name is Lester LeBlanc.
not really. I used that name back in 1988 when I wrote A Climber’s Guide to Popular Manhattan Boulder Problems. I
used the name because I couldn't stop thinking that some hapless climber would attempt to solo one of the routes
at Belvedere Castle and rescue workers, police or park rangers would find a copy of my guide in his back pocket as he
lay dead and bleeding. My cunning plan was that the authorities, as they say, would come for Lester LeBlanc
and not me.
It hasn’t happened yet, but let me reiterate, I’m
not responsible for any actions, legal or otherwise by any climber in New York City.
Okay. Now that we got that out of the
way, let’s get down to it.
mostly written during a two week long heat wave in the summer of 1988.
there were no indoor climbing walls. The first American
5.14 was still two years off. The only boulder rating system
was the John Gill B scale. Rap-bolting was considered by
most American climbers to be the ethical death of the sport. Climbing still had a few years to enjoy itself
as a fringe sport before being dragged into the mainstream by indoor walls, sport climbing, competitions and ESPN.
was not the first person who thought about writing such a guide. When
I first entered the climbing scene in New York, I talked to half a dozen people who had planned to write a guide for the city. A year later, the guide remained unwritten. I
resolved to take on the task myself. When the heat and
humidity of August descended, I spent several weekends in the air-conditioned offices of the film restoration lab where
I worked, typing all the pages. Then I spent the next three
hot, sticky days roaming the parks of New York with my Nikon FM.
How did I come by all this arcane knowledge
of small schist outcroppings in Manhattan? To answer that question properly we need to flash back to 1986.
Dumped by my college sweetheart, I had become increasingly fascinated with the prospect of living my life on an icy ledge
23,000 feet above sea level. I had seen an Everest documentary
about Chris Bonnington’s successful expedition up the southwest face and I was subsequently and totally hooked. But where to start on my adventure to the roof of the world?
As they say in the movie business … CUT TO: Central Park. One
A pair of Fires, a chalk bag and some painter’s pants
and I was suddenly a “climber.” Although I began my scrambling at Vista Rock beneath the picturesque
Belvedere Castle, I soon realized that the squat boulder adjacent to the children’s playground in the southeast corner
of Central Park was where the real climbers practiced their craft. These
had to be real climbers, I thought, because they climbed no more than three or four moves in a row and the rest of the time
they sat, smoked cigarettes and stared at the rock.
I stayed away from that scene as long as possible.
Eventually, curiousity and desire overwhelmed my reluctance . Also,
I had exhausted all the decent, safe bouldering at Vista and was faced with lousy landings if I was going to get onto anything
That is how I became a Rat Rocketeer.
What followed was five wonderful years of urban cragging with a growing roster of local climbers. Through the intensity, passion and talent of individuals such as Koma, Yuki,
Jeff Dahlgren, John Blumenthal, Chris Gonzalez, Jean DeLataillade and many others, Central Park evolved from an arcane, somewhat
sleepy bouldering area into a true proving ground with standards being pushed higher almost every month. It was this energy that opened up the future. Problems
that were previously viewed as impossible were attempted ... and climbed. It
started with the desire to reestablish the old Rat Rock testpiece, “5.11 Direct” (which quickly was turned into
a 5.12 testpiece). From there, it moved to the steep, blank
middle face of Cat Rock, and everything previously ignored or dismissed at Rat Rock.
This was the era that produced Rat Patrol, Koma’s Roof,
Bottom Line, Exterminator, Private Angel, Elias and The Dawg.
Over these five years, my fingers grew strong at Rat Rock and my brain refused to forget all the endless
eliminates and variations. I thought to myself, Yuki won't always be here to show people the great old problems.
Someone needs to finally write that guide. (Could have saved myself all this trouble had I known that Yuki would still
be climbing at Rat Rock 15 years later!)
*Yuki has since gone back to his family
in Japan, leaving Rat Rock without its sensei. And without a living, oral history and guidebook. Anyone who had
a chance to climb and talk with Yuki while he was living, working and climbing in New York should consider themselves lucky.
Around the same time, Ralph Eerenzo and I sat in
front of Rat Rock and dreamed up something called the City Climbers Club so that we could get the Park Enforcement officers
off our backs once and for all. I became a member of the
Rat Rock family and grew to value the reception of friendly, familiar faces that greeted me on every arrival.
Climbing opened up a whole new world to me and the boulders
in Central Park became my new home.
of 1988, Kevin Bein and Fritz Weissner died. Climbing had given me so much in so short a period of time. I wanted to give something back.
And fifteen years later, so much has
changed. But those gnarly little boulders are still there. And I remember them with great fondness and appreciation. Those
gnarly little boulders gave me (a young, callow urban lad) a sense of outdoor adventure and provided me
with my first intoxicating taste of climbing. And so, this guide is dedicated to all the climbers of New
York City who have invested the time in discovering the pleasures of Central Park bouldering.
August 14, 2003 Pasadena, CA