Back in 1990, the Brit climber Ben Moon es­tab­lished what was then the world’s hard­est route, Hub­ble (8c+/5.14c) at Raven Tor in the Peak District. In my care­free early 20s then, I was on an ex­tended road trip, try­ing to up my send­ing game. At the Ag­gro Gully in Smith Rock, I met John Vlasto, a scrag­gly-haired Brit whose sole out­fit con­sisted of Birken­stocks, black Ly­cra tights with stir­rups, and an old but­ton-up shirt with ripped-off sleeves. John and I had com­pa­ra­ble climb­ing goals, sim­i­lar open-ended sched­ules, and a com­pet­i­tive streak, which pushed us to try for “same day” sends on our shared projects. When we both sent Ag­gro

Mon­key, our first 8a (5.13b), we started a com­pe­ti­tion. The race to Hub­ble was on, and it had one sim­ple rule: The first per­son to red­point Hub­ble won.

To push our climb­ing, we headed to Hueco Tanks where we tried Todd Skin­ner’s Cow­boyo­g­ra­phy (5.13c/d) and flung our­selves at the prob­lems in John Sher­man’s sem­i­nal 1990 guide­book. Edg­ing— or so we hoped—ever closer to Hub­ble, we pro­jected

Cen­ter El Mur­ray (V6) and Mush­room Roof (V8) on the Mush­room Boul­der, and the Devil in Chris Jones (V8), a 29-foot travers­ing line on buck­ets and flakes at Bucket Roof.

All that steep, sharp boul­der­ing wore us out, and on a rest day John took a trip to Juarez, Mex­ico, with Bri­tish friends for some R & R. At day’s end, the Brits walked across the pedes­trian bridge over the Rio Grande to re­turn to El Paso. Then John spied a smug­gler fer­ry­ing peo­ple across the river on in­ner tubes for a $5 fee. Ex­cited about hav­ing a laugh as he tubed across the slug­gish brown wa­ters, John told his friends he’d meet them back on the US side. How­ever, the sec­ond John landed on the Amer­i­can bank of the Rio Grande, he was promptly ap­pre­hended by the US Bor­der Pa­trol for il­le­gal en­try.

While John awaited his trial, I vis­ited him at the de­ten­tion cen­ter, claim­ing to be his cousin. He lamented his bore­dom, say­ing he’d read all the avail­able books. I “kindly” pro­vided him with some new read­ing ma­te­rial—a tick­list I’d com­piled while he wasted away in de­ten­tion, in­clud­ing Cen­ter El Mur

ray and my first V8, The Devil in Chris Jones. Af­ter John’s two-week stay in the clink, he had his trial and was given 90 days to leave the coun­try, af­ter which he was to be ban­ished for some years.

A few years later, John sent Punks in the Gym (5.14a) at Mount Arapiles, Aus­tralia, mov­ing ahead in the race. Then, in 2016, I tied it up with my red­point of U-Haul (5.14a) at Jail­house Rock. Later that year, my teenage son and I vis­ited John in Lon­don, and we all had a laugh about the fu­til­ity of our lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion. Hub­ble, it turned out, had been un­der­graded at 5.14c and since has been bumped to 5.14d. It seems we both have a ways to go to the fin­ish line.

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