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Hello Hello Hello

FRB Archived Interview
Bob Williams

 courtesy of Mike Hickey, late April, 2005

Bob Williams
Bob Williams Bob Williams Bob Williams Bob Williams

FRB: Nickname?

Bob: I don't have one. However, when I think of my regular bouldering partner, Rufus Miller, we must look like "before" and "after". So, I guess you can call me Before.

FRB: Who is Bob Williams?

Bob: I grew up near Annapolis, Maryland, a nice place. I have a sister, two years older than I. I spent five years at the University of Michigan where I received two bachelor's degrees: one in engineering, one in applied mathematics. I moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1969 to attend graduate school where, after another three years, I earned a master's in mathematics.

FRB: Age?

Bob: 59 this May.

FRB: Height?

Bob: 5'-10".

FRB: Where do you like to party?

Bob: I don't. I've never been much of a party person. Beer and I don't get along very well and it seems that beer is the drink of choice at parties and get-togethers.

FRB: Ape Index?

Bob: Zero.

FRB: Weight?

Bob: 154 pounds, or thereabouts. These days it's creeping upward. It never used to be a concern; now it is.

FRB: Years bouldering?

Bob: I started in earnest in 1969. I dropped out of the bouldering scene for about ten years starting around 1972 or '73. This coincided with my cessation of roped climbing. Yes, I did the real thing also. I was terrible at it and so after I did El Cap, I quit. I got re-introduced to bouldering around 1983. I'm still at today, that is, if you call what I do now, bouldering.

FRB: Who do you boulder with where
          do you normally boulder these days?

Bob: Rufus Miller and I have been bouldering together for more than twenty years. Others have come, some have gone. The crowd (and I use that term affectionately) at Morrison, too many to list, have been friends for a long time. Morrison seems to be the all too often site of choice. Don't get me wrong, Morrison is great. It's close to home, it's gentle on the fingers, it faces south so it's a perfect spot in winter, it has good problems … but, I'm getting tired of it, in no small part because I fail on problems today that I warmed-up on several years back. It now serves as a constant reminder that I'm a "has been" and I'm struggling with that.

Bob on Magnum Force, Morrison, Colorado Bob on Magnum Force Bob on Magnum Force
Bob on Magnum Force
Bob on Magnum Force
Bob on Magnum Force

FRB: Favorite animal?

Bob: Cat, as in house cat. Some of my bouldering friends bring their dogs with them on Sundays. I've been tempted to bring my cats; that'd show 'em.

FRB: How did you get started in bouldering?

Bob: I had done a little climbing on the east coast. One sunny day, after I moved to Boulder in 1969, I wandered up Flagstaff. There was one problem there that captured my imagination, held my fascination, and pushed me to new heights, no pun intended. That problem was Smith Overhang. Smith Overhang was not easy to miss; everyone was trying it, few were succeeding. I liked the way it looked: short and sweet, small holds, definitely non-trivial. I got hooked that day.

FRB: Can you please explain the boulder problem
          "Bob's Bulge" on Flagstaff?

Bob: Is "no" an acceptable answer? Probably not. It's on the right-hand side of Cloud Shadow. I dubbed it "The Battle of the Bulge" because it was. But I didn't have my automatic copy write machine with me, so someone else named it later after the first poor slob to climb it. I've never liked that, naming problems after people. But I digress. I knew my climbing days were numbered, even back then, and I was trying to put up a few test pieces before Jim Holloway did them all. It was an obvious line and I worked on it relentlessly. I finally did it and only once.

FRB: Rumor has it you send Blue Suede shoes in
          the Valley in a rain storm truth or urban legend?

Bob: Send? I am getting old. Yes, I did Blue Suede Shoes in a very light rain. Water was dripping down it, yet the second or third move, which is the crux and requires good friction, was dry, at least, dry enough.

FRB: Can you give us some background on
          "Double Clutch" on Flagstaff?

Bob: Another "test piece before J H does 'em all". John Gill and I were on a quest for the ultimate double-dynamic move. Not double-dynamic in the sense that people use today (grasping the target hold with both hands), and certainly not in the automotive sense symbolized by its name. We were looking for two consecutive dynamic moves, both being necessary and linkable only through continuous, dynamic movement. We never found one; however, this was as close as I ever came to it, sort of. The idea was to initiate the first dynamic move with the arms: an all out lunge from a good ledge. This would propel you into a near standing position on this same ledge, and from which you would then launch with a leg kick to send you on your way toward an otherwise unreachable hold. While the two movements, the arm swing and the leg kick, were both necessary to reach the top, they were performed together as opposed to back-to-back. The name Double Clutch was an obvious choice and actually borrowed from a climb of the same name in the Gunks.

FRB: You have been credited with inspiring the great
          Jim Holloway how strong was this guy? Any
          sick demonstrations of strength Jim exhibited
          that you could share with us
?

Bob: Jim was a motivating factor in my exodus from climbing back in the early seventies. Jim was tall with long, yet remarkably strong fingers. He was tall and could do dynamic moves with the best of them. He was tall and actually had good footwork. Did I mention that he was tall? It didn't take long for me see the writing on the wall. This guy was good and getting better. Better I should move on to other pursuits. He did his best climbing after I quit the scene. In retrospect, I'm sorry I missed his heyday.

FRB: What's it like bouldering today
          versus 40 years ago?

Bob: In general terms or for me personally? On the former, it's obvious when one looks at the toughest problems. V14? Are you kidding me? 40 years ago, even visionaries would not have predicted V14. On the latter, when I moved to Colorado, bouldering wasn't a big deal; certainly not an end unto itself like it is today. Oh, there were a few really good boulderers like John Gill and Pat Ament, but bouldering was still considered training for the most part (except to John). A lot of guys and gals would traverse back and forth on Flagstaff, building endurance and honing skills for the real climbing experience that was to be found in Eldorado Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park. Very few sought the short, demanding lines just for the sake of trying to find the hardest moves. Also, right around that time, bouldering techniques were changing. Dynamic moves were just starting to become acceptable. All out lunging was still considered bad form, not real climbing.

FRB: Favorite golf club?

Bob: L wedge. Second favorite: 3 wood.

FRB: You're generally regarded as being competitive
          by some what does this mean to you.

Bob: Without it I wouldn't have gotten up so many good routes. "Showing off", a euphemism for competitiveness, has always been a motivating force for me. It's interesting, my longtime partner, Rufus, isn't nearly as competitive as I. Oh, we've had our share of non-public, internal competitions, but by and large, he's more comfortable with his abilities and doesn't see the need to demonstrate them all the time. If I'm going to continue climbing, I'm definitely going to have to become a bit more like Rufus in that sense and settle for being less competitive.

FRB: Do you climb in your 20 year old climbing 'boots'
          because you're a hard core OG … never use your
          feet anyway extra punch out variable for cocky
          20 year old … or they're the only shoes you can
          fit your fur socks into?

Bob: I assume OG stands for Old Geezer? I'm bemused and chuckle every time I see someone step off a problem and remove or loosen his shoes. It must be the "no pain, no gain" mentality. I can jog in mine. Now, before you start thinking how necessary discomfort is to being able to stand on small holds, reread the Blue Suede Shoes anecdote.

Bob on Cyto Grinder, Morrison, Colorado Bob on Cyto Grinder
Bob on Cyto Grinder
Bob on Cyto Grinder

FRB: Any significant bouldering injuries.

Bob: None that is life-threatening or career-ending for that matter. If one boulders as long as I have, one will suffer maladies. My worst were a dislocated ankle (ouch) and a torn rotator cuff tendon. I'm fine now, thank you. Too bad, a bad shoulder would make for a good excuse.

FRB: There are rumors you have a distribution source
          for 'stiff' toothbrushes?

Bob: Mike Hickey hopes I do. For those of you unfamiliar with Mike's exploits, let's just say, he's hard on toothbrushes, other people's toothbrushes.

FRB: There are a few individuals who are actively
          trying to figure out the ambiguous series of letters
          and numbers on your license plate. There are many
          theories: a secret rocket detonation launch code,
          a cryptic beta sequence to an undone boulder problem,
          encrypted navigational coordinates to a massage
          parlor, etc. Can you finally come public with the
          meaning of your license plates?

Bob: XPDNC When I drove a slower car it read NXPDNC. If you still need help, then you need help.

FRB: There is occasional chatter in bouldering circles
          that you may retire from bouldering what are
          your thoughts on retirement?

Bob: I'm looking forward to it. Honestly, it will be a bad day, good for some who find me obnoxious, but a bad day for me personally. I will not miss the bouldering so much; I will miss the friendship. I suppose all good retirement speeches extol the same thing: "the people".

FRB: If you retired from bouldering today which bouldering
          day or trip would you have the fondest memory of.

Bob: Is this where I'm supposed to say, "Let me think. There were so many." Actually, the first, probably not the best, but the first that comes to mind was a day spent at Horsetooth with Calvin Fiddler. I managed to do all the standard problems on the Mental Block. There was a misting rain that day. Every time we stepped off the carpet, it was essential to succeed for there was mud under every line. I seem to do my best work in the rain.

FRB: Your hardest boulder problem completed?

Bob: Center Route at Morrison. I used a slightly different sequence from the one favored today. Dave Twinam ruined Center when he did it using that ridiculously small and sharp hold called the Potato Peeler. He didn't like my method; said he couldn't do it my way, which is nonsense.

FRB: The boulder problem you still want to do.

Bob: Midnight Lightning.

FRB: Favorite Golf Course (local/international)?

Bob: Raccoon Creek. It's local and there's not a bad hole on it.

FRB: What is the craziest stunt you've ever done?

Bob: Now you're exploring the boring side of me. I can't think of any, let alone one that I would call crazy.

FRB: Did you happen to climb Magnum Force naked
          after several hours at the Morrison Inn
          truth or urban legend?

Bob: Utter nonsense.

FRB: Favorite quote.

Bob: "Ever notice how anyone driving faster than you is crazy, while anyone driving slower than you is an idiot." George Carlin.

FRB: Super hard boulder problems?

Bob: I haven't done any.

FRB: Favorite Bouldering area why?

Bob: Horsetooth, just west of Fort Collins. I suppose the reason why is that my successes there marked significant advances in my bouldering career.

FRB: What was it like to climb with John Gill?

Bob: I will probably surprise you with my answer. In John I saw a man more relaxed and at ease than I would have thought fitting for a climber of his reputation. He did moves simply because they pleased him. It did not matter their worth to anyone else. John and I had contrasting styles and it was good thing. It allowed us to climb together comfortably.

FRB: Where is the infamous hill?

Bob: You are, of course, referring to a tee shirt I own that proclaims "Over what hill? Where? When? I don't remember any hill." I have encountered the proverbial hill and it is behind me.

FRB: Do you have any climbing heroes?

Bob: No. I am impressed by what the top boulderers do today, but they certainly aren't heroes.

FRB: So how does it feel to be an
          "Underground Legend"?

Bob: Undeserving; the farther underground the better. I say, "Let's bury it."

FRB: Locals only?

Bob: I don't understand the question.

FRB: What motivates you?

Bob: Ridicule. There's a certain tongue-in-cheek seriousness in my response. I have a favorite story about a climbing confrontation. I drove up on Flagstaff one day, and not wanting to climb alone, asked three guys if I could join them. One of them, the most fit-looking, eyed me up and down and said, rather sarcastically, "Sure, be my guest." He was pointing at Smith Overhang and it was obvious that he thought anyone who looked as weak as I wouldn't even be able to do the first move. By the way, he could do the first move, but only the first move. I said, "Gee, looks hard," as if I'd never seen it before. I then proceeded to do it without effort. (You have to understand, in the old days, I would start and end every session with Smith's.) After manteling the top, I jumped off and landed next to three shocked young punks. "Nah, it's not that hard," and I walked away.

FRB: You've been bouldering for almost 9 decades
          has the bouldering crowd changed much in attitude
          and do you have any words of wisdom for
          the new wannabes?

Bob: Nine decades? First it was 40 years, which is a stretch; now it's nine decades. No doubt, this is how legends get started. Certainly the climbers of today are better. People start climbing on 5.11 (V4 in today's vernacular), none of this easy stuff for beginners. Right out of the blocks, they're climbing hard problems. The previous question and answer provide my advice to wannabes.

FRB: Do you have a freakish bouldering model of
          Midnight Lightning in your basement
          truth or urban legend?

Bob: I do. It's not freakish. It is the move from the left-hand high, right-hand undercling to the "bolt" hold.

FRB: Word Association - just fill in what ever first comes to your mind.

V10 -  Awe inspiring
Bouldering pad -  Save your knees; add years to your career.
Morrison -  The Black Hole
Swami belt -  A relic from the past
Dyno -  Fun
Rufus Miller -  Longtime partner and human being extraordinaire.
Sun tan -  Maui
Hill -  Chris
Yosemite -  Midnight Lightning
Ghost Dance -  Cool moves
Thumb Lock -  Thumbscrew: a painful hold to one of the more bizarre starts to Center
Greg Johnson -  First person I ever saw climb Pinch Overhang at Horsetooth on his first try without jumping off the ground. Embarrassingly, it took me a couple of tries; I almost didn't make it.
Sub 80 -  Golf goal
49sgjar9e -  Confused
Cheese Cake -  Chocolate mouse cheesecake of course. I gotta stop eating desserts.
Sickness -  Health
Gill -  John
Little Red Man Chewing Gum -   What?

   Bob on Magnum Force, Morrison

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