Part of the appeal of traveling to a place like South Dakota, for me, is that the area is home to several John Gill problems and the existence of a classic unrepeated problem, King of Town. In regards to Gill, for those who don’t know, he basically invented the activity of modern bouldering here in America, and for me to travel to these out of the way places, it in some way pays homage to what he did for our sport some 50 years ago. Gill made several major contributions to bouldering and was clearly way ahead of his time.
Firstly, Gill introduced dynamic movement.
In the Tetons in 1959, he did the first ascent of the center of the Red Cross Rock. This was an execptionally difficult, short problem and the first significant “dynamic route” in America-if anywhere. Normally climbs were done in a “static” fashion, whereby each move was deliberate and often reversible. Gill was willing to commit himself to physical flight upward, commiting himself in aerial feats where he threw his body free of the rock and upward off a hold.
Pat Ament “Master of Rock” 1992
He also introduced specific training for climbing, particularly in preparation for The Thimble, in South Dakota.
….(he) started to devise ways, around the gym, in which to train for some of the moves he anticipated doing on the Thimble. He squeezed nuts and bolts sticking out of the gym walls to prepare for the nubbins that he would have to squeeze high up on the Thimble. He could do seven regular one-arm pullups, three finger-tip one-arm pullups, and of course his one-finger/one-arm pullup, and he continued to train at these
Pat Ament “Master of Rock” 1992
This is a standard that is matched by almost no climber today. Consistantly, it seems that everyone who saw Gill climb was throughly impressed. He also introduced the use of chalk, for drying the hands, a technique he borrowed from his background in gymnastics.
Another one of the contributions he made was by creating a personal grading scale. The scale consisted of B1, B2, and B3. A B1 problem was one that had moves as hard as the hardest roped climbs of the day. Perhaps the modern translation would be V12 to V13. A B2 problem was one that was harder than the hardest roped climbs of the day, perhaps V14-V15 nowadays. A B3 problem was tried relentlessly, and only climbed once. As soon as it was repeated it dropped back down to B2. Gill’s scale was a sliding scale. In 1969 the scale was defined as such: B1=5.10, in 1977 B1=5.11, and in 1987 B1=5.12. Although the scale is not used anymore, I think there is still some application, and Gill was on to a good idea. The hardest problems aren’t the ones with the largest numbers, but the ones that are seldom repeated. Many people argue that modern problems like Freshly Squeezed and Dark Waters should be given V13, and maybe they should, but if they are then they are some of the most repeated V13s in America. Spinal Twist (in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT), or Suspension of Disbelief (given V13 by FAist David Graham) are rarely repeated and in fact Suspension has only been repeated once, after a massive effort by Daniel Woods. Clearly these problems are harder than Freshly Squeezed or Dark Waters, whether the numbers indicate that difficulty or not. It is also interesting that the B scale would slide across regions, in that a B3 in Ohio, would probably, but not necessarily, be easier than a B3 in Colorado.
I am trying to compile a list of all of the potentially difficult B3 boulders in America. Clearly something that was done recently (maybe in the last year or so still needs some time). Maybe some of these B3s haven’t been climbed because they are out of the way, or have bad landings, or are actually really, really, difficult.
One of the best examples of such a problem is Dave Graham’s The Story of Two Worlds V15, in Cresciano, CH. Many climbers have done Dreamtime V14, which is on the same boulder. (or Jade V15 for that matter, which has 5 ascents in 3 years). But back to The Story of Two Worlds, a few have repeated the stand start, The Dagger, but in four years no one has been able to repeat Dave’s lower start. One strong climber claimed it was “dabby” and that’s fine, but the longer it goes unrepeated, and the more strong climbers go there and don’t do it, for whatever reason, the more legendary it grows in status. In America that would be a problem like Suspension of Disbelief, in Eldorado Canyon, CO (which I was lucky enough to witness the FA).
So far here is the list. I realize that some information maybe incorrect and I will happily change things as reputable information comes to light. I am looking for input from a knowledgeable community. I have added the suggested grade by the first ascentionist.
The Ill Saint, Pawtuckaway State Park FA David Graham 2000 (V13)
King of Town, Black Hills South Dakota FA Matt Tschol 2007 (V12)
Warpath, Castle Rocks, ID FA Jamie Litz 2007 (V14)
Nuclear War, Master Bedroom, NY Matt Bosley (V14?)
Nuclear Arms, Grandmother Mtn, NC FA James Litz year unknown, grade unknown
Black Crack, Blowing Rock, NC FA James Litz
Flagyl Left, Blowing Rock, NC FA James Litz
Illusion, HP40, AL FA Lee Payne 2003 (V11)
Genetic HP40, AL FA James Litz 1998? (V10)
The Keymaker, Devil’s Lake, WI FA Brian Sandona 2003? (V11) update: repeated by Nic Oklubija
The Amateur, Sawmill Creek Dome, Jim Merli 2003? (V13?)
The Hand, Hueco Tanks, TX FA Daniel Woods (V11)
Lost in the Hood, AR, FA David Graham (V14)
The Stretcher, Flagstaff, CO Jim Holloway
Fingerhut Direct, Joe’s Valley, UT James Litz (V13) update: repeated by Paul Robinson
Copperhead Right, Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT Garth Miller (V13) (although much skepticism remains about whether Miller actually climbed this line)
The Elitist, Tum Tum, WA FA Johnny Goicoechea 2007 (V13)
Zazen, Squamish, BC FA Harry Robertson 2003 (V13)
The Tale of Two Gabors, Hueco Tanks, TX FA Gabor Szekely (V12) Tried by Woods, Graham and Nicole.
Ambrosia, Bishop, CA FAKevin Jorgeson Although this was climbed with out a rope, it clearly blurs the line between bouldering and free-soloing.
The Singularity, Squamish, BC FA Tim Clifford 2007 (V14) although not in America
I left Meathook at Horsetooth Reservoir off the list, as it was repeated by Dave Twinam, with a different sequence than Jim Holloway. Slapshot, the other classic Holloway problem has broken and was re-glued and is unclimbable in its current state.
For more on Gill and he legacy, I highly recommend reading John Gill:Master of Rock, by Pat Ament, which documents Gill’s exploits.