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Hello Hello Hello
Episode 3
THE BARRIO:
The Evolution of an Enterprise

story & photos by Aaron Wilcher
Front Range Aaron (FRA)

Scouring the hillsides and flatlands of the Gotham City of the mountain underworld, Boulderado, for the minutiae and noir of bouldering triumphs and defeats, Front Range Aaron seeks out the bold, the fear(feck)less, and the mediocre. Part reporting, part personal essay, FRA pulls hard copy each week in another turbulent episode set in the sporting wonderland. Interviews, rants, editorials, and the naked truth of journalism, FRA leaves no boulder unturned.

JD at The Barrio, Boulder Canyon
Out of the Darkness: John Dunn, one of the original developers of the Barrio traverse, negotiates its upper-crux, about fifty feet up the ramp. A fall here could mean a trip over the narrow ledge off a forty-foot cliff.

   The Barrio is ugly. It is infuriating, frustrating, and mesmerizing. It is beautiful, or is it? While many regard this Boulder Canyon climbing area as a manufactured, crumbly choss pile, others call it a crucial part of their experience and development as climbers. Regardless of one's opinion of the place, it stands, without question, as a place that tells an important story about the development of the Boulder and Colorado climbing scenes in the last fifteen years. Parking off of a long curve about four miles before Nederland in the canyon, you reach the Barrio traverse by a short walk just off the road, jumping over the guardrail to reach the access trail. Adjacent to the road, chalk peeks out from behind the trees, just behind a short landing at the base of the Checkerboard Wall.

  At ten o'clock on a fall morning, just when the sun rises over the mountain, the route appears from inside a dark cave, and follows a long ramp up onto a ledge into the light. The lines top out more than one hundred feet to the right of the start, and gain about fifty feet in elevation along the way. Many five-hard, V-hard Boulder locals regard it as a rite of passage. Climbers on road trips to Boulder have made it part of their must-do checklist. For more than a decade, those who have tested themselves here have considered the traverse as a major test piece and an imperative training ground for the overhanging sport routes in Rifle.
Still, others wouldn't dare venture outside a code of conduct that prohibits association with something that has such a "tawdry history," as Matt Samet, Editor of Rock & Ice and one of the areas founders, puts it. Its critics dismiss it as too unnatural, too manufactured, too close to the road. It is ethical barbarism, they charge. Who would want such an industrial experience, they scoff. Can we dismiss the Barrio so easily? Or, do the purveyors of the route have a claim to its legitimacy? The Barrio's visual power is seductive. The two lines that comprise the traverse walk the first of many tightropes: is this a route or a bouldering problem? Standing in front of the climb, it is an almost entirely upside down solid 5.13/14, V8-11 that stares you down in its entirety all at once. In an interview with Front Range Bouldering, Samet said that his "Matt's Little Gay Link-Up (MLGL)," at the Barrio, which incorporates the high and low traverse, "might be the hardest thing I've done." After a whole summer working on it in 1999, Samet finally connected the loop. He gave it a route grade of 14b, "maybe harder."
Another early developer, John Dunn, a longtime Boulder resident and a prominent local figure in the climbing community, having put up many hard boulder problems and 5.13s in Rifle, walked me through the moves on the lower line. Even for those who have spent years on the traverse, memorizing each miniscule, grotesque feature-a little pocket for a toe, a fold for a pinch-the climb is never routine. Though many of the holds are positive jugs, the distance of gymnastic moves and the strategy required to do them requires brute strength and physical and mental commitment to remember dozens of foot placements, variations, and with which hand to cross over to multiple choice hand sequences.
JD
JD
NH allegedly chiseled the hold in the second photo more than ten years ago. (Rumor has it that he also allegedly chiseled a few other holds up the ramp for variations that are rarely done.) Without the little edge, the hold becomes an impossible sloper. The first crux is two moves away, a long move to a bad sloper.

Several moves comprise the first crux on the lower line, which is given a rating of V9 or 5.13 b/c. From the small edge, there is a reachy gaston to the right, followed by a throw to a bad sloper. Another long move takes you out of the first crux to a system of horns, some big and positive, others requiring sidepull crimps. As you move higher, the broken rock underneath offers a backbreaking landing. Further up, just before the start of the second crux, a hole in the ledge gives way to a scary forty-foot vertical cliff directly underneath the line of climbing.
The ledge is narrow all the way up the ramp, and where the ground is flat in the cave, the first crux marks the beginning of the uphill battle, where the ramp gains altitude and the two lines grow close, at one point sharing the same good holds. The high traverse, "Choss Boss," also known as "Love Street," is perhaps one route letter easier, still called V9 or 5.13 b, but it follows a higher line nearer the cliff's edge, carrying with it the potential for pitching off onto the approach trail down by the road.

The  Barrio
Overview of the whole Barrio slot

  The founding and development of the Barrio took place in the early 1990s, part of the rise of indoor climbing and sport bolting, the maturation of bouldering as a sport, and the continued popularization of climbing in general. In the Boulder area, the group that made the Barrio what it is today was part and parcel of this shift. As Dunn said, "We were hiking around a lot in those days, trying to find stuff to put up." Samet backed that up. Referring to first ascents, he said, "There was still a lot to be done back then."
A small group of tight-knit climbers participated in the development of the Barrio, after a Hungarian climber, Robert Bodrigi, a former competitive kayaker, brought news of it to the Colorado Athletic Training School (CATS), to this day owned and operated by Rob Candelaria. For those who accepted indoor climbing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, CATS, then not dwarfed by other gyms in Boulder like the Spot and the Boulder Rock Club, was the main gathering place for the climbing community in Boulder.
Bodrigi, whose blond mane marked him as a figure in the Boulder climbing world, lived for a time at CATS. His future vision of the base of the Checkerboard Wall, "his brilliance that he could see the climbing underground," as Mike Brooks remarked, sparked others' interest in developing the place. Soon a number of climbers, many of whom may or may not have actually participated in certain aspects of the development, teamed up to removed foliage and dirt from the cave and ramp, making the cliff band into something climbable. Caught in the milieu were Chris Hill, John Dunn, Robert Bodrigi, Paul Glover, Kevin Meyers, Jason Beausoleil, Charlie Bentley, Pete Zoller, and Matt Samet. Who did the digging is up for speculation. But that was only the beginning.
Brooks, another prominent first ascentionist, who formed part of the community that was developing areas in the region heavily at the time, is one who regards the Barrio as "a sign of the times." Dunn and Glover, the principle founders and developers of the Ghetto, a popular Flatirons bouldering area founded in 1990, also played important roles in developing the Barrio. Unlike the tension of some issues of the development of climbing areas-chipping, bolting, trail building, gluing on holds-much of the controversy with these areas doesn't deal with what has been added. Instead, to make these areas climbable, what was at issue was what had to be removed. The development of the Barrio not only required getting plants and dirt out of the way, but the loose, chossy rock had to be excavated. What appear to be grossly manufactured holds, chiseled to the point of resembling molded plastic, are really places where fractured, loose rock had simply been taken off of the wall.

: The triangle
The Triangle


While they do acknowledge the controversy in the ethics of its construction, those who know the Barrio best stand almost entirely behind the experience the Barrio offers. It is a place to train for Rifle. It is a place to get a major workout and to test yourself. It is a place to go and get a pump without having to go to the gym. Its name, also connecting it to the development of the Ghetto, the Gutter, and the Compound, is derived from its manufactured qualities. "Everybody was listening to NWA and gangsta rap back then," said Samet. "This isn't a pristine nature experience."
"It's inevitable," Dunn agreed. "At some point in your climbing career, you're going to grab a manufactured hold . . . . The Barrio is not out of the city. The effort itself takes the beauty out of it. "
But Samet and Dunn's comments missed some crucial ethical points that their discussions about the ethics of movement of the lines on the wall recovered. What is, in fact, the meaning of these words "manufacture" and "nature"? Was the Barrio really so far inside the city? Did the more heavily-glued lower line really make it less "natural"? The Barrio had another story to tell about the ethics of climbing development, and about what is "natural."

  The Barrio excavation project was a major undertaking. Bags upon bags of dirt, probably silt runoff from the ramp, along with the foliage that grew there, were removed. In many different stages, the choss was wiggled out and broken off, creating hand and foot holds. The process of removing the fragmented rock dwindled significantly once the area was made climbable, but it still occurs to this day. Holds occasionally break off. Some have been removed for safety reasons. At one point, much later, Dunn and Glover brought in an immense wedging tool to break off a creaky flake high up the ramp that Dunn said, "was going to kill somebody." Removing the flake produced a heel hook rail that made the section easier. This and other removals brought the original route grade of the high line down from V10 to V9.
Not one of these prominent climbers who developed the place, however, would go so far as to say that the removal was anything more than what would have happened had they just graduated the place to public knowledge, telling other climbers to go up there to check it out. The holds that were removed would have hazardously broke off, several of the founders defended. Their regard of the Barrio's "manufacture" reverses a standard line of ethical criticism in climbing, where more alteration equates to more infraction. Like the act of mapmaking, without human modification of this place, physically and conceptually, the mountainside would have remained a crumbly unusable undercut.
As anyone who has seen the Barrio knows, its production was not all reductive, however. As the project evolved, the group of founders must have been getting excited about what their labor was turning into. (Whether or not they knew what it would look like when it was done is unclear.) The person who forms the focal point of the way stories are told about the place began to follow up the removal of rock with epoxy reinforcement. This was Kevin Meyers, whose fellow Barrio developers recount him in strange, almost mythical terms.
At the height of the Boulder Canyon bolting controversies, Meyers began reinforcing the exposed shelving, slots, and flakes with epoxy resin. The total initial reinforcement saw Meyers put up between eleven and twelve cans of epoxy, with later removals and broken holds requiring more. Meyers did the gluing, legendarily, in the middle of the night by lantern. Accounts vary, but some speculate that Meyers did the gluing clandestinely to elude land management authorities, police, or perhaps other militant climbers who clung to an ethic of no human intervention, no trace of climbers' presence left behind.

The Barrio at night
Kevin Myers' project; the Barrio cave by night
overview of the glue
Overview of the glue

Even if Meyers felt threatened by these groups, preventing work in daylight hours, the time spent alone in the Barrio slot would have suited his personality. He was "retreating," as Samet described him. "[Meyers often] wore a black sweatshirt pulled up over his head," he said. Several of Meyers' longtime climbing partners suggest that he may have suffered from social anxiety or depression, severe enough that in recent years he cut off contact with many of his closest friends. John Dunn regarded this behavior as a worsening of Meyers' notorious reliability. "You'd be waiting hours and hours for the guy to show up [to go climbing]. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn't," Dunn said.
While some suggested Meyers' disappearance was the result of a diagnosable mental illness, one of his close friends, another Barrio developer, Paul Glover, denied the speculation. "He had social issues. He wasn't sick."
"You wouldn't know something was wrong with him until you had a problem with him. Then he'd just disappear. He wouldn't call you back," Dunn said.
As I tried to track down Meyers-unsuccessfully in the end-the Boulder Barrio crew was at a loss to pinpoint his whereabouts. An Eldorado Springs resident was the last of a first degree of separation to see Kevin. Brooks said that Meyers had last been seen living in his car in Longmont. "Going on a crusade," said Jason Beausoleil, another climbing partner. "That sounds like Kevin." The climber who had spent the better part of fifteen years climbing regularly with his friends had simply vanished.
Meyers' role in the development of the Barrio is important in the discussion of its viability, its claim to legitimacy. While a certain contingent of the climbing, environmental, and land use management communities will regard a discussion of the Barrio's ethics as splitting hairs, as the recent issue of Rock and Ice, the "Ethics Issue," suggests, the meat of the debate on development practice is often in its details.
"Before we get started, I want to make one thing clear," said Paul Glover. "I didn't have anything to do with it," alluding to the physical changes of the Barrio's terrain. Mike Brooks, among others, echoed Glover. Who would want their name on something that might be glued up (even if it isn't). Not surprisingly, the accounts of who had done the digging and removal of foliage proved conflicting. If there was any pattern to accounts of who was responsible, they pointed back to Meyers and Bodrigi, not available for comment. Convenient scapegoats.
Instead, there was a sliding scale of admission. Some aspects of the development were open for discussion. But others resulted in vagueness and not naming names. With the highest prestige value, however, my informants referred freely to their development of beta, how the moves went, who did them first, what was on and off. Perhaps they didn't want to admit to breaking off stone, bagging up dirt, and removing living foliage. Perhaps they would rather talk about the prestige of sending the route and its variations over wielding a shovel. Perhaps their memory of ten years ago is hazy. All are possibilities. But some questions remain. Could Kevin Meyers and Robert Bodrigi have single-handedly made the Barrio what it is today? Or did Meyers have help gluing? Did Bodrigi have help digging?
The developers I talked to who were there at the Barrio's inception-John Dunn, Paul Glover, Jason Beausoleil -all made one ethical point clear, however. If Meyers did all the gluing, as they say he did, he did so only out of fear that the holds would break off, that the Barrio traverse would eventually mete an unclimbable fate if the choss were left alone. They were adamant in this point: Meyers' ethics would never permit him to cross the line of taking rocks, from the ground or anywhere else, to glue up onto the wall.
In this respect, these three developers, along with Matt Samet, concurred that the Barrio is "natural." The glue was used exclusively as reinforcement, a support system for safety and preservation, a way to sustain what was already there, what just needed uncovering. Without the epoxy, the Barrio ceases to exist. It turns into a wasteland of choss, once slated for human recreation, but left without care. It would be like a building development that goes bankrupt before opening day that sits vacant, waiting for investors and renters.
For this reason, Meyers, if he is in fact solely responsible for the epoxy reinforcement, is the central figure in the Barrio's history. Bodrigi may have found it. Pete Zoller and Matt Samet may have sent the first crucial line. But without the glue, there is no Barrio. (What does a first ascent mean anyway, if there is no naming of those who helped develop an area, finding it, contributing beta, and digging it out?) It becomes markedly more dangerous and less climbable because of broken holds. Wouldn't a line that is constantly deteriorating, in fact, invite the kind of gluing Meyers refuses to do, the kind that altered the climb from its original state?
Calling the Barrio, then, "industrial," "contrived," and "manufactured" as a means of dismissing it misses the finer points of its construction. Instead of disregarding ethics and a regard for nature, the developers of the Barrio firmly embraced and revised these concepts, albeit with a maverick attitude. As an example, John Dunn recalled vividly the extreme militancy of Paul Glover and Kevin Meyers' methods for climbing the lines up the traverse. (In this sense, human movement is inseparable from a concept of the land.) The low shelves were off. Certain heel hooks were off. The high knee bar was off. All were offenses punishable by verbal abuse. As a testament to his dedication, values, and ethics, nine years after his nighttime gluing sessions, Kevin Meyers, who at his best redpointed 5.13b on sport, was still trying to send the Barrio Traverse. Two years ago he finally bagged it.

  I first thought that Dunn's criticisms of how others climb the traverse was off-putting, an arrogant claim to entitlement. But I realized that the insistence of the ethics of the moves, the importance of how the traverse is done, is a claim to the legitimacy of how the Barrio was found, dug out, and put together. That it is a pile of reinforced choss does not make it unworthy of critical attention to how it is climbed. When John Dunn shuns how people start thirty feet to the right of the sit start on a gigantic shelf and how they use the jugs for feet, his elitism is not about his superior, personal say so. It is about defending the place he and his colleagues founded. This is no choss pile we can throw away because of its glue. It is a vital piece of human terrain worth preserving. Even if Kevin Meyers' contact info has vanished from his friends' telephone books, his climb is still on the maps of its founders and other climbers around the country. It is a crucial Boulder testpiece that should continue to challenge generations of climbers . . . as long as the epoxy holds.

Aaron Wilcher
mid December, 2004

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