I’m originally from Maryville, TN, which is about two hours east of where I currently live, Chattanooga. I began climbing when I was around 16 (nine years ago) on my high school climbing team. From there I started my obsession and began formulating trips down to Chattanooga almost every weekend. Chatt. holds some of the best rock in the country and I feel very fortunate to have it all so close to home. A few years later I packed it up and made the move to Chattanooga and began working/route setting over at the Tennessee Bouldering Authority (I still work there now). I really love the vibe of that place and it has always been somewhat of a “climbers gym” —a dojo type atmosphere where everyone comes to train and hang out. I’ve spent many years there training and getting ready for small trips planned around the U.S. For most of my climbing career I have been mainly focused on bouldering. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to complete the most difficult moves on the worst holds possible. Although, over the past several years I’ve been indulging in a little sport climbing. I have the Red River Gorge only fours hours from my home so it would be idiotic not to take advantage of that. Things are getting better and better as a rock climber these days and I have to give a huge thanks to my sponsors Prana, Organic Crash Pads, Five Ten, Metolius & Sterling Rope. Without them it would be impossible for me to do what I do.
What made you decide to come check out the Northeast?
JW: Well, I’ve always been interested in climbing in the Northeast but just haven’t had the time to make a trip. Ever since I first starting seeing videos of the area I knew that it would be some of the most amazing climbing. So in December I made a last minute decision to do the Dark Horse competition over at MetroRock in Boston. Those guys were kind enough to pick up my plane ticket so I decided to take that extra money I didn’t spend and stay for 10 days to sample the stone. I stayed with a good buddy of mine, Josh Larson. He’s the head route setter at MetroRock and knew all the beta for getting outside. Unfortunately, he was stuck inside the week prior to the Dark Horse setting but let Kasia and I take his car. Thanks man!
How did you decide to get on Roses and Blue Jays and how did you prepare for it?
JW: For me, I really enjoy the added pressure of trying to flash hard boulders, and ever since I first saw video of Roses (three years prior) I knew that it would be a good candidate for a flash attempt. Before I left for my trip there I didn’t really have too many expectations. I had just spent a good month or so in the RRG sport climbing and didn’t really think I had what it took to flash the boulder. This didn’t turn me away from trying though. So before I left for my trip I spent some time studying video and recognizing the different methods. Then after discussing some beta with a couple friends I had my method. All I had to do then was be confident on my beta and climb it perfectly.
What were you thinking about when you were sitting at the base of the boulder?
JW: When I sat down under the boulder and was chalking up I actually got quite nervous. I noticed my hands were shaking and I wasn’t calm at all. Yet before I decided to pull off the ground I took a step back mentally and decided that it was no big deal. I was sitting under one of the most amazing boulder problems on one of the most gorgeous days and had to put into perspective where I was and what I was doing. I had no complaints and I was really psyched to just be there. So that thought went through my head, I took a deep breathe and released all the stress I had built up. I pulled off the ground and felt weightless. It was a freak moment and all the stars aligned perfectly..
What was going through your mind when your were at the crux and moving through it?
JW: I don’t even know honestly. I was setting up for the jump to the lip and just tried really hard to focus on hitting the hold right. It’s one of those moves that you could miss by a centimeter and fall.
When you flash or onsight a problem and are standing at the top, do you have a sense of relief or do you immediately think about your next objective?
JW: Usually I go through both emotions. Instantly I am in relief, not believing what just happened and how lucky I was to put it together. Then I go through a phase where I’m looking forward, realizing what is possible and wanting to step it up a notch. Is it personally possible to flash V14?? Who knows… but I am psyched to give it a try.
Where did you go when you were on your trip here and how long were you NE?
JW: I was just in town for 10 days and it wasn’t possible to climb all those days due to the weather. I did get to sample some nice areas like Bradley, Rumney, Pawtuckaway and Barrington, obviously. The areas can be a bit spread out but they make up for it in the quality of rock.
Any plans on making another visit in the near future?
JW: Actually yea, I only got to spend only one miserably cold day at Rumney and I was really impressed with the Waimea wall. So in April I think I might go back and have a look at those routes.
Did you miss out on any problems or leave any unfinished because of time?
JW: I only got 20 minutes or so to try The Fly, so that would be the main thing to go back for.
What was your favorite?
JW: Roses and Blue Jays for sure. It’s simply just one of the most amazing boulders I have ever seen.
What kind of advice would you give someone trying to give there project or a hard boulder problem a flash attempt?
JW: Study up on your beta and go for it with confidence. It comes down to this perfect concoction of emotions where you have to be psyched but not too anxious. It also comes down to weather, skin, how you feel etc, etc. It’s hard to know exactly when to try and the only thing you can do is put yourself in the best position possible to do the route or boulder. Just release your expectations and give it your all.
What are you up to now and what are your travel plans? Any other problems you’re focused on?
JW: Right now I’m back in Chattanooga training. The weather isn’t doing so well right now but next week is looking perfect so there are a few local projects here I have my eyes on. Other then that I’ll be heading back to Arkansas to try my luck on Witness the Fitness. Then another couple weeks of training and it’s off to Switzerland! Never been and the list goes on and on. Just name it and I want to try it. Cannot wait.
I can imagine being in the spotlight or always having to keep your psych up can play a toll. How do you deal with staying so psyched and continue to stay strong?
JW: You know, I have never really seen myself as “in the spotlight.” I’m a small-town climber and when it comes to the southeast we are so far outside of the “climbing bubble.” Everyone kind of has this “who gives a shit” attitude and I love it. I have always been very integrated in to the community here and the people will keep you in check. [laughs] When it comes to psyche it is pretty simple, the climbing here is incredible and there are projects around each and every corner. For me I just want to continue to improve and push my personal limits.
Have you been injured? How you deal with it/how do you stay strong?
JW: I’ve had my fair share of finger injuries. I am actually nursing a minor tweak in my A2 pulley right now. Just trying to stay on top of that by icing it daily followed by some finger exercises and light climbing. It’s hard not to push it when you’re injured because you feel as if you’re just getting weaker by the day. Though in the grand scheme of things it’s good to take small breaks. Minor injuries are your bodies way of telling you to chill out.
Think you’ll always be a climber or do you see yourself heading in some kind of “career” direction?
JW: Climbing is my life and I will always be a climber. We will just have to wait and see what the future brings.
Do you have any funny/scary road trip or travel stories?
JW: The most terrifying moment I’ve had in climbing is breaking that hold up in Upper Upper Chaos Canyon. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked down at my arm and saw that gash. [laughs] Looking back on it now I realize how lucky I was. One inch to the left or right could have held disastrous results.