The first clips for Pat Ament’s latest project were shot nearly 40 years ago on black-and-white, 16mm film.
Those black-and-white scenes capture the pioneers of the sport of bouldering — most notably John Gill — honing their craft of climbing very difficult but short routes without ropes on boulders and crags near Boulder, Estes Park, Pueblo and elsewhere in the 1970s.
What: “The Disciples of Gill”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Neptune Mountaineering, 633 S. Broadway, Boulder
“People have been bugging me for years, (saying), ‘You have this valuable footage, why don’t you digitize it before it goes bad?'” Ament said. “Here we had the best boulderer in the world, and no one had made a film of him.”
So Ament, Gill’s friend and biographer, decided to build a film around this old footage. “The Disciples of Gill” premieres at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Neptune Mountaineering.
“When I first started bouldering in the early 1950s, I immediately saw its potential as a kind of gymnastics on the rock,” Gill said by e-mail. “It astounded me that most climbers saw it only as a trivial divertissement, suitable for rest days from ‘real’ climbs.”
“It was Gill who really began to introduce bouldering as an art in his own right,” Ament said.
Ament and Gill met in 1968, not long after Gill moved to Fort Collins. Ament, a Boulder resident since 1958, had heard about Gill’s bold, unroped ascent of the Thimble in the Needles in South Dakota and decided to call him. He was surprised to learn that Gill had heard about his bouldering exploits on Flagstaff Mountain. Both were gymnasts and took a similar approach to bouldering.
They’ve been friends ever since.
Gill said he’s glad Ament has preserved footage of his friends’ accomplishments, like the clips from a 1970s film of Ament’s of bouldering pioneer Jim Holloway that have been digitized for the new film.
“The film concentrated on my skills as a boulderer, but I told Pat that, more importantly, there was wonderful footage of Jim Holloway that modern climbers would find intriguing,” Gill said. “Some climbers today have a hard time accepting that someone like Holloway did the things he did so long ago.”
One bouldering problem of Holloway’s on Flagstaff Mountain, Trice, went unrepeated for 30 years.
Unlike modern boulderers, Gill, Ament, Holloway and others climbed without the benefit of sticky-rubber soled climbing shoes, or crash pads to land on if they pitched off a climb.
Ament believes that almost every climber now could be considered a disciple of Gill — he changed the way people thought about training, climbing and even a seemingly small innovation of his, using gymnastic chalk, is virtually ubiquitous among modern climbers.
“Really, it was simply that he set a standard,” Gary Neptune said of Gill. “It was really beyond what anybody was doing. And he pursued bouldering as a thing in itself.”
Neptune has shown Ament’s films at his shop before and said he’s happy to show this one. He likes to introduce a little bit of history into shows at his store, and this film is rich with climbing history.
“If you’re a boulderer, it would make your sport a little richer just to know about this,” Neptune said.
Ament said he wanted to celebrate this historical footage but also create a personal portrait of the climbers and show where they are now.
“It’s kind of a study of the passage of time,” Ament said.
Gill lives in Pueblo and had to stop bouldering after injuring his arm.
Ament lives in Fruita now and still climbs, but not as hard as he did in his youth. While filming a sequence in which he talks about how he handles bouldering in his older age, he took a nasty fall when the rock sheared away under his hand. Ament is still recovering from the injury to his leg.
The fall is recorded in the film — it’s part of the larger story.
“It’s historical, and biographical and autobiographical,” Ament said.