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John Gill: The Master of Rock Speaks

Photograph above: John Gill talks about bouldering in remote Lost Canyon southeast of Pueblo, Colorado. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

The other day I ferreted out my article notes from a detailed interview I did with John Gill, who was 41 years old at the time, in July 1979 at his home in Pueblo. John, as anyone who has climbed much knows, is rightly considered as the founder of the discipline of modern bouldering, the art of climbing difficult problems on small rocks, blocks, and boulders.

For many of my climbing days, I considered myself a boulderer, partly because of John's thoughts about bouldering. I liked to head up in the hills above Colorado Springs or wherever I was and find problems on boulders. Some were easy. Some were hard. Some I couldn't do without months of work to dial in the right sequence.

In those days I preferred bouldering because I liked climbing alone, without chatter or distraction. Bouldering was a type of vertical meditation and it was simple. Just me and the rock, and, of course, a pair of rock shoes, RDs, PAs, EBs, Coonyards, Fires. Plus, it always seemed silly to give names and ratings and such to a 12-foot face that was climbed in a half-dozen hand and foot movements.

Anyway, Mr. Gill's approach to climbing and bouldering matched up with mine. I always felt honored to watch and photograph the master of the boulders at play. Here are a few quotes from that interview:

"The boulderer and the rock climber search for the same basic type of climb, but the boulderer has learned to think small. They both seek hard lines on clean expanses of rock, but the boulder specialist will probably be a little disappointed if he solves his problem too quickly."

"It's not really a sport. It's a climbing activity with metaphysical, mystical, and philosophical overtones."

"As I became a better boulderer I began feeling something which I didn't name until a few years ago. For lack of better words, I call it 'kinesthetic awareness.' It describes a graceful, artistic motion. I feel it when I am climbing balanced and smooth. The more you do it the smoother you become and the more this feeling is allowed to emerge."

"Bouldering is a vertical path to increased awareness."

"Bouldering enhances the other parts of my life in the sense that after the intense involvement of bouldering I can come away from it relaxed and with a sense of relief."

"I still feel I am at a frontier of bouldering but not necessarily of difficulty. Now I am going into another frontier--you can call it mystical or spiritual."

I shot the portrait of John Gill in July 1979 at the base of the Penny Ante Boulder along the Huerfano River in remote Lost Canyon southeast of Pueblo, Colorado.

I shot the other image of John bouldering at age 70 in a canyon west of Lake Pueblo in April 2005. Eric Horst and I visited with John at his home in Pueblo West (Eric interviewed John for a climbing CD) and then we headed over to Little Owl Canyon where we met up with Colin Lantz.

Photograph below: John Gill bouldering in Little Owl Canyon near his home in Pueblo West, Colorado, in 2005. Photograph © Stewart M. Green


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