Boston-based climber Josh Larson has been around the New England bouldering scene for many years. His local first ascents include Cat Daddy, a V11 at Farley, and Everything is Purple, a V11/12 at Rose Ledge (featured in the video at the end of the interview). Josh is currently the head coach for the MetroRock climbing team and is sponsored by Gramicci, 5.10, Organic, New England Ropes, and Zen Lizard.
Recently, Josh has taken a huge step forward with his own climbing having an amazing trip to Bishop in December and coming within a matched hold of winning the national championship at the ABS 16 National championship. NewEnglandBouldering.com caught up for this interview with Josh between sending and competing.
You had a great trip to Bishop in December, sending The Spectre and Buttermilker, both V13s. Tell us how the trip went and were these two problems your goals for the trip? Are these your first V13s?
The trip to Bishop was a great escape from plastic climbing and the smell of the gym since I got back to the states in October. In the fall, I try to get out as much as possible but when November/December rolls around it’s time to focus on some plastic training for ABS Nationals and comps. With the Bishop trip, I really wanted to focus on a hard project (I have a tendency to try hard things and move on, and then say I’ll return but find something else). We planned on being there for 12 days so I figured I could put all my time into a few hard lines. This trip to Bishop was my 2nd time there but my first was in 80 degree weather on a road trip passing through. That first trip I really didn’t get a good taste of the Buttermilks. I had to check out Spectre because it stood out to me the most. It’s a beautiful giant granite bloc with one way to the top and just enough bad holds to get there. The other bloc was The Buttermilker, sitting in a cave it stood out as a nice cold sunny day bloc. My friend and local climber from New England, Max Zolotukhin, was there and sprayed me down on The Buttermilker beta. After doing all the moves I rested and returned two days later for the send! It was actually my first V13/8B and it went quicker than I thought it might. After supporting, spotting, and watching Charlotte Durif finish off her first 8A on Xavier’s Roof it was time to check out Spectre.
I was actually a little nervous to go check it out, knowing that once I saw it, it would consume my time and energy until I had to leave or it was done. After day one on Spectre, I couldn’t do two of the moves, but I explored the top outs and chose the left one; taller than the right exit but I think more secure…I think. After figuring out the micro beta for the big left hand latch and then the release during the evening of day two, I took a rest day. I returned to Spectre on an early, very cold morning, warmed up on Seven Spanish Angels (amazing bloc) and headed to Spectre. My first go I fell on the left hand latch. My second go I stuck the latch, readjusted and released, and for the first time, held the swing, matched and took it to the top..whoa dude. That might have been the most memorable, emotional experience I’ve ever had climbing, maybe in life. But climbing is my life, maybe that’s why it makes sense to me, to keep climbing and pushing myself, regardless of anything.
You seem to be able to do well at both indoor comps and outdoor projects. How are you able to excel at these two very different aspects of bouldering? With comp route setting moving towards more “trick” moves on volumes do you think it will be harder to excel at both?
My training changes and adapts to the upcoming trips, comps and events I have planned on my organized, messy calendar. If there is a big comp that I care about, I focus on comp training in the gym 4-6 weeks leading up to it, rather than go outside (I still get out though). If I have an outdoor trip planned, I’ll try to get outside more and get that baby skin toughened up for the unforgiving yet to-die-for rock.
Preparing for “tricky” comp moves just comes with experiences, good and bad, they both push me to learn and train more. Slab loaded with volumes, gives a lot of competitors the heebie-jeebies when approached. I don’t mind them so much, but train flexibility and weird moves for slab (weird meaning "I hate the position I’m in right now"). You won’t like every boulder in a comp, but you’ll need to climb it, so prepare for it.
How did the ABS Nationals go for in your mind?
Each round of the competition felt great, I think I was in a really good rhythm. Once I left Isolation during the qualifier round, I removed everything around me, I only thought about the necessary things, no room for outside thoughts. I knew I could climb strong, I knew I could climb smart. I just needed to fully focus. Not the focus when you say to yourself "okay, focus now” but the type of focus that you have when you’re not even trying, when you let go of trying to control it and it just comes naturally. I was thinking about nothing but the boulders in front of me and the beta I will use for each move, I committed to those thoughts until I reached the top. I climbed through each round with confidence and energy until I reached the final round. Then I had to prepare to try my hardest to win. I knew it was anybody's game.
How are you taking the fact that you could have won the national title with that match on problem #4?
Ah yes, the match. I feel like I'll hear about this for a while, maybe until next year? I am handling it in two ways: first one that pops in my head is that I could have won if I matched, now I have to wait 1 year to redeem that match. (Vasya Vorotinikov texted me and said I should go to a hold matching clinic, thanks buddy...) People often come up to me (or random texts) saying “You were so close to being the champion bro! One match away man!” The other side of me is thinking that it’s pretty awesome to “almost” be National Champion. I was really happy with how I climbed and how I handled the pressure of National finals. I climbed calm, smart and tried as hard as I could. I’m very happy with the outcome. But yes, it would have been insane if I won.
Are you going to compete in the world cup?
This year the IFSC is hosting 5 Bouldering World Cups. I will be attending all of them thanks to one of my biggest sponsors Gramicci. With help from some other sponsors and possibly USA Climbing, I will attend all 5 WC this year fully covered. It was a goal of mine to make the team and be eligible for the WC circuit and to see the world through the eye of bouldering comps. I will head to France early April and boulder in Font and the Switzerland for a few weeks and then train in the south of France until the WC start end of May. They are in 1) Toronto, CAN 2) Vail CO USA 3) Chongquing, China 4) Haiyang, China and the last one 5) Munich, Germany. I’m really stoked to have the opportunity to attend the circuit and see what I’m capable of.
It seems that New England climbers have a long history of moving away to take their climbing to the next level (or world level in the case of Dave Graham). Do you plan on sticking around or do you feel like you need to move to reach the upper echelon of bouldering?
Whew, great question. Can I advance my climbing based here in Boston and travel to the best climbing areas in the world or do I move? I have been advancing for the last 5 years since I started climbing again. But really, my biggest gains have been in the last 2 years, since I started traveling more and saying “yes” to every travel and trip opportunity I get. So maybe seeing different areas, meeting different people and climbing more gets me psyched to be a better climber. Ever since I dropped what I was doing and went on a 100 day road trip with my best friends, I realized that this is it, I’m climbing and traveling until I can’t move anymore. I may be 29 but I don’t care at all, I’m living and breathing like I have no age. But yes, I feel like I need to move around and see everything, climb all the climbs that inspire me and eat so many “recovery burgers”.
Grades in New England seem to be a step behind the top standard in the U.S. and the World. Do you think V15 exists in the Northeast and who will be the one to climb it?
I think that V15 does exist somewhere around New England (maybe we’ve found it, we do like secrets in NE). I think someone just needs the patience and strength to find it and learn it. But yea, what’s with that? We have to have one laying around here somewhere. We have 5.15 but I think the leap for our slew of V13’s to V15 is a big leap vs the leap from 14d to 15a. But that’s just me. The sport is growing and the youth is getting stronger, so it may come down to another generation of freaks. Time will tell us.
Thank Josh, good luck at the World Cup events!