Peter: No idea, but positive.
FRB: How did you get into climbing, Peter?
Well it’s not typical that’s for sure. Growing up on the coast of Maine, I wasn’t near any typical climbing areas and there were virtually no climbers around. However the coastline nearby had a lot of short and steep cliffs and my friends and I would wander underneath them along the shore. One afternoon, when I was about 10 years old, I think, I decided to climb one of them. It was about 20-25 feet high and pretty much vertical but covered in flakes and pockets, maybe 5.6 in difficulty. It was an amazing experience that has never left my mind. A whole new world suddenly opened. Something clicked inside me and I knew I would always in some sense be a climber. I later soloed a lot on these cliffs since I had an afternoon paper route that went near them. My customers sometimes didn’t get their papers until pretty late. The whole shoes and ropes thing didn’t begin until I was about 12 or 13. By the time I got into the sport proper, I was probably climbing 5.10 but didn’t realize it. I led my first 5.11, an onsight of Lichen Delight at Cathedral Ledge at about 16. Flashing Airation 5.11a/b on toprope at 15 or 16 was another milestone. The top grade in New England was maybe 12b at the time.
FRB: Who were some of your early influences?
There were some very helpful and friendly climbers in Maine like Todd Gregory and Jeff Butterfield but the legends like John Gill, Royal Robbins, and the like were always in mind. Buying a copy of Climb!, the history of Colorado climbing was a big deal and I poured over it for hours. Little did I know that I would be chatting with Jim Erickson at the Boulder Rock Club a few decades later! Reading about pioneers like Ray Jardine, who focused on difficulty, was important as well as the articles by Max Jones and Mark Hudon titled “States of the Art”. Later I grew obsessed with English stars like Ron Fawcett, Jerry Moffat, and Ben Moon. The latter was especially important in thinking about pushing limits. A weekend with Ben in Northumberland in 1986 really opened my eyes.
FRB: Who were some of your early partners?
Peter: One of the most important early partners was Dan Maxwell from Cape Elizabeth. We had a great time on multipitch classics in North Conway. Jon Eagleson and I climbed Pinnacle Gully when I was 15 or 16. As I got better climbers like Peter Lataille and Paul Cousar were psyched for bigger routes like Walk on the Wild Side 5.11a and Pendulum Route 5.11c, both grade IV multi-pitch climbs.
FRB: Do you have any early epic stories
My most sketchy experiences involved makeshift gear or bad decisions. For example I taught myself to rappel on an old hemp rope I found in a trash pile. One day I was rappelling off a local sea cliff and the rope broke! Fortunately I was only 5’ above a sandy beach. If the broken side was at the top, things would have been much more serious. Another classic epic was a bit later when I was soloing a 50 foot 5.9 very thin slab climb called Tips in the quarry in Portland. I was in a kind of couldn’t go up and couldn’t go down situation at about 30’. Fortunately someone was rappelling nearby and threw me a rope. However he threw the entire rope instead of lowering an end and I was nearly knocked off by it. In the end it was OK. By and large, the time I spent doing short solos on friable rock over bad landings was good training for the sketchy aspects of trad climbing and I avoided anything really seriously epic.
What kinds of climbing do you like to do?
Peter: Well I have been bouldering since I was very young and hope always to climb in some way for as long as I live. Traditional style climbing was very important to me but became limiting in terms of absolute difficulty so sport climbing has taken over since the mid-90s. The dangerous aspects of trad climbing take a lot of getting used to as you get older. Thinking of some of the anchors I blithely trusted or solos I used to do now makes me a bit nervous. Right now I am mostly a boulderer. I have also spent some time ice climbing but a long day on the Black Dike was enough adventure in that direction.
Have you done any first ascents?
Tell us about some of them.
Peter: I have done a lot of exploring, mostly in obscure areas, corners of Maine for example, but also some good areas in Colorado. Some of my most memorable recent ascents were Shine 5.14a at Clear Creek and Agony and Ecstasy 5.14a in Boulder Canyon. I put a lot of work into figuring these climbs out and they were both beautiful open projects. Running Free at Camden, Maine, a 2 pitch 5.11 was a very meaningful ascent as well, the last one that I did in Maine, and a very beautiful climb.
How would explain your climbing style?
Peter: I am known primarily for crimping on thin edges but I mostly look for steep clean walls that require aesthetic moves on bad holds. I am not a fan of heelhooking or kneebarring but that is mostly due to my own weakness and lack of flexibility. Long endurance climbs are not as appealing as bouldering or power endurance routes. I like limestone if it’s not too polished which makes Rifle kind of unpleasant. My favorite rock types are probably gneiss and schist and granite. However Font and Joe’s Valley sandstone are amazing. Hueco Tanks or Mt. Evans represent the aesthetic ideal. If it wasn’t for the first move, No More Greener Grass would be the Platonic ideal of a boulder problems.
You've climbed a long time,
what keeps you going?
Peter: 30+ years is a long time to keep up in a demanding sport but I seem always to be able to revisit that formative first real climb and draw energy from it. Climbing lets you build and tap into amazing energy and intense emotions which in a sense help keep you young. The settings of climbs is of course endlessly changing and interesting from season to season and I think you draw energy from that as well. The help and support I receive from my wife Caolan is indispensable in keeping climbing accessible and available. I couldn’t do it without her.
FRB: Tell us about your blog
Peter: In my blog I describe what I am up to climbing, if it seems interesting, and also comment on news and media spin in the climbing world. The mainstream media in general have been critiqued by bloggers for a while now and I felt a similar effort might be useful for climbing, especially as it has become so commercialized. I generally try to maintain a friendly personal low key tone as much as possible. Sometimes I’m too sarcastic and feel compelled to edit and /or apologize for my comments. Generally I focus on events around Boulder but am always interested in national and international news and trends. So much goes unreported and under-reported and rarely is it analyzed or reflected on.
FRB: What is your motivation to start, maintain,
and develop your blog?
I have to credit Jamie Emerson for inspiring the blog. He really got the ball rolling on the idea of a climbing blog and in a lot of ways sets the standard. Dougald MacDonald’s blog was also an important model. I think it’s really important for there to be alternative voices in climbing media, especially as the sport is marketed in increasingly commercial ways. A version of climbing that exists primarily to sell product is going to leave a lot out.
What changes or direction are you
going to take your blog?
I don’t really have a plan right now. I comment on what interests me or things I have heard about or what I happen to be climbing. I am working on a Boulder Canyon Bouldering Blog, like Chip Philips amazing Flagstaff guide.
FRB: What climbing websites do you visit religiously?
Well FRB naturally. Mountain Project has become an amazing resource in the last five years, especially since the Boulder Canyon grade debates have receded. 8a.nu, while many climbers deride it, is another revolutionary development as it allows climbers to better understand what’s actually going on out there. If climber X, who maybe talks a bunch, hasn’t posted anything recently or is clearly inflating grades, then you and Climber X know whether he maybe should produce or keep quiet. Also it’s hard to even pretend to be a good climber when you see the likes of Adam Ondra or Dave Graham and what they are up to. Climbing’s website, while a bit cluttered, sets the online climbing media standard. I also like the Alpinist, planetmountain, and a bunch of other websites. Individual sites like the climbingnarc and Jamie Emerson’s B3bouldering.com are well worth the visit. And of course there many blogs. Look at the links on my blog for a few suggestions.
Tell us something about you
that most people don't know.
Peter: Well in regard to climbing, I may be one of a handful of Americans, if not the only one, to do a first ascent of a scary E5 on gritstone. It’s called Silver Lining E5 5c/6a on Froggatt Edge and was put up in 1986 when I was a student at the University in Sheffield. I thought it was more like E3 at the time but it has apparently been upgraded. I was getting close on a route that Johnny Dawes did called Slab and Crack that is now rated E8 6c but had to leave for home before I could complete it.
FRB: What do you like about today's
Front Range climbing scene?
What’s not to like? 3 gyms in Boulder with a 4th going up soon. There are new boulder problems and areas being found all the time. There are so many strong and enthusiastic climbers to keep you motivated and trying your best. There is easy access to literally thousands of routes and problems on every conceivable kind of rock within a few hours drive. Public events like film premieres, not that I can go to any, with a baby daughter right now. If you can’t have a good time climbing here, you probably should find another sport.
What do you dislike about today's
Front Range climbing scene?
One thing I’m really not into is the posse/pack scene in bouldering. However, it could be an age thing and I tell myself to get over it. A little bit more respect for the environment would be welcome in areas like the Park and Mount Evans. Maybe another is the endless and ultimately meaningless debate about grading, especially regarding 5.13 sport routes in areas like Boulder Canyon. If we could get past that herd mentality, some big breakthroughs would occur around here. Instead of finding ways to put people in their place, use your energy to create new routes or test yourself at the next level. I’m really glad that the bolt wars seem to have been resolved. But really I don’t understand why people feel that Boulder is an elitist or snobby place. It’s true that climbers here take climbing very seriously and many of them are very good at it as a result. But the best are often very ego-free. And the scene in general is very accommodating to newcomers. I never had much trouble fitting in here and I was a so-so climber from Maine.
Who are your favorite climbing partners, these days?
I climb a lot by myself right now due to time constraints. Few are willing or able to hit local bouldering areas by 6:30 or 7 am. But usually my wife Caolan and daughter Sophia are my favorite partners.
FRB: What are some of your hardest sends?
For routes, The Present 5.14a, Shine 5.14a FA, and the Agony and the Ecstasy and Eternal Recurrence, probably 14a, still unrepeated after 7 or so years. In bouldering, I have done a few V10s but mostly in a few tries like Swiss Crisp Mix at Hueco. The Left Graham Arete V11 is probably the hardest problem outside that I have done and that was at the age of 40! I remain convinced I can climb V13 if I can find the time and the right problem. It takes a lot of free time to go to the Park or Evans, let alone Hueco.
What are some of your most scary ascents?
I have never really been into scary climbs but I in the mid-80s I did a bunch of E4 and E5 grit routes like Heartless Hare and Downhill Racer. In the past 10 years I have moved away from dangerous climbs altogether. My most recent scary experience was a boulder problem at CATS, a place that has injured some very good climbers in bad falls.
FRB: How do you like to relax after
a long day on the crags?
It’s been a long time since I have had a long day at the crags but typically a nice meal and a good book or movie at home. That’s kind of on hold with a baby. Rest days I like to read, write, and paint if possible.
What else do you do?
Peter: I am a full-time professor of art history and humanities at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins. Both my wife, who teaches philosophy at FRCC, and I have had a number of climbers in my classes. I have also taught art history at CU-Boulder on a fairly regular basis. I am currently patching together a Ph.D. program at CU. I also am a landscape painter with my first gallery show coming up in the fall. My wife is a V12 gardener and I pull a lot of weeds in the garden. And of course taking care of a toddler takes up a lot of time.
FRB: Thanks for the interview, Peter.