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Hello Hello Hello  

Greg Johnson
boulderer from Colorado Springs - Feb, 02

Greg Greg Greg Greg Greg

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?

Greg: 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.

FRB: What 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 Range is?

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 to climb?

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 the plateau?

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 alternative methods.

FRB: Thanks for the interview, Greg.

Greg: You're welcome.


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