anybody ever mistaken you for Chris Sharma?
. . . I don't think so. That would be a huge stretch.
or relative? I have been alive and breathing for 34 years, but in most
other aspects I am about 12 years old, like most climbers.
Chris: Good question. I imagine
I am 130-140 pounds.
Chris: 69 inches.
FRB: Is your dog really a coyote?
Chris: Who knows what DNA she
has floating around in her body. She's a Rez Dog from Tuba City. Forty
pounds of fury.
FRB: Years Bouldering on the Front Range?
Chris: This is my 4th year.
FRB: Favorite V grade?
is a baited question. . . one I can climb. You won't get a narrative
on the silliness that V grades devolved into, yet!
FRB: Bouldering style?
Chris: I just like easy stuff.
Honestly, I like bad holds and body tension. Hell, I learned to climb
at Hueco. Oh, and I am terrible at dynos.
FRB: If you were a boulder problem how would you climb?
Chris: If I were a boulder problem
I would not climb, I would be climbed.
FRB: Favorite Front Range bouldering area?
Chris: I have not found it yet.
FRB: Favorite Front Range boulder problem?
do not really have a favorite, or at least nothing I am at liberty to
FRB: Okay then punk. Best boulder problem
Chris: I really cannot single
it down to one. I know that's a cop out, but it is true. Lets see I'll
try to list some great problems that other people have heard of (in
other words I wont include obscure stuff that most people will never
see): Blue Suede Shoes (Yosemite), Bacher Cracker (Yosemite), The Pugilist
(Yosemite), Dragonfly (the sit start is good too) (Hueco), Cannibal
Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (the sit start is good too!) (Hueco),
Revenge of the Choirboys (Hueco), Glass Roof (Hueco) Hunger Artist (Hueco),
Mr. Serious (Hueco), Warm Up Roof (Hueco) Ghetto Simulator (Hueco) Dean's
Trip (Hueco). If you ask me tomorrow, I bet the list will be different.
There is just so much good stuff out there and it is not only in Texas
and California, (or Colorado for that matter). And yet, some problems
are great not so much for the climbing but for the experience or setting.
That opens up a whole new can of worms.
FRB: What is the largest most freakish tick mark you have
ever found and
how many tick marks do you think you
off over the years?
Chris: Probably one you placed
after I made some smart-ass comment about tick marks. Actually I have
seen innumerable gratuitous ticks, but one if the biggest was on Nachoman
at Hueco. There was a relatively famous climber, who shall remain nameless,
trying the problem. He was getting frustrated because it was "only V9"
and asked his buddy to scurry to the top of the boulder and tick it.
Well, the top is the last place you need a tick on that thing, but with
"famous climber" coaching him he painted (with chalk) a white stripe
that must have been 18 inches long and three inches wide. "Famous Climber"
never got close to the top.
I have brushed tons of ticks
and chalk off problems. I usually don't worry about the inconspicuous
FRB: Is it really true that climbers used to tick mark your tires
Chris: I think that happened
once or twice.
What is your obsession with
me and tick marks? It is not like I am some Gestapo-type guy stomping
through bouldering areas removing tick marks and ranting about their
uselessness (which they usually are).
FRB: What is your opinion on Secret Areas?
Chris: There really are no truly secret areas, but there
are tons of, shall we say, non-promoted areas. I have no problem with
them, as long a people do not get territorial. The whole locals only
scene is stupid. I have climbed at and developed lots of "secret" areas
throughout the Southwest. And by the way, no one is required to tell
everyone else where they are climbing. Just go outside and wander around
a bit, develop your "nose" for rock. You will certainly find good stuff.
I am usually not a proponent of publishing guides. They
are just not necessary for most bouldering areas and tend to cause more
problems than they address (no pun intended). All you need are directions
to the boulders. If you cannot find your test piece, that's your problem.
If you are desperate and cannot tell if something is hard enough for
you, go ask a friendly local. They will be able to steer you the right
way, even if you do get sandbagged along the way.
FRB: How about the best start to a boulder problem?
Chris: Sitting, of course.
FRB: Best Bar?
Chris: The closest one with good beer or good single
FRB: Favorite Porn Star?
Chris: Mike Hickey.
FRB: Years bouldering?
Chris: I actually got into climbing and bouldering rather
slowly. The first time I climbed was when I was 14, or so. My brother
had just returned from one of the 30 day Colorado Outward Bound Courses.
He bought a rope and a little gear and we went top-roping and did some
short trad climbs (though it was really soloing since almost all our
gear fell out before we got to the top), but pretty soon we had climbed
the little area near our house out (at least for our limited abilities).
That ended my first foray into climbing. I do remember, however, asking
my brother about a place a little over an hour from our house where
I remembered going to family picnics as a youngster. I swore I recalled
a landscape cluttered with climbable rock. His reply was that everything
out there was too small (though he denies ever saying this). He was
my big brother and I believed him. The area was Hueco Tanks (This was
the eighties before it was on the climbing radar).
The next time I got into climbing was through some friends
whose little brother had just retuned from Outward Bound and was climbing
a lot out at Hueco Tanks. We were racing bicycles at the time and looking
for something to do in the off-season. I went out to Hueco with them
and enjoyed hurling myself at the routes, but really enjoyed bouldering
around while everyone else was fussing with gear. Still, climbing was
not my primary focus, it was just an off season (and occasional rest
day) activity. Slowly though, I got more and more into climbing to the
point that cycling took a bit of a backseat (ironically I was living
four hours from the nearest rock at the time). In 91 or 92, (I think)
I decided to focus on cycling or climbing. Climbing won out. So I would
say I have been climbing, as opposed to dabbling in climbing, for about
And lately I have been riding my bike more than I have
been climbing. Am I coming full circle? Nah, It is just that the cycling
in Colorado is world class, so it would be a sin not to partake.
FRB: El Paso is a tough place. Any crazy donkey stories
Chris: None I remember. I actually wore out my interest
in the seedy nightlife of Juarez when I was in high school. It is, however,
an interesting thing to do if you are down there. Just don't be a dumb
ass and get yourself into trouble.
FRB: What was it like climbing in Hueco
without a crash
Chris: I pretty much always had a crash pad. When I
started climbing the locals had these things they called sketch pads.
They were basically a foldable piece of foam with carpet glued to it.
The story goes, as it was told to me, that there was a guy, strong climber,
nicknamed Sketchy Tom who would put the fear of God in his spotters
as he quaked and quivered his way up problems. In jest, someone decided
to make him a pad. They threw it at the base of the problem and the
sketch pad was born. Pretty soon all those guys were making pads for
their own use.
When the first generation Kinnaloa pads came out, I
got one and put my homemade pad away for good.
FRB: So Chris... what do you think of bouldering along
the Front Range
as compared to Hueco?
Chris: For the sheer quality and quantity of climbing
there is no comparison. Hueco is world class. Even if you just limited
yourself to North Mountain; you would still be sampling the best climbing
in the nation, and that is widely considered the least interesting climbing
at Hueco. This makes a comparison of the two areas very difficult.
That being said, the Front Range has its benefits in
the abstract. There is such a storied past to the climbing and bouldering
here that gives the experience a sense of history. With the wide elevational
variation of areas, it is pretty easy to find climbable rock any day
of the year, unless it is snowing (of course you could always go to
Morrison). The Front Range has a large vibrant resident climbing community,
which Hueco never really has.
I guess I would say the climbing at Hueco is much better,
but the climbing experience on the Front Range has a certain character
that makes it quite special.
FRB: What was it like in Hueco during the early days
Chris: Well, I don't feel I was there in the early days,
but I was there through the end of the halcyon days. My experiences
were certainly different than those of John Sherman, Fred Nacovic, Dave
Head, Mike Head, and others who were the true pioneers out at Hueco
Tanks (Well I guess Royal Robbins predated them).
I was fortunate to climb at Hueco extensively before
the closures and restrictions. It was a perfect place. I am most inspired
by new lines and we never had a shortage of lines to imagine, decipher,
and more often than not, eventually find our way up. Days began with
a quick warm-up and then we would disappear into the bowels of the park
always looking for the next line. The day would end eight or nine hours
later as we emerged from the park with stories of all the cool stuff
we saw. This did not just include problems and projects. It included
pictographs, aboriginal sites, flora, landscape features, and so forth.
We had no real purpose, direction, or motivation beyond climbing new
challenging and/or interesting problems. I, along with a cadre of others,
established a slew of problems in the park and added variations (not
contrivances) to others. Many of these are lost to obscurity, others
were re-"established" by other climbers, some remain very popular, and
still others were never completed or were eventually linked by the likes
of Fred Nicole.
I can ramble on and on about "the good ole' days."
There seemed to be a real sense of camaraderie (as much
as there is among climbers) out there. Most people were not protective
of their projects. If you were strong enough to climb the problem, so
be it. Related to this was an unreal sense of what was normal. It seemed
everyone (or at least a lot of people) climbed hard and did not even
realize it. It was not a very good place to take yourself too seriously
because some unknown climber would surely school you. I remember traveling
and being amazed that there were not more V10 and harder problems at
other areas and often the hard problems were relatively untouched. Eventually
this changed and I think Hueco had a lot to do with that. People would
visit the park, see what was possible, and apply it to their home areas.
FRB: Did you ever catch any locals spray painting?
Chris: Not really, but there was a weekend when we put
up a bunch of the problems in the corridor leading into the new meadow.
One week later we came back and the wall across from Rudy was scripted
with white spray paint right across problems we had just established.
It was really annoying. Ironically, this was after the restrictions
were put into place. Oh, and there was the time I was hiking down from
the top of North Mountain and I peripherally noticed some guys in one
of those caves (like the one you go through to get to the New Meadow).
As a walked down I began thinking that they may have been up to no good.
I went directly to the Ranger Station. Regrettably Alex was the only
person in there. I told him about it and that he should wander up there.
I then went to Dragons Den and kept an eye peeled toward North Mountain.
Guess what. Alex never went up there (he just drove his truck around
the campground loop). Big surprise. To this day I cannot be sure those
guys did anything wrong, but I am still suspicious and regret not confronting
FRB: I've heard rumors of early developers
pumping the juice.
Is this true?
Chris: I have heard the same speculation as you. None
of the folks I climbed with ever did that.
FRB: You must have seen some sick stuff during the
early days of
Hueco. Any super human acts of
Chris: I don't know. It goes back to that skewed sense
of reality at Hueco. I have seen lots of impressive stuff, but it was
fairly mundane. If you see it every day it becomes less noteworthy.
I do remember one day climbing with Fred Nicole and
Toni Lamprecht. After a quick warm up, we started the day at the Scream,
circumnavigated West Mountain and part of North Mountain with stops
a various problems. Near sunset we arrived at the Power of Silence.
This is where things got disturbing. Toni had recently done the low
start to the problem (matched on the slopy undercling, which he thought
was the original start). Keep in mind this was the end of a long day.
Fred grabs the undercling, his feet stemmed across the roof, and casually
locks the thing off. Ah, but Toni is a tall powerful guy and the reach
from the undercling to the edges on the "normal" start is not trivial.
Fred extends completely and just cannot grab the hold. He steps off
and does the Power of Silence like it is a V2. He must have done this
five times in a row. He was never able to do the problem from the low
start that day (though I believe he eventually did it), but the casualness
with which he climbed the normal line was awe inspiring.
FRB: What about the guy who used to climb in his socks?
Chris: Mushroom Roof is easier in your socks. Try it
You are talking about Jake Rothfork. The guy had (has)
a volatile combination of power and endurance. More important, he really
enjoys climbing. Oh and he is by far the best dynamic climber I have
ever seen. At Hueco, Jake often did interesting link ups like up Right
El Murray, down Left, and up Center, or up and down 45 Degree Wall (while
ranting in a fake German accent) and then up Double boiler. He also
nabbed the first ascent of Lead belly (something like 200 feet of steep
climbing) on West Mountain. He did a mile on streambed (Socorro). It
is only 5.11 or so, but it's a mile. He also did some disturbing straight
up lines in Socorro. I am sure there is a lot more than I know about.
FRB: Who did you boulder with mostly while in Hueco?
On the Front Range?
Hueco: Different people at different times: Eric Heawole (Peck) was
probably the person I climbed with the most, but others included Jeff
Drucker, Dave Head, Jason and Kurt Spier, James Robertson, Mike Rafiti,
Marene, and a smattering of local and visiting climbers.
Front Range: Depends on the day: Marene, Mike Hickey,
Jade, Scott Cox (though I haven't seen him for months), Calvin Filder,
Steve LaPorta, Matt Esson, Steve Landon, Will, Amy, and Rufus Miller
and Bob Williams when they will have me.
FRB: So did you get paid for your cameo in Free Hueco?
Chris: Nope. Its not like anyone can even tell it's
me. That's a good thing.
FRB: It seems most Front Range boulderers feel the grades
in Hueco are
soft compared to CO.
Chris: Most Front Range boulderers consider Hueco soft
I don't really want to start a grading debate, because
it is all so convoluted and stupid and I would rather climb than have
a discourse on grades, which pisses everyone off in the end, but since
you asked . . .
Of course any area has problems that are "soft", but
in general I think the claim that Hueco is soft is crap. First, if you
use a little logic. It cannot be soft since the V scale was developed
there. I think this notion comes from the fact that Heuco's problems
always seem within reach. We have all heard the comment "I did the moves
on _____________, I think it is soft." What they neglect to say is that
they never linked the thing together. Hueco is all about power endurance.
If you juxtapose this with the Front Range where most
problems are short and often dynamic, problems are usually sent shortly
after the moves have been worked out. In a pure sense it is a lot easier
to link 3 moves than 13.
I actually see an entirely different phenomenon. Grades
are getting soft everywhere. This has been happening for a while (this
really hit home the day I warmed up on a V9 at the Happy boulders on
a 100-degree day. I am not that strong.). In fact my feeling on grades
on the Front Range is that the older problems tend to be graded pretty
accurately (from right on to a little stiff), newer problems tend to
be much softer (right on to really soft). This is happening everywhere,
including Hueco. In fact the most absurd thing I have seen at Hueco
is the upgrading of testpeice problems. That is just plain stupid and
it seems that once it is done that's it. The V10 is now a V12, or whatever.
I just hope this upgrading is associated with mere confusion and not
bloated egos. And no I do not want to go into details on which problems
I am talking about (though I think you know what some of them are).
I would be happy to discuss it in private, but not on a public forum.
That will just piss people off.
My personal philosophy is to avoid grading new problem
unless I am pressed to do so. When I do attach grades to problems I
prefer to err on the side of stiffness (no I am not trying to sandbag
anyone). After all, it is a real let down to wander up to a problem
that you think will be a real challenge only to find that it is really
not all that hard. After all, a big part of the reason we climb is to
challenge ourselves &, for many, grades are essentially the descriptors
of such challenges.
FRB: If you could construct a Hueco style boulder problem
Front Range boulder problems what would
Chris: I have no idea.
FRB: Okay Chris… obviously you have a long history and
love for Hueco.
That being said, how do you feel about
the current climber
management system at Hueco.
would you make if any?
Chris: Boy, where do I start. . . I suspect you used
the phrase "climber management system" on purpose. The primary flaw
with the plan/system it that it was implemented without any real logical
framework. Instead, it is just a knee jerk reaction to a problem that
was building over three decades. For years, local and other climbers
(and select other groups I assume) continually pressed the TPWD to implement
some semblance of a management regime (this included the donation of
neutral fill to stabilize archeological sites, a radio tower and, if
I remember correctly, 25 radios, and manpower, including an university
archeological field school) but we were continually rebuffed until the
hammer came down. What resulted was a plan that does not address the
most significant problems at the park. It just hides them from view
and concentrates impacts in localized areas. Also the current situation
really makes it difficult for people to form a real bond with the place.
This is dangerous, because Americans do not protect resources to which
they do not have some sort of attachment. Hueco may be a subdivision
in 30 years if it does not have advocates. From the climbers point of
view things have gotten better. Access to the park has improved since
the plan was initially implemented, but the same problems exist and
they will rear their ugly heads again as people return. TPWD is not
addressing the core issues. So . . .
To come up with a management plan on the fly is virtually
impossible, but I'll try. I would probably make wholesale changes to
the current plan. First, it would be resource based and not reactionary.
To do this one needs to get experts out there to find out what is really
there and whether we can mitigate impacts to the resource in specific
areas in order to protect the park, as a whole. Next we need to consider
what level of access we can allow while protecting the resource. Finally,
we need to ascertain what the real threats to the resource are (this
probably does include climbing in some locales). Only then, can a plan
of any real utility be developed. My gut feeling is that my plan would
include the following: rotational closures of areas (like Dragons Den,
or East Spur Maze) in which the closed areas are reseeded with local
native seed stock, Archeological sites that are in danger of being damaged
by natural processes (or visitor use) would either be recovered (dug)
or stabilized, a coherent logical trail system would be constructed,
the fee system would be restructured (probably more expensive for the
casual visitor, regrettably), Volunteer guides would go away and, in
their place I would add a couple climbing rangers to the staff ( tangentially
related to this is the fact that I would require that all the rangers
get out and patrol on foot extensively. I would want an official presence
out there), guided tours would go away (because they would be unnecessary),
the orientation program would go away, or at least be restructured,
and on and on. I would hope what would come out of the plan would be
a management philosophy that protects the resources while allowing compatible
uses to continue. An outgrowth of this rubric, however, is the fact
that there would have to be more law enforcement and active management
going on. Ideally, various user groups would be included in the implementation
of the plan, as applicable.
FRB: It seems like you have a personal attraction
to the V4 grade?
Chris: What do you mean? Isn't everything V4 or V5.
Wait a minute . . . Are you trying to say I am a sandbagger? Who me?
I would never do such a thing.
Actually in all seriousness, I do seem to have a reputation
as a sandbagger, which is fine. Sometimes I deserve the title, but it
is all tongue in cheek (like down rating problems because I added a
harder sit start. After all you have momentum going into the original
crux.). If people get their panties in a twist over that they are taking
themselves too seriously. At the other end of the spectrum I do tend
to grade conservatively (when I seriously try to grade a problem). The
reasons for this were already discussed.
FRB: Rumor has it you were a Ranger in YoVillage.
Do any bouldering
while you were there?
Chris: I was a naturalist ranger in both Yosemite Valley
and Tuolumne Meadows for three summers (97,98,99) and one winter (2000).
I did do a fair bit of bouldering in both the valley and the high country.
I even did some back country stuff near some of the alpine lakes.
I did a lot of the Camp 4 classics and even better
problems in other areas, but one of the things I am most proud of was
the first ascent of the Pugilist. It is such a striking line. I was
amazed no one had done it before. Sending the thing took me a while
to because the technical climbing of the problem was not what I am particularly
good at and I had no one working it with me. In other words, beta came
slow. After doing the problem I had no idea what to grade it and declined
to do so, but I saw a photo of it on FRB recently with the ubiquitous
V10. That's probably about right.
FRB: How did you come up with the name Pugilist?
Chris: The thing kept slapping me around and the impact
with the ground usually felt rather violent for some reason.
FRB: Have you done any development in Colorado
that you're especially
Chris: None that I am liberty to divulge. They are not
at secret areas, but the areas are certainly low key for a variety of
reasons (and it has nothing to do with saving all the first ascents
FRB: What reasons would that be then?
Chris: Questions of access, boulders in sensitive environments,
small areas that cannot handle more than a few climbers per session,
so forth, and, sometimes the mere fact that I don't trust climbers to
respect an area. I don't want to come across as a misanthrope, but sadly
there are entirely too many idiots out there (Of course this is not
limited to the climbing world.) And I would rather not wade through
a gaggle of self-centered schmucks in order to go bouldering.
FRB: Word Association! Just drop in whatever comes
first to your
8A.nu - To each his/her own
Chipping - If I put what really came to mind my answer
would surly be censored. Chippers are the lowest of the low, no better
than politicians or pimps
Hueco - mixed emotions. . . paradise lost
Boulder Colorado - The little city that thinks it can
Love - Marene
Friends - Companions, partners in crime
Music - Damn now I've got this crappy song stuck in my
head. It goes " Her name was Lola, She was a show girl, . . . .
At the Copa Copacabana."
Beer - right now, Arrogant Bastard
Morrison - Just training. Fun in small doses.
The month of December - Hueco (hopefully)
Indoor climbing - Just training
Glue - The tool of the unimaginative and inflexible climber.
Rock - It depends on the rock. Challenge, choss, disappointment,
inspiration, joy, pain, . . Then if I get philosophical, the cycle of
time. . .
Peppers - You silly Midwesterner (Denver is really more
Midwestern than Western, but that's a whole academic discourse, not
a bouldering chat), It is called Chile
Message Board - Sewing Circle
Steve Laporta - One habitually late, fit, rugby playing,
rock climbing, mofo.
Tick Marks - Amateurs
High Ball - What I wish I had imbibed before I found
myself halfway up this god dam rock face contemplating my impending
Parking lot weed - Do you mean the one I beat your ass
with after the Willie Nelson concert?
FRB: Any parting words of wisdom you would like
to share with
Chris: A bastardization of a Nietzsche Aphorism, but
I think he would approve. . . You never climb in vain. Either you reach
a higher point today, or you exercise your strength in order to be able
to climb higher tomorrow.
FRB: Thanks for taking your time to share you thoughts
with us Chris!!!
Chris: You're welcome.