I canít say much about Johnís contribution to Grit climbing - his routes require talent, not just endeavour - but he had quite an impact on me and I would like to share a couple of stories.
I got to know John in Yosemite in the autumn of 1981. He was on a comeback after some low-profile years in New Zealand. He was crushing 5.12 and bouldering brilliantly, despite nursing a recurrent dislocating shoulder that would pop out if he rolled over in bed. My abiding memory is of how effortless he made it all look, one of the best movers on rock Iíve had the pleasure to witness. I couldnít hope to emulate this but his fearless attitude to reputation had more impact. A little of his try-anything spirit rubbed off and I had a big breakthrough in my climbing the following year.
My other memory was what a warm character he was. I was a lost soul at the time and he was a major reason why I stayed in California for the winter. I ended up sharing a house on Lake Tahoe with John, his girlfriend Carol, and a couple of other flotsam. In the tradition of illegal aliens we packed 5 into a two up, one down shack (aka The Cardboard Box, such was its structural integrity and insulating properties). Life seemed a huge game and he delighted in winding people up. Many stories are unrepeatable but in response to the local popularity of conspiracy theories (some things donít change) he took to wearing a pair of hand-crafted wire aerials when visiting the local bar. When this sight triggered the desired inquiry heíd deadpan ďfor communicating with aliensĒ. You have to have considerable chutzpah and charisma to carry this off without getting your lights punched out but he always managed it.
It was frequently impossible to judge where the real John started and the piss-taking showman ended. He enjoyed playing up to the northern hardman stereotype and simultaneously subverting it. He had shoulder surgery that winter - a risky procedure then - and was fairly terrified this might be the end of his climbing. Preoperative adrenaline meant he needed an extra dose to put him under. Asked to count to ten a second time, John responded, in his best flat cap accent, ďIím from Glossop, anesthetics donít affect meĒ.