Steve, you are well known in
the Boulder area
but some people
might not have
heard of you.
Who is Steve
a climber is a large part of who I am. I am also an artist/painter who
works with oils and with watercolor. I used to play a lot of tournament
chess. I'm a carpenter. Climbing, though, is a passion because I had
a bad hip socket from birth and I couldn't run or play any sports that
stressed it. I grew up in Wisconsin where sports were a big thing-particularly
football. Climbing was something that I could do so I poured myself
into it. It shapes my thinking.
FRB: How did you get into climbing?
Steve: I got into climbing
when I went to Prescott College in 1970. Climbing was part of freshman
orientation. I had broken my arm a month before and it was in a sling
because the doctor cut the cast off before I went out to Arizona. I
did a 5.3 on a toprope and was hooked.
FRB: Do you boulder?
I don't boulder much because I have an artificial hip now ('Elvis')
and jumping or falling on it could damage it beyond repair. I have some
problems I like to do because I enjoy them and I don't fall off them
but I don't really push myself bouldering. I like to go soloing which
is sort of like long, easy bouldering. I don't solo close to my on-sight
leading limit like Derek did though, I stay below 5.11- and am very
FRB: Do you think bouldering
a valid pursuit?
Steve: Oh I think bouldering
is a very pure expression of the sport. I am continually impressed by
what people are able to do. I think highball bouldering will bring about
a renaissance in 'trad' climbing. I also think bouldering is the form
of climbing that is most suitable for a television market and I'm surprised
ESPN hasn't caught on.
FRB: You've been climbing a
What do you think
of the changes
you've seen in
the climbing world?
Steve: Well, I've seen a lot
of changes. When I began we were taught to place pins while leading
free climbs and then came the 'clean climbing' revolution. It wasn't
easy to swop our well-driven pins for those manky nuts. I belayed Henry
Barber while he freed an aid route in Prescott. In my mind he did for
free-climbing what Jimi Hendrix did for playing the guitar. I actually
saw Hendrix in concert which tells you how old I really am! Of course
there are some disturbing changes too. More and more climbers are very
new to the sport and they tend to learn indoors. That's fine. I like
gyms. Some really good people own and work in gyms. Creating an outdoor
gym from a crag is totally wrong though. Indoor gyms can change the
routes but real rock should be treated with more respect. New climbers
can easily fail to learn good habits. Ugliness proliferates.
FRB: Should the FlatIrons be
I hope the Flatirons aren't closed to climbing. I still
think that climbing can take place with environmental responsibility.
I think that as society becomes denser and therefore more stressful
there is a real cultural need for places close by where people can have
an adventure of some sort. It's a pressure-release valve for society.
The Flatirons are a Mountain Park not a wilderness area but I think
they are a park where wildness can be cultivated.
FRB: OK! Let's get down to
What is going
on in Boulder Canyon?
Steve: I think some people put
up some good routes but they didn't know when to quit. I think we should
cultivate some wildness, to use that phrase again, and not just turn
every crag into an outdoor gym. I am categorically opposed to chipping
and manufacturing holds, which they call 'enhancement'. I know all the
arguments against it have been made many times. If 5.15 will be climbed
someday then why not 10 minutes from Boulder? Because it's already been
chipped. Why take that piece of rock and destroy the challenge for someone
else? One chipped hold is like one cancer cell-one cancer cell doesn't
kill you but it spreads. Placing bolts next to A1 protection is also
a blight on climbing. I am not opposed to sport climbing by any means
but I think bolts should be used more minimally, not where good natural
clean protection is available and rarely where the climbing is several
grades easier than the crux. I think the standards have slipped quite
far in Boulder Canyon and elsewhere and it's because of sheer laziness
on everybody's part. When **** * said that he decided that "Boulder
Canyon was an 'ethics-free zone', that was the last straw. Because of
the canyon's long history and because so many crags there were subjected
to 'saturation-bolting' and 'hold-manufacturing' and 'route-squeezing'
something had to be done. If I complained I was told to 'go somewhere
else' which makes it sound as though the only people with 'rights' are
the people with the drills and chisels. We decided to unscrew some bolts.
Only by showing that we are serious is there any chance at all of turning
this around and getting to some balance.
FRB: Do you think The Sport
should be removed?
think all bolts on routes that have manufactured holds should be removed
and camouflaged. I think it's the only way to stop the malignant growth
of chipping. It is the only way to sent the message that it will not
be tolerated. It's a harsh example but in the long run it could save
a lot of other routes, not just here but elsewhere. If we don't do this
we are just hypocritical. If routes don't have manufactured holds they
FRB: How about the Ice climbing.
Do you think
it should be monitored
in any way?
(in Boulder Canyon)?
Steve: I'm not an ice-climber
(because of 'Elvis') so it's not my battle. In general I would think
that popular areas on public land so close to cities will need some
sort of monitoring. The land managers have concerns that climbers have
to take seriously. Personally I like to see the ice-climbing and I hope
some sort of ice-farming venue could be worked out. It fits into my
'cultivating wildness' philosophy because it seems pretty wild to me!
FRB: Isn't chopping and/or
a route destructive
should be frowned upon?
Steve: 'Chopping' isn't generally
an accurate term because chisels aren't used anymore. With modern technology
bolts can be removed and camouflaged well. Returning the rock to virtually
it's original condition doesn't seem destructive to me.
There's still new Sport routes
going up in Boulder
What are your
thoughts on the
ethics of the
Steve: I've spoken with one
person, Peter Beal, who wants to bolt a project on Frisky Cliff. He
told me that he is opposed to chipping and that the bolts wouldn't supersede
natural protection. I told him that I couldn't speak for anyone else
but that as far as I was concerned it was fine, and wished him luck.
Other than that I don't know the specifics about other bolting.
FRB: What direction or trend
you like to see
Steve: Last summer Matt Samet 'head-pointed' a couple new things on Bell Buttress that are hard but
they must be safer than some of his highball boulder problems. Anyone
wishing to repeat them can also toprope them first (though the direct
finish to Epiphany could use a fixed anchor) if they wish. They are
left in a clean condition for an on-sight attempt and I would think
there are people out there who would be interested in that challenge,
particularly since none of them feature a ground-fall. The line that
'The Purpose' takes is possible without bolts. It would require the
kind of creativity that the British climbers use on Gritstone and, in
fact, I think that if it was on grit it would've been done 20 years
ago. The more natural line, coming across from The Grand Inquisitor,
was head-pointed by Pete Takeda and received an on-sight from Matt Samet
on a hot afternoon in July. It was also led from the ground up by Cameron
Tague and Chad Gready. The line was studied for years as a traditional
route and some exploration of parts it had been done on the lead. These
are the kind of routes that will define 'quality' in the future. The
bouldering being done today prepares people to return to the traditional
style of clean climbing and see it as not only thrilling and memorable
but reasonable if you are willing to calculate the risks.
FRB: Climbing/bouldering is
to the environment,
what should be
done to mitigate
Steve: Yes, there is environmental
impact. I think we have to stop thinking of land managers as adversaries
and start asking them how we can mitigate our impact. They are usually
in their careers because they enjoy outdoor activities too. They will
probably have some good ideas. And sometimes we have to sacrifice a
climb or a boulder problem. There are some things that should only be
climbed in the imagination.
FRB: Do you think bolts should
banned in boulder?
Steve: Well, bolts have been
accepted as a part of climbing for decades. I think bolting should be
done with a Minimalist philosophy.
FRB: Why is having a bolt close
such a bad thing?
Steve: It trivializes the route
for people who are competent at that level and it teaches laziness and
bad habits to those who aspire to that level. Wanting to do a climb
and coming back later when you're a better climber can give you some
of your best days on the rock. Clipping a bolt and wallowing around
hoping to get lucky isn't really climbing. People say that is 'elitist'
but I'm 49 with an artificial hip so obviously it's an 'elite' that's
open to anyone. I don't think I'm an elite climber by any stretch of
FRB: Have you ever placed a
Steve: I think I've placed
14 bolts in 31 years. Most of them I added to routes after I had done
without them and I added the bolts to protect crux sections that didn't
take clean gear. I can be criticized for that but those were community
decisions that I felt fine about.
FRB: Have you ever done any
Steve: I've done a few first-ascents
in Eldo, some are memorable events like The Inderekt which I'd tried
a couple of times before leading it. They were all from the ground up
and it features a very committing move that I'd back down from repeatedly.
I finally did it with Gary Ryan one August morning before the sun hit
it (!) and it was our memorial to Derek Hersey. Rolando "Teetotaler"
Garibotti hiked the 2nd ascent and nearly tasted beer as a reward! I'm
proud of Saturnalia because I studied it since the mid-80's and I think
it's a good way to finish after doing something like Inner Space. Last
autumn I was in on two new routes on Upper Rincon that are around 5.10
R (x- ?) and both involve that 'calculated risk' element on beautiful
lines. John Christie on-sighted Front-side Lip Smack after I checked
it out on rappel. The Green Room was a more spontaneous on-sight although
I had considered it beforehand. Given the situation with the FHRC we
had no choice but to stick our necks out but it turned out all for the
best. There are a few others here and there. I'll usually play with
it in my head for a while before trying it because timing is critical.
FRB: Do you have any 'heroes'
Steve: I have quite a few.
John Dunne has to be mentioned for doing what he's doing as long as
he's been doing it. The Brothers Huber have incredible spirit and are
not slowed down by drinking watery American lager. Henry Barber gave
me that image of free-climbing one afternoon that has stood the test
of time. Rolando, who is Arthurian in his quest. Fritz Wiessner who
must be on the all-century list. One of my first climbing partners,
Charlie Lyon, was a great inspiration to me and shared most of my best-loved
epics. The list goes on....
FRB: What are some of your
moments in your
Steve: One memory I return
to often is climbing the Steck-Salathe route on Sentinel (in Yosemite)
in 1974. Charlie Lyon and I were about to graduate and this climb was
somewhat symbolic. The descent was visibly iced up but we went anyway.
We climbed it fairly fast since we had these newly invented hexcentric
nuts. I'll never forget the Gothic aura of being up there. On the descent
Charlie 'skied' the ice chute in his EB's and I did an inadvertent thousand
foot glissade and we made really good time. He and I also climbed the
West Face of El Cap a couple years later before it was freed. We freed
some pitches but in general took too long. I had a very exciting 'sunset
death lead' where I invented the heel-hook to avoid taking a 70 footer,
then had to lead the next pitch in complete darkness to reach a squeeze
chimney where we bivyed. We topped out in a blizzard after 3 days and
walked out via the Upper Yosemite Falls trail which took 7 hours. Miserable,
miraculous, terror-filled experiences but great memories to have and
a great partner to remember. My favorite partners are the ones I not
only trust completely but I laugh the most with. John Christie and I
have a lot of laughs. He is Scottish and never saw a weather forecast
he didn't like. Thanks to him I get dragged out in miserable conditions
and end up enjoying it.
Steve: Many routes! I've done
Hair City in Eldo more than any other so it must be high on the list.
I have several favorites (XM!) on the Bastille and not only because
it has such a short approach. I love the Wisdom and have failed somehow
on most of my attempts. The Naked Edge, certainly, and Psychosis and
the Doub-Griffith are great. In the South Platte I'd say Wunsch's Dihedral
on Cynical Pinnacle and The Standard Route on the Sunshine Wall. In
Boulder Canyon The Grand Inquisitor on Bell Buttress used to be my favorite
but now that someone put that stupid bolt ladder next to it, it just
FRB: What do you think is a
in Eldorado? The Flatirons?
Colorado in general?
Steve: Big nuts. Well, seriously
I'd just have to say it varies. Take time to study the route. No seriously
I think it's good to have a lot of small stuff so you can find just
the right piece for those tricky placements.
FRB: What nuggets of wisdom
can you tell
Steve: Remember to breathe.
Do a little clean aid to learn how the gear works. Climbing without
a rope, like bouldering, helps you feel more comfortable when you're
on a rope. Avoid epics with good planning but if you find yourself in
one just keep telling yourself that it will all make a good story later.
And, um, I forget.
FRB: Thanks for the interview
Steve: You're welcome.