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VIDEO: Legacy Series: John Gill

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 UKC News 23 Sep 2020
John Gill

John Gill is widely considered to be the father of modern bouldering and responsible for the introduction of dynamic movement to the sport of climbing. Whilst his peers were looking to the big walls of Yosemite and Patagonia, Gill began to look to small, difficult climbs in the mid-1950s. With a background in gymnastics, he was interested in pushing the boundaries of what the human body was capable of on rock.

The American Alpine Club has taken a retrospective look at Gill's short, but influential bouldering years in this short film:



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 Andy Hardy 23 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC News:

Great video! 

(& I hope to god I can do a few pull-ups when I'm 82!)

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In reply to UKC News:

Wonderfully modest and sensible!

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 rka 24 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC News:

One of my true hero's a climbing mathematician specialisng in complex analysis (my favourite area, proper magic).  He ruminated that climbing has a special appeal to the human ape as it was a core survival strategy when our species lived in trees on the edges of the savana. So be a good climber together with that wonderfull feeling of being in "the flow" on a climb is a product of evolution.

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 Lankyman 24 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC News:

I'm trying to think if there was a British equivalent to John Gill back in the fifties and can't come up with anyone. It's not until the eighties before I heard of anyone who was primarily a boulderer rather than a route climber.

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 overdrawnboy 24 Sep 2020
In reply to Lankyman:

> I'm trying to think if there was a British equivalent to John Gill back in the fifties and can't come up with anyone. It's not until the eighties before I heard of anyone who was primarily a boulderer rather than a route climber.

Al Manson maybe but not until the early 70s.

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In reply to UKC News:

www.johngill.net is brilliant, especially the bodyweight feats of strength section and the stuff on Pat Ament.

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 rgold 25 Sep 2020
In reply to Lankyman:

> I'm trying to think if there was a British equivalent to John Gill back in the fifties and can't come up with anyone. It's not until the eighties before I heard of anyone who was primarily a boulderer rather than a route climber.


Haha, there wasn't an American equivalent to John Gill in the fifties either.  I wonder if any climber in any generation has been so ahead of their times.  Honnold, perhaps, for other reasons?  Brown relative to his contemporaries? (but he was soon joined by quite a few others).

With his 5.12 ascent of the Thimble in 1961, Gill was climbing two full decimal grades above the top US standard.  It would be like someone climbing 5.17 now, and the incomprehensibility of what that would entail surrounded Gill in his day.

Gill was a total iconoclast.  He knew what drew him to climbing and he pursued it, almost completely outside the current venues and fashions of the day.  Big wall climbing was what everyone aspired to in those days, and here was Gill at the very opposite end of the spectrum working hard at something no one really understood or was interested in in the US.  Of course, bouldering had been going on in Fontainbleau for 30 years at that point, but the US was very isolated from international trends.

At the peak of his career, Gill had no competition and not even that many companions.  One can only wonder what he might have done if there were others to push him.

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 Lankyman 25 Sep 2020
In reply to overdrawnboy:

> Al Manson maybe but not until the early 70s.


I did wonder about Al so took a look through my very old Yorkshire Grit guide. He's accounted for quite a few roped routes as well as what are now highball boulder problems. So not exactly a Gill equivalent. I've not heard that Gill bothered roping up much.

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In reply to rgold:

Yes, I remember coming across Masters of Rock in the uni library in the early 80s and being totally drawn in. Back then cult figures really were. The book would have been out of print I imagine and we didn't have the entire world's information a few clicks away. Most stuff was just word of mouth. To a modern eye his grades look achievable by the dedicated, but none of this came from an environment of mutual competition, good training facilities and understanding of training methods. He forged his own path.

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 neilh 25 Sep 2020
In reply to rgold:

I have climbed the 5.12 thimble ( did it in the late 80's). It was a tick to do then.Group of us did it.Not sure any of us thought it was 5.12 at the time ( maybe 5c) from all I recall. Put it this way if I can get up it there is no way its  hard.

Back when he did it there was a wooden fence apparently , on which you easily be impaled.

From my limited knowledge of Font, alot harder routes were being done then.A

He is still a figure of fame. though  think that John Longs short essay on his introductory lessons with Gill is a masterpiece.

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In reply to UKC News:

Really good video, thanks. A true legend and visionary climber.

Chris

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 Lankyman 25 Sep 2020
In reply to neilh:

> I have climbed the 5.12 thimble ( did it in the late 80's). It was a tick to do then.Group of us did it.Not sure any of us thought it was 5.12 at the time ( maybe 5c) from all I recall. Put it this way if I can get up it there is no way its  hard.

Something's odd here? I've only climbed once in the States - a month in Colorado in 1985. At the time I was leading E2/3 here and over there never climbed anything over 5.10c. Definitely never broke into 5.11. We thought 5.10c was around British 5c so there's no way that 5.12 could be 5c. The Thimble can't be British 5c - plenty of people were climbing 5c on both sides of the pond at the time Gill did it.

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 Arms Cliff 25 Sep 2020
In reply to neilh:

Isn’t The Thimble considered highball V5 these days? Seems like that would be a pretty stiff 5C! 

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 webbo 25 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC News:

The Thimble is rated V4/5 that’s not 5C in anybody’s money.

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 rgold 25 Sep 2020
In reply to neilh:

> I have climbed the 5.12 thimble ( did it in the late 80's). It was a tick to do then.Group of us did it.Not sure any of us thought it was 5.12 at the time ( maybe 5c) from all I recall. Put it this way if I can get up it there is no way its  hard.

You probably did the 5.9 route to the left of the Gill route.

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 neilh 25 Sep 2020
In reply to rgold:

We just climbed at Pex hill.....    

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In reply to webbo:

V5 is more like a UK tech grade of 6b. V2's at Hueco Tanks felt like about 5c to me and V3's about 6a (which is also about 5.11).

Post edited at 22:23
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In reply to rgold:

>  I wonder if any climber in any generation has been so ahead of their times...

> With his 5.12 ascent of the Thimble in 1961, Gill was climbing two full decimal grades above the top US standard.  It would be like someone climbing 5.17 now, and the incomprehensibility of what that would entail surrounded Gill in his day.

Totally agree. Gill seems to have been ridiculously far ahead of his time both in terms of pure difficulty (bouldering) and boldness  - onsighting the first ascent of such a hard and potentially lethal route. As I re-learned yesterday, first ascents can play havoc with your mind. If you haven't inspected them, you simply don't know how hard they're going to be. And, if there's a bad penalty for failure, that unknowing can weigh heavily. Gill faced an horrific penalty without knowing for sure that the route was even possible at the time. 

In the recently emerged 'Birth of Extreme' video about the 1980s, Stevie Haston makes the very valid point that, while you can push difficulty seemingly ad infinitum (though with progressively smaller gains?) you just can't do the same with boldness. You'd very quickly be dead. If someone makes a supremely bold effort (e.g. Johnny Dawes on Indian Face), it's unrealistic to expect them to carry on in the same vein. In the 'Hard Grit' video, you can see the strain on Seb's face on Meshuga. It's time for him to stop. And thankfully he did, before it was too late.

Fifty years ago, I failed utterly to grasp the magnitude of Gill's achievements. Today I feel exactly the same way. He was so far ahead of his time, it's mind boggling.

Mick

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 ring ouzel 26 Sep 2020
In reply to UKC News:

I remember waiting out some weather at Dollar Quarry one day and my mate had Pat Ament's Master of Rock. I devoured it in one sitting. It was a huge influence on me. A proper legend.

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 rgold 26 Sep 2020
In reply to Mick Ward:

You make a good point about the style of Gill's ascent of the Thimble, adhering to self-imposed restrictions that nowadays seem positively quaint, since hard trad may be ruthlessly rehearsed.  Given contemporary approaches to difficulty, saying the Thimble is V4 or V5 or 5.12a doesn't quite capture what Gill was up to.   He could easily have set up a top rope and figured out all the moves and practiced them until they were second nature before launching on an unprotected attempt above the paraplegia-inducing railing, but head-pointing wasn't a thing in 1961 and he didn't do that. He could have at least rappelled the route and inspected the holds to get an idea of what he would encounter.  He didn't do that either. 

Instead, he went back over and over again, repeatedly climbing to a decent crystal maybe 2/3 of the way up and trying a move or two beyond that before backing down.  At some point, when he had a move or two beyond the crystal wired, he climbed past the point of no return, encountering holds and their demands for the very first time and completing the ascent.

I should add that the Thimble and indeed the entire Needles climbing region was, in spite of its vast potential, a backwater in the national scheme of things with little or no attention from the  majority of the nation's climbers.  There was no fame or fortune to be had, no screaming headlines, not even a note in the AAJ. 

Gill was on a private quest of spiritual proportions, out of sight of the US climbing world, and neither understood nor appreciated.  The climbing world might have known almost nothing about him except for two things.  The first is that he documented almost all his exploits with snapshots, usually taken by his wife Lora at the time.  These pictures were assembled in an album he called his "ego book," except he showed it to almost no one.  The second is that after a growing friendship with Pat Ament, he showed Pat the "ego book" and Pat instantly grasped the significance of those photos as well Gill's prodigious accomplishments and produced the Master of Rock book which revealed Gill to the larger climbing world.

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In reply to Lankyman:

Al Manson used to do a lot of bouldering at Almscliff and Caley in the early 70's; he and Pete Kitson. I would say that they were probably more boulderers than roped climbers. They were very, very good and  possibly bouldering at the John Gill standard. But of course, they came one or two decades later. 

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 John2 26 Sep 2020
In reply to rgold:

You are reminding me of a John Gill lecture that I attended many years ago. He was climbing a reasonably high problem when an old lady turned up and said, 'Come down this instant, young man'. He replied (or words to that effect), 'I don't think that would be advisable'.

Post edited at 20:39
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 overdrawnboy 27 Sep 2020
In reply to Lankyman:

> I did wonder about Al so took a look through my very old Yorkshire Grit guide. He's accounted for quite a few roped routes as well as what are now highball boulder problems. So not exactly a Gill equivalent. I've not heard that Gill bothered roping up much.

He may well have roped up on many routes , High Noon at Caley most famously (I think he even put on helmet for that one) but his focus always seemed to be bouldering. He went to the U.S in late 70s to try John Gill's problems. He trained really hard before going and I never saw anyone look more ripped. Made Bruce Lee look lardy!

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 Lankyman 27 Sep 2020
In reply to overdrawnboy:

> . He went to the U.S in late 70s to try John Gill's problems. He trained really hard before going and I never saw anyone look more ripped. Made Bruce Lee look lardy!

Do you know how he got on there or what he thought of those problems?

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 webbo 27 Sep 2020
In reply to Lankyman:

I was on the trip in 1978 with Al and his wife to be Jean and her mate. The problem was we got to Colorado there were no campsites, the one in Elderado canyon had shut. So camp illegally before we got moved on by the wardens. So we hired a car and went to California. Information in regard to where the various boulders were was hard to find. So we just got spanked on the routes in Elderado. 
Al did quite a lot of problems in Yosemite when we got there, the likes of John Long pointed him at stuff.

Post edited at 17:44
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