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Alan Watts Talks About Birth of Sport Climbing

Alan Watts talks about the birth of sport climbing at Oregon’s iconic Smith Rock State Park in the video below.

Alan Watts during the first attempt of Watts Totts 5.12b in 1982

In the mid-1980s Smith Rock was on many climber’s minds. Climbers wearing lycra travelled from around the world to the coming-of-age bolted routes mostly bolted by Watts.

He first arrived in Smith Rock in 1975 and spent the next 10 years pushing his limits.

In an extensive 2009 interview, Watts told Nicholas Hobley about how development got started: “When I got into climbing at Smith Rock, it wasn’t unlike any other local, unknown crag anywhere in the US.

“Almost every route was traditional and the few bolts on face climbs were almost all placed on lead. With the 1979 standards at 5.11b (at the same time Tony Yaniro did Grand Illusion) Smith was a long way below the highest level of the day.

“When I went to college at the University of Oregon in 1978, along with my high school friend Bill Ramsey, I met Chris Jones (the American boulderer) and Alan Lester. The four of us developed a friendly rivalry and we pushed each other.

“There’s a small top-rope crag right in downtown Eugene, Oregon and we did every imaginable variation. Chris Jones was a phenomenal bouldering talent, and trying to keep up with him was almost impossible. But we all got pretty good in the process. Chris and Bill did the first free ascent of Monkey Face in 1979, which was essentially a sport route (with some bolts placed on rappel and others on lead).

“By the time I quit college in 1980, the hardest route was Jones’ Rising Expectations 5.11d. It didn’t take long to repeat the 10 or so 5.11s at Smith, so soon I started looking at doing free ascents of aid routes. These dominated my efforts the early years, and most of these were traditional routes.

Matt Kleiner directed this short film Pioneering Smith Rock, which looks at the development of sport climbing.