, Jerry not only dominated the crags at home in the UK, with cutting edge routes such as Master's Wall and Liquid Ambar, he took his talent and drive to the crags of France, Germany and the USA, repeating the hardest routes in fine style and establishing harder routes of his own. His ability to travel and perform away from home, across a range of climbing disciplines that included the competition circuit, has led many to regard him as the greatest rock climber ever.

You can view more info and buy the book on the Vertebrate Publishing website:

The excerpt below, from Revelations — Jerry Moffatt is the chapter that describes Jerry meeting the late John Bachar and the massive influence Bachar had on Jerry and modern rock climbing.

Jerry Moffat on John Bachar

Excerpt from 'Revelations' by Jerry Moffatt (with Niall Grimes).
Copyright Vertebrate Publishing/Jerry Moffatt & Niall Grimes 2009.

John Bachar in the Seventies
© John Bachar collection

On the third day there I was roping up below Spiderline, a 5.11 hand-sized crack, for what I knew would be a fight. A figure appeared around a nearby corner: white karate pants, tanned skin, a flat cap turned backwards, long flowing blond hair, and a pair of light-coloured rock shoes, different from the EBs that everyone else wore. I looked at Chris.

'It's John Bachar!'

I had seen pictures of the American climbing legend and recognized him instantly. He seemed to be walking in our direction. He seemed to be coming right up to us. .

'Are you... Jerry... Mullett... Mufflett...?'

Word of Supercrack, Psycho and Genesis had obviously spread, even as far as Bachar. The name thing was obviously deliberate.

'Yeah. It's Moffatt.'
'Sure it is. Good to see you.'

And with that, of all the routes at Joshua Tree, of all the thousands of routes, he squeezed between Chris and me, and soloed the one climb we were about to try. With ease. He disappeared over the top and was gone. I led it and almost puked with the effort.

He wouldn't tell me. Bachar reckoned he had got this trait from John Gill; never tell anyone how to do a problem. Let them figure it out, because it's part of the problem.
John Bachar. The legend. Over the time we were to spend there, I was going to get to know Bachar really well and climb with him a lot. He is an amazing character, intelligent, funny and capable of displays of the greatest generosity and the most frustrating behaviour imaginable. In years to come he would pay out of his own money to have me see specialists to help me over a terrible injury and then he would later chip the holds off one of my best ever problems out of frustration. Over the weeks to come he would explain to me all his hard-earned knowledge about climbing and training to help me improve, while at the same time not even tell me how to do a boulder problem.

For example, I was trying a Bachar problem at Cap Rock one day and getting nowhere. The man shows up.

'This is hard, John, how did you do it?'
He wouldn't tell me.
'What? What do you mean you won't tell me?'

He wouldn't tell me. Bachar reckoned he had got this trait from John Gill; never tell anyone how to do a problem. Let them figure it out, because it's part of the problem. I kept trying different methods and getting nowhere. All the time, Bachar stood there in silence, watching me flail. I couldn't believe it. A few days later I was there again with a friend of Bachar's, Mike Lechlinski. .

'Oh yeah,' Mike said. 'Bachar hooked a heel around the corner there.'

I tried it. With the heel hooked, supporting some of my weight, the holds all worked, and I soon did the problem. Later that week, I went up there again. Chris was there. He had heard me talk about the problem and had fancied a go.

'Hi Jerry. How did you do this, I can't quite work it out?'
'Can't tell you, I'm afraid, Chris.'
'What!' .

I wouldn't tell him. What an idiot. Sorry Chris. It was the only time we fell out in six and a half months.

'Death is a gift,' he said. 'Without it, life has no value.'
When I look back on my time there, of course I remember the climbing. But the really special thing about Joshua Tree, by far the most amazing thing about my time there, was the simplicity of life. We had no car, but once every week we could get a lift into town. This was an hour's drive away and the only source of water. Otherwise we stayed in the park the whole time, in the campsite or on the crag. We would get up an hour or so after dawn, when the sun had taken some chill out of the cold desert air, then sit around for an hour while we heated water and ate breakfast. As the day warmed up, we would stretch and chat, do some pull ups to warm up and joke around. Then we'd go to climb, in large groups or as a pair, or alone to solo. In the evening we would return and cook dinner. When night fell we would build a fire and all gather round and chat or drink tea staring at the flames. We did this every night, and I remember lots of the time just staring into the flames or looking upwards at the stars. The stars in the sky above Joshua Tree are mind blowing. I'd never seen so many in my life.

The Tombstone - Joshua Tree
Alastair Lee, Apr 2007
© Alastair Lee -
p> Joshua Tree National Park is a beautiful place, a real wilderness. It's a desert, with rocky hillsides covered with huge golden granite boulders and outcrops, all scattered about to create a complex and interesting landscape. The stumpy black Joshua trees were everywhere. We were to stay here for three months, and I would get to know the place inside out, every tree, every boulder. In secret places you would find ancient Indian rock art, and sometimes I would spend all day wandering, lost, discovering things.

There was a great group of climbers hanging out there. There was a guy called John Long, one of America's most famous climbers in the 1970s. Night climbing was one of his things and he would lead us off on amazing easy climbs by moonlight, taking exposed routes to the tops of the outcrops. Sitting on top and with us gathered round, he would then tell stories. He was a great storyteller, really funny, fantastic, barely-believable stuff. They might have been exaggerated, but it didn't matter, they were great stories. Long went on to become one of the great climbing writers in America.

Chris and I continued to work our way through the classics, getting stronger, fitter, and most of all, used to the Joshua Tree granite. I said to Bachar that I was going to try to do Equinox. Hopefully, with enough tips from him I would be able to do it in less than three days.

'No, man. You should flash that thing.'

Flash it? When it had taken him three days to top-rope it and Yaniro even longer to lead it?

'Sure man, that thing can be flashed.'

Captivated by the idea, I decided I would try to flash Equinox.

I knew I was not good enough to do it just then. I would have to make myself a better climber, really move myself on to a point where doing it might become a reality. But I knew I could. I still had lots of time left in Joshua Tree, but most of all, I had Bachar.

From the moment I met John Bachar, I knew he was someone I could really learn from. Apart from being a brilliant climber, I soon realised he was very analytical about his activities. He read books on diet, training, movement – anything that would have a bearing on how well he climbed. In that sense he was a real pioneer, as no one had approached climbing like that before. He devoured these books, understood their principles and adapted them. And now, with his help, I was going to train and develop my climbing, and move it on to a new level.

Bachar told me about diet. Up to that point, I would eat whatever filled me up for the least amount of money. This would be free peanuts, sliced bread, curry sauce, ketchup, white rice, stale bagels. I almost never ate vegetables or fruit. He always ate really well, mostly a vegetarian diet. He gave me a book called Diet for a Small Planet. It talked about eating different types of food groups together so you could release the amino acids and utilise them to get all the proteins out of the food. It explained how this would give you the energy needed to recover after training and how this would mean you could train more.

Bachar explained the importance of training power over stamina. Stamina, or fitness, is the ability to do forty pull-ups. Power is the ability to do two pull-ups loaded with a one hundred pound weight belt. Raw strength. Being stronger meant that moves would feel easier and so, on a long climb, all the moves will take less out of you. This means you will get less pumped, meaning in a way, you gain stamina. However, no amount of stamina will help you do a really hard move. For that you need brute power. The other benefit of training for power, is that it is harder to gain, but stays with you longer. The last time I did a one-arm pull-up, the classic test of power, was in 2002. I know that with a little bit of training I could do one again in a month. That power will still be in there.

A particular thing Bachar was in to, was soloing. He used to solo a lot, go on huge circuits around Joshua Tree, often on really hard and high routes.

'Soloing is the ultimate form of climbing.'

He was never short of a strong opinion and it was quite like him to say something like that, telling me what the ultimate was. He was very good at soloing and had a really good climbing style for it. He moved in a very precise, assured way. He never messed around with his feet, always placed them perfectly and smoothly. He could do the splits and was able to use all sorts of bridging moves. Bachar had one of the best climbing styles I have ever seen. Even today, I don't think I have seen anyone climb better than him, smooth, flowing, certain.

I remember once asking him about his soloing, if he ever got scared. He looked at me.

'Death is a gift,' he said. 'Without it, life has no value.'

It's a Bruce Lee quote, and it almost sounded ridiculous, but when I thought about what John had said, I saw the truth in it.

Bachar studied martial arts, read books like the Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee for ideas and ways of thinking that were applicable to climbing. A lot of the time when you're climbing, John explained, you really want to be letting go of holds, not gripping them harder. Find ways of applying just the right amount of force to a hold, he suggested, instead of wasting lots of energy. Relax the entire body. Flow.

Bachar lent me Zen in the Art of Archery, a book about a guy from the West who goes to Japan and meets with a monk who is going to teach him archery. When he first meets with the monk he cannot draw the arrow back. Physically it is just too hard. He would struggle with the bowstring, never able to budge it. By the end of his apprenticeship, he's not even pulling the arrow any more. It seems to draw back of its own accord.

Bachar also thought a lot about the Chinese idea of chi and told me about some of its ideas. By making a ring with his thumb and forefinger, he explained, he could channel energy from the ground. It would come up the body, down the arm, create a vortex in the ring formed by the thumb and finger. By relaxing into it, he explained, it is impossible to split the thumb and finger. In this way, John could summon enormous amounts of energy from the earth. He used this method once on a desperate boulder problem in Joshua Tree, The Anglo Saxophone. He summoned the energy, created this force from the earth within him, stepped on and applied the energy to the problem.

He fell off.

Jerry Moffatt on The Dominator, Camp 4, Yosemite
© Ben Moon
I bouldered on slabs a lot, often no hands, to tune my sense of balance, as well as to save my skin, shredded by daily climbing on the harsh granite. I would stand on one leg close to a wall or slab, and pick out imaginary points on the rock that I would touch with my toe to train accuracy in my footwork. I tried one of the classic boulder slab problems there, Stem Gem, smearing and palming up into a steep rounded groove. But there were no holds and it was all on the feet. It always felt hard.

Bachar wore different boots from everyone else. Absolutely everybody climbed in the old blue and white EBs, the only boots that the shops sold. Bachar said his boots, Fires, pronounced fee-rays, were a Spanish design. Their Spanish manufacturer, Jesus Garcia, approached John to see if he would distribute them in America. After trying a pair, he said yes. They still weren't in the shops yet, and wouldn't be for some time, so Bachar was very precious about them. The soles were very sticky and he gave them to me to try Stem Gem. In these boots I walked up it, almost no handed. The boots practically stuck to the rock, and when they finally appeared, were probably the biggest technical advance in rock-climbing history. I scrambled back to the base of the boulder, raving about how great they were. He took them straight back off me.

I started doing a lot of soloing, especially on rest days. Prior to that, I never took rest days, just climbed hard every day, but I started to learn the value of recovery. With Bachar's influence, this would often involve 'active rest'. Not total rest, but days of doing the activity at a much-reduced level. For a sprinter, on a rest day, you would go out and do a bit of a jog. As a climber, I would go on easy soloing circuits. It keeps coordination and flow intact.

Bachar had a training area called Gunsmoke. There was a very fingery traverse there. Alongside this, he had a wooden finger board, and he had set up a ladder, with long sections of rope and solid rungs. You would climb up the underside, feet hanging free, and lock off each arm to reach for the next rung at full stretch. Bachar was incredibly strong on these, really made them his own, so much so that the ladders ended up being called Bachar Ladders. We would do a set of these, then immediately do two sets of the traverse. The ladder worked the shoulders, and the traverse worked the fingers. It was a sort of circuit training and it was really effective, and I soon noticed a great improvement in my fitness.

Bachar explained the importance of training power over stamina. Stamina, or fitness, is the ability to do forty pull-ups. Power is the ability to do two pull-ups loaded with a one hundred pound weight belt.
Equinox. I don't think I've ever been so prepared for a route as I was for that. The day came. I felt ready. I warmed up that morning, soloing a good circuit of routes, and I felt confident, smooth and strong on everything, moving perfectly. John, Chris and I walked across to the route. A crack split a huge, golden granite shield, a thin, black curving line on an otherwise perfect sheet of rock. As a line it was pure and inspiring. At the base I put on my EBs, tied onto the ropes and racked some gear onto my harness. I climbed up as far as I could, placed some protection, then climbed back down to ready myself. My secret weapon was a half-sized Friend. Number one was the smallest they made, too big for Equinox, so we dismantled my number one, photocopied the parts and had the copier reduce the image by a third. I cut the shapes out, stuck them to my cams and filed them down to match – reducing the size but maintaining the all-important cam angle. This, I was keeping for the top.

I stood relaxed, preparing my thoughts and emotions. When I was ready, I got on the rock and just stormed it. I moved perfectly, not hesitating, yet not rushing, always keeping my momentum, putting in only the runners I needed. Near the top, I felt unstoppable and so within my abilities, that I felt that I could just keep going and do the same again. I didn't even place the Friend.

John Bachar's Last Interview: with John Long and Peter Croft

The Kendal Mountain Festival 2009


The dates are 19-22 November and tickets are available now. Book online - - or by phone 01539 725133 - news as it happens at


Easily accessible from the M6 and by train and there are plenty of accommodation options in and around the town but you need to be on your toes as they fill up very quickly over the Mountain Festival weekend.

For all your questions, accomodation and travel needs go to here you will find all the information you should need for your visit to Cumbria, alternatively call the accommodation booking line on 0845 450 1199.

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2 Nov, 2009
Very intresting article, reminds me of the one in the current Alpanist. RIP
12 Nov, 2009
Hi! Does anyone know whats happening with the photo of John Bachar? Would that tied cloth really save him in a fall or is it psychological? Thanks, Oli
12 Nov, 2009
You have just made me feel really old. To answer your qn, yes but uncomfortably
12 Nov, 2009
12 Nov, 2009
Thanks for that! Looks mental to me. Think I'll stick with my petzl fluorescent thing!
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