John Gill: Father of modern bouldering
December 12, 2008 2:35 PM   Subscribe

John Gill is the father of modern bouldering. In the early 1960s, he took his gymnastics training in to the field and pioneered the use of chalk and dynamic moves in climbing. In 1961, he climbed the 30 foot height of The Thimble, widely considered to be the first 5.12 ascent in the world, and did so without a rope.

A devotee of body weight exercises, he could perform a one-arm front lever and several one-finger pull-ups. During his time as a gymnast he engaged in competitive rope climbing (formerly an Olympic sport), which is making a bit of a comeback in the Czech Republic (if you think it looks too easy, try it with one arm).

On his personal website you can also read about the mathematical work he's done in continued fractions, discover the joys of no-hands climbing, or explore the connections between gymnastics and modern climbing
posted by 0xFCAF (16 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
When John Gill sent The Thimble there was a guard rail underneath, so it would have broken his back if he fell. There was no clean landing at the time.

Dude is legendary. I've been thinking about putting a post together about climbing. Nice job.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:43 PM on December 12, 2008

Here's something I wrote a while ago in the Believer which touches on John Gill and the relationship between his mathematical life and his approach to climbing. Representative quote from Gill:

“One of the objectives for both is to achieve an interesting result—ideally an unexpected result—in an elegant fashion, with a smooth flow, using some unexpected simplicity. There is the question of style.” But beyond this, he adds, “to be a boulderer or a research mathematician you have to have this natural inclination to dig for something, a strong, completely inner motivation to be on the frontier, to discover things. The reward, in both activities, is almost-continual enlightenment, and that’s a great feeling.”
posted by escabeche at 2:56 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

wow. That is totally inspiring and energizing to watch. Thanks for the lifeforce buzz, I needed a good vitality rush today.
posted by nickyskye at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2008

Great post. The bouldering and climbing I've done is nowhere near that level, but he was an inspiration for a lot of folks.

And that one-arm level picture always blows my mind. I can't count the number of times my friends and I would try to do some semblance of that, with two arms, and get nowhere even close.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 3:44 PM on December 12, 2008

lever, damn it. lever.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 3:48 PM on December 12, 2008

I started looking around on Youtube after watching that, and found this video. I have no idea whether this video is for real (some guy named Dan Osman speed climbing up a 400 foot wall) but if it is, that guy is amazing.
posted by jayder at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, that's for real. Dan Osman was remarkable -- that climb was what, 5-6 minutes? He later got into rope-jumping, testing the limits of what you could do with climbing equipment, making progressively longer and longer jumps with lengths of off-the-shelf climbing ropes tied together. He died when a rope failed during a jump in Yosemite, while on the phone (mid-air, excited about his jump) with his girlfriend.

Decent book about him here.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 4:16 PM on December 12, 2008

Dan Osman was a pioneering speed climber, jayder. On Masters of Stone II you can see him do some insane free falls, only to be caught by a series of climbing ropes (not bungee cords).

Osman died in one of these jumps. In Masters of Stone he actually carries a video camera with him on the jump. It's about 4 or 5 seconds of freefall followed by an abrupt stop.

In that video you linked, at 0:22 Osman dynos for a hold and makes it, then continues. In Masters of Stone you can see another run he did on the same route where he misses the hold and catches himself on a lower hold. It's a holy fuck moment caught on tape.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:18 PM on December 12, 2008

No hands climbing

Also known as "falling"?
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:20 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Did he also don a mask in the evenings to fight crime? 'Cause that's the only way this guy could have been any more awesome.
posted by $0up at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great post.

And ditto on the Masters of Stone II AND any video of Osman i've seen. It's insanity. The youtube of him going up Bear's Reach at light speed makes my palms sweaty.
posted by sapo at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2008

Finally, proof that masturbation pays off.
posted by dr_dank at 8:47 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gee... that climbin' and jumpin' thing didn't go that well for Dan, did it?! Or for his young daughter, I suppose...

Really... it's all very impressive, in a stupidly dangerous way.
posted by markkraft at 10:54 PM on December 12, 2008

jayder, holy shit, that Dan Osman video had my hands pouring sweat. God that was stomach roiling. What amazing strength and agility. wow. Never seen anything like that in my life. Would not have imagined it humanly possibly unless I'd seen that. Mind blown and enjoyed it. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 11:38 PM on December 12, 2008

What is it with watching that speed climbing video and the hands sweating reaction? It seems counter-evolutionary, where sweaty hands would make you slip.

posted by surlycat at 2:55 AM on December 13, 2008

More on Osman from MeFi here, including this article about him.
posted by googly at 7:50 AM on December 13, 2008

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