Climbing filmmaker Pat Ament's ode to mentor John Gill: Gill Through the Ages
Rock climbing legend Pat Ament began bouldering and free-climbing near Boulder in 1958 when he was a student and gymnast at the University of Colorado, and spent his formative years learning from the best of the best. His relationship with mentor John Gill helped shape his own career not only as a climber, but also as a writer and filmmaker: Ament's 1977 biography John Gill: Master of Rock (an updated edition was published in 1998) is one of the classics of climbing literature, and his 2009 film The Disciples of Gill helped demonstrate just how far his mentor's influence has spread throughout the sport, reaching many of today's top climbers. Both Gill and Ament will be signing autographs and talking about the past, present and future of the sport for the local premiere of Ament's new film, Gill Across Time. tonight at 8 p.m. at Neptune Mountaineering, 633 South Broadway in Boulder. We caught up with Ament by phone at his home in Fruita for a bit of "back in the day" banter and to learn more about the new film.
Photo courtesy Pat Ament Climbing pioneer John Gill floats up 'the Scab' in the Needles of South Dakota.
Westword: This is your second film on John Gill and his legacy in climbing. How does it add to what you accomplished with The Disciples of Gill?
Pat Ament: It's actually my third film about Gill! I made another little 16mm film years ago, a little tiny short thing, but I still had all this old footage, and I wanted to do something bigger with it because I realized I was one of the only people who had any footage of John Gill. When I put together The Disciples of Gill, it was such a joy to go back and look at those old film reels, and the film was very well received by the climbing community as I toured across the country with it. Well, a year went by, and I still had so much more material and so many things that I wanted to talk about that I decided to made another film. Sort of like The Godfather Part II, you know?
The new film is called Gill Across Time. He was born in 1937 and had been a competitive speed rope climber at the University of Georgia Tech in his early days, in the late '50s. He could climb to the top of a gym in 3.8 seconds, which is faster than you can pull a rope through your hands if you're just standing there -- I mean, you just can't even pull a rope through your hands that fast. In his day, he was also the world's greatest boulderer, just absolutely phenomenal. He could do one-finger pullups on any one of his first two fingers on either hand, and he invented a thing called a one-arm front lever where he makes his body horizontal while he's hanging with one arm -- just an amazing feat, and it made it possible for him to climb routes that nobody else could even comprehend at the time. That combination of tremendous strength and balance helped him see possibility in some of the wildest places. He really shaped the sport of climbing because of it.
Photo courtesy Pat Ament John Gill demonstates one-arm front-lever technique in an archival photo.