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Archived Interview
Phillip Benningfield

June 24, 2000

Phillip Phillip Phillip Phillip Phillip


Phillip: You're not asking me the same questions you asked Christian are you? Because I couldn't even come close to be as exciting as he is, I'm sure.

Ron: Who is Phillip Benningfield?

Phillip: Oh no!... OK. I'm a 35 year old 22 year old man. I'm a writer that finally got to the point where writing and play can mix perfectly so I can make a living. Which is the goal. What I do is: I play, I write, I work at the coffee shop, which is excellent, because I like to socialize with all the beautiful women in Boulder. There's no shortage of them here. That's pretty much me.

Ron: OK, you're a writer, what kind of stuff do you like to write?

Phillip: Well, that bouldering stuff obviously. Sports stuff. I write climbing and mountain biking articles quite a bit lately. Trying to get a novel published... have been for the last two years. It sits in my house collecting dust right now. Because I'm trying to make money instead of get that published. I write poetry. I write everything.

Ron: Where can I tune in and view your stuff? Do you have any writings you are especially proud of?

Phillip: Proud of... ? Sports writing is different than literature in my opinion. So I would say, the type of writing I do when it comes to sports is informational. Its not very exciting in my opinion. Its your basic: where to go, what to see, what to do, kind of information. So I really wouldn't say that its the best. A lot of stuff I'm writing now is with zulusports.com. I write for route152.com. I have mountain biking stuff for idvbike.com. And, I'm trying to get into writing more about travel stories. Hopefully get into travel and leisure magazines. None of that's happening right now.

Ron: Your bouldering guide starts out with the history of bouldering, what's the history of Phillip Benningfield's bouldering?

Phillip: I took a Outward Bound course in Colorado like, 17 years ago. Almost 18 years ago probably. That's the first time I really did any type of climbing per se, with a rope or bouldering. The neatest thing about that is that I did a full circle back to that area where I learned how to climb, working on the guidebook; Eleven Mile Canyon, down by Colorado Springs. And got to to see all these things that I looked at 18 years ago. And thought, you know, those are impossible, no one can climb up those. I can climb up those things now which is nice, because they are not impossible. Other than that... I've lived in Boulder on and off for 17 years. But I've bouldered here, just like everyone else who has lived here forever, everywhere. The one thing I love most about bouldering around here is, I write a big giant fat book full of bouldering, and I don't go bouldering at any of those places any more. Because there is so much rock out there. I like that.

Ron: Wow, All right. Do you have a sequel in the works then?

Phillip: I think. We're hoping on doing one, you know, but you got to sell most of the first ones and we're not even half way through selling those yet, so. And Its been a little over a years since it came out. But, I mean, as of now, I could easily fill 200 pages of stuff without a problem, I'm sure of it. Think of the bouldering on this web site, probably half of the information you have on there I don't have in my guidebook: of all those new areas, Cloud 9 and everything like that. I mean, there's hundreds of boulder problems up there. And I haven't even been there! Because I'm lazy. I'll only walk about an hour. Not an hour and a half. One of these days I'll get up there. And then I'll go: 'I've made a big mistake in not going up here', but, so be it, that's the way it is.

Ron: Where are you bouldering these days, or climbing?

Phillip: My favorite places to boulder, general places, is in the mountains. I love granite more than any other type of rock for sure. One of my favorite places is the Park, easily. The rock in the Park is endless. I went up to this new area and got, basically, hailed-out. We didn't even get to climb, but its so magnificent up there compared to city bouldering like, Flag or Eldo. or something, I mean, there's no one there, you're in nature. And that's why I boulder. I boulder to go outside where its beautiful. I don't care if I'm bouldering V-0 or V-5 or V-7 or whatever. Its all the same to me. As long as its enjoyable and its beautiful and I'm with my friends, I have a good time. Other places that I love, really, really love, are Independence Pass, which I think is phenomenal. There's not that cutting edge boulder problems there, that like, alot of people want to try. And I'm old so I can't do them anyway. The boulders down in Crested Butte, by far the best granite boulders in Colorado that I've seen. Its not extensive, but the setting and the quality of the rock! No place can top it that I've been to, so far.

Ron: What's the scene like in Colorado bouldering versus what it was like, and where do you think its gonna be in a few years?

Phillip: Well, I think, there's always a handful of people that are special boulderers, as far as, more prolific than others. And that's happened throughout the years from Holloway and Gill and Jim Karn and Christian. But today its people like, Tommy Caldwell, Matt Samet, Pete Zoller, Charlie Bentley; who really doesn't even boulder anymore, it sounds like, but off-the-couch, I'm sure, could boulder much harder then most people. These people don't always go to the same areas, they go and find new blocks. And I think, that type of bouldering is far more significant then going back up to Flag and finding a contrived problem next to one that's been around for 25 years. But you know, some people are happy with that. Some peoples' schedule don't allow them, obviously, to go out and play in new places as much as other people. Bouldering is always growing. Right now I think Colorado bouldering is behind other states as far as difficulty. But I also think- from what I've heard from the boulderers that excel in this state, they honestly feel that other people in other places like to give the big numbers to boulder problems. And they're not always the big number. Colorado stops at V-11 as the hardest problem, unless you count, Holloway's problems which have the undying controversy around them, whether or not, were ever done, or if they are really that hard, so on and so forth. Colorado stops at V-11, but I've seen problems that I know were harder than that. You just need people like, Chris Sharma, or Tommy, or someone to get out there and do them. But they're busy traveling the world or playing at their home areas. I look forward to seeing people bouldering, hopefully, V-11, V-12 in Colorado because I know its there.

Ron: Where are the hardest problems going down right now... California or Utah ?

Phillip: California. Where ever Chris Sharma boulders, that's where the hardest problems are. It seems that way, I mean, no one is repeating them, but you know, when you talk to other people about Chris Sharma, who I've only met briefly, the guys not even climbing as hard as he can. And things that he does do, people can't even fathom how difficult it is. I think that's awesome and magnificent that a human being can be that strong and do things that difficult. And yet, for him its seems like he has fun doing it, which I think that alot of people who try to boulder hard forget, that, that's the main idea behind bouldering or climbing; is to have a good time. And you can lose focus on that when you go out and all you're trying to do is climb V-9, if that's the hardest that you can do, or V-11, or whatever. And It starts to lose the joy that should be there everyday.

Ron: As far as the general scene goes, the bouldering scene. Is there more energy here, or in California or the East Coast?

Phillip: I wouldn't know. Bouldering obviously is becoming extremely popular. Which is good, for someone like me who wrote a guidebook, obviously... or for your web site. But no, I don't think one state has more energy then the other. There's people that want to climb hard, you know. It depends on your population centers. I mean if, Los Angeles had more boulders then Boulder then obviously there would probably be alot more people and alot more energy because there's more people doing it. But that's not the case. I mean, Boulder and the Front Range... I find it hard to believe that's there's places with this much rock. Like I said earlier, I don't even go boulder at Horsetooth, or Morrison, or Flag., or Eldo. any more, because I don't have to. I go into the FlatIrons or up in the mountains where there's just endless, endless, endless supply of blocks. And it's so much fun to go up there. So... I don't think there's a difference in the energy level between the States. There's great boulderers and people that are psyched to boulder all over.

Ron: Bouldering is popular right now like you mentioned. What prompted it? Why is it Bouldering? How long is it gonna stay? Where are we gonna go after this?

Phillip:  Well, I don't think it's just bouldering. I mean climbing is just becoming a more main stream sport. People are starting to not look at it as this crazy sport, you know, that it's extreme. They still think it's extreme which is absolutely ridiculous, but. There's just more people doing it, there's more activity. I mean, it's simple as that in my opinion. I think it's great that more people are doing it because it's a wonderful sport. People enjoy it. You have the people who have been doing it for 10, 15, 20 years, that, you know, occasionally get all irate because, 'someone's at my boulder field', well that's just absolutely fucking ridiculous in my opinion. I mean, it's not your boulderfield. I feel, that you should think that that's great that there's more people getting into your sport. Because when you think back to all the good times that you've had, mixed in with the bad times obviously too. It brings alot of happiness to your life, and it makes you a healthy person. It doesn't make you a fat slob that lives in a big city that, you know, thinks that the only thing in life is to make money. Which is the last thing in life.

Ron: There's alot of people climbing now. It's gonna have an obvious environmental impact. It's no longer just 3 people visiting a boulder and no one gonna be back for six months. Environmental impact is gonna become an issue. What should we do about it?

Phillip: Well, I don't know if there's 'an issue'. But before I go any further, I would like to say, that whatever I say, needs to be started with: I'm a hypocrite, so whatever I say, I think the opposite also. I think climbers are extremely destructive individuals to the environment. I'm very guilty of that myself. And I've been that way ever since day one. But I also feel that, you know, the less that we can damage the outdoors, the better. But I always like to think that, you know, there's a comparison between when we go up into the mountains, or we go up to Flagstaff, or we go to Horsetooth Reservoir. We drive our fossil fuel burning cars on a black pavement road. On to a dirt road. Park at a parking lot with toilet facilities, Kiosk, and everything. And it's trashed! We trash everything before we even step onto the rock. But then again, when you look at areas like FlagStaff, you know, for the amount of people that go there, it's still a incredibly beautiful place. It needs to be taken into account that this is a outdoor activity. Humans are gonna walk around and trample bushes. That's what we do when we go out and play outside. And it's part of the game. It's unfortunate that we have to hurt as much as we do hurt the environment. But I think that if you're conscious of it and you try, a little bit, not to hurt the outdoors, then you're doing something good. It obvious would be better if we hurt less, but I think that's a dream that can't be fulfilled.

Ron: Getting back to your guidebook. What are some of your favorite places to boulder at in your guidebook?

Phillip: Favorite places in the guidebook ...? Well, FlagStaff is one of my favorite places because... it's FlagStaff. It's one of the best bouldering areas in Colorado. I love Horsetooth Reservoir just because the stone is so absolutely perfect. The problems are classic, they have history. I mean, I really enjoy that fact with a lot of bouldering areas. But they're certainly not my favorites. My favorite areas are Crested Butte, Independence Pass. Lumpy Ridge is one of my favorite areas. The rock there is incredibly harsh and brutal on your tips. But then again, what bouldering area isn't. My favorite areas... are still ones' that aren't in the guidebook that I'm starting to go to now. Like I said earlier, anywhere I can go where there's less people, I'm with a handful of my best bouldering friends, those are my favorite places. The more that you go out into nature, the better, in my opinion. Boulders like up at Hallet's Peak in the Park. It's unbelievable. I mean, you step off the rock and look back and there's Hallet Peak less than a half mile away. There's Emerald Lake. I mean these places are just phenomenal. It brings peace to your life. Which is a really good reason to go out and play outside.

Ron: You've been climbing a long time. A lot of people have come into the sport and then gone out of it for lack of interest. It just doesn't have the staying power for some people. It has staying power with you, why?

Phillip: Well, gosh. Because it's a good mix between the sports I like. My two favorite sports are Rock Climbing and Mountain Biking. And one obviously is more lower body and the other is upper body. With climbing, as I've gotten older and done it longer, it's become much more a mental process then a physical process. It's amazing, In the last few years, when I look at boulder problems now. I try to figure them out instead of pull through them like I did when I was younger. The brain works alot harder when you're trying to figure out how your body best moves be it a 4 move or 10 move boulder problem. And when you guess the right way to do it, and it works, first or second try. It's gratifying, at the least. That's probably why it stays. You know, you just become more cerebral, I think, with age, probably. Not so much testosterone laden as you are when you're younger.

Ron: How long did you work on the Colorado Bouldering guide?

Phillip: From the idea to being printed, it was probably a little over a year. But because I've lived in Colorado for 17 years. At that time it was 15 or 16. I already had such a base of knowledge. Of where to go. What to do. That I basically packed my car and drove around and would boulder all day long, 4 or 5 days a week. Write it all down. Come home, type it up. Take photographs. And ah, one of the funniest things about it when I first started working on it. One of my friends and climbing partners through the years said: 'Do you have any idea how much work you're getting yourself into?' And I'm like: 'No, I have no idea, I've never done this before!' And so, the actual research, as far as going out and doing it, was definitely less then a years' time. And it's because I had the financial resources just from working at Climbing Magazine for a few years and saving up money and then losing my job there. That I could go out and play for six months at a time. And, you know, just find out a lot of information on a lot of boulders. And living in Boulder, if I needed information I just drove up to flagstaff and I got it. FlagStaff easily took me, I would say, 5 times as long to get correct as any other bouldering area. Because I think it probably has more boulder problems than any other area. Not as long as people think, but you know, when you add in the time I've bouldered, which is over 15 years in Colorado. It's pretty substantial.

Ron: 15 years in the making. How did it compare to your mountain bike guide book?

Phillip: Well, the mountain biking book is different. It's like, you go out and do the rides and it's done. The bouldering guide; if you divide all the areas up into individual areas, there's like, 67 of them. And I did 32 rides in the mountain bike book. So instead of, you know, at least 67 days in climbing areas, I got 30 days on mountain bike trails. It was alot quicker, but it's still drawn out. The publishing process is slow, to say at the very least.

Ron: The mountain bike guide is still at the publishers?

Phillip: The mountain bike guide will be out in July... Hopefully. Just so you know, It's a guidebook to Western Colorado; from Aspen to Fruita. It's got alot of rides that other guidebooks don't have. Because they're brand new rides that I went out and did with my friends.

Ron: In your training for climbing... maybe you don't train. Do you train?

Phillip: Noooooooo!

Ron: Well, not all of us can get out to climb when we want to. And we have to somewhat train. What do you got for secrets, tips? What do you recommend?

Phillip: God! It all depends on the way you want to climb. If it's important to you to climb hard then; depending on what you have at your disposal, obviously indoor climbing. Which is good for awhile, but becomes very tedious and unfun after a few years of doing it. Campus boarding sounds like it's probably one of the best things you could ever do for bouldering. But, beyond all those, the best thing to become better at bouldering or climbing is to go out and boulder or climb, and have fun. As soon as you start training to much and you lose the motivation, you need to stop doing it. At least for a week or so. Just to rest your mind and your body. I think alot of people forget that training is not easy. It really never should be easy. If you want to excel at climbing it's gonna hurt. It's gonna hurt a whole bunch. But as important as it is to beat yourself silly, being it, climbing indoors, bouldering outdoors, climbing on a campus board, you have to rest. People who don't rest, they're the mutants and they're obviously, alot of the people who are 16, 17 years old and they don't need to rest. But once you get old it's important.

Ron: Do you ever hit a plateau in your climbing?

Phillip: Oh man! Yea. I no longer climb well at all, in my opinion. I go out and have fun. If I can climb a V-7 these days it's a frickin' miracle. I'm not interested in climbing hard anymore. I go out to climb and have fun. And if I'm not having fun then I don't do it. I recently broke my collar bone three months ago. Didn't climb for three months. Didn't miss it at all! You know, not once did I go: 'gosh, I wish I was with my friends climbing!' Because, I've climbed for so long, there's just so many other things in life to enjoy that I don't have a problem missing climbing. I've climbed 4 or 5 times recently since my injuries gotten better. And I climbed maybe for 20 minutes, while my friends climbed for 4 or 5 hours. And I have no problem with that whatsoever. Because I'm going to places that are in the mountains. And walking around, looking around, taking photographs of my friends, is just as good as being on the rock, in my opinion.

Ron: What other interests do you have other than writing, climbing and mountain biking?

Phillip: Sex! I like sex alot! That's a good one and it requires alot of energy. Especially if you are single and can't sustain a relationship over 2 or 3 months. Food! I really love food! I like to eat good food. Sushi, I love Sushi! Other than that, reading! I like to read poetry a great deal. Especially poetry that focuses on the Outdoors and Nature. I just finished reading a collection of A.R. Ammons. Which nobody knows who A.R. Ammons is, but he's a great poet. And I'm reading Edward Abbey's 'Desert Solitaire'. I think again, I can't remember if I've read it. Reading! Reading is good. Hanging out! I love to hang out at the coffee shop I work at. Because there's alot of nice people to come and talk to. And that's always fun. But yea, my life revolves around: playing outdoors, trying to be somewhat intellectual at home with my work. And sleeping. I forgot to mention sleeping. Sleeping is a absolutely wonderful thing, that I think that alot of people, especially in Boulder, don't take advantage of enough. I talk to people all the time who get up at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning. I think they're insane! But then again, everyone' time clock is different. They may go to bed at 9. I go to bed at 1. So... Yea. Those are the things that I do.

Ron: How did you break your collar bone?

Phillip: Beatin' around town on my mountain bike. The first day out on my mountain bike. Just gettin back into mountain bike. Popped over a curve. The tire blewout! Broke my collar bone.

Ron: There's some rumor out there about you and a motorcycle and a...

Phillip: Cow! That's not a rumor! That's the truth. I love that story. That's a great story!

Ron: What's one of the biggest falls you've ever taken bouldering?

Phillip: Hah! Not, not really that big! You know, the biggest ones are probably like off the El Murrays in Hueco Tanks. Just like pitchin' off those things back before we had crashpads and just frickin' pummeling yourself on the ground. I remember doing that years ago and like, coming home and having just sore hips for a month! Because we were too stupid to have anything on the ground. Bouldering falls...? I mean, I've never broke an ankle. The worse fall I've ever had bouldering is on 'Smith Overhang' on FlagStaff. I'm pulling on the problem. I try the first moves to catch the glued undercling. I come off. My spotter stands there watches me. And if you've ever stood below that problem. The ground has got baby flatirons in it; sharp little broken rocks. And I landed with my hand in it! And it basically just destroyed my palm on my right hand. And had to go home. And the friend who didn't spot me, had the glory of washing out my hand. And, just like, you know, watching me just cringe in pain. Always spot! Always! Always! Always! The second worst... I've seen a friend fall off, you know, with 4 pads and 5 spotters break his ankle. It happens. You're gonna hurt yourself, or at least somebody is. Hopefully it's not you. The funniest thing about a friend that broke his ankle is; he breaks his ankle, and we make him sit there and wait until we finish bouldering... for 30 minutes. It would of been longer but it started hailing! So we had to... I actually picked him up on my back and carried him to the car. That was at least, my good deed for that.

Ron: Was that your spotting responsibility?

Phillip: No. It was all of ours. He hit the pads, but he hit the edge of the pad and his ankle rolled off of the pad. So, we were all there. We were all paying attention It's just one of those fluke spots that didn't work perfectly.

Ron: Do you use pads these days?

Phillip: I always use pads! I never go bouldering without a pad! You're stupid if you do!

Ron: What's your favorite pad?

Phillip: Aaaahh!, You know, the best pads I've used, I haven't used all of them; a Cordless pad or a Metolius pad are the best pads. Metolius are better for even bigger falls. If you don't own one of those pads, you're not owning the right pad probably.

Ron: You recently took a trip?

Phillip: I did? I went to Mexico and sat on the beach with a broken collar bone.

Ron: What did you do in Mexico?

Phillip: I got drunk and had sex and ate food, it was wonderful! And that's all I did.

Ron: What's the future of bouldering? What's it gonna be?

Phillip: It's gonna get harder. There's always a progression. But look at the world's greatest boulderers like: Fred Nicole, and Chris Sharma, Klem Looskot, you know, and those guys seem to do V13 and V14. But Sharma's thing: 'The Mandala' in California, sounds like it might even be harder than that. They'll always be something a little bit harder I would think. With climbing, bouldering, the more people that get into it, the more perfectly genetic individual will come along that's more perfectly built for it. A perfect example is someone like David Graham. Who's, I think, he's 18, he's 5'10". Probably weighs something like, 120 lbs.. He's super light. Super strong! Loves to climb because he always succeeds. He's already climbed, I don't know, 25 or 35 5.14's, maybe. He's already bouldered V10, V11,V12! And there's plenty more Chris Sharmas and David Grahams and Fred Nicoles out there. They just have to discover climbing. And once they do, they will. And here's something else that's a big thing! The more people of race that get into that excel at other sports. That obviously are great at basketball, football, running. Who is to say where climbing will go, once more people get into it. Especially people of color. Because it's like, we're just a bunch of white, rich people doing it right now, you know. Once everybody gets into it, I see no reason why they're won't be V18's. Which I can't even fathom. I mean, I have a hard time fathoming V11.

Ron: Parting words of wisdom?

Phillip: The most important thing when you go climbing is, if you're not having fun then you shouldn't do it. That's all I got to say.

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