FRB: How long have you climbed, Greg?
Greg: Since 1983 or so, about 18 years.
FRB: You've climbed a long time, what keeps you going?
Greg: For years my motivation
came from the delusion that I was getting better; now it comes out of
the certainty that I'm getting worse.
FRB: How did you get into climbing?
Geez, climbed stuff --the house, trees, mountains. Up was good, though
down was usually pretty gripper. As these things go, my upward drive
was eventually subjected to institutionalization. In other words, after
a few experimental outings (which included rapping off a huge rock anchored
only by a bike lock and using only gloves), I finally came to the sad
conclusion that other people had already invented rock climbing, complete
with gear, systems, rules, language. I really resented this but eventually
was (mostly) converted to the prevailing ideology (i.e., I learned to
belay, wear the certified clothes, talk about grades and worship the
relevant deities). Alas, part of my indigenous instinct survived, at
once submerged and subversive. Against the canons of good taste, propriety
and reason, I still find that climbing is most rewarding for me when
I'm just out there making shit up: ignoring established lines, obsessing
on a pile of choss that speaks to me like the burning bush spoke to
Moses, trying to find ways to be great without having to be good.
FRB: Who were some of your early climbing partners?
Greg: My core partner for the
early years was my now-departed best friend, Dan. He was great --mostly
in terms of pliability and being a sucker for my ill-conceived adventures
(never use vodka to keep water from freezing on winter expeditions,
never grant key decision making powers to a seventeen year-old deadhead,
never descend the left-hand chute off of the Wham Ridge). Danny just
never learned, bless his soul. My other core partner, then as now, is
my brother, Eric. He's built to deal, and that's a good thing considering
how much of his time is spent in epic mode. Got to mention Dad here
too. Back in the experimental days he'd drive us to the crag, watch
his sons do absolutely rash things, feed us lunch, and think the whole
gig was really cool. He still drives hours just to hang while we climb,
though he's now disabused as to the risk factor.
FRB: Who were some of your early mentors?
Greg: The first 'real' climber
I hung with was Kevin McLaughlin. The guy is a saint --he took Dan and
me under his wing after witnessing some of our 'techniques.' Kevin's
mostly know for being central in the development of Penitente and Shelf
Road, but his real deal is that he's an unbelievable hardman. If it's
sick, warped and five-star, he's on it. Such was my apprenticeship.
I assumed that the things he dragged me up were more or less normal
. . . until perspective set in down the road. And he was a great de-wusser.
If I yelled "tension" at the crux, he'd pump me five feet of slack and
yell, "Get On It Jonny Boy." Awesome years, makes highballing seem tame.
FRB: Who do you climb with usually?
Greg: Because of my other time
commitments, I'm not able to climb all that much (about three hours
a week). And I don't have the luxury of predicting when I can get out,
so I frequently climb alone. This suits me fine. When I'm able to get
out, I've got a number of people I hang with. In Denver, the regular
cores are Mike Hickey and Jade. Together with Joel, these guys have
more than doubled the number of hard problems in the Denver region.
Check out "North Shore," "Moon Child" and "Black Fly" if you have any
doubts as to their credentials. Also in Denver, my most regular partner
for several years was Bob Williams --wonderful guy, and he embodies
the spirit of bouldering: precise, fast, and damn determined. He's less
in the loop now, though he gets out some (don't ask him the source of
his most recent injury!). Rufus and Steve Chang are great fun too. Up
in Boulder, I hook with my brother, John Christie, and Matt Samet (between
his irreverence and my ignoramusness, we've done a few sketchmo things).
Got to mention the Chicago crew --Tony and Manfred, who is now out here
--and the Berlin crew, especially Jorn and Enrico.
FRB: You must have had many interesting adventures,
can you share
some of them with us?
Greg: Sure, but you should
know that my climbing adventures pale in comparison to seeing my sons
born, getting crosswise with the law as a teenager, and surviving graduate
school. Climbing-wise, I'd say soloing El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico
was wild, especially when my crampons broke on the descent. Hours of
down-soloing the caldera landed me on the moon and far from home. Eric
and I have had numerous adventures, including establishing some truly
horrible routes here and there. My wife, Kari, and I have traveled and
climbed all around Europe. I especially recommend Cuenca in Spain and
Schleier Wasserfelle in Austria. Bouldering-wise, my biggest adventures
have been urban --climbing on rock walls on the Southside of Chicago
and in abandon houses and Nazi bunkers in former East Germany.
FRB: What else do you do besides climb?
Greg: I stay friggin busy between
having a full-size family unit and an academic career. I teach in the
Religious Studies Department at CU and will deposit my dissertation
for the University of Chicago this spring. As you might know, academic
life is full of publishing demands, rump-kissing, and the like, so I'm
perpetually working from a time deficit. But it is gratifying, and I
like to think that what I do matters. I also have a cool garden, like
to cook (though nothing like my bro), and spend lots of time trying
to out wit my four year-old (never happens).
FRB: Have you done any first ascents?
Greg: Yeah. Have always loved
to go first. On the one hand, it's an ego thing, combined with a bit
of the colonizing impulse. On the other hand, it's an expression of
egolessness --just being out there grooving on stone that is fresh.
It is weird to me that these seemingly opposite impulses can be intertwined
in this way. It is what it is. Anyhow, most of my activity has been
in the Denver region, with lots of action at Clear Creek and Millennium.
"Mavericks" and "Ghost Dance" make me proud. Like every other holehead,
I've added a variety of pointless but fun things at Morrison. And in
Boulder I've scrapped around in the Flats and hooked with my bro. to
do some good stuff at Nightmare. On Flag, I like to think I did the
first of "Lowman's," but that's hard to know. My most coveted line,
"Dirt Farmer," remains unrepeated to my knowledge --guess the whole
protective goggle thing and the mandatory flappers freaks all you wussers.
FRB: Chipping, gluing?
Greg: I'm pacifistic, but I
practice active aggression when confronted by morons. Cleaning, gardening
and the like are more fuzzy for me. As I've preached elsewhere, context
is everything. Are there other user groups who will beef? Visibility?
Relations with land mangers? If we can't be clear in our answers to
these questions, we ought to leave things be. If we do develop, it ought
to be with care.
brings you to the Front Range?
Greg: Family and a lifelong
love of the place (from the Springs). After grad school, I was able
to get teaching work in Boulder, so my wife and I moved to Denver (lots
of family there, not to mention affordable housing). It's been great.
Sadly, our stay might end, depending on what academic winds blow our
way. But it will always be home, and I'll always return to the obscure
grottos where I've spent so much time!
FRB: Where do you think the best climbing
in the Front
Greg: Where it is 45 degrees
and sunny! Got to groove on the quality, up and down. I'm partial to
Millennium, though I see why others would diss on it (strictly chump
change). Eldo is magic, always.
FRB: Do you have any projects right now?
Greg: Absolutely! The killer
project now is trying to stop the bleed of sucking so bad.
FRB: What do you suggest to people who
are just starting
Greg: Never buy gumby boots
--it's like shoe dealers want to sandbag all newbies. It's criminal.
FRB: What are your thoughts on highballing?
Greg: Well, few of the highballs
I've seen are any taller than the trees we'd jump out of as kids. I
mean really, didn't you do strange stuff as a kid?--pain tests, deliberate
oxygen deprivation, authority evasion experiments. Highballing is but
a focused form of such esoterica. Plus, as Kevin would say, it "weeds
out the weenies."
FRB: Tips for training?
Greg: I don't train. When I
have, I get hurt. And now I have no time. Full focus and tenacity is
all most people need to step up their game.
FRB: Have you ever hit a plateau in your climbing?
How do you overcome
Greg: I redefine my goals and
slander any problem that makes my weaknesses obvious.
FRB: How do you deal with injuries?
Greg: By making sure I hit
the pad next time!
FRB: Parting words of wisdom?
Greg: Time out doesn't really
work. Neither does reasoning with them. I'm beginning to think about
FRB: Thanks for the interview, Greg.
Greg: You're welcome.