The Evolution of an Enterprise story
& photos by Aaron Wilcher
Front Range Aaron (FRA)
the hillsides and flatlands of the Gotham City of the mountain underworld,
Boulderado, for the minutiae and noir of bouldering triumphs and defeats,
Front Range Aaron seeks out the bold, the fear(feck)less, and the mediocre.
Part reporting, part personal essay, FRA pulls hard copy each week in
another turbulent episode set in the sporting wonderland. Interviews,
rants, editorials, and the naked truth of journalism, FRA leaves no
of the Darkness: John Dunn, one of the original developers of the
Barrio traverse, negotiates its upper-crux, about fifty feet up
the ramp. A fall here could mean a trip over the narrow ledge off
a forty-foot cliff.
Barrio is ugly. It is infuriating, frustrating, and mesmerizing. It is
beautiful, or is it? While many regard this Boulder Canyon climbing area
as a manufactured, crumbly choss pile, others call it a crucial part of
their experience and development as climbers. Regardless of one's opinion
of the place, it stands, without question, as a place that tells an important
story about the development of the Boulder and Colorado climbing scenes
in the last fifteen years. Parking
off of a long curve about four miles before Nederland in the canyon, you
reach the Barrio traverse by a short walk just off the road, jumping over
the guardrail to reach the access trail. Adjacent to the road, chalk peeks
out from behind the trees, just behind a short landing at the base of
the Checkerboard Wall.
At ten o'clock on a fall morning, just when the sun rises
over the mountain, the route appears from inside a dark cave, and follows
a long ramp up onto a ledge into the light. The lines top out more than
one hundred feet to the right of the start, and gain about fifty feet
in elevation along the way. Many five-hard, V-hard Boulder locals regard
it as a rite of passage. Climbers on road trips to Boulder have made it
part of their must-do checklist. For more than a decade, those who have
tested themselves here have considered the traverse as a major test piece
and an imperative training ground for the overhanging sport routes in
Still, others wouldn't dare venture outside a code of conduct that prohibits
association with something that has such a "tawdry history,"
as Matt Samet, Editor of Rock & Ice and one of the areas founders,
puts it. Its critics dismiss it as too unnatural, too manufactured, too
close to the road. It is ethical barbarism, they charge. Who would want
such an industrial experience, they scoff. Can we dismiss the Barrio so
easily? Or, do the purveyors of the route have a claim to its legitimacy?
The Barrio's visual power is seductive. The two lines that comprise the
traverse walk the first of many tightropes: is this a route or a bouldering
problem? Standing in front of the climb, it is an almost entirely upside
down solid 5.13/14, V8-11 that stares you down in its entirety all at
once. In an interview with Front Range Bouldering, Samet said that his
"Matt's Little Gay Link-Up (MLGL)," at the Barrio, which incorporates
the high and low traverse, "might be the hardest thing I've done."
After a whole summer working on it in 1999, Samet finally connected the
loop. He gave it a route grade of 14b, "maybe harder."
Another early developer, John Dunn, a longtime Boulder resident and a
prominent local figure in the climbing community, having put up many hard
boulder problems and 5.13s in Rifle, walked me through the moves on the
lower line. Even for those who have spent years on the traverse, memorizing
each miniscule, grotesque feature-a little pocket for a toe, a fold for
a pinch-the climb is never routine. Though many of the holds are positive
jugs, the distance of gymnastic moves and the strategy required to do
them requires brute strength and physical and mental commitment to remember
dozens of foot placements, variations, and with which hand to cross over
to multiple choice hand sequences.
allegedly chiseled the hold in the second photo more than ten years
ago. (Rumor has it that he also allegedly chiseled a few other holds
up the ramp for variations that are rarely done.) Without the little
edge, the hold becomes an impossible sloper. The first crux is two
moves away, a long move to a bad sloper.
comprise the first crux on the lower line, which is given a rating of
V9 or 5.13 b/c. From the small edge, there is a reachy gaston to the right,
followed by a throw to a bad sloper. Another long move takes you out of
the first crux to a system of horns, some big and positive, others requiring
sidepull crimps. As you move higher, the broken rock underneath offers
a backbreaking landing. Further up, just before the start of the second
crux, a hole in the ledge gives way to a scary forty-foot vertical cliff
directly underneath the line of climbing.
The ledge is narrow all the way up the ramp, and where the ground is flat
in the cave, the first crux marks the beginning of the uphill battle,
where the ramp gains altitude and the two lines grow close, at one point
sharing the same good holds. The high traverse, "Choss Boss,"
also known as "Love Street," is perhaps one route letter easier,
still called V9 or 5.13 b, but it follows a higher line nearer the cliff's
edge, carrying with it the potential for pitching off onto the approach
trail down by the road.
of the whole Barrio slot
founding and development of the Barrio took place in the early 1990s,
part of the rise of indoor climbing and sport bolting, the maturation
of bouldering as a sport, and the continued popularization of climbing
in general. In the Boulder area, the group that made the Barrio what it
is today was part and parcel of this shift. As Dunn said, "We were
hiking around a lot in those days, trying to find stuff to put up."
Samet backed that up. Referring to first ascents, he said, "There
was still a lot to be done back then."
A small group of tight-knit climbers participated in the development of
the Barrio, after a Hungarian climber, Robert Bodrigi, a former competitive
kayaker, brought news of it to the Colorado Athletic Training School (CATS),
to this day owned and operated by Rob Candelaria. For those who accepted
indoor climbing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, CATS, then not dwarfed
by other gyms in Boulder like the Spot and the Boulder Rock Club, was
the main gathering place for the climbing community in Boulder.
Bodrigi, whose blond mane marked him as a figure in the Boulder climbing
world, lived for a time at CATS. His future vision of the base of the
Checkerboard Wall, "his brilliance that he could see the climbing
underground," as Mike Brooks remarked, sparked others' interest in
developing the place. Soon a number of climbers, many of whom may or may
not have actually participated in certain aspects of the development,
teamed up to removed foliage and dirt from the cave and ramp, making the
cliff band into something climbable. Caught in the milieu were Chris Hill,
John Dunn, Robert Bodrigi, Paul Glover, Kevin Meyers, Jason Beausoleil,
Charlie Bentley, Pete Zoller, and Matt Samet. Who did the digging is up
for speculation. But that was only the beginning.
Brooks, another prominent first ascentionist, who formed part of the community
that was developing areas in the region heavily at the time, is one who
regards the Barrio as "a sign of the times." Dunn and Glover,
the principle founders and developers of the Ghetto, a popular Flatirons
bouldering area founded in 1990, also played important roles in developing
the Barrio. Unlike the tension of some issues of the development of climbing
areas-chipping, bolting, trail building, gluing on holds-much of the controversy
with these areas doesn't deal with what has been added. Instead, to make
these areas climbable, what was at issue was what had to be removed. The
development of the Barrio not only required getting plants and dirt out
of the way, but the loose, chossy rock had to be excavated. What appear
to be grossly manufactured holds, chiseled to the point of resembling
molded plastic, are really places where fractured, loose rock had simply
been taken off of the wall.
do acknowledge the controversy in the ethics of its construction, those
who know the Barrio best stand almost entirely behind the experience
the Barrio offers. It is a place to train for Rifle. It is a place to
get a major workout and to test yourself. It is a place to go and get
a pump without having to go to the gym. Its name, also connecting it
to the development of the Ghetto, the Gutter, and the Compound, is derived
from its manufactured qualities. "Everybody was listening to NWA
and gangsta rap back then," said Samet. "This isn't a pristine
"It's inevitable," Dunn agreed. "At some point in your
climbing career, you're going to grab a manufactured hold . . . . The
Barrio is not out of the city. The effort itself takes the beauty out
of it. "
But Samet and Dunn's comments missed some crucial ethical points that
their discussions about the ethics of movement of the lines on the wall
recovered. What is, in fact, the meaning of these words "manufacture"
and "nature"? Was the Barrio really so far inside the city?
Did the more heavily-glued lower line really make it less "natural"?
The Barrio had another story to tell about the ethics of climbing development,
and about what is "natural."
Barrio excavation project was a major undertaking. Bags upon bags of
dirt, probably silt runoff from the ramp, along with the foliage that
grew there, were removed. In many different stages, the choss was wiggled
out and broken off, creating hand and foot holds. The process of removing
the fragmented rock dwindled significantly once the area was made climbable,
but it still occurs to this day. Holds occasionally break off. Some
have been removed for safety reasons. At one point, much later, Dunn
and Glover brought in an immense wedging tool to break off a creaky
flake high up the ramp that Dunn said, "was going to kill somebody."
Removing the flake produced a heel hook rail that made the section easier.
This and other removals brought the original route grade of the high
line down from V10 to V9.
Not one of these prominent climbers who developed the place, however,
would go so far as to say that the removal was anything more than what
would have happened had they just graduated the place to public knowledge,
telling other climbers to go up there to check it out. The holds that
were removed would have hazardously broke off, several of the founders
defended. Their regard of the Barrio's "manufacture" reverses
a standard line of ethical criticism in climbing, where more alteration
equates to more infraction. Like the act of mapmaking, without human
modification of this place, physically and conceptually, the mountainside
would have remained a crumbly unusable undercut.
As anyone who has seen the Barrio knows, its production was not all
reductive, however. As the project evolved, the group of founders must
have been getting excited about what their labor was turning into. (Whether
or not they knew what it would look like when it was done is unclear.)
The person who forms the focal point of the way stories are told about
the place began to follow up the removal of rock with epoxy reinforcement.
This was Kevin Meyers, whose fellow Barrio developers recount him in
strange, almost mythical terms.
At the height of the Boulder Canyon bolting controversies, Meyers began
reinforcing the exposed shelving, slots, and flakes with epoxy resin.
The total initial reinforcement saw Meyers put up between eleven and
twelve cans of epoxy, with later removals and broken holds requiring
more. Meyers did the gluing, legendarily, in the middle of the night
by lantern. Accounts vary, but some speculate that Meyers did the gluing
clandestinely to elude land management authorities, police, or perhaps
other militant climbers who clung to an ethic of no human intervention,
no trace of climbers' presence left behind.
Myers' project; the Barrio cave by night
of the glue
Meyers felt threatened by these groups, preventing work in daylight
hours, the time spent alone in the Barrio slot would have suited his
personality. He was "retreating," as Samet described him.
"[Meyers often] wore a black sweatshirt pulled up over his head,"
he said. Several of Meyers' longtime climbing partners suggest that
he may have suffered from social anxiety or depression, severe enough
that in recent years he cut off contact with many of his closest friends.
John Dunn regarded this behavior as a worsening of Meyers' notorious
reliability. "You'd be waiting hours and hours for the guy to show
up [to go climbing]. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn't,"
While some suggested Meyers' disappearance was the result of a diagnosable
mental illness, one of his close friends, another Barrio developer,
Paul Glover, denied the speculation. "He had social issues. He
"You wouldn't know something was wrong with him until you had a
problem with him. Then he'd just disappear. He wouldn't call you back,"
As I tried to track down Meyers-unsuccessfully in the end-the Boulder
Barrio crew was at a loss to pinpoint his whereabouts. An Eldorado Springs
resident was the last of a first degree of separation to see Kevin.
Brooks said that Meyers had last been seen living in his car in Longmont.
"Going on a crusade," said Jason Beausoleil, another climbing
partner. "That sounds like Kevin." The climber who had spent
the better part of fifteen years climbing regularly with his friends
had simply vanished.
Meyers' role in the development of the Barrio is important in the discussion
of its viability, its claim to legitimacy. While a certain contingent
of the climbing, environmental, and land use management communities
will regard a discussion of the Barrio's ethics as splitting hairs,
as the recent issue of Rock and Ice, the "Ethics Issue," suggests,
the meat of the debate on development practice is often in its details.
"Before we get started, I want to make one thing clear," said
Paul Glover. "I didn't have anything to do with it," alluding
to the physical changes of the Barrio's terrain. Mike Brooks, among
others, echoed Glover. Who would want their name on something that might
be glued up (even if it isn't). Not surprisingly, the accounts of who
had done the digging and removal of foliage proved conflicting. If there
was any pattern to accounts of who was responsible, they pointed back
to Meyers and Bodrigi, not available for comment. Convenient scapegoats.
Instead, there was a sliding scale of admission. Some aspects of the
development were open for discussion. But others resulted in vagueness
and not naming names. With the highest prestige value, however, my informants
referred freely to their development of beta, how the moves went, who
did them first, what was on and off. Perhaps they didn't want to admit
to breaking off stone, bagging up dirt, and removing living foliage.
Perhaps they would rather talk about the prestige of sending the route
and its variations over wielding a shovel. Perhaps their memory of ten
years ago is hazy. All are possibilities. But some questions remain.
Could Kevin Meyers and Robert Bodrigi have single-handedly made the
Barrio what it is today? Or did Meyers have help gluing? Did Bodrigi
have help digging?
The developers I talked to who were there at the Barrio's inception-John
Dunn, Paul Glover, Jason Beausoleil -all made one ethical point clear,
however. If Meyers did all the gluing, as they say he did, he did so
only out of fear that the holds would break off, that the Barrio traverse
would eventually mete an unclimbable fate if the choss were left alone.
They were adamant in this point: Meyers' ethics would never permit him
to cross the line of taking rocks, from the ground or anywhere else,
to glue up onto the wall.
In this respect, these three developers, along with Matt Samet, concurred
that the Barrio is "natural." The glue was used exclusively
as reinforcement, a support system for safety and preservation, a way
to sustain what was already there, what just needed uncovering. Without
the epoxy, the Barrio ceases to exist. It turns into a wasteland of
choss, once slated for human recreation, but left without care. It would
be like a building development that goes bankrupt before opening day
that sits vacant, waiting for investors and renters.
For this reason, Meyers, if he is in fact solely responsible for the
epoxy reinforcement, is the central figure in the Barrio's history.
Bodrigi may have found it. Pete Zoller and Matt Samet may have sent
the first crucial line. But without the glue, there is no Barrio. (What
does a first ascent mean anyway, if there is no naming of those who
helped develop an area, finding it, contributing beta, and digging it
out?) It becomes markedly more dangerous and less climbable because
of broken holds. Wouldn't a line that is constantly deteriorating, in
fact, invite the kind of gluing Meyers refuses to do, the kind that
altered the climb from its original state?
Calling the Barrio, then, "industrial," "contrived,"
and "manufactured" as a means of dismissing it misses the
finer points of its construction. Instead of disregarding ethics and
a regard for nature, the developers of the Barrio firmly embraced and
revised these concepts, albeit with a maverick attitude. As an example,
John Dunn recalled vividly the extreme militancy of Paul Glover and
Kevin Meyers' methods for climbing the lines up the traverse. (In this
sense, human movement is inseparable from a concept of the land.) The
low shelves were off. Certain heel hooks were off. The high knee bar
was off. All were offenses punishable by verbal abuse. As a testament
to his dedication, values, and ethics, nine years after his nighttime
gluing sessions, Kevin Meyers, who at his best redpointed 5.13b on sport,
was still trying to send the Barrio Traverse. Two years ago he finally
first thought that Dunn's criticisms of how others climb the traverse
was off-putting, an arrogant claim to entitlement. But I realized that
the insistence of the ethics of the moves, the importance of how the
traverse is done, is a claim to the legitimacy of how the Barrio was
found, dug out, and put together. That it is a pile of reinforced choss
does not make it unworthy of critical attention to how it is climbed.
When John Dunn shuns how people start thirty feet to the right of the
sit start on a gigantic shelf and how they use the jugs for feet, his
elitism is not about his superior, personal say so. It is about defending
the place he and his colleagues founded. This is no choss pile we can
throw away because of its glue. It is a vital piece of human terrain
worth preserving. Even if Kevin Meyers' contact info has vanished from
his friends' telephone books, his climb is still on the maps of its
founders and other climbers around the country. It is a crucial Boulder
testpiece that should continue to challenge generations of climbers
. . . as long as the epoxy holds.