In climbing I do things that I enjoy and want to do not the ones that are currently in fashion.
Muriel Sarkany
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Mick Fowler, b. 1956, Great Britain
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Wojciech „Voytek” Kurtyka, b. 1947, Poland
Wolfgang Güllich 1960-1992, Germany

John Gill (b. 1937, USA)

I had a simple idea that has brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.

John Gill


Soloes and boulders easy problems.

Creates his own website:


“Option soloing time” – freesolos many easy routes (also many of his own ones) in the Tetons and in Snowy Range and Granite Mountains (up to 5.8 grade and 1000’ of length), Wyoming.

Each year, the approach of summer rejuvenates me. Academic activities and their attendant social vexations are swept by a cleansing mental tide, and I contemplate the rhapsodic days of solitary climbing that lie ahead. In the best spirit of play I remove myself from undertakings that have purpose, and I focus only on one that has meaning. 


Provost’s Award fore Excellence in Scholarship by the University of Southern Colorado


Serious injury – Gill’s right biceps muscle was torn from the forearm bone in a freak bouldering accident. Quits real bouldering and returns to solitary climbs and scrambles for more than 10 years.

1970’s – 1987

Boulders in Colorado regions – Little Owl Canyon, Fatted Calf, Lost Canyon. Freesolos in the Tetons and Snowy Ranges, Wyoming.


Becomes full professor in mathematics

There is an affinity between math and climbing. It has to do with independence of effort and good pattern recognition skills, coupled with desire to solve problems and explore.


The Groove V10, Pueblo, Colorado, probably the hardest problem put up by Gill and the last from the hard ones


Master of Rock, biography of John Gill by Pat Ament, published


Takes a year long break from bouldering because of elbow tendenitis (the result of hundreds of laps on Torture Chamber at Horsetooth) and takes professorship in mathematics at the University of Southern Dakota


Article The Art of Bouldering published in "American Alpine Journal"

The boulderer is concerned with form almost as much as with success and will not feel that he truly mastered a problem until he can do it gracefully

The Art of Bouldering

By that time the AAJ was publishing reports of mere rock climbs. And I knew the executive secretary of the AAC, Jim McCarthy, who had seen me boulder and was impressed by what he saw. He invited me to write the piece (which was my first such effort, and poorly written!).


Begins exploring regions west of Fort Collins, Colorado. Establishes bouldering at Horsetooth Reservoir by first ascents of  the famous Mental Block Problems (Corner Lock V4, Standard V4, Pinch Overhang V5+) and Eliminator problems (Left Eliminator V4 or V5 and Right Eliminator V4) and about 100 other boulders.

Gill Swing V6 and other problems at Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado


Pennyrile Forest Overhang V8, Pennyrile Forest State Park, first ascent

Some boulders established in Shawangunks, New York (eg. Gill Egg V4, Gill Crack V4, Gill Pinch Roof V4, Gill Double Clutch V4)

Various ascents in The Needles, South Dakota 


Problems and routes in The Needles, South Dakota


First ascents of boulder problems in DeSoto Canyon and Shades Mountain, boulders up to V7


The Thimble 5.12, Needles of South Dakota, first ascent of 30-foot north face, free solo, done in klettershoes, considered first 5.12a in the world and first modern highball problem, chosen as one of eight top climbing’s achievements of the XX century by "Climbing Magazine". It wasn’t until 1981 that the second ascent was done by Greg Collins.

To me it was a test to see how far I was willing to go to be an exploratory solo climber (an insane aspiration!


Lots of extremely difficult news routes climbed  in the limestone area, Blacktail Butte, Jackson Hole, many of them done free-solo and sometimes on-sight. Some of them were 5.10’s or harder (maybe some bouldering starts were even of 5.11 or above).

I found the limestone to be intriguing alternative to the more granitic Tetons, but I really wasn’t light and thin enough to take full advantage of the medium.

Red Cross Gill Route V6 or V7, Red Cross Rock, Jenny Lake Boulders, first significant dynamic boulder problem in US

My 1959 Red Cross Rock problem at Jenny Lake in the Tetons was done intentionally as a dynamic move, but when others started doing it they used a handhold I had intentionally avoided to do the route statically. Doing it my way was probably 5.13d, but doing it statically, using the additional hold, is perhaps 5.12 or so. I don't see that as progress.

Various solos in the Needles, South Dakota


Baxter’s Pinnacle, the Tetons, Wyoming, variations on the face left of the direct-aid crack on the Upper South Face route, the first 5.10 in the Tetons and one of the first in America

New route on Delicate Arete, The Tetons, another Teton 5.10 done before this grade appeared in America

North Corner, Red Cross Rock, Jenny Lake Boulders, first V8 bouldering

Creates boudering rating system (B1, B2, B3) 

Tombstone V8, Devils Lake, Wisconsin, first ascent

Sometimes Crack 5.10, first ascent

Gill’s Nose 5.10+, Devils Lake, Wisconsin, first ascent 


Climbing in the Tetons, Wyoming


Introduces gymnastic chalk to climbing, starts bouldering  and using dynamic moves. At Jenny Lake Bouders begins to draw little chalk arrows at the bottom of his routes and later, on the hardest lines, paint arrows.

When I demonstrated the efficacy of chalk – which I had bought at a local pharmacy – most climbers were instantly seduced, although some purists initially rejected it as unethical (Chouinard had qualms).


East Face 5.7, Longs Peak, Colorado, solo ascent, first alpine climb, with ice-axe and 50-foot rope


New routes on Beehive Cliffs, Fort Mountains and Stone Mountain, Georgia


Further reading:

Pat Ament, Wizards of Rock. A History of Free Climbing in America, Wilderness Press 2002 
Pat Ament, John Gill, Master of Rock, Stackpole Books 1998
Piotr Dro¿d¿: Interview with John Gill, “GÓRY” 2003/7
John Gill: Cirruculum Vitae, “Alpinist”, Autumn 2005, No. 12
John Gill, Option Soloing, “The Climbing Art”, Fall 1991  



See also
Master of Rock: The Biography of John Gill
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