Thursday, June 7, 2012

New England Hardman

As originally appeared in Climberism mag issue 11:

Anyone who has spent enough time climbing in the Northeast has heard the list of climbers that seems to precede every guidebook entry. The names of Strand, Cote, and Barber are ubiquitous for their ascents of the hard granite of North Conway, while Smith, Graham, and Sprague lay claim to the realm of schist further south. But every climber who gets their name in a guidebook or their picture in a magazine, whether they know it or not, owes everything they have ever achieved to one man.

Now, in an Asshole Climbers-Climberism exclusive, we pull back the veil on the history of the most reclusive and enigmatic figure in Northeast climbing history: John Henry Barbchard.

Some say he was conceived one cold winter’s night when the Old Man of the Mountain had a bit too much to drink and got a little hands-y with the Black Dike. A few months later he emerged from his mother’s womb on a belay ledge midway up Whitney-Gilman. He took a moment to enjoy the view before soloing to the top. After a quick snack on blueberries, he rapped down on his umbilical cord and hitched a ride into town to get a beer.

During his misguided youth, he experimented with drugs, rock and roll, and sport climbing. After being expelled from grade school for excessive cursing and hitting on teachers, John Henry later went on to graduate from the School of Hard Rocks, a now defunct organization started by John Gill, a gecko and a Capuchin monkey with a drinking problem. His graduating GPA was 5.15.

He briefly flirted with bolting on rappel, but then quit sport climbing cold turkey after he sent both Jaws II and Jaws III, several years before Dave Graham got the FA of Jaws I. Too hardcore (and poor) to purchase his own trad rack, he fashioned his own pro out of springs from his mattress and an old car that was abandoned on the side of the Kancamangus.

While his only true love has always been the rock, John Henry had a brief fling with a human female and lost his virginity on a rainy day in Maine, while developing lines on a secluded, backwoods cliff. Throughout the day and into the night, his passion was split between making sweet love and putting up first ascents. As a result, we now know that area as Shagg Crag.

These days, he travels around the region in his beat-up old Ford Ranger looking for new routes to finish, sending your projects as warm-ups, running it out big time and making you feel inadequate.

Some Useful John Henry Barbchard Trivia:

  • He never wears tape gloves because they make his hands too soft.
  • He often free-solos because he claims the rock likes it better “when he doesn’t use protection.”
  • He was the first person to use the privy in the parking lot at Rumney - he took a leak against the outer wall.
  • He uses his palms to hammer in pitons and would clean them with his teeth, if he ever followed a pitch.
  • He did the first Hardman linkup of Cathedral, Whitehorse, and Cannon in a day... shoeless.
  • When he climbs in Maine, he doesn’t bring food. He just steals it from the Pine Martens.
  • He does not project routes. Routes project him.


  1. this is the stuff legends are made of.

  2. Great strides come from free soloing babies

  3. He is the most interesting man in the...

  4. Whoa! Good one. Some are really eccentric and I guess the solitude of the climb is what they need. LOL! Anyway, I'm new to climbing and still finding my way. But very appreciative of the antics of this old gentleman. Someone should gift him with ice gloves for crying out loud -