In 1993 I decided to drive (or ride, as it were) to Boulder, Colorado for the Tour De Pump, an annual climbing competition that featured some of the best sport climbers of the day. Here were the superstars of the climbing world, and to a newly minted climber from Norman, Oklahoma, it was like being in the front row of an NBA Finals game. But more than that, it was an opportunity to witness the inclusion of the sport and the closeness of the community. Climbing has always been amazing to me in that way – that you can truly climb alongside and even with your heroes – and some of the best athletes in the world.
It’s worth noting the names at the competition – the few that I know were there – people like Tony Yaniro, whose ascents I’d read about in magazine articles and watched on Masters of Stone and whose handholds we climbed on back at home in our garage gyms (and still today). And Christian Griffith, whose clothing was quickly taking over the sport climbing scene and whose “strong” personality were only matched by his cranking on the cliffs surrounding Boulder. There was Kevin Branford, one of the younger climbers, at the time who was quickly rising through the ranks of competitive climbing – both myself and my brother Adam would climb/compete with him later.
Along side me at this event was Eric Arntzen, who managed the Summit Climbing Gym in OKC – my local hangout. Also was Terry Andrews, who lived just a couple of blocks away from my (Mom’s) house in Norman, OK. We’d go over to Terry’s house about 3 times a week to climb in his modified garage with his cutout ceiling that extended into his attic. We’ll never know how much he decreased his property value by cutting into his attic to build out his climbing wall, but we’re sure grateful for it.
After climbing, I sat there on the ground in the midst of all of those climbers in the BRC, among the spectators, climbers, friends, and family members, with my 8mm video cassette video tape recorder – one that I’d received for high school graduation in the hopes of one day becoming a filmmaker (I suppose). And I captured the moment.
Until now I hadn’t gone back through the tape and realized what I’d captured here: the essence of competitive climbing in the yer 1993. The gym scene. The style of competitive climbing. The personalities. The handholds. And most of all, a friend and climbing mentor who we all still dearly miss. Back in these days there were not many climbing gyms around. There were even fewer handhold companies. So the gyms really were the driving force behind climbing competitions and the Tour de Pump was one of the most notable. Routes tended to be very direct hard-pulling affairs with stout cruxes and not a lot of “creative” movement. Competitions were almost entirely “onsight” and rope style comps rather than bouldering.
It’s nice to be able to share these long lost captured moments with those that knew and loved Russell. I’m sure there are more than a few of us out there that still recall how Russell climbed: steady, determined, strong, stylish, and graceful.
(Note: I have more tape and hope to digitize more. Just after capturing this my Sony Video 8 recorder/player deck started acting up – I bought a head-cleaner tape in the hopes that will remedy the situation. As soon as I get it fixed I will transfer and upload some more footage.)