Local Hero

Posted on: September 1, 2008

Over the past decade the diminutive former comp climber Beth Rodden has transformed herself into one of the world's preeminent trad climbers. It would be easy to assume that her El Cap free routes such as the Nose, Lurking Fear and El Corazon—or else the encouragement of her climbing partner and husband, Tommy Caldwell—helped Rodden establish Meltdown (5.14) on February 14, 2008. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that the inspiration for her new Yosemite route arrived from a little-known source much closer to the ground: Valley boulderer Randy Puro.

If you haven't heard of the Berkeley-based Puro, it's probably because he's more interested in going bouldering than in showing up on 8a.nu. Even so, in his search for intriguing problems he has done "a slew" of V12s, as well as a couple of V13s. Along the way he has refined his style to emphasize the aesthetics of creation. This fascination with process, combined with a love of deciphering sequences, ties back into his work as a software developer. "We do a lot of collaborative work," Puro says. "A couple of programmers sit down and try to solve a problem. It's the same with bouldering: a couple of boulderers get together and try to figure out a problem." So, in like fashion, one day this spring Rodden sat down with Puro to sort out why his climbing now resonates so much with her own.

I'D ALWAYS BEEN INTIMIDATED by boulderers. They seemed to resemble a pack of wolves, traveling only with their own group, moving from problem to problem, slowly dispensing with each one like a kill. I used to think they rarely allowed an outsider in. However, in the autumn of 2007, Randy Puro and the Bay Area crew changed this stereotype for me forever.

Yosemite's bouldering is as proud as its soaring granite walls: the problems are big, beautiful—and they stay with you. Though some of the oldest classics like Midnight Lightning and Thriller rank among the best in the world, the potential is largely untapped—and a dedicated few wander the woods finding gems that have been waiting for millennia.

Last autumn, I kept hearing whispers of Puro's recent accomplishments. Usually it was some desperate sloping arete with no visible holds, just white chalk dotting its way up blank granite. I knew that Tommy had bouldered a bit with Randy—but Tommy boulders hard. Someone like Randy would surely laugh at a beginning boulderer like me.

Instead he smiled from ear to ear. And when he did laugh, it was the kind of laughter that disperses all tension and competitiveness. Randy immediately included me in his pack of friends. Constantly brushing holds and moving pads, he waited for hours while I projected his warm-ups. I never saw him appear cocky. When someone else sent a problem, he'd exude much more excitement about their success than about his own.

But to me the highlight of a day with Randy was watching him climb. He wasn't at all like many top climbers who take themselves too seriously. Whenever he fell on a problem, instead of profanity and anger, his laughter echoed throughout the boulders. Using opposition, balance and pure genius, he unlocked complicated sequences that changed my perspective of the possible. Those close to him know he is the master of Yosemite granite—move for move, the best climber in the Valley. But compared to numerous people who come to Yosemite to preach ethics or to make a name for themselves, his quiet, understated demeanor blends into the landscape like the fresh spring air.

Randy often drives four hours from Berkeley, climbs twelve hours during the daylight, continues into the night by lantern and headlamp, then drives back home, all in a single push—a routine that makes most of our wall days seem minimal by comparison. A day after bouldering with him, I feel as worked as if I'd just done a one-day ascent of El Cap. And when I'd normally take a lazy rest day in the Meadow, Randy is out in the forest finding new problems.

After a few months with Randy, I was able to complete my hardest climb to date, Meltdown. From him I'd learned that throwing myself at three simple but frustrating moves for days upon end could actually be exciting. Without that realization, I wouldn't have solved the crux.

Recently, he spent one of his rest days hiking to the top of El Cap with me. Unlike most hard-core boulderers, who would have worried that any exertion would ruin the next day for climbing, he simply relished the view. Exploring and just being in this majestic Valley are at the heart of his inspiration. While some Valley locals might see him as "merely a boulderer," Randy embodies the Yosemite spirit better than anyone I know.

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