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Hello Hello Hello

Jay Shambo - late December, 2005

Jay Shambo
Jay Shambo Jay Shambo Jay Shambo Jay Shambo
If you've been climbing on the Front Range for any length of time, you've probably run into Jay Shambo, though you may not recognize him. He's typically quiet and humble, and he prefers to let his climbing speak for him, though he's been known to be quick witted and sometimes even cutting when the action gets too serious. We caught up with him over a few beers on a cold, windy night in Fort Collins. Here's what he had to say:

Jay: So you finally got to me, huh?

FRB: What do you mean?

Jay: Nothing. I should be happy that I'm getting any recognition before I'm dead. Most writers and climbers don't find fame until they've done themselves in in some horrible way. Actually, most don't even get it then.

FRB: Let's get the vitals out of the way.

Jay: Shoot.

FRB: Full name?

Jay: Jason M. Shambo. Not telling what the M stands for.

FRB: Age?

Jay: 30.

FRB: Height - weight?

Jay: 5'10ish." 170 lbs. Plus or minus a 12 pack.

FRB: Years climbing?

Jay: About a dozen.

FRB: Where did you start climbing?

Jay: I grew up in New York, around the Albany area. My friend talked me into going to a climbing gym one day and, I was hooked. When the weather got good we went outside. There were two train bridges near where we lived, that were made out of granite blocks. One of the bridges had a few bolted routes on it, about thirty feet tall. The other had some easy traversing. That was the extent of my climbing until I came to Ft. Collins.

FRB: You never went to the Gunks?

Jay: Not until I went home to visit a few years later.

FRB: So you climbed a lot at Horsetooth?

Jay: Yeah, I guess you could say I learned how to climb there. I guess that's why I like bouldering so much.

FRB: I hate to say it, but most people know you more for
          your writing than your climbing. Are there any
          particular problems that you've done that you want
          to talk about before we get into your writing?

Jay: Well, I was lucky enough to fall in with a really motivated bunch of people when the Poudre was getting developed. Hank Jones spent months hiking both sides of the canyon, then showed it to Ben [Scott] and a few others, who in turn showed it to a whole host of really motivated people. With a crew like Pat Goodman, Jeremy Bischer, Herm Feissner, Will LeMaire, and lots of other strong people, it's no wonder all the projects fell so fast. I did get a few though. Scarface and 1 Ton Ho on Hank's boulder. The "extended" version of Tilt, which I called Jousting at Windmills was one of my FA's. Lots of stuff around The Bog area, some at Gandolph. Too many to remember really. Some good, some not worth doing. I was actually close to doing Canopener, then I tore up my shoulder while hiking around on wet talus up in RMNP. Of course, the king destroyer of projects, Frenchy LeMaire then sent it in a snowstorm.

FRB: So those were your best sends?

Jay: Well, some, yes. But not necessarily. Most of my most memorable sends were ones that were particularly difficult for me at the time, but not always. Several years ago there was this place in Nevada, called Mecca, that was getting sprayed up on the internet. So on my way to Bishop, I stopped to check it out. I planned on staying one day, maybe, if it was good, and ended up staying four. I hiked for days just putting up awesome problems. That place has a ton of potential.

There's so many really, that stand out, and all for different reasons. I guess The Mushroom Roof at Hueco is one. I had tried that thing on three separate trips down there, and I kept falling at the lip. So it was like my third or fourth day on, tenth try of the day, you know. I was just totally exhausted, but HAD to do this problem. I remember sitting under the roof for maybe twenty minutes just trying to clear my mind and summon any energy I had left. I don't know what exactly I did, but I hiked it next try. I wish I knew what I did. I would like to be able to tap into that reserve more often. You know when your totally in the zone, just climbing - not even thinking, your just doing - that's the mental state I wish I could find more often. That's really what I like best about climbing - that absolutely focused execution of movement. I'm not even aware of what's happening around me. People could be yelling, music playing, and it just gets filtered out. That being said, there is always this little thing in the back of my mind that pops up when I'm sending. Like that last attempt on the Mushroom Roof. I knew I would send it that try when I was a couple of moves in. Theres's always this little voice that pops up and says, "This is it, done." Maybe it's not a voice really. More like a key turning in a lock.

Then there was this problem on Hank's Boulder at the Poudre. I had spent a few days working it out and could do all the moves but one. So I just kept trying it from the start and figured when I did the move, I would do the problem. Every day I would go up there and fall on the same move. At the base of this problem used to be a fire pit, and there was all kinds of garbage and broken glass and everything there. So I figured if I was going to be hanging out there a bunch, I might as well do something. So I brought in a rake and shovel and kind of cleaned up the area around the boulder. Then I did the problem right after that. I tried it after that an could never do it again. Now it's broken and will never be repeated. Maybe I earned some good karma and had a small window.

FRB: Couldn't somebody glue it back together?

Jay: I doubt that will happen in the Poudre.

FRB: Are you against that sort of thing? Gluing and chipping?

Jay: Well, chipping and drilling for sure. I suppose gluing, if done correctly, and for a certain purpose, is all right. I was at Donner Pass bouldering last summer and there is this problem called White Lines. Just gorgeous rock. Then I got close and noticed this big flake glued on, and it was pretty sloppy. It took something away from the line. But then some of the classic problems at Rotary Park got glued a few years ago. Whoever did it did a good job, and preserved some classic problems. They kept some flexing holds from coming off, and kept the problems in their original state. But I suppose if that justifies gluing, those boulders should be rolled back up the hill and glued back onto the cliff.

FRB: Do you still climb in the Poudre a lot?

Jay: Oh yeah, it's my favorite area for sure. I go there as much as possible. I've actually been entertaining the idea of doing every problem in the canyon, though it may never happen. I have two hard problems left. One of them might be possible, the other, well, I don't know. I'd like to think that someday I may be strong enough. But it's definitely one of the best granite bouldering areas in the country. I've been too lots of areas and have seen few with that quality of rock. The Valley maybe. Lake Tahoe is good, but kind of sparse. I've never been to Squamish, but then that's not in this country is it?

FRB: What are some of your other favorite areas?

Jay: Hueco, of course. I've spent lots of time down there. I've made at least one trip a year for like the last ten years. I don't know; there are actually very few areas that I haven't enjoyed. Even that train bridge in New York was cool at the time. As long as I'm climbing…

FRB: OK, what about your writing?

Jay: What about it?

FRB: When did you start?

Jay: About five years ago I guess. When I was in school working on my degree. Oh, I just thought of another one.

FRB: Another what?

Jay: Area. Crested Butte. Man that place is awesome. If there were more boulders there it would be world class. Sorry. Go on.

FRB: What's your degree in?

Jay: English, with emphasis in Education and ESL (English as a second language).

FRB:: So you're an English teacher? I'd better be careful.

Jay: Yeah, you're being graded on this. And don't even think of spelling anything wrong.

FRB: So how do you approach writing?

Jay: Well, in a lot of ways writing and climbing are very similar. Both seem to support compulsive tendencies. And really, the process of writing is a lot like working on a hard boulder problem. You begin by figuring things out. Like where to start, what movements work best where, what direction to go in, where to finish. Then once the initial stuff is sussed out, the real work begins. You need to figure out how to move quickly through some sections, slowly in others, what is most efficient, what to leave out, what to keep. Really, both processes involve a paring down. With climbing, you find out what is absolutely essential, then go with it. Writing is in many ways the same. You take out what isn't part of the story - get down to the bare essentials. Anything extra will bore and distract the reader, and if that happens, no send.

FRB: So are you really a wise ass?

Jay: Well, yeah. But only with people I know. I'm never intentionally rude to someone, unless they deserve it. That being said, I like to encourage people to take themselves less seriously, especially with their climbing. I see so many people making this too much like work. This is something we do for fun, remember? I've been there myself, where everything revolves around climbing, and that's cool if you enjoy doing it and can make it work. But sometimes I think, and I know this is true of myself in the past, that climbing becomes something we have to do. You know? Like, our whole week, and self worth for that matter, is ruined if we don't get the send. Then you're mad and wanting to see your buddy fall off just because you can't do it. And that is exactly the kind of thing we supposedly leave behind when we head out for a session at the boulders. I guess it's just part of getting older, growing up. I enjoy climbing more than ever and as a result, I'm climbing better than ever. This is in no way a new idea. Ask anyone who has been climbing for more than 10-15 years and they will say the exact same thing.

FRB: So you try to show this to other people?

Jay: Yeah. I don't know. Look, all this is making my brain hurt. I teach all week long. Can't we just sit here and have a beer and talk climbing?

FRB: OK. Do you know of any good projects in the Poudre?

Jay: Oh, man. TONS. There's this one at the Bog, down by the water. It's on perfect rock. You start down low…



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